January 25, 2006

Iraq Rebuilding Is Either Going Badly -- Or It Isn't

Hatched by Sachi

Reading through this New York Times article is like decoding a secret document... a secret document that was somehow leaked to the Times (of course).

The New York Times believes the rebuilding effort in Iraq is "badly hobbled;" but the picture that actually emerges from the article (once one decrypts it) is a royal mess that still somehow managed to finish most of the projects it planned, even while dodging terrorist activity, Shiite uprisings, and bureaucratic infighting.

The leaked document is a "highly preliminary" report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, formerly known as the Coalition Provisional Authority Office of Inspector General (CPA-IG). The spokesman from the IG's office, Jim Mitchell, says the report is "incomplete.... It could change significantly before it is finally published." But caveats will never deter the Times from reporting some bad news, when it thinks is has some.

Lost in the article, however, is any context. We've rebuilt countries before, notably Japan and Germany. By all accounts, the former went much better than the latter; which, if either, does the current effort most resemble?

In fact, it's a hybrid: in terms of having to deal with a persistent terrorist and insurgency factor, it's closer to what happened in Germany under international control; but in terms of effectiveness and rate of completion, it resembles the Japanese reconstruction, which was almost entirely American. This seems like quite a remarkable success story, given the environment.

So what exactly is the problem?

In the document, the paralyzing effect of staffing shortfalls and contracting battles between the State Department and the Pentagon, creating delays of months at a stretch, are described for the first time from inside the program.

The document also recounts concerns about writing contracts for an entity with the "ambiguous legal status" of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the question of whether it was an American entity or a multinational one like NATO.

Seemingly odd decisions on dividing the responsibility for various sectors of the reconstruction crop up repeatedly in the document. At one point, a planning team made the decision to put all reconstruction activities in Iraq under the Army Corps of Engineers, except anything to do with water, which would go to the Navy. At the time, a retired admiral, David Nash, was in charge of the rebuilding.

So there are too many competing authorities: State versus DoD, Army versus Navy, NATO versus American officials. In addition, Iraqi ministries got into the contracting game as well, handing out contracts to be paid for with other people's money (ours, mostly).

Basically, there are too many captains on the boat, and it's easy to see why this is a problem. However, this is hardly news; the same conclusion could be drawn about hurricane relief, intelligence gathering, and the normal operation of the United States Congress.

And surprisingly, even before this story saw the light of day, President Bush had already taken measures to address this very issue:

The Corps of Engineers has been given command of the severely criticized office set up by President Bush to oversee some $13 billion of the reconstruction funds.

The shift occurred days before Mr. Bush said the early focus of the rebuilding program on huge public works projects - largely overseen by the office, the Project and Contracting Office - had been flawed.

So what exactly does the NYT want to tell us? First, that the significant problems were in the contracting phase, not in the actual "construction and completion." And second, that there were too few personnel in the main contracting authority, the CPA.

"The impression you get is of an organization that had too little structure on the ground over there, that it had conflicting guidance from the United States," Mr. Hamre said. "It had a very difficult environment and pressures by that environment to quickly move things."

A situation like that, Mr. Hamre said, "creates shortcuts that probably turn into short circuits."

Hamre is president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a sort of "Council on Foreign Relations Lite," with very "State Department/September 10th" thinking. And naturally, by "shortcuts," Hamre means the Left's favorite shibboleth:

The Army appropriated $1.9 million in November 2002 to create a "contingency plan" for what to do if Iraqi forces damaged or destroyed the nation's oil complexes and pipelines. That "task order," under a running contract, went to Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary. The Army later used that task order as a justification for awarding the company a new $1.4 billion noncompetitive contract to restore oil equipment, a program that became one of the most criticized moves of the conflict partly because Vice President Dick Cheney was once the top executive at Halliburton.

Nobody complains about the job they did, by the way; it always boils down to the fact that the job of restoring oil equipment wasn't put up for public bidding... but was instead restricted to the handful of companies that could actually do it, like KB&R. That's like complaining that the contract to put out the oil-well fires after the Gulf War was handed to Red Adair, rather than allowing the wells to burn while McDonalds, Microsoft, and Mercedes-Benz bid on it.

What we are trying to do in Iraq is a huge task in the great unknown, complicated by Zarqawi, Sadr, and other forces of chaos. We need to constantly adjust to the fluid situation in Iraq, and it's hardly surprising that our initial approach to rebuilding was inadequate: nobody really knew how to go about it, because undertaking a Marshall Plan while still fighting high-tech terrorists and unstable Shiite imams has never been done before. But we're working on it, and we're learning: that's all this report is really saying.

And yet, despite all those problems, 1,636 projects of 2,265 originally planned by the office have been completed. That should be the real story... but of course, that would require the Times to stop looking for trouble and start seeing the ongoing solutions.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, January 25, 2006, at the time of 12:04 AM

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» Iraq Reconstruction Efforts Not Going Smoothly from LP Blog
A report prepared by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction details the history of the Iraq reconstruction efforts and its many problems. The preliminary report was completed in December 2005 and a copy was leaked to the New York... [Read More]

Tracked on January 25, 2006 1:25 PM

» Iraqi Army More Cohesive Than Democratic Senators from Big Lizards
I'll bet you thought we'd totally forgotten about this category here at Big Lizards; or else you might have fretted that there wasn't any "good news" to be found. Not so! The only reason we haven't done one of these... [Read More]

Tracked on February 17, 2006 11:25 PM


The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

"State Department/September 10th" thinking"

Is that a tacful way of saying

"Stuck on Stupid"? ;-)

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 25, 2006 8:00 PM

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