Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Moral Infrastructure of Iraq

When I read that the Bush Administration does not intend to seek any more money to rebuild Iraq, my first impulse was to say that this was wrong. I intended to write this essay applying the time-honored principle of "You broke it, you buy it," to argue that, in virtue of the fact that we were the invaders, we had an obligation to rebuild Iraq.

However, as I read the article, and put it into the context of other things that I have read, I came to realize that the premise that the Bush Administration was responsible for breaking Iraq was a stretch. Much of the responsibility for the breaking goes to the insurgents in Iraq.

The Cost of an Inadequate Moral Infrastructure

Within the article, Ellen Knickmeyer reported on a meeting at which “A screen overhead detailed the previous day's 70 or so attacks on private, military and Iraqi security forces.” As a result of these types of attacks, large amounts of money that would have gone to building infrastructure were instead spent on security. “In Washington, the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction puts the security costs of each project at 25 percent.”

It is perfectly within Bush's moral prerogative to say to the people of Iraq, "If you, the people of Iraq, are going to permit the destruction of billions of dollars worth of reconstruction effort, then it is not our burden to suffer the cost of that destruction. In this case, we are not the ones who broke it, so we are not the ones who must buy it.”

If Iraq ends up with half of the reconstruction that it would have had in virtue of the fact that it has allowed insurgents to drive up the costs of construction (mainly due to the cost of security) or destroying that which was built, or destroying some things while the allies were fixing something else, then this should be listed as the responsibility of the people of Iraq and the responsibility of the United States.

Insurgents can only operate if they have the passive cooperation of the people. That is to say, the people themselves have to make a decision that they are going to tolerate the presence and the actions of the destroyers. If they accept the destruction, then they accept the consequences of that destruction. If they tolerate a culture where the cost of construction is double what it would otherwise be, then they should expect to have half as much construction as they would otherwise have. If the culture tolerates the destruction of its property and the slaughter of its people, then they should not be upset when those nearest to them are counted among the dead.

If they want more reconstruction and a fewer deaths per month, one of the ways that they can reach this objective is by simply deciding not to tolerate the destroyers, and to help in protecting the builders.

In America, we do not tolerate foreigners coming into our country and destroying buildings. We do not tolerate Americans who destroy our buildings. If we were to discover that any destroyers in this country were actually targeting some third party, and not Americans, we would still not tolerate them. We would, instead, demand that they keep their conflict out of our borders, and refuse to tolerate any who would not yield to that demand.

Bombs and assassination are not on the list of permissible ways to express a political opinion. Nobody who expresses their political opinions using bombs and assassination will be tolerated here. That is how it should be.

Our obligations under the doctrine of, "If you break it, you buy it" does not apply to the things that the Iraqis break themselves. Nor does it obligate us to go beyond additional costs that they have inflicted on us.

Other Costs

Permitting these destructive activities will not only cost Iraq the rebuilding that America would have done if it had not needed to divert money for security reasons. No doubt, international investors are also looking at the degree to whether to invest in establishing operations in Iraq. If it were a peaceful, non-violent society, they would have a much better chance of drawing investment capital than if it were a society that tacitly accepts bombings and assassination. These are expenses and risks that no company has much reason to accept.

The loss of investment dollars means a loss of jobs, a loss of opportunity, and an increase in poverty and want.

Unfortunately, I have some fear that this will set Iraq up for a cycle of poverty and despair. The destroyers damage the infrastructure and threaten outsides. This drives away investment, jobs, and opportunity. This leaves the citizens of Iraq poor, with few jobs and fewer hopes for the future. This makes them easy targets for hate-mongers who will say, "This is all America's fault," which means a generation of angry young men blaming America for the harm that the destroyers had wrought, which means that civilization will continue to avoid Iraq and it will become an ever fertile ground for terrorist sentiment.

It is a dangerous cycle. I can only think of one way out of it. The people of Iraq have to decide for themselves that they will no more tolerate the destroyers who are the true cause of this cycle of poverty and despair. Once they drive out the destroyers, they can start to make friends, attract jobs and other opportunities, attract the engines of hope, and replace their despair with hope and promise.

Insofar as we are going to invest in a better Iraq, that investment is not best made in the physical infrastructure of schools, roads, and power plants.

The best investment that a country can make is in its moral infrastructure.

Bush as a Moral Leader

Unfortunately, President Bush and his administration have given up their opportunity to be leader of morals. His authorization of countries spying on their own people, the use of torture and extraordinary rendition, policies of bribing the Iraqi press to print favorable stories, all serve to undermine, rather than promote, the attitude that these types of things are wrong. They serve to undermine the moral infrastructure of Iraq by providing the country with a poor role model – a role model that captures many of the habits of Saddam Hussein, rather than condemns those habits.

I suspect that the Bush Administration was only incidentally concerned with building Iraq anyway. I suspect that his plan was to send his army to Baghdad, be welcomed as a great leader, take over the country and, in particular, the oil revenues, then hand those revenues over to companies like Halliburton et al. in exchange for improvements in infrastructure.

However, the oil revenue was not available, and the costs of construction turned out to be significantly higher than expected. He found that he had no Iraqi oil revenue to give to Halliburton et al., so he had to give taxpayer dollars instead.

This plan did not involve any concern for the moral infrastructure of Iraq – the most important element in any country hoping to draw foreign investment and the jobs and hope this entails.


Anonymous said...

An interesting take on the cost of rebuilding Iraq. Trouble is, you speak of what the Iraqi people -- collectively -- should do. Whereas, most of your columns focus on what an _individual_ ought to do to be moral. Am I, as an American, to be condemned because I allowed GW Bush to be elected?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that blaming the mess in Iraq on the lack of morality among Iraqis is far too easy. Could it not be that they simply value political self-determinism far more highly than we do? After all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter. It is generally considered moral to fight against a hostile invader in your home, no mater how out-gunned you are, in any way possible to defend who/what you love. And, traditionally, all resistance movements must view collaborators as no better (often far worse) than the invading force, or they could not succeed.

In that light, the Iraqi people have extremly strong moral fiber. They are willing to sacrafice their present and future well-being, their property, and even their lives, to help throw out the invaders. The invading force has such an advantage in traditional warfare that defeating them in that manner is impossible, therefore they use the tools they have to fight in what way they can.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


The Iraqi people have two options for getting rid of the "invaders:.

(1) Get busy creating their own democratic government, then voting in a government that demands that the Americans leave.

(2) Engage in non-violent protests of the type that Ghandi used against those who invaded his country, India.

Or, if they are suicidal they can engage in acts like those of the Buddhist Monks in Vietnam in the 60's -- who killed themselves in spectacular ways, but did no harm to others in the process.

That is the difference between a moral person and one who is not. The immoral person embraces violence and destruction. The moral person looks for non-violent, non-destructive alternatives, and resorts to violence only as a last resort.

Anonymous said...

1) Hard to do when a foreign power is occupying your country.\

2) Non-violence rarely works against the violent. The Vietnamese monks didn't kick the French and Americans out of Vientnam - the Viet Cong did. It has been argued that MLKjr couldn't have won the rights he did without the Black Panthers and other violent groups threatening an uprising, and that Ghandi was only succesfull due to the bankruptcy the British Empire faced after WWII and continued insurection from the Indians.

I agree that one of the main differences between one who is moral and one who isn't is how readily they resort to violence. I just think violence is, sadly, neccissary far more often than many think.