Sunday, May 20, 2007
After The Photo Op
One of the recurring themes of all the reports and audits of Iraqi reconstruction projects I've been sifting through has been the inability of Iraqi authorities to maintain infrastructure facilities once they were completed and handed over by American contractors. The problem is so pronounced, in fact, that the Iraqi government has actually refused to take possession of the great majority of completed projects. (Only 18% had been formally turned over by last July, with very few added since then.)
In some cases, the explanation was a lack of trained personnel to manage the facilities. In others, necessary parts were unavailable. One Army report cited "... a culture of maintenance that was gradually lost during the embargo years." Another GAO report pointed to higher-order issues, like the lack of "... clear institutional, legal, and regulatory structures and adequate financial management systems." (A polite way of saying the place is crooked as a re-used nail.)
This brings us back to two points that have been made before but that bear repeating. First, the planners of this war tended to envision Iraq as they wanted it to be, rather than as it was. But that refusal to grasp reality didn't stop after the initial invasion, as evidenced by the billions of dollars that have now been spent on projects that, quite predictably, can not be maintained.
Second, there's the question of metrics, and how to assess whatever progress we might have made in Iraq. Cutting the ribbon on a school, or hospital, or electric generator plant, makes great for a great photo op. But counter-insurgency wars are won or lost on whether the building's still in operation six months later. And by that measure, there's little doubt that we're losing this war.