Reconstruction

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Newsweek makes an interesting point:

Paul (Jerry) Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, proudly announced the reopening of Iraq?s schools this month, while White House officials point to the opening of Iraq?s 240 hospitals. In fact, many schools were already open in May, once major combat ended, and no major hospital closed during the war.

Joshus Micah Marshall comments:

If you go back to last fall, or even the early months of this year, there was plenty of talk about reconstruction in Iraq. But if you look closely most of the talk was about social and political reconstruction: building a free press, purging the army of Baathists, creating the building blocks of a rule-of-law society, and so forth….Certainly, there was a recognition that we'd need to rebuild stuff that we broke in the course of prosecuting the war. But the entire focus of reconstruction underwent a wholesale transformation in the months after the war.

…Building bridges and schools can be terribly expensive. But it's something we know how to do and something that shows concrete results. Building civil society can be, to paraphrase Bolivar, like plowing the sea.

Update: Several commenters point to news accounts that do describe important hospitals getting closed (and worse), indicating that Newsweek either is wrong or is foolishly sitting on one hell of an interesting story about those earlier reports. (Or perhaps, as Charles Paul Freund suggests, is being coy about how it defines "during the war.")

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  1. Ah yes, counter-evidence. 🙂

  2. So which is it?

    Is it, according to the anti-war folks, that the US war on Iraq damaged hospitals, schools, and other civilian facilities, thus angering and turning the Iraqis against us.

    Or is it, according to the anti-war folks, that the US can take no credit for Iraqi schools and hospitals because they were untouched by the war?

    I’m so confused. Are Americans remorseless, efficient killers, or hapless bumblers?

  3. Once you’re finished with that strawman, R.C., feel free to leave a comment about the post.

  4. I noticed the claims that the U.S. had “re-built” over a thousand schools. It occured to me that “re-built” might mean something like replacing a couple of windows.

    I also noticed that the hospital stories, unlike the school ones, didn’t give any numbers. But it didn’t occur to me that the number of “re-opened” hospitals could be zero!

    People say I’m too cynical, but at the moment I fear I’m not cynical enough.

  5. Yes, I agree with Newsweek. Our forces were quite amazing in that they kicked out a deeply-rooted despot without completely laying waste to the country.

    As to Marshall’s factless comment–that it’s tough to politcally reconstruct a country–everyone already understands that, but we’ve done it before and it’s certainly worth trying here.

  6. While there are a lot of half truths and hand waving in both media and govt with regards to the good/bad news out of iraq, Newsweek is just plain wrong when it says, “…and no major hospital closed during the war.”

    This is from an April 10th report:

    ” The International Committee of the Red Cross has said two key Baghdad hospitals, and many other smaller ones have closed their doors because of the street violence and looting.”

    http://www.rte.ie/news/2003/0410/iraq02.html

  7. From the Daily Telegraph 4/14/03, titled:
    “Military Restrictions and Lawlessness Shut Aid Agencies Out of Iraq”
    “All but two of the capital’s hospitals have been ransacked, pillaged and forced to close.
    Only Saddam General hospital and Qadissiya hospital, both under heavy guard are still functioning. All three of the capital’s main general hospitals – Kindi, Yarmuk and Mansour – have been forced to discharge their patients and close down.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk
    Note the Newsweek article used the qualifier “major.” Apparently “major” in Newsweek-speak means “the ones we want to talk about, but no others.”

  8. i recall a shitload of postwar stories indicating that hospitals in baghdad and other iraqi cities had been so looted that they were unable to provide sufficient treatment to many patients. newsweek’s comment that no major hospitals closed “during the war” appears (coyly?) to overlook that. were those looting stories true or false? if they were false or exaggerated, then that’s the story. but if the stories were true, then it appears that once-dysfunctional hospitals are functional again, and that’s a valid story. as for the schools, it’s good that “many schools were already open in may,” and it’s surely better that all of them are open now, isn’t it?

  9. we’ve done it before and it’s certainly worth trying here

    Japan is an aberration, Germany is not comparable, and the other efforts were all failures.

  10. Note that Instapundit had introduced a new Iraqi blogger who is definitely a new blog to watch. Zeyad has an interesting tidbit on the games that the media plays….

    http://www.instapundit.com/archives/012086.php

    Perhaps the trust level of the administration for the media has hit rock bottom because of the games the media has been playing. After debacles like the staged photo shoot with the children being asked to play on rockets and situations like the one Zeyad reports…it’s a wonder that the media has any credibility left.

  11. When all the whining about “the media” is said and done, does anyone honestly think they have less credibility than the government?

  12. I think the reason the Administration is throwing aound lines about Iraqi schools and hospitals is that it sounds like something that had to be done.

    Thing is, before the war Iraq’s schools and hospitals were all up and running. Sure, there was a picture of Uncle Saddam in every classroom, and the history books credited the Ba’ath party with inventing fire, but they were schools, teaching reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and science to boys and girls alike. And the hospitals may have been painfully short on supplies thanks to a mix of corruption and over a decade of trade sanctions, but the hospitals were running and staffed with doctors, nurses, candystripers and so on.

    In Afghanistan, on the other hand, most public- and mainstream parochial schools were shuttered, and girls were flatly prohibited from going to school of any kind. Hospitals, for their part, were not just understocked but also short-staffed thanks to a near-total nationwide ban on women in most such workplaces.

    So Americans’ foggy memories and poor sense of geography conflate the two, and just as 69% of Americans think Saddam’s Iraq was behind al Qaida and 9/11, so too they figure Iraq’s schools and hospitals were in need of rescue.

    I’m sure the occupation forces and their subcontractors have filled a few potholes, too, where artillery and tanks ripped up bits of pavement. Next weekend will we be hearing about how Iraq’s roads, liberated from Saddam, are once again safe for cars with cheap shocks and struts?

  13. The government is P.R. motivated. This reminds me of when the military attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bush announced a fund raising drive for the benefit of the Afghani children. Anyone hear if that amounted to anything?

  14. The Red Cross, who are running the fund (America’s Fund for Afghan Children) lists $11,709,516.04 from 789,868 processed letters.

    http://kidsfund.redcross.org/about_the_fund/index.asp

    You are right, the govt is PR motivated, but this comes as no surprise. What motivates those in the media is a more interesting question. One with many different answers I’m sure.

  15. On Oct 1 Reuters ran a short article that they have since rewritten about how the schools in Baghdad were not getting the attention of the coalition and that children went to school only to turn around and go back home because their schools were closed and in disrepair.

    Alot of the flap about the schools came from articles like Reuters. Reuters looked at one school and found it wasn’t functional and they wrote an article that painted the entire school system in those terms.

    That is why I believe so much flak over the school system came about. You may be saying…hey, the schools worked before! But then stories like Reuters reported that the opposite. So the administration turns around and says, Wait one minute, we ARE rebuilding and refurbishing the schools. If the media is going to report on the schools they need to tell the WHOLE story.

    The Reuters story was a prime example of partial slanted reporting. Now Reuters, after the issue of biased reporting has been raised has gone back and rewritten that article to be a more fair and unbiased piece of journalism.

    But can you blame Washington when it looks at news services such as Reuters with a bit of distrust now? Reuters has been publishing articles frequently that tell only a partial story or a slanted story.

    The Newsweek article is not so much about whether or not the schools were open or not. It’s a whiny piece about the crackdown of the administration on