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Friday, October 17, 2003

Progress and Problems in Iraqi Reconstruction, Part I In a Three-Part Series: Final

A visitor, Sam Ward, left a comment at the end of the buggy article, published over last week, on how blatantly the media misinterpreted David Kay's interim report to the Bush administration and the Congressional Intelligence Committees on the search in Iraq for WMD. Sam's brief comment starts off this commentary, followed by a lengthy Buggy analysis of four related matters.

1) The problems and progress of post-war Iraqi reconstruction --- dealt with in earlier buggy articles, especially the latest, published October 5th, 2003 --- are tackled again, with another effort at clarifying them and adding some historical and comparative perspective.

Once again, too, as we've noted before, there are some justified criticisms of the ways the Bush administration has handled that daunting venture --- even if most of the reports on Iraq in the media, or from opponents of Blair in Britain or Bush in America, forget or conveniently ignore just how monumental and challenging that undertaking is. Doubly so, to be more precise, in a region where democracy in any western sense has never existed: instead, where political life is marked by 21 despotic Arab states and --- next door to Iraq, eastward in Iran --- by a die-hard, despised Islamist ruling clique. These valid criticisms will be set out here later.

2) As against the discouraging trends --- which were dealt with at length in the earlier buggy article of October 5th --- there are some recent encouraging developments. We will lay these out too.

3) What follows next is an extraordinary article --- no other word for it. The grandson of the Ayatollah Khomeini --- the fiery Islamist revolutionary who spearheaded the 1979 Iranian revolution in 1978 and denounced the US as the Great Satan, a position endorsed by Shiite radical terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, then emulated by extremist Sunni Islamist terrorists like Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Taliban among others --- says after several months of work in liberated Iraq that "'We consider [the U.S. invasion] as the arrival of goodness, and I hope the American people understand this,' It is important for Americans to keep their eyes on the big picture, he added, and 'to make the [democratizing] mission possible" by not getting discouraged by the day-to-day difficulties.'"

4) The troubled, largely lopsided nature of the media coverage of Iraq moves to front-stage twice in the analysis that unfolds here in a buggy effort to illuminate the nature sources of these biases and incompetence: right at the first in a preliminary way, then at the end again in a longer, more focused manner.

Something else. Since Sam Ward's comment deals directly with the coverage's shortcomings and biases, we'll start off --- for some comparative perspective --- by looking at the BBC and the wider British media coverage of Iraq. By contrast, a report by an academically trained specialist on the economies of the Middle East, a University of Michigan-trained Ph.D. who knows Arabic well and has done extensive field work there over the years and decades, is set out later . . . a marked break with the sort of uninformed, incompetent, or aggressively opinionated journalism that prevails here and in Britain --- with some exceptions in both countries. About all one can say on the hopeful side here about the media coverage is that the BBC has come under justified pressures from several quarters for a thorough self-analysis and journalistic soul-searching after years of decline into moralizing biases and attack-dog journalism --- terms we'll see that the highly respected editor of the Financial Times Magazine has used lately to describe the network.

And yes, some soul-searching and change on this side of the Atlantic too. Recently, even the Los Angeles Times and New York Times have begun --- after months of an endless orgy of doom-doom reporting (with gleeful notes sounded at times in a sanctimonious, tut-tut manner: oh that stupid Bush, or that idiot Rumsfeld, oh that nefarious Wolfowitz) --- to move toward more balanced reporting and monitor the progress that's also clearly being made in Iraq . . . amid the ongoing struggles, with predictable setbacks, to deal with the big problems of Iraqi reconstruction and the transformation of a 40 year totalitarian state and society --- bankrupt and rotten to the core --- into a more moderate, representative form of government and respect for human rights, with a more vibrant economic life. (By contrast, genocidal Nazism lasted 12 years. Fanatical mass-murdering Maoism dominated China for 30 years. Only the Soviet Union boasted a long-lasting totalitarian system, some 73 years of existence, though the monstrous Stalinist era with its tens of millions of deaths ran for only 24 years, roughly 1928 - 1953.)


From Sam Ward:

The media seems to be suggesting we have lost our justification for the war with Iraq since weapons of mass destruction haven't been found. However, the fact that Saddam was concealing his programs seems that we have found all the justification we need for having gone to war. The blatantly anti-war media is brain washing the American public by not reporting these important facts of Kay's report. The sad part is that only a small number of people who thoroughly inform themselves know this. We haven't found Saddam yet....does this mean he doesn't exist either? I think not.



Part One: What Ails The US and British Media?

