Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Open Palms, Iraq and the Con Job

The media have been running stories on the need to pull back funding in Iraq. An example is this from NPR.

Thank goodness someone is finally reporting on this. A recent book review in the Economist asked the following question:

Suppose that, five years ago, George Bush had asked every American household to stump up $25,000 to pay for an imminent war on Iraq. How would they have responded?
(The Three Trillion Dollar War, Stiglitz and Bilmes)

Good question. When I hear that Iraqis are asking for money to put sculptures in a park rather than to fix power lines, or when I hear that oil pipelines that have just been repaired are sabotaged by one insurgent group or another, it makes my blood boil. That is a con job if there ever was one. Somewhere, someone is saying, "let's bleed them dry!" Not only that, it is blatant corruption. Someone is lining their pockets with American money. That has been going on from the start.

When it costs $50 to put 13 gallons of gas in my tank, when children aren't getting health care, when the dollar is bottoming out, and I see inflation all around, when I feel the squeeze of the middle class, I blame this war. It is bankrupting us morally and financially. When I hear that Iraq has a budget surplus while we are making huge interest payments to China, I get angry. And I wonder if anyone really knows the cost. It's time for the candidates to start really pushing on the idea that for every school we build in Iraq, we deprive our own children of new books, or new teachers, etc. For every park we finance in Iraq, we deprive our own communities of public transportation funding.

It is time for Iraq to start paying its share. Bottom line is that in that part of the world, people have long come to expect someone else to pay for them. They will take us for granted, and they have. The Iraqi public is used to the government doing everything for them. And what Iraq is doing is running a huge con job on us. I really hope that Congress holds the line to limit US reconstruction funding. A little tough love is in order.


Dr. Strangelove said...

I have heard quite a number of anecdotal stories from officers who served in Iraq that support USWest's observation here. (Not that I can really blame the Iraqis for trying to squeeze us, after what we have done there.) It is time to go.

Raised By Republicans said...

I completely agree with US West.

Imagine the pitch based on what we know now (and many people said would happen at the time). "Hey everybody, let's go spend $25,000 per household, 3000 to 4000 US lives, countless Iraqi lives, not to mention the 'intangibles' like national prestige, diplomatic influence etc. on a war in Iraq that will get of Saddam Hussein and his sons but plunge the country into chaos and possibly drive it into the arms of an increasingly nastly looking Iranian regime....Come on! Let's go!"

USWest said...

You know, I do blame the Iraqis. It was Iraqi exiles combined with a dishonest Administration that wanted this war. Saddam wanted this war.

Yes, we did start a war. And I agree that we had a responsibility to pay for what we broke and to replace what we broke. But the expectation was that Iraqis would step up to the plate. And they haven't. In fact, they have worsened the situation by 1) failing to establish an operable government 2) By playing with Iran (which was inevitable) 3) by sabotaging their own infrastructure after we have fixed it. 4) by cutting and running when faced with insurgents leaving US troops to do the dirty work. They refuse responsibility.

I've heard some of the stories that Dr. S refers to. People taking US dollars and then making all sorts of excuses as to why they couldn't build this or that. And if you scratched a little deeper, you'd discover that the sum was pocketed and an elaborate web of lies was dreamed up to hide it. Playing up the victim status all the way. I've said it before: they take advantage not only of our good intentions but of some of our finest qualities . . . our generosity, our openness, our expectations of integrity, our wealth, etc.

Funny. My Turkish friends tell me that the Turks learned long ago how Arabs work. And there isn't much love lost. I hate to generalize. I know that I am generalizing big time, however, Turks learned after several wars, that Arab soldiers in a regular army always run. Hand him a gun and expect him to get your back and you will die because he will turn ass up and run. Don't believe me? Think about all the Republican Guard that surrendered in GWI. Thin about how many ran in GWII when we tried to train them. We are merely learning what those on the "old countries" have already discovered.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, it might be better to say that Arab soldiers won't fight for foreign powers' armies. They fought hard enough against Iran.

USWest said...

True that. I think that they have complicated loyalties, as I have said before.

Pombat said...

Woah. I'm having a really angry response to this whole post. And having just talked it through with Spotted H, I think I've figured out why: I'm really disappointed in you.
(The Citizens who've thus far commented on this thread)

As you know, I'm a Pom living in Aus. Over the past few years, I've had many many conversations with people who believe that all Americans are anti-Arab; have no real understanding (even conceptually) of other cultures, and the fact that these cultures differ to the American way of thinking and acting; are selfishly pro-American even to the point of being actively, racistly, anti-[insert whatever country here] and so on. And I've always argued against them, primarily using you lot as my counter-example: you've always been my 'intelligent' Americans, the ones who understand other cultures and so on. Until this thread.

