November 20, 2003
Opinion/Editorial (page 9)
Not Elsewhere Classified
With $87.5 billion in aid to Iraq and Afghanistan recently granted by Congress, many people are worried about the progress of the reconstruction effort in Iraq. I contend that although there are problems, the operation on the whole is going successfully.
There are legitimate concerns about the sporadic violence, the corporations who are being awarded contracts to aid with the reconstruction, and the involvement of the international community. For me, however, the war in Iraq has always been first and foremost about the Iraqi people, so when I think about the success of the reconstruction effort, the benefit to them is my primary focus.
The most obvious way to answer the question "Is life better for the Iraqis?" is to look at it as a “bricks and mortar” question. In these terms, life is unequivocally better for the Iraqis than it was during the war or during Saddam Hussein’s rule. The U.S. Agency for International Development is in charge of rebuilding the infrastructure in Iraq and publishes a weekly progress report (http://www.usaid.gov/iraq). The country is producing as much electricity as it was before the war, and the distribution is much more equitable and has fewer blackouts than during Saddam’s rule. [What hapened to my sentence "Approximately ¾ of the Iraqi children under the age of 5 have been vaccinated."?] More than 1,590 schools were rehabilitated for reopening by early October. The marshes Saddam drained, which many considered an act of genocide against the Marsh Arabs, are being revitalized. The list goes on.
The trickier aspect of the question regards the long term effects--the personal feelings of the citizens, the prospects for a healthy democracy, and so on. Though it's not as easy to measure, I claim that the success of this work in progress is also substantial.
Certainly, not all Iraqis are happy about the occupation, but criticism no longer gets one a death sentence, and for that alone I think it was all worth it. Regardless of how many unfortunate incidents occur, there will be no more government-sanctioned torture of children, there will be no new mass graves. Lest this be construed as damning with faint praise, let the Iraqis speak for themselves.
Iraq quality of life improving steadily
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A poll conducted in June by the Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies found that 65 percent of Baghdadis wanted U.S. troops to stay for now. A Zogby International poll conducted in August found that 70 percent of those polled in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Ramadi expected their personal and political lives to improve in the next five years. A September Gallup poll of Baghdadis found that 62 percent felt ousting Saddam was worth the ensuing hardships.
In a speech to the Oxford Union, Rhodes Scholar Josh Chafetz pointed out that “when things are going badly in a country, we tend to see flows of refugees out of the country,” and in fact, many of those who opposed the war worried that that would happen. However, since the end of the war, the net flow has actually been into Iraq, as people have returned from exile in Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere. The borders seem to be fairly porous, and there aren’t the refugee camps one would see if people wanted to get out but couldn’t.
Freedom of speech and of the press, a necessary prerequisite to having anything resembling a true democracy, is growing quickly. Iraq now has approximately 170 newspapers, ranging from liberal to Islamist, even satirical and communist.
This is not to say that Iraq will be ready for full democracy tomorrow, but merely to point out the improvements that have occurred so far and that seem likely to continue occurring. In order for Iraq to become a solid country again, however, we need to stay committed to helping them. Some people are agitating for getting out of Iraq as soon as possible, but it would do a grave disservice to the Iraqis to just let them fend for themselves, refusing to help them rebuild their country since the war we waged is the reason for most of this destruction.
Some people are invoking memories of Vietnam, of getting mired in there, but David Gelernter of the Losa Angeles Times says that he too is haunted by Vietnam, but he perceives our obligations far differently ("Don't Quit as We Did in Vietnam," Los Angeles Times, November 9, 2003). One thing he notes is our abandoning the South Vietnamese, allowing their country to collapse. We are taught as children to help clean up our messes, and this is particularly crucial when the mess in question is a country.