The media's biases, as you say, Sam, have showed up repeatedly in their coverage of Iraq, both during and after the war, though incompetence has to be counted a factor too. Kay's report --- at least the uncensored short version and his interview on Fox news --- was widely and blatantly misinterpreted. We'll return to this in a minute or two. In the meantime, here's a fairly recent tally sheet --- top-skimming as it is --- of some discouraging and encouraging news alike, put in some analytical perspective.

Note that the commentary about the media that unfolds here is almost totally confined to American and British coverage. Save briefly and in passing, no effort is made to deal for the time being with EU Continental reporting, especially what's on display daily in almost all the French and German media --- a non-stop orgy of attack-dog sermonizing and incompetence that mixes amateurism, anti-American fervor, politically correct moralizing, wishful thinking that the US will fail in Iraq, and plain sour grapes in hard-to-separate fashion. Even one of the two best sources of international coverage in Germany --- Die Zeit, a weekly out of Hamburg (the other is Die Frankfuerter Allgemeine, a daily) --- makes all sorts of claims about what's going on that fly in the face of simple-to-find and documented contrary trends, such as Iraqi opinion about personal developments and a sense of hope about the future that appeared last month in the first scientifically conducted opinion poll of Iraqi opinion, undertaken by Zogby International. A more recent Gallup Poll restricted to Baghdad, a hotbed of violence and fighting and Saddamite support before the war, has found similar results. We'll look at these polls later and give the links. In the meantime, see this wholly subjective and moralizing article[in German] in the latest online edition.

What are the problems here?

(i) First Things First: Legitimate Criticisms

As we noted at the outset, there are reasonable criticisms that can be made of the Bush and Blair governments --- particularly since the end of the war that toppled Saddam and his brutal mass-murdering regime and the handling of the reconstruction of Iraq.

Many of these problems and setbacks derive, it seems, from over-optimism in the Bush White House and Pentagon both before and during the war itself. Some appear to be the result of different key bureaucratic players in Washington and on the ground in Iraq working occasionally at cross-purposes --- a sign of ineffective management in the White House. Some of them, though, have no doubt been inevitable . . . the kinds of troubles and abrupt domestic collapse that arise at the end of nearly every war if a brutal, mass-murdering regime suddenly topples, either from internal revolution or because the country is being conquered and occupied by the victors: the collapse of law-and-order, violence and fighting among ethnic groups, a breakdown of the economy, efforts by the remnants of the old guard to stage a coup, and so on. Yes, even in Europe after WWII. Here are two extraordinary articles from Life Magazine, published in 1946, on how the US was losing the peace in West Europe and occupied Germany and Italy after WWII . . . how, for that matter, US prestige was never lower in European eyes: Life I, Life II The second article is by the distinguished novelist, John Dos Passos --- who started out as a left-wing radical and ended up as an entrenched conservative: see a recent article on his new surging reputation as a literary giant of the 20th century.

So yes, reasonable criticisms can be made. Congress, as we'll see when we come to examine what's unfolding in Iraq since the end of the war, has been a source of these lately, and not just in a partisan manner. The most telling and recent will be set out here in a few moments. We'll also note that leading members of the Democratic Party are badly divided on Iraq, and only one of the three major factions --- led by Senators Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman, and Maria Cantwell (of Washington State), and Representative Dick Gebhardt offering effective criticisms while pushing for responsible policies over Iraq. The polar faction, gathered around Nancy Pelosi and probably Howard Dean are so full of animosity and mistrust toward Bush and his administration that they come across as negative sore-heads, little else. And in the middle? Well, see David Brooks article in the New York Times for October 18th, 2003 here.


A Stimulating And Informative Article

More recently --- just this weekend (October 18 and 19, 2003) --- there has been a good analysis too of how the State Department had carefully planned for the post-Iraqi war occupation, consulting hundreds of Iraqi exiles of all sorts and laying out detailed plans for security, economic reconstruction, and political progress in the after-Saddam vaccum.

State Dept. Study Foresaw Trouble Now Plaguing Iraq

By ERIC SCHMITT and JOEL BRINKLEY WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 A yearlong State Department study predicted many of the problems that have plagued the American-led occupation of Iraq, according to internal State Department documents and interviews with administration and Congressional officials.

Beginning in April 2002, the State Department project assembled more than 200 Iraqi lawyers, engineers, business people and other experts into 17 working groups to study topics ranging from creating a new justice system to reorganizing the military to revamping the economy. Their findings included a much more dire assessment of Iraq's dilapidated electrical and water systems than many Pentagon officials assumed. They warned of a society so brutalized by Saddam Hussein's rule that many Iraqis might react coolly to Americans' notion of quickly rebuilding civil society.

