Here’s a good piece in Newsweek about the White House’s new front in the war on terror — the battle against the media. They note one question that I’ve wondered about a lot. We hear quite a bit about all the schools reopening. But how many of them ever closed? Certainly, there were schools before the war, right?
Says Newsweek …
Yet reporters who covered the war say that some of the Coalitionâs achievements are less impressive than they sound. Paul (Jerry) Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, proudly announced the reopening of Iraqâs schools this month, while White House officials point to the opening of Iraqâs 240 hospitals. In fact, many schools were already open in May, once major combat ended, and no major hospital closed during the war.
My own view of the reconstruction <$Ad$>question chalks up a lot to inertia, poor planning and drift. If you go back to last fall, or even the early months of this year, there was plenty of talk about reconstruction in Iraq. But if you look closely most of the talk was about social and political reconstruction: building a free press, purging the army of Baathists, creating the building blocks of a rule-of-law society, and so forth.
There was precious little talk about rebuilding their stuff, i.e., the physical infrastructure of the country — bridges, schools, telephones, electrical grids, all up to western standards.
Certainly, there was a recognition that we’d need to rebuild stuff that we broke in the course of prosecuting the war. But the entire focus of reconstruction underwent a wholesale transformation in the months after the war.
The reason for this, I think, is that we very quickly found out, on entering the country, that the social and political reconstruction task was vastly harder than the planners of the war had anticipated, and that they were woefully underprepared for it. That left them scrambling for a new raison d’etre for the war, a new justification for what we were doing there. What we came up with was rebuilding their stuff. Of course, fat cats of all varieties were ready on hand to enable this drift in policy. And needless to say, most already had the president’s ear.
Building bridges and schools can be terribly expensive. But it’s something we know how to do and something that shows concrete results. Building civil society can be, to paraphrase Bolivar, like plowing the sea.
I grant you that this is a very broad brush analysis. But I think it captures much of what has gone on in our Iraq policy over the last six months.