So, my views in response:
Firstly, whilst I don't think it is morally right, fair or just for them to be doing so, I can completely understand why an Iraqi would choose to put dollars in their own pockets - their country is in tatters, and they are simply, as citizens of every country are wont to do, trying to look after themselves and their families.

Responses to specific comments:
"limit US reconstruction funding" - you broke it, you fix it.

USWest's comments on the Arabs not fighting - why the hell should they fight for foreign powers? What's in it for them? Would an American fight for any foreign power that waltzed in and decreed they should?

"I do blame the Iraqis" - because they were fundamental to putting Saddam's party in power in the first place were they? And they asked the US to invade, yes? And they decided to fire the regular army once the 'liberation' was over, putting a whole bunch of trained military people with guns out on the street with no back pay, a bad case of anti-Americanism and sod all chance of ever persuading them back into the army did they?

When it comes down to it, the people that are trying to govern the country now have NEVER had any practice at doing so! Saddam ruled from 1979 to 2003, prior to which he was a key figure in his (Sunni) party, which first came to power in 1963. There are a lot of people in the current fledgling government who have never known another party to be in power for the entire duration of their lives. And thinking that a mere five years is enough time for them to figure out how to rule, to heal all the differences and gain balance between the no-longer-as-powerful Sunnis and the wow-we've-got-power Shi'as, Kurds etc (I'll put my hand up on behalf of the UK and apologise for smooshing such disparate groups into one country to start with), rebuild and repair all the infrastructure which the liberation/invasion destroyed, and magically change their culture to mimic American-style life & democracy? You're all smarter than that, I know it.

Final comment I take issue with: "But the expectation was that Iraqis would step up to the plate."
Whose expectation was that? And was there any consultation with the Iraqi people prior to all this to see if that expectation was in any way reasonable, culturally appropriate, etc?
The answer to the second question is definitely no.

Raised By Republicans said...

I have to admit that I've bothered by some of the things said here too. I'm not a big fan of blaming Iraqis for what's going on. What I do agree with US West about though is when she says things like "When it costs $50 to put 13 gallons of gas in my tank, when children aren't getting health care, when the dollar is bottoming out, and I see inflation all around, when I feel the squeeze of the middle class, I blame this war. It is bankrupting us morally and financially." And I agree with the sentiments expressed in the quotation by Stiglitz.

And to be fair, Pombat may not be aware of how this war has been "marketed" to Americans by the Bush administration. Bush has used the mantra "As Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" from the start. Cheney and his crowd repeatedly told people through the press and their testimony to Congress in the run up to the war that it would be over quickly and only cost a couple of hundred billion (chump change, right?). Also, Bush, Cheney et al were telling us constantly that Iraqi oil production would come online quickly and provide funds for their own reconstruction. Many of our representatives in Congress bought that story hook, line and sinker.

US West is expressing a frustration shared by many in this country that we've been tricked and manipulated by a cynical political leadership to no decernable benefit to anyone (other than their own personal fortunes) in this country or in Iraq.

As for her relating the racist attitudes about Arabs of her Turkish friends (no doubt bagage from their own country's misguided, imperialist adventures in the region), she completely loses me there. But I was trying to be polite (perhaps uncharacteristically).

The Law Talking Guy said...

From the NY Times on 2/28/03 describing Wolfowitz' testimony to Congress on the eve of war:

"Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, he said. "I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact," Mr. Wolfowitz said. Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high, and that the estimates were almost meaningless because of the variables. Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he said."

From CBS the same day, talking about Wolfowitz's refusal to be pinned down:

"For example, at the high end of estimates is a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which sees a short war going for $99 billion and a long one costing as much as $1.9 trillion, when all the effects of war trickle out over a decade."

So we learn two things: (1) the Bush administration promised that Iraqi oil exports would make sure that the US wouldn't have to pay for everything, which was probably just a lie rather than a mistake; and (2) that even in 2003, there were estimates of costs of war above $1 trillion, and those in Congress who voted for the war had this information available, but ignored it for political reasons (the fear of being cast as unpatriotic).

Wolfowitz should really be hauled in to explain whether he had any good faith basis for any of his pre-war statements, or whether it was the usual Bush/Cheney set of lies.

History Buff said...

I always find it interesting that so many Americans thought this was going to be a quick war. All you had to do was listen to NPR discussions to know that once we got into Iraq we would have our hands full and there would be no easy answers. I know that a lot of people don't listen to NPR but I know that all of you do. I can't say that much of anything that is going on in Iraq right now has really surprised me.

Actually, the most surprising thing is the help that the Sunni tribesmen have been giving the US soldiers. I know a lot of people are suspicious of this, but jeez, it seems like they are really trying to help straighten out some of this mess.

I think the biggest mistake we made when going in to Iraq was not preparing enough for the cultural differences. Arab culture is very different from American culture, it is very hard for us to understand each other. That doesn't make either culture inherently good or evil, just different.

