2004 July 03 Saturday
Coalition Provisional Authority Failures Highlighted

Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post has written an excellent three part series on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Iraq, and the failure of the US effort to politically remake Iraq on the scale that neoconservative proponents of the war claimed was their goal. First off, little of the aid money has been spent.

About 15,000 Iraqis have been hired to work on projects funded by $18.6 billion in U.S. aid, despite promises to use the money to employ at least 250,000 Iraqis by this month. At of the beginning of June, 80 percent of the aid package, approved by Congress last fall, remained unspent.

Jobs went to political partisans who didn't know what they were doing.

Despite the scale of their plans, and Bremer's conclusion by last July that Iraq would need "several tens of billions of dollars" for reconstruction, CPA specialists had virtually no resources to fund projects on their own to create much-needed local employment in the months after the war. Instead, they relied on two U.S. firms, Halliburton Co. and Bechtel Corp., which were awarded large contracts to patch Iraq's infrastructure.

The CPA also lacked experienced staff. A few development specialists were recruited from the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. But most CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with posts going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House. "It was loyalty over experience," a senior CPA official said.

Chandrasekaran reports that Baghdad still has intermittent electric power and a major electric plant is not only not producing as much as the CPA predicted but it is actually producing far less power than it did last summer.

Although the $18.6 billion reconstruction aid package was approved by Congress in November, the Pentagon office charged with spending it has moved slowly. About $3.7 billion of this package had been spent by June 1, according to the CPA. Many projects that have received funding have slowed or stopped entirely because Western firms have withdrawn employees from Iraq in response to attacks on civilian contractors.

CPA officials contend the money should have been earmarked and spent far sooner. Had that happened, they argue, the CPA could have retained much of the goodwill that existed among Iraqis after the U.S. invasion and possibly weakened the insurgency.

If the US had come with more troops and had not disbanded the old Iraqi Army then the security situation would not have gotten anywhere near as bad. The need to keep Iraq's Army around was necessitated in part by the limited size of the US Army. But the US Army also didn't have enough enough local language and culture skills. Plus, US soldiers were always going to be seen as outsiders and not trusted. A local force would have been able to do things the US Army was not able to do.

The extent of the dislike of US forces was already quite pronounced in June 2003 but US soldiers couldn't talk to the locals to find out how much hostility was already present among the locals. So they deluded themslves into thinking they were more popular than was really the case. The lack of local language skills greatly hobbles the ability of a military force to conduct counter-insurgency operations. This has been apparent in Iraq and also in Afghanistan.

Also, if the Bushies hadn't insisted upon an ideological litmus test for all CPA workers then the average level of competence of CPA workers would have been much higher and the CPA could have staffed up much more quickly. But the comrades wanted only true believers to serve since they thought anyone else would have been determined to sabotage the revolution. Now we get to witness true believers like Andrew Sullivan arguing that Bush just wasn't fervent and competent enough in pursuit of the utopian idea. Yet these true believers did not foresee many of the problems that arose and obviously have a very flawed model of what makes liberal democracy possible and, more generally, a flawed model of human nature. The failure in Iraq was not simply due to poor implementation. The very concept of what they were trying to do was flawed.

Another mistake in implementation was the failure to appropriate aid money sooner. Plus, the US military could have been given a lot more money from the very start to spend on public works projects around the country. If the US military had been given the money to complete many visible projects at a very rapid rate from about the moment of Saddam's fall the mood of the populace would have gone in a direction that, while still unfavorable, would not have been as unfavorable.

John Agresto, CPA man in charge of education in Iraq, got all of $8 million to rebuild and reform higher education in Iraq.

Agresto and his staff of 10 sent funding requests to the CPA officials who were compiling the administration's aid package. But word came back that the administration would focus its request on rebuilding Iraq's security services and electrical infrastructure. The White House planned to ask Congress for only $35 million for higher education. The rest would have to come from foreign donors.

Iraq has no chance of developing even a semi-liberal democracy without an elite that has been given a deeply liberal education. Of course, Iraq has little chance of developing a semi-liberal democracy anyhow. But if the Bushies were serious and understood what was entailed in trying to develop Iraq into a sustainable democracy they would have asked for more than $35 million. As it was Congress only appropriated $8 million.

At the conference in October, donor nations pledged in excess of $400 million for Iraqi universities. But none of that money has arrived in Baghdad.

"There was a lot of talk," he said, "but little follow-through."

The same thing occurred on Capitol Hill. The $35 million request was whittled down to $8 million.

At Mustansiriya, where the labs are devoid of equipment and the student union is in a charred building, acting President Taki Moussawi said he has stopped waiting for help from the Americans. "We've had so many promises, so many hopes," he said as he walked through a gutted structure that used to be the president's office. "We don't believe the Americans anymore. We're just disappointed."

Why spend a couple hundred billion on a country and then spend so little on anything that might have caused lasting beneficial changes? Yet you will not find neoconservative commentators writing critical pieces about Bush Administration higher education funding in Iraq.

Agresto now realizes that Bush Administration ambitions were much too high.

"We should have been less ambitious," Agresto said. "Our goal should have been to build a free, safe and a prosperous Iraq -- with the emphasis on safe. Democratic institutions could be developed over time. Instead, we keep talking about democratic elections. If you asked an ordinary Iraqi what they want, the first thing they would say wouldn't be democracy or elections, it would be safety. They want to be able to walk outside their homes at night."

