Time to Help

While much of Iraq is still a mess 2 years on… the fact remains that it can be fixed. The insurgency is not insurmountable, the situation is not hopeless.

There are ways out of this mess, but it requires a change in tactic by the US and Iraqi government. This fact is not only being pointed out endlessly by academics in the US and elsewhere but also by American officers on the ground in Iraq.

Take these two quotes from the Academic and the Officer respectively:

Basic services are the core political goods of the modern state.  A failure to deliver these services will delegitimize any state that does not quickly correct the problem.  Allawi’s interim government and the US occupation lost its legitimacy in large part due to this process.

We are about to see another victim.  The new government in Iraq….

The UPI’s Baghdad correspondent, Beth Potter, picks up on this trend:
Iraqi voters aren’t happy.  They don’t care that some of the biggest political changes ever to happen in their lifetime are going on in their country. All they know is that the electricity still is off for hours every day, the water doesn’t always flow out of the faucets, there are still long gas queues at the stations, and the situation still seems pretty lawless in the streets.

From the Officer:

  1. A soldier’s natural inclination is to finish the fight first, provide security, and then work on development. This won’t work in Iraq. The Army needs to work on security and development in parallel.
  2. Poor services is one of the man things encouraging support to the insurgency. Most attacks occur in parts of the city where services are the worst. Large unemployment also contributes to dissatisfaction and resistance (it’s better than before the war, but still very high).
  3. Most insurgents fight out of general dissatisfaction, simple nationalism, need for money, etc….
  4. Sanitation was the problem he spent most of his time on. Streets with several inches of raw sewage running down them are common in Baghdad, particularly in Sadr City. The sewers that exist get clogged up with trash because garbage collection is poor, it piles up in the street, and it gets washed into the drains. Americans tend to want to build new schools, which are great, but not the primary need. Even fancy new sewage treatment plants are not the primary need—one is running at less than 1/3 capacity because the piping doesn’t exist to get the sewage to it. Step one is getting the sewage off the streets and into the Tigris, nasty as that sounds. Then we can worry about treating it on the way.

So we see that the US Army officer and the Academic are actually talking the same language…

John Robb points to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which states that in order for a person to be self-actualized (and basically happy with his/her situation) there is a simple hierarchy or priority list to reach a level of happiness. First comes basic survival… food, water, electricity. Then comes shelter, security and employment. Then belonging, respect and affection. Then opportunity for advancement…

What John Robb points out and what the US Army commander is noting on the ground, is that the current US policy has attempted to rebuild Iraqi society in a backwards fashion. While so much emphasis was put on bringing about elections and interim governments and building new schools, basic services were never secured and provided reliably… and still aren’t today. This is the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy… and the failure of that has effectively cut the legs out from under the US and Iraqi ability to manage Iraq, the security situation, and the fledgling government.

So, what do we do to change this?

Well, I think it’s time the US get some *real* help.

The US needs to ask the world to help it restore basic services and functionality to Iraq. Yes, I think it should be coordinated by the UN, only because the UN is the only agency that can coordinate the international effort that this should be.

The UN needs to be tasked to go in, with military support where needed, and repair the basic infrastructure in Iraq. If that means having patrols along every Iraqi oil pipeline for a few months, then so be it. The US and Iraqi government needs to have the balls to truly ask for help and the International community needs to respond swiftly and completely.

Baghdad must be cleaned up and its’ sewer system repaired.

The electricity grid must be repaired and secured.

The water system was must be repaired and upgraded.

The oil/gas delivery system must be repaired and secured.

As the saying goes… many hands make light work.

It’s time for the US to bite the bullet and the UN (including Canada) to step up.

2 replies on “Time to Help”

  1. Chris,

    I was right there with you, until you (predictably) turned to your preferred solution: “Bring in the UN!”

    A few problems with this:

    1. The UN is nothing more than a very loose affiliation of independent nations. They have no “forces” to accomplish this mission, except those that member nations contribute on a voluntary basis. Those nations that are willing to participate in the stabilization and rebuilding of Iraq are, in fact, already there.

    2. The UN has no unique knowledge or capabilities that cannot already be provided by the multi-national forces or the Iraqis themselves. Witness the debacle of the pitiful UN response to the Southeast Asia tsunami disaster, and contrast this with the timely, effective relief provided by the Australian, Thai, Singaporean, Japanese, and American militaries. If they can’t handle disaster relief, what makes you think they can do a better job in Iraq?

    3. The UN was in Iraq early on, but turned tail and fled after a car bomb destroyed their headquarters. They complained that the security situation was too dangerous. Ironically, they had previously declined an offer of dedicated security from the Coalition forces.

    Honestly, I don’t understand why you cling to this myth that the UN has this magical power to make everything better. Whenever I’ve seen “UN Forces” in action, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that the whole is considerably less than the sum of its parts.

  2. The problem, Smash, is that the UN and NATO are all we have.

    The UN is the only body capable of bringing broad based help onto the situation. The US has shown over the past 2 years that it cannot do it… it has failed multiple times in bringing in more help for reconstruction. It’s coalition has deteriorated to the point where after this fall only the US and UK remain as significant contributors.

    You’re right though that the UN turned tail after the bombing of their headquarters (so did most of the rest of the NGOs)… but it is time now to try again. The UN has to suck it up and get back in there and the US has to be willing to give that a chance to succeed.

    As I’ve written before on my site… one ultimate solution to the constant problems of the UN and the decline of relevance of NATO would be a merge of the two. The UN needs a standing force that is able to react quickly and NATO needs to expand in order to maintain its’ relevance but do so in a way that does not upset the likes of Russia and others.

    This mission in Iraq would be less about providing security and more about tackling basic infrastructure. yes they’ll need to be safe to be able to do it… but I think that if there was an obvious, highly-publicized effort to repair the infrastructure then many in the insurgency would melt away.

    The UN is the only body that can bring the resources in. The Iraqi government needs to ask for that help, but at this time it can’t do much with it as its’ effectively paralyzed in parliamentary wrangling.

    I know your feelings about the UN… but it’s all we have… and like it or not it’s the only way to get the World back on the Iraqi’s, and US’s side.

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