A simple analogy: The United States did to Iraq in 2003 what Hurricane Katrina did to the United States in 2005. In both cases, the Bush administration was slow and ineffective trying to repair the damage. The difference between the two situations was that there were state and local governments in the United States that took up the slack left by the Bush administration. There was no effective local or national government in Iraq to take up the slack there.
Saddam Hussein was a dictator, but he maintained order in Iraq. He also supplied the Iraqi people with adequate food, fuel, water, electricity, education, health care and waste management (all sadly lacking now) before the United States invaded, even in the face of a U.S.-led embargo.
Saddam was respected and admired by many Iraqis and others throughout the Middle East for standing up to the United States. That is why we were not welcomed in Iraq as liberators. That fact was easy to ascertain, and we should have been told the truth about Saddam’s popularity at home and his lack of WMDs before the invasion. His ties to al-Qaeda were false from the get-go because al-Qaeda is Sunni and clerical while Saddam’s government was secular.
Once we invaded Iraq, we broke it and owned the results, according to the Pottery Barn-like doctrine enunciated by Colin Powell. We tried to put Iraq (Humpty Dumpty) back together again and failed. It is possible that no one could have put Iraq back together again. Maybe Saddam could have, but he was not given the chance. Iraq was not and is not ready for democracy and free market capitalism; Iraq may never be ready.
To understand Iraq as it exists now, I recommend two books. For the 30,000-foot view and the big picture of what went wrong, I recommend “My Year in Iraq,” by Paul Bremer. For a ground-level view full of the dirty details, I recommend “We Meant Well,” by Peter Van Buren.
The U.S. effort to restore Iraq was breathtakingly incompetent. We may or may not have succeeded militarily in Iraq, but we failed miserably in the rebuilding of a functioning society in Iraq.
Many U.S.-funded projects were irrelevant to the needs of Iraq. Projects were left unfinished, and Iraq refused to accept most of the projects that were completed. Iraq lacked the funds and the trained manpower to operate power plants, waste treatment facilities, water supplies and other facilities that the United States built. The United States had no master plan for Iraq and just threw money left and right and hoped that somehow all would turn out for the best. It did not work, and the United States wasted many billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
Walter Hecht is a St. George resident.