Saturday, January 07, 2006

Reconstructing Iraq-- Oh Nevermind

Remember back in 2003, right after President Bush declared victory in Iraq, how the political controversy of the moment was whether all of the fantastic reconstruction that would be occurring would be paid for with U.S. grants or with loans? “Why not loans?” asked foolish optimists on both Right and Left, “since the Iraqis are going to be swimming in all that oil money.” In the end, we decided to provide $18 billion for reconstruction, that the Iraqis wouldn’t have to pay back. When we weren’t debating that important topic, we were discussing what other countries we would cut in on all that lucrative Iraqi business action—the French and Germans were definitely out; the coalition of the willing was in. But what about those who didn’t join the coalition, but didn’t oppose our invasion too strongly? For instance, should we cut the Canadians in for a piece?

Those were the days! Hard to imagine that at one time reconstruction was supposed to be fun and fun and profitable and a means of rewarding our friends and punishing our enemies. After this optimistic beginning, we started realizing that anything that got reconstructed would be blown up unless we provided security so roughly half of the reconstruction money was reprogrammed towards security. And, of course, the Coalition Provisional Authority just lost $8.8 billion—let it disappear down a dark hole.

Nonetheless, just a month ago, President Bush cited reconstruction of Iraq as a key element of strategy for victory in Iraq:

BUSH: And all three aspects of our strategy—security, democracy, and reconstruction—we have learned from our experiences and fixed what has not worked. We will continue to listen to honest criticism and make every change that will help us complete the mission.
On Thursday, Keith Olberman pointed out when discussing President Bush’s meeting with former Secretaries of State and Defense to discuss Iraq (for five minutes) that Bush seems to have kicked away one leg of this tripod:

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We take to heart the advice, we appreciate your experience, and we appreciate your taking time out of your day. We have a dual-track strategy for victory. On the one hand, we will work to have a political process that says to all Iraqis, The future belongs to you. And on the other hand, we‘ll continue to work on the security situation there.

The main thrust of our success will be when the Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy that wants to stop their democracy. And we‘re making darn good progress along those lines.

Contained therein, perhaps the only reason news to have come out of today‘s photo opportunity at the White House, the president‘s strategy for victory in Iraq mysteriously shrinking to only two elements, having been threefold just last month.

Back in 2004 pundits loved to our President call a man of constancy, principle, and follow-through. But when it comes to reconstruction of Iraq, as with so many issues, the closer we look the more it seems that this Presidency is best described as a short attention span Presidency—one that devotes constant attention to securing electoral advantage and to pleasing the Republican donor class, but when it comes to following through on policies and programs, it just can't be bothered.