I would have to say that understanding different cultures is one of the things I like most about Obama. In our fast paced global economy, it is suicide not to understand how other cultures work.
(this was also the main reason why I liked Bill Richardson)

History Buff said...

forgive my ignorance Pombat, but what's a Pom??

USWest said...

Pombat:If you look at the history of my postings on this blog, I have constantly attempted to justify and explain from a culturally and political sensitive point of view the Arab side of things.

But I spend my days working with Persians and Arabs. I respect them. I appreciate them. But damn it, as RBR explains, I'm fed up. I'm not racist. I did not expect a short war. I was against the whole stupid enterprise from the start for many of the reasons you referred to. As everyone here as said, we were lied to by our own government as well as many of the Iraqis as well. I will remind Pombat that there were many Iraqis who wanted the war and they were ready to see Saddam go.

Granted, the US mismanaged it from the start. Many other Iraqis wanted this war for their own reasons.
1) Kurds wanted an autonomous region.
2) Shias wanted control of the country.
3) Iran wanted the war because they'd lost one already and because of the Shia connection in Iraq.
4) Everyone wanted the oil.

I remember this asshole named Ahmed Chalabi who told the neocons what they wanted to hear while feeding the Iranians at the same time. Today he is in charge of reconstruction projects. Wonder how much this 'friend" of America has pocketed.

I am well aware that all government, mine included, lie and cheat and steal from their own as well as others. But I don't have to like it or accept it. And I don't think Americans have to take 100% of the blame for everything that has happened in Iraq. Iraqis have done their own damage to each other. This could have worked out differently had they been more willing to cooperate with each other rather and exacting revenge all over the place. The bottom line is that Iraq was a country that was forced together by arbitrary boundaries and that was held together by one strong man ofter another.

My recounting of what the Turks learned was just that, a recounting. American troops discovered the same thing. In fairness, part of the reason for this is because Iraqis know that it is dangerous to be fully on anyone side. I encourage the outraged to read this from the Washington Post. I will end with a quote from the final paragraphs from that article provide by Marine Captain Sean Milller. He puts it exactly. I've experienced this over and over agian in my work.

"Every time they [the Iraqis] talk to you there's an agenda," said Miller, the captain who works closely with Zobaie. "You have to figure out what they want right now. If it is this easy, it begs the question: What are we giving them that we don't know that we're giving them?"

It's time to stop.

USWest said...

One additional thought on this: The insurgent groups in Iraq have a double game. One is to affect US Policy so we will leave. However, I think now they are mainly interested in fighting each other- tribal cleansing and garnering influence. They go after Americans in so far (A war, BTW, whose existence is denied to the American public). This makes Iraq look more like Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

I think we tend to forget that.

Also, History Buff: There is a big difference between "understanding" different cultures and having to deal with them when building in policy. Also, I think "culture" is a slippery term, one that RBR and I have debated a couple of times on the blog. When I use culture, I am talking about the history of the people that shapes their attitudes and motivations. I don't mean it in the more shallow way of stuff like, what they eat, how they dress, etc.

RBR has made the point that when it comes to policy, cultural attitudes are less important than strategic decisions. On this point, I agree with him. Policymakers should be aware of the history on a nation and its people, its loyalties, what motivates it, and a little about how to negotiate successfully. But at the end of the day, the elites of the world who build policy have more in common with each other by virtue of their education, their economic position, and their purpose than do average citizens.

No understanding of culture, as I have defined it, would have prevented this war because Bush et al. had already decided we were going to have a war. They were just looking for a good excuse. When they couldn't find one, they made one up.

History Buff said...

I agree with you on the definition of culture and I know that Bush would have gone in no matter what, but I think our soldiers would have been better served if they had had some idea of what to expect. They didn't have any idea of how to approach the many disparate groups on the ground.

Perhaps you are right about the big players understanding each other, but it seems to me that this conflict is being played out by the little guys.

USWest said...

I don't entirely disagree with you. In fact I have made that argument myself.I think knowledge of all types is power.

But, the truth is, History Buff, no one knew about the disparate groups on the ground because, as Pombat pointed out, they didn't necessarily exist until the war took off. They grew up later largely as a result of poor policy decisions by civilian policy makers- such as disbanding the Iraqi army and the deBaathification.

There were always ethnic groups. And since I work for the military, I can tell you that soldiers were aware of them. What soldiers missed were the more pedestrian types of cultural protocol- like how to search a house without offending the women in the place. But our soldiers learn fast and they adapt.

No one was ready for the potential political groups that would emerge or who they would align with. And their loyalties change according to the realities on the ground. And the plots and counter plots among these groups are so complex and confused that it will make your head spin- even someone with a good grasp of ambiguity would find it nearly impossible to understand.

But I am constantly impressed with how quickly our troops learn and adapt. But then again, it's a question of survival for them.