Monday, October 10, 2011

State Slouches Toward Failure in Iraq

Recent articles in the NYT and WP paint a pretty discouraging picture of the State Department's future role in Iraq.  A serving Foreign Service officer has written a book about what a failure State's past activities have been, "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People."  He also published an op-ed in the NYT, which says, "Iraq is still plagued by corruption, sectarianism and violence. And ... I don’t have much faith that the department can turn things around." 

Meanwhile, the WP reported on the huge undertaking that the State Department is committing itself to by taking over in Iraq where the military is leaving off.  After downsizing from hundreds of thousands of US military troops, about 50,000 remain in Iraq.  Their functions will supposedly soon be taken on by the State Department Foreign Service.  According to Wikipedia, there are about 15,000 Foreign Service officers total, staffing over 200 American embassies and consulates, as well as the State Department in Washington.  Thus, the only way the State Department can even hope to cope with this mess is by hiring tens of thousands of contractors.  The idea that State can manage tens of thousands of contractors, when according to the book mentioned above, it can't even manage the small scale programs it was running with its own officers , is ludicrous.  Hillary Clinton is being the good soldier by taking on the mess left behind by the military, but it is bound to impact negatively on what in other countries is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  State's expertise is political and economic analysis, not program management.  The military managed not to lose in Iraq (at least not yet), but it is leaving a mess.  The op-ed above says:
When my team tried to give away fruit tree seedlings to replant ruined orchards, a farmer spat on the ground and said, “You killed my son and now you are giving me a tree?”       
One Iraqi I met observed that the United States had sponsored expensive art shows in his neighborhood three years in a row, but did nothing about the lack of functioning sewers, electricity and running water. “It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head,” he told me. “Everyone comes in and puts ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked.”      
The WP compares the Iraq undertaking to the Marshall Plan, but after World War II, the US had clearly won.  There was little danger of Americans being assassinated in Paris.  The French and other Western Europeans still had competent bureaucrats to administer the American aid.  Before the war, Western Europe had been more or less on a par with the US politically and economically.  They shared similar cultures.  None of that is true in Iraq. 

It's possible that nobody really expects this to work.  Maybe it's just a cover for the US to pull its military out of Iraq.  But State will be left with egg on its face.  And Iraq will still be a mess. 

I don't think the US is serious about helping Iraq, especially when I look back at my experience in Poland after the fall of Communism.  Newt Gingrich and the Republicans, with the cooperation of Bill Clinton and company, basically told the Poles, "You're on your own, unless there is some money-making deal we can line up an American company to get in on."  Poland came out okay, but I think it's because the EU became Poland's Marshall Plan.  America basically dumped Poland, but Western Europe came through.  Maybe Turkey or China (or Iran) will come through for the Iraqis. 

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