April 20, 2006

Clinic Budget Shortfall in Iraq

Hatched by Sachi

Last night, I was watching the ABC evening news (sorry, I like to flip). They were talking -- finally -- about American reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

That's a nice change isn't it? We've been complaining about the near blackout of coverage of all the good things that are happening in Iraq. But then, since ABC is still part of the antique media, they dropped the hammer: they didn't talk about how many schools were built or how many clinics were opened. Instead, they focused like a laser beam on how Americans have squandered reconstruction money by bad planning and incompetency.

This seems to be the media's new counterattack on our criticism. Early this month, the Washington Post reported that we are running out of money to build clinics in Iraq... after "only" completing 20 out of 142 planned clinics:

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq has run out of money, after two years and roughly $200 million, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.

The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to lay the foundation of a modern health care system for the country, putting quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis.

Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say its failure serves as a warning siren for other U.S. reconstruction efforts coming due this year.

But wait -- we did build twenty clinics as part of this one project... right? When was that reported? I sure don't remember seeing anything about it; at least, not until it could be framed as another American failure.

And more to the point... while the Post clearly wants us to believe that those clinics will never be built -- "walk away from more than 120 clinics" -- what about this statement that immediately follows the one above?

Brig. Gen. William McCoy, the Corps of Engineers commander overseeing reconstruction in Iraq, said he still hoped to complete all 142 clinics as promised and was seeking emergency funds from the U.S. military and foreign donors.

"I'm fairly confident," McCoy said.

So we're not talking about a failure; we're talking about a potential failure... one that the federal government is already aware of, already tracking, and already moving to turn into another success. So why all the anger and defeatism?

According to the Post, the reason for the money shortage is that our initial plan did not account for the high cost of security:

Violence for which the United States failed to plan has consumed up to half the $18.4 billion through higher costs to guard project sites and workers and through direct shifts of billions of dollars to ramp up Iraq's police and military.

Granted, we did not correctly assess the danger and cost associated with the security measures. We went overbudget.

But what defense contract doesn't go overbudget? (The entire DOD computer system comes to mind, something about which I'm personally familiar, as well as those multi-hundred-dollar toilet seats... which I'm not personally familiar with!) After all, Iraq is a war zone; nothing is predictable. It's unreasonable to expect us to anticipate everything.

True: some people "predicted" that there would be a huge "insurgency" that would overwhelm us and drive us out of Iraq (Saddam Hussien predicted it, for example). But those same people also predicted that we would be stuck in a "quagmire," that tens of thousands of our soldiers would be killed, and that the urban warfare, the house-to-house fighting would eat our Army alive: they didn't (and still don't) have a good track record, but even a broken clock can be right twice a day.

An editorial in the New York Times argues that we should have forseen everything:

There appears to be plenty of blame to go around for the health clinics fiasco. High on the list comes the Bush administration's stubborn refusal to factor the deteriorating military situation into reconstruction planning. By the time this contract was awarded, in the spring of 2004, it should have been clear that special security measures would be needed in many areas.

But we know about those increased costs now; we've known about them -- and been "factor[ing]" them into "reconstruction planning" -- since 2004, more than a year and a half before the Times' editorial from Monday.

This is what happened: for about a year in 2003-2004, we were trying to train the New Iraqi Army to stand on its own feet; the training was under the direction of Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, and it was a disaster -- not necessarily because of any failing on Eaton's part. But the Iraqi Army was pathetic, incompetent, corrupt, prone to desertion, and especially likely to flee in the face of the enemy or let enemy fighters slip through the noose even when they were surrounded.

This was the period during which the terrorist threat grew, and also the threat from home-grown (but Iranian controlled) "insurgents" like Muqtada Sadr. The response of the Iraqi Army at First Fallujah (April 2004) was typical: many soldiers panicked and fled, and the terrorists were allowed to slip away.

It is totally false for the Washington Post to say that we "failed to plan" for post-war violence. We did plan; our plan was to train-up the New Iraqi Army... it just went badly at first.

We made some adjustments, and now it's working much better; but the damage had been done. By Spring of 2004, the security situation in Iraq had become a lot worse.

We recognized that our training system had completely broken down; in May of 2004, shortly after First Fallujah revealed the deep problems in the Iraqi Army, the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT) was rolled into the new Office of Security Transition (OST). Maj. Gen. Eaton retired, and Maj. Gen. David Petraeus (commander of the 101st Airborne during major combat operations in Iraq) was promoted to Lt. Gen. and put in command of the OST. The OST expanded to include not only training the New Iraqi Army but also the police forces.

(Ironically, Maj. Gen. Eaton is one of the retired generals demanding Defense Secretary Rumsfeld resign. Is it possible that Eaton's own replacement and retirement in 2004 was not completely voluntary? I don't know, but it's probably worth thinking about, since some of the other "griping" generals have personal grudges against Rumsfeld.)

Either because of these changes, or maybe just because the Iraqis themselves started to realize their own survival depended upon the Iraqi Army becoming professional, from that moment, the training began to turn around. The difference was easily seen just six months later, in November 2004, when the Iraqi Army performed so much better at Second Fallujah.

Once the Iraqi Army began to flourish, grow, and become much more effective, the "deterioration" of security leveled off, and now things are getting better. Not only are U.S. casualties and deaths lower, so are civilian deaths in Iraq. So maybe Brig. Gen. William McCoy of the Army Corps of Engineers has good reason to believe the rest of those clinics will be completed.

Even the Washington Post had to admit (at the very end of the article) that we've had many notable achievements:

The Corps of Engineers says the campaign has renovated or built 3,000 schools, upgraded 13 hospitals and created hundreds of border forts and police stations.

So, what does this all mean? Despite difficulities, our guys are doing a heck of a job. OK, so we need more money. But now that the new Iraqi security forces are becoming more and more reliable, and the new government is finally -- I hope! -- going to be formed, the prospect is good. From NYT:

Let it not be said that thousands more Iraqis died needlessly because America walked away from its promise of health clinics with less than 15 percent of the job done.

Hey, the New York Times and I finally agree on something!

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 20, 2006, at the time of 5:39 PM

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The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist


May Karma do its job quickly, and end this life (for me, anyway) which seems to attempt to hide humble me in some *DUALISTIC*Tomb of Flesh!!!

i mean...life as a hermit, here in America, was much more than even a Dualistic blessing, or even a Non-Dialistic *BLESSING*, back before September 11 of 2001...so to speak.

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 20, 2006 6:04 PM

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