Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lowered Expectations


The Administration is now preparing the American public for a very different result in the Iraq war than it grandly predicted in March of 2003, the Washington Post reports:
The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
. . .
"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."
. . .
Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing, but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. There is also growing talk of turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces even if they are not fully up to original U.S. expectations, in part because they have local legitimacy that U.S. troops often do not.
. . .

Pressed by the cost of fighting an escalating insurgency, U.S. expectations for rebuilding Iraq -- and its $20 billion investment -- have fallen the farthest, current and former officials say.

Pentagon officials originally envisioned Iraq's oil revenue paying many post-invasion expenses. But Iraq, ranked among world leaders behind Saudi Arabia in proven oil reserves, is incapable of producing enough refined fuel amid a car-buying boom that has put an estimated 1 million more vehicles on the road after the invasion. Lines for subsidized cheap gas stretch for miles every day in Baghdad.

Oil production is estimated at 2.22 million barrels a day, short of the goal of 2.5 million. Iraq's pre-war high was 2.67 million barrels a day.

The United States had high hopes of quick, big-budget fixes for the electrical power system that would show Iraqis tangible benefits from the ouster of Hussein. But inadequate training for Iraqi staff, regional rivalries restricting the power flow to Baghdad, inadequate fuel for electrical generators and attacks on the infrastructure have contributed to the worst summer of electrical shortages in the capital.

Water is also a "tough, tough" situation in a desert country, said a U.S. official in Baghdad familiar with reconstruction issues. Pumping stations depend on electricity, and engineers now say the system has hundreds of thousands of leaks.

"The most thoroughly dashed expectation was the ability to build a robust self-sustaining economy. We're nowhere near that. State industries, electricity are all below what they were before we got there," said Wayne White, former head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team who is now at the Middle East Institute. "The administration says Saddam ran down the country. But most damage was from looting [after the invasion], which took down state industries, large private manufacturing, the national electric" system.

Ironically, White said, the initial ambitions may have complicated the U.S. mission: "In order to get out earlier, expectations are going to have to be lower, even much lower. The higher your expectation, the longer you have to stay. Getting out is going to be a more important consideration than the original goals were. They were unrealistic."

When expectations are lowered to this degree, the question arises whether we have actually made the situation worse off by invading. For some time most Americans have assumed that both the Iraqi people and American interests are better off than they were when Saddam ruled the country with his ruthless totalitarian dictatorship. If, however, our withdrawal leaves the country falling into civil war and produces a new strongman with no respect for human rights, or splits the country into rival fiefdoms run by Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish dictators, it is not clear that either our interests or those of the Iraqi people will have been served by our invasion. We will have entered with the best of motives and produced the worst of outcomes.

The problem with using war to reshape the world is that war is uncontrollable. Once war is unleashed, events often spin out of control, coming back to haunt the more powerful country who began the attack. Throughout history many wars have undone countries confident of their superior power. We must hope that this war is at most a temporary setback for America and not a disaster with long term consequences for our ability to safeguard our legitimate interests at home and promote democracy and human rights abroad.


George W handed us what turned out to be a bunch of lemons as his reasons for going to war against Iraq. Stuck with these lemons, he now makes lemonade. But we don't have to drink it, even though it may be best served with lame duck.

I live in DC. An acquaintance here, a long-time diplomat previously stationed in Iraq, early-on in the war insisted that leaving Saddam in place was the "better" option than the results of this invasion were going to be. The reasons? You see them -- they amount to an anarchical void filled by ultimately by an Iran-friendly Islamist government. And we ought to remember that these reasons and evidence for them all existed prior to the start of the war.

Helmut, Phronesisaical

Peace has more power than war.

There must be thousands of ways to judge a person but only reason not, to know him better.
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