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Defining victory down

January 6th, 2006

Lots of people have already commented on the announcement that the Bush Administration plans to cease funding reconstruction programs in Iraq when the existing allocation of $18.5 billion is exhausted. Some comments, here, here and here. Coming late, there’s not much for me to do but survey the field and toss in some numbers.

The numbers first. From the article in the WP it appears that at least $6 billion of the reconstruction money has gone directly to various aspects of counterinsurgency. In addition, around 25 per cent of each project goes to security. That leaves about $9 billion.

Corruption[1] and the general increase in costs associated with dangerous work mean that the cost of general services is inflated, I’d guess by at least 50 per cent, and probably more. So, the effective expenditure on civil reconstruction would be around $6 billion.

How does that compare to what would have been needed to achieve the minimal victory condition of making things no worse than they were shortly before the war (which means much worse than in, say, 1980, 1990 or 2000). Shortly after the war I estimated the cost of such a program at between $25 billion and $50 billion and other estimates I saw were similar. The subsequent years of insurgency and civil strife would probably have doubled that. In The Assassin’s Gate, George Packer estimate the damage caused by postwar looting alone at $12 billion[2].

In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that Iraqis are worse off, on the majority of economic and social measures, from mortality to power supplies, than they were before the invasion. And it’s hard to see how such an outcome can be described as “complete victory” or how even a partial military victory is going to be feasible once the reconstruction work stops, presumably throwing thousands of people out of work in the process.

I can’t see how this makes any sense at all, except in the context of plans for a rapid and complete pullout. Why spend another $100 billion or so on military efforts which are now pretty much pointless?

As I said, lots of people have posted already, but from what I can see, nearly all the comments have come from opponents of the war and of the Bush Administration. I’m not interested in a “silence of the hawks” pointscoring exercise, but I’d really be interested to know what supporters of the war have made of this. In particular:

(1) has the accuracy of the Washington post been disputed?
(2) has anyone defended the decision to stop reconstruction funding ?
(3) has anyone changed their mind about support for the war as a result of this ?

I would have thought that any remaining liberal and left supporters of the war ought to realise by now that, whatever the abstract merits of the case for overthrowing Saddam, they backed the wrong horse in supporting Bush and Blair to do it.

fn1. As an aside, the corruption in the current reconstruction appears to be on much the same scale as in the Oil-for-Food program. In both cases, corruption was inevitable given the circumstances. While individuals involved in corruption should be prosecuted, it was silly to condemn Oil-for-Food, which saved tens of thousands of lives, because Saddam managed to skim money off the top, and it’s equally silly to oppose Iraqi reconstruction because the Halliburtons and Chalabhis have their fingers in the till.

fn2. It’s worth recalling that looting wasn’t the product of mere neglect. It was condoned and sometimes actively encouraged by both Britain and the US, and cheered on by pro-war bloggers.

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  1. Katz
    January 12th, 2006 at 12:31 | #1

    Thanks for that correction Brian. I went searching the facts and discovered that I have for a long time been the propagator of a myth.

    Your account also requires some correction. The Communist Party candidate wasn’t the first on the ballot paper. A QLP candidate had that honour. Details to be found here:


  2. January 12th, 2006 at 12:53 | #2

    Brian: There is cause for considerable doubt about the authenticity of “Riverbend”. She wouldn’t be first cute little girl on the net who turns out to be a 45yo american male with a paunch, typing from Buttsville Ohio.

    “Riverbend” can type what she wishes, but there is nothing except her own text to indicate she is in Iraq, or indeed, is even an Iraqi.

  3. avaroo
    January 12th, 2006 at 14:18 | #3

    “You mean besides the variosu treaties you’ve signed?”

    yes, besides that. or even including that.

    “The US was founded as a republic not an empire. The Founding Fathers and their successors up until around the 1890’s were acutely aware of the threat that empire posed to internal democracy.”

    no shit.

    “If America has departed from that founding principle and now regards itself as an empire ”

    It doesn’t. We’ve never been interested in empire, we’re quite happy right here at home.

  4. Ian Gould
    January 12th, 2006 at 20:32 | #4

    Then what was thep oimnt of our comment about imperiums? (Imperia?)

  5. Ian Gould
    January 12th, 2006 at 20:33 | #5

    Then what was the point of our comment about imperiums? (Imperia?)

  6. avaroo
    January 13th, 2006 at 08:58 | #6

    You’re asking me what YOUR point was?

  7. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2006 at 09:52 | #7

    Avaroo, you wrote: “Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have.” apparently in reference to the US.

    Now you disclaim any wish to see an American empire.

    Explain to me how the US can be an “imperium” acting outside of international law but not an “empire”.

  8. avaroo
    January 13th, 2006 at 11:51 | #8

    “Avaroo, you wrote: “Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have.â€? apparently in reference to the US.”

    The US would have to be an empire in order for this statement to refer to it. Is that not obvious?

  9. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2006 at 13:13 | #9

    So you felt the need to make a statement about empires “doing what they want” in a thread about US policy, why?

    What “imperium” exactly were you referring to?

  10. avaroo
    January 13th, 2006 at 14:14 | #10

    “So you felt the need to make a statement about empires “doing what they wantâ€? in a thread about US policy, why?”

    perhaps you might want to read the comments preceeding mine.

    “What “imperiumâ€? exactly were you referring to?”

    None specifically. As a general rule, imperial nations do what they want to do.

  11. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2006 at 15:15 | #11

    Avaroo I read the preceding comments, I don’t find any reference to “imperial nations” in them.

  12. avaroo
    January 13th, 2006 at 15:24 | #12

    Then you haven’t read them. Read the comment immediately preceeding the one where I first say this:

    “Imperiums already do what they want to do, and they always have. “

  13. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2006 at 15:56 | #13

    Okay,you’re right and I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.

  14. avaroo
    January 13th, 2006 at 16:15 | #14

    no problem

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