Agresto doesn't think Iraq will become a liberal democracy.

He said he still believes Iraq will become a democracy, but not the sort of democracy the Bush administration envisions. "Will it be a free democracy? A liberal democracy?" he said. "I don't think so."

In Iraq local government council meetings keep out citizens because the council members are afraid of assassination. Chandrasekaran reports on one city council meeting held with US and Iraqi snipers stationed on the building to protect it while the meeting was in session. How can democracy function in such an environment? I had been under the impression that the local councils had been formed by elections. But Chandrasekaran reports that security concerns prevented local governments from being chosen by popular election and this combined with their very limited power has made these councils seem like American tools.

Despite calls from Iraqi politicians for the participants to be chosen by popular vote, the CPA deemed municipal elections too risky last summer. They worried that religious extremists and Baathists would manipulate the process. Instead, the CPA asked the Research Triangle Institute, which had a U.S. government contract to promote democracy in Iraq, to organize neighborhood caucuses to select the councils.

Participants in the caucuses were screened by Americans who supervised the entire process. As a result, the councils were filled with people who owed their jobs more to the CPA than to the public. "The community saw us as tools of the Americans," said Ali Aziz, the secretary of the Rashid council. "It was the beginning of our problems." Nurturing New Leaders

Can the terrorists prevent elections or scare people into choosing radicals? How can a government be open if elected officials are afraid to meet with their public?

Sharif, the Rashid chairman, said one of the most important items before the council after June 30 will be scheduling local elections. "Right now, many people do not think we are legitimate," he said. "That would change if we were elected by the people."

But Sharif said he recognized that holding an election before the end of the year would be impossible because of the security situation. Campaigning for a January national election will be hard enough, he said. Right now, he said, only a fool would attempt to go door to door or hold a community meeting to meet with constituents. "It's far too dangerous," he said.

Asked who he thought his chief rival would be, he did not pause.

"Terrorism," he said.

It was difficult to choose pieces to excerpt from Chandrasekaran's three part series. If you want to get a better appreciation of just how many mistakes the Bush Administration made in Iraq I strongly recommend reading it in full. There are many facets of problems that are not mentioned above. Also, for more general treatments start here for a list of obstacles to democracy in the Middle East and start here for links to past posts on consanguineous marriage and the reason its high incidence in the Middle East makes corruption and the lack of a civil society inevitable. Also see my recent post on past failed efforts by the United States to reform societies into liberal democracies.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 July 03 03:51 PM  Mideast Iraq

gcochran said at July 5, 2004 10:25 PM:

Does that former Marine speak Arabic? I would bet not.

The 'happy news' from Iraq alwways seems to come from people who don't speak the language. Gee, why might that be? Ignorance is strength.

Moreover, projections of what comes next based on that 'happy news' never seem to come true. For example, remember when capturing Saddam was going to squelch the resistance? It didn't happen - which is what I expected.
Here is why. First, to the extent that Saddam had any influence over that resistance, he was bound to hobble it - the man has massively negative military talents (obvious if you look had at the Iran-Iraq and 1st Gulf Wars, where he set stupidity records). Interruping his command and control (those Air Farce phrases are indeed infectious) _helped_ the resistance, all else equal. Second, it wasn't as if a desire to restore Saddam was the mainspring of anybody's resistance. Few people liked him. More than that, whenever somebody is risking their life in this kind of struggle, they're planning to put _themselves_ in, not some old fool who got them conquered.
Further - Saddam was so disliked as to discredit any cause he attached himself to. When we caught him, we _purified_ the resistance, made it easier for ordinary Iraqis to join, made it _respectable_. Perfectly predictable.
Saddam was keeping the Shiites on the reservation. They feared him, and it was a lot easier for teh Shiites to tolerate the US as long as we were holding off the bogeyman. Catch the bogeyman, though, and you _never_ get your kids to clean up their rooms again. Once we caught Saddam, the Shiites were free to revolt, if they so desired. Some did, which means that even the _southern_ oil fields are now being sabotaged...

Next, it was obvious to me that most of the hajis shooting at us were nationalists or Islamists - old-line Baathists may have done some facilitating, but weapons were plentiful and one needs a strong motive to go up against the US Army. Not money - patriotism or religion. And of course the Baathists _were_ nationalists, anyhow....

The idea that they were 'dead-enders', 'enemies of freedom', rather than local boys who wanted us out of their country was US propaganda. Too bad we were dumb enough to believe it ourselves - fantasy gets in the way.. Once upon a time a young Confederate soldiers explained that "I'm fighting cause you're down here. " Is that so hard to understand? The military is now admitting this - what the fuck took them so long? Just what is West Point _for_? What do they learn there, macrame?

I saw the likely consequences of Saddam's capture. The US government did not. Just how stupid are they, really?

Randall Parker said at July 5, 2004 11:04 PM:

Greg is correct that soldiers who do not speak Arabic do not know what the locals think of them.

I recently came across (and forgot to post) a recent US military estimate of the size of the insurgency in Iraq. As I recall, the estimate is no smaller than it was a year ago. Does anyone have some link(s) on current and past estimates on the size of the insurgency in Iraq?

superfly said at July 6, 2004 6:46 PM:

I don't know if Mr. Johnson speaks arabic. I'd bet he picked up some.

Here's another comment by him.

Personally, I'm much more inclined to believe a US marine who spents months in country than a WAPO reporter who flew in, did a couple of interview and bugged out.

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