Several officials said that many of the findings in the $5 million study were ignored by Pentagon officials until recently, although the Pentagon said they took the findings into account. The work is now being relied on heavily as occupation forces struggle to impose stability in Iraq. The working group studying transitional justice was eerily prescient in forecasting the widespread looting in the aftermath of the fall of Mr. Hussein's government, caused in part by thousands of criminals set free from prison, and it recommended force to prevent the chaos.

"The period immediately after regime change might offer these criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting," the report warned, urging American officials to "organize military patrols by coalition forces in all major cities to prevent lawlessness, especially against vital utilities and key government facilities."


The article goes on to note that some State Department officials blame the Pentagon for ignoring the Future of Iraq Project, a year in the making and made available to the US military only in February, a month before the war started. Intra-agency problems of this sort are hardly rare in Washington. That they may have marred the initial weeks or months of the US occupation and reconstruction of Iraq are certainly plausible: "Administration officials say there was postwar planning at several government agencies, but much of the work at any one agency was largely disconnected from that at others." Even so, the New York Times reporters --- following a credo of solid professional journalism --- immediately quote Pentagon officials who deny that they ignored the report and that claimed it was too academic as a direct guide for occupational policies. Other observers, like the respected and highly intelligent Senator Joe Biden, the former Democratic head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been more critical of the failures that prevented the project from being more effectively implemented. And the buggy professor's former student --- Marc Grossman, the Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs (especially the Middle East) --- is another observer, more soft-spoken in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the project:

In the end, the American military and civilian officials who first entered Iraq prepared for several possible problems: numerous fires in the oil fields, a massive humanitarian crisis, widespread revenge attacks against former leaders of Mr. Hussein's government and threats from Iraq's neighbors. In fact, none of those problems occurred to any great degree.

Officials acknowledge that the United States was not well prepared for what did occur: chiefly widespread looting and related security threats, even though the State Department study predicted them. Senior said the Pentagon squandered a chance to anticipate more of the postwar pitfalls by not fully incorporating the State Department information.

"Had we done more work and more of a commitment at the front end, there would be drastically different results now," said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 11, Marc Grossman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said the working groups were "not to have an academic discussion but to consider thoughts and plans for what can be done immediately."

But some senior Pentagon officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while some of the project's work was well done, much of it was superficial and too academic to be practical. "It was mostly ignored," said one senior defense official. "State has good ideas and a feel for the political landscape, but they're bad at implementing anything. Defense, on the other hand, is excellent at logistical stuff, but has blinders when it comes to policy. We needed to blend these two together."

A review of the work shows a wide range of quality and industriousness. For example, the transitional justice working group, made up of Iraqi judges, law professors and legal experts, has met four times and drafted more than 600 pages of proposed reforms in the Iraqi criminal code, civil code, nationality laws and military procedure. Other working groups, however, met only once and produced slim reports or none at all


The Article's Stimulating Final Comments

In the end, the article --- a sign of solid and intelligent journalism --- notes that the challenge of rehabilitating Iraq after 40 years of totalitarian rule adds up to a bold, problem-laden, multi-faceted venture that couldn't and can't be mastered in a few months. Who ever thought this, save those who opposed the war from the start, or who hate Bush personally, or are political opportunists catering to Democratic Party activists, or think that a United Nations where brutal, mass-murdering Syria chairs the Security Council, brutal and totalitarian Libya chairs the Human Rights Commission, and savage totalitarian Saddamite Iraq was to chair the Disarmament Commission starting last spring is somehow the last and best hope of mankind for peace and progress on earth. Not to forget almost all the elites and media in France and most of them in Germany and elsewhere on the EU Continent who want desperately, wishful thinking to their core, to see us fail in Iraq, fearful that somehow it will solidify some imaginary American super-hegemony that will then rule the world?

Encouraging Iraqis to emerge from three decades of dictatorship and embrace a vibrant civil society including labor unions, artist guilds and professional associations, could be more difficult than anticipated, the civil society capacity buildup working group cautioned: "The people's main concern has become basic survival and not building their civil society."

The groups' ideas may not have been fully incorporated before the war, but they are getting a closer look now. Many of the Iraqi ministers are graduates of the working groups, and have brought that experience with them. Since last spring, new arrivals to Mr. Bremer's staff in Baghdad have received a CD-ROM version of the State Department's 13-volume work. "It's our bible coming out here," said one senior official in Baghdad.


