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How Bush Sabotaged
Reconstruction In Iraq

By Thomas Riggins

08 May, 2007

Tucked away inside the the International Section of Thursday’s New York Times (5-3-07, page 14) is a small piece by Ian Austen in Ottawa (“Iraq Reconstruction Is Doomed, Ex-Chief of Global Fund Says.”)

This little piece shows very clearly how the Bush Administration is its own worse enemy ( we already know it is the enemy of the American and Iraqi people.)

What we find, big surprise, is, that while Bush makes his own “reality,” actual reality has been undercutting any chance for his having a “victory” in Iraq.

The most revealing part of this little piece is the quotes from a gentleman named Michael Bell who was the chairman of the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq. Mr. Bell, a Canadian ended his two year stint in March.

This fund is very important. After the US destroyed the Iraqi infrastructure, the population (most of whom now say they were better off under Saddam), were thrown upon hard times: no electricity, deteriorating living standards, etc. To keep the support of the people, and thus make an insurgency less likely or, at least, smaller and with less popular support, it was necessary to rapidly extend reconstruction aid to the population.

In order to do this you had to know what you were doing and have some idea about what the Iraqi people really wanted and needed. But the Bushites failed on both counts. They simply did what they wanted to do and assumed because that is what they wanted it would come about and the people would be happy and love us.

Instead our actions fueled the insurgency and destroyed any possibility that we could do meaningful reconstruction in Iraq. What did we do? I will just quote Mr. Bell, who tried his best to use the Fund on behalf of the Iraqi people. If Mr. Bush had just let him do his job he might not be neck deep in the Big Muddy right now.

“Reconstruction,” Mr. Bell said, “is difficult enough in a relatively pacific environment. In this environment it is almost impossible, if not impossible. Over all, the picture is dire, dire.” He had read a recent report saying that seven big reconstruction “successes” touted by the Bush administration as evidence of its progress were, in fact, defunct. This is really symbolic of Bush’s policy as a whole including General Westmoreland’s, excuse me, I mean General Petraeus's [or is it Gen. Betray US?] big “surge.”

The failure of reconstruction was helped along, according to Mr. Bell, by both the US and UK because, instead of actually laying the foundations for sustainable reconstruction (training people for maintenance, for example) they insisted on expensive flashy propaganda coups, preferring instant gratification and currying domestic support for their war policies, but leaving the Iraqi people out of consideration except for trying to make them think they were getting real improvements.

“The objective,” Bell said, “was to improve the conditions of life for Iraqis through infrastructure so Iraqis would conclude that they were better off and prospering from the new situation. In retrospect, it was too much, to soon.” Since these “projects” did not make the people “better off” or “prosper”, the population became more hostile.

Bush also helped undermine his own propaganda by having as “an overriding objective” turning the infrastructure over to private, rather than public, ownership-- something the Iraqis were not too keen about. No doubt because the contractors were mostly foreign and taking reconstruction money out of Iraq without really providing anything for the Iraqis.

And, growing instability reversed the flow of Iraqi professionals and skilled workers who had returned to help in reconstruction. With no security and ill planned projects, they soon left.

The UK is getting out of Iraq as soon as it can. It declared “victory” (or atleast self-management by the Iraqi forces allied with the US and UK) in Basra where British forces are being withdrawn.

“The city,” Bell remarked, “is controlled by gangs. It is self-managing in a very primitive way. It is self-managing if you call a protracted series of microwars in the city normal.” As Basra goes so, the US will find, goes Baghdad.

And don’t blame the pro-US government for the current mess, Bell says. It's not a case of wanting or not wanting to deliver the goods on reconstruction. The “reality is that nobody can deliver the goods.” This, by the way, I think, is Bush's big problem.

The Iraqi government is dysfunctional and will fall apart the minute the US leaves. But staying only makes matters worse. Staying in a situation that is getting worse runs the risk of having the government fall apart all around you a la Vietnam. What to do? Hope and pray you can hold on until January 2009 and turn the mess over to the next president. Then whatever happens will be his or her fault. What about all the people that will killed in the meantime. Tough petootey!

Particularly upsetting is US behavior. Much of the aid has been wasted and many projects have failed because US officials want to control everything [even though they are ignorant of the language and the feelings of the people.]

The Americans “go in and tell their guys how to do things. It's a microcosm of what the Bush administration has tried to do with the intervention. But you can’t impose mindsets.”

But Bush still thinks he can impose his “mindset” on Iraq and the world. It is a narrow, fundamentalist, ignorant mindset. It is not the mindset of the majority of the American people. The Congress has the opportunity to send it packing. It should do so.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at [email protected]

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