Monday, November 15, 2004

Yes, But

Forgive the foray into political seriousness for a moment, if you will. I'm feeling chronically unentertaining, and now will force you all to wallow in it.

I took myself over to Oxblog where I saw that smarty-pants Josh Chafetz just won an Oxford debate in which he argued against the proposition that we are losing the peace in Iraq. Good for him. I couldn't win a debate at Oxford on the proposition that we ought to eat pie more often, so that's something to be proud of.

But even so, reading his rosy summary of the postwar reconstruction efforts in Iraq, something nagged me. He breaks the reconstruction effort into its four key components: "rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, creating a viable civil society and laying the groundwork for democracy, getting the economy moving, and providing security" and proceeds to discuss how we are making solid progress in each.

Then I realized why this all sounded so odd. His conclusions, informed at least in party by USAID's progress reports, were like a bizarro-world version of the CSIS Iraq report which also breaks the reconstruction effort into the almost identical categories of: security, governance and participation, economic opportunity, services, and social well-being.

Except where Chafetz saw progress in nearly every indicator, CSIS saw either stasis, mild progress that still does not reach the "tipping point" of sustainability, or regress. Could this be because USAID has a strong interest in showing how wildly successful their investment is proving? Is it because CSIS has it in for the administration? I don't know what gives, but just to give you an idea, here's some point counterpoint just on the Infrastructure section.

First, infrastructure: electricity generation is now at or above pre-war levels. The grid was in a poor state long before the war, and Saddam's regime intentionally caused blackouts in other cities in order to keep the lights on in Baghdad. Now, even with a more equitable distribution of electricity, blackouts in the capital are relatively rare.
The provision of power has not noticeably changed. Despite a recent report by the Iraqi Central Bureau of Statistics which states that 97 percent of Iraqi households are connected to the general electricity network, power continues to be in short supply. Wattage across the country hovers around 5,300 MW per day, which, while above prewar levels of 4,400 MW, remains short of the 6,000 MW that the coalition had pledged to provide by June. Across the country, power plants are performing well below capacity.
Okay, not too far off. But we continue.

Similarly, water supplies are cleaner and more plentiful in many places than they were before the war, and phone use is becoming more widespread than ever before, as mobile phones come to Iraq for the first time.
Water has regressed in recent months, due to continued poor treatment and provision. Lack of clean water is leading to increased disease, and almost one in five urban households and three in five rural households still do not have access to safe drinking water. Water treatment plants have not been performing at capacity and are being run inefficiently by Iraqi government ministries. Furthermore, U.S. funding for water generation has decreased significantly.
Schools have all re-opened, many of them refurbished by coalition forces. New textbooks are being printed, and lessons no longer begin with the chanting of praise for Saddam.
Basic education is regressing as a result of the security situation. The beginning of the 2004 school year was delayed twice due to violence and instability. Since the school year began, enrollment rates have been down; classes in certain parts of the country have shrunk dramatically in size. For example, at Family Elementary School in Baghdad, there are only about 10 children in each class (the lowest in years), and at Mansoor Al-Tacicya Primary School less than 50 percent of students were present for the first day of the new term, compared with what is typically 95 percent attendance rate.
And you can go on with the other categories, but I'll spare you. So what to make of this? I don't know who's right, though based on my own experience with USAID, I'm inclined to lean toward CSIS. Of course, my liberal blame-America-first, freedom hating tendencies bring me to the same conclusion, so who's to say what my motivation might be? The real answer of course, is likely somewhere between and more likely than not related to a question of emphasis. Chafetz is surely right to say that textbooks are being printed and schools have reopened, whereas CSIS overlooks this good news to note that nobody seems to be going to these lovely schools.

But the important question, I guess, is however you characterize conditions on the ground, are they such that stability can be achieved? Chafetz is probably right that it's premature to claim that we've entirely lost the peace in Iraq, but on the way to this conclusion he finds much more to be encouraged about than conditions seem to warrant.


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