Addendum Note: Other Groups and Countries Hoping for US Failure

One final follow-up comment here before we move on . . . an addition or two to the groups and governments around the world desperate to see the transformation of Iraq from totalitarian Baathist rule that destroyed all of civil society, crushed all free expression and other human rights, killed off hundreds of thousands of its citizens, if not more, in purges and assaults --- including the use of chemical and biological weapons on thousands of Kurdish villages, followed by large-scale massacres on the ground there --- and squandered hundreds of billions of dollars on programs to build weapons of mass destruction. All this, remember, at the heart of a region where 21 other despotic, utterly corrupt Arab governments rule (the degree of violence and repression the only major variable here), an Islamist mullah-led dictatorship next door in Iran, and a combined GDP for the 300 million Arab peoples lower than that of Spain, with its 40 million people . . . one of the poorer country of the EU, about 15% below the EU average in per capita income. Not to forget, besides the regimes, the surge ongoing for the last 3 decades of paranoid-infested Islamist extremism, with its embrace in most case for Islamo-fascist terrorist movements --- including Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, and the various offsprings of Muslim Brotherhood (the original extremist movement in the early 20th century here) around the Arab world.

Crackpot fringes in the Middle East only? Hardly.

The struggle at the heart of the Middle East and the rest of the Islamic world, 1.2 billion people, is between a clash of civilizations: retrograde Islam and its longing for some imagined past utopia of purity and dominance compared to the West vs. modernizers of all sorts, from a few moderate politicians and technocrats and middle-class business and professional people to some ordinary citizens who just want a better life and haven't succumbed to the paranoid conspiratorial explanations, pushed by the Islamists, that explain their countries backwardness and their personal troubles as entirely the fault of others: the West, Hindus, the US, and of course Jews . . . the favorite scapegoat, it appears, in radical Islamist thinking.


And, to judge by the recent gleeful ovation given Mahathir Mohammed --- the demagogic head of Malaysia, at the recent conference of 57 Islamic countries, after he delivered a Jew-hating tirade full of typical conspiratorial paranoia fully worthy of Hitler and his propaganda minister, Goebbel --- not just in fringe radical Islamist circles.

For the jubiliant clapping government heads there, Mahathir's racist rant was all happy news --- the sort of conspiratorial claptrap that Nazi Germany spewed out daily for 12 years in its totalitarian, race-obsessed media. And especially happy for themselves personally --- relieved to know that, with at most two or three exceptions like secular Turkey and democratically evolving Indonesia (still without elections scheduled for next year), all the rest of the 57 countries' tyranny, corruption, nepotism, clan-tribalism, winner-take-all despotic politics, and lack of scientific knowledge as Mathathir himself stressed, aren't their fault. No, the fault you see of a tiny Jewish cabal, some 15 million world-wide, that runs the globe after near-extermination in WWII --- as Mahathir himself conceded in an aside --- and sends others to fight and die in their clever camouflaged grip on the entire world and its 6 billion people.


Funny that. As the praiseworthy study put out by a team of Arab scholars and technocrats last year noted --- The UN's Arab Development Report 2002 --- illiteracy in the Arab world is the worst on the globe, worse even than in far poorer Tropical Africa. And the 300 million Arabs have translated fewer books from abroad in the last 1000 years than Spain with its 40 million people does each year. Not to forget, as the UN study noted, how half of the Arab people live under particular degrees of subjugation and constant constraints on their abilities and rights. Or for that matter the prevalence of tribal-like despotism and massive corruption and nepotism and winner-take-all-politics in every one of the 22 Arab countries that then existed in 2002 . . . since which time, one of them, where US and UK soldiers and administrators exist in large number, has changed --- in transition to a much freer society and polity for all the obstacles in the way. (For a discussion of the UN Arab Development Report 2002 and links to the original UN online source and some other links, plus extended buggy analysis, see two buggy articles of last winter: one, http://www.thebuggyprofessor.org/archives/00000076.php.

Essentially, there are two ways for people --- individuals, groups, whole countries --- to respond to setbacks in life. One way is to ask yourself, what did I -- we -- do wrong, and how can we improve our performance in the future? Alternatively, self-responsibility can be cold-shouldered as too chilling and mentally dislocating. Instead, you can ask: who did this to us, and how can we get revenge?

Is it too simplified to say that what is going on in Islam, especially the Middle East, in the clash of civilizations that is unfolding at the heart of 57 countries --- or 22 in the Arab world, plus Iran --- is a high-pulsating conflict between these two credos?


Note: Given the length of this original article, it has been divided into three new articles. This completes the first of these. The second article, published on October 20, 2003, continues the analysis being unfolded here.