Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Of Carrots and Sticks

I just finished reading Richard Lowry's, "What Went Right: How the U.S. began to quell the insurgency in Iraq," in National Review. (Sorry the link will only get you the intro.) The article's title was much better than the triumphant cover which proclaimed "We're Winning," a presumptuous declaration to make right now, considering the Iraqis' inability to solidify their government and the insurgency's continued strength and daring. As the AP reported via the NYTs today:
Despite nearly 140,000 U.S. troops and a similar number of Iraqi forces, guerrillas have the same capability to attack as they did a year ago, staging 50 or 60 attacks a day, [Air Force General Richard]Myers said.

Myers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted a recent rise in violence that has coincided with the political impasse over naming a new government.
Gen. Myers doesn't seem to have reached the same conclusion as NR's editors.

Despite NR's swaggering cover, Lowry's article is quite good apart from the uncritical cheerleading. Check out this doozy:
If success in Iraq is not assured, it is within sight. This is a testament to the resolve of President Bush, the Pentagon's push to give more responsibility to the Iraqis, the imagination and flexibility of U.S. commanders, and -- above all -- the courage, the can-do willingness to take on any task, and the amazing capabilities of the American soldier and Marine.
The gist of Lowry's article is that U.S. military strategy has incorporated economic development and infrastructure projects to help drive a wedge between the insurgents and those Iraqis whose legs are dangling over each side of the fence. One, Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, stands out as someone that understood how to drain a swamp. Chiarelli functioned much like Baghdad's mayor, overseeing basic service provision while helping to create jobs. By the time he left Iraq, trash pick-up covered seventy percent of Baghdad. When Moqtada al-Sadr and his Madhi army started problems in north Sadr City, Baghdad, Chiarelli doubled U.S. infrastructure efforts in the south. As Chiarelli told Lowry:
"We let them in the north look at what was happening in the south. We wanted them to say, 'These guys who are fighting have stopped the improvement, all for what? To have IEDs in the streets?'"
Plus, Chiarelli has a better understanding of the importance of Keynesian economics than the bureaucrats of the defunct CPA and it's successor, the U.S. Embassy.
"After Chiarelli beat Moqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, he kept the focus on rebuilding and employment. The goal was to hire in the neighborhoods, and hire as many people as possible. 'I was upset,' he says, 'when a contractor showed up with a [mechanized] ditch digger: I didn't want ditch diggers.' He wanted to put shovels in peoples' hands for $5-7 a day."
Which brings up this question: Why weren't contractors made to hire a mandatory percentage of Iraqis before they were allowed to start work on reconstruction projects? This is elementary economics and commonsensical public policy. Unemployment breeds despair and a tight money supply that makes it hard to revive any economy. Therefore, the best and most efficient way to ensure steady economic improvement is through public spending that increases the money supply and puts people to work, which creates a positive feedback cycle. Yet the Bush Administration and the CPA chose to play the neoliberal game, making no demands on capital to the detriment of ordinary Iraqis.

Whether NR and its editors appreciate it, Lowry's article demonstrates that if the architects of war paid more attention to the Keynesian carrots used by Chiarelli, the U.S. military may have been able to put down the sticks a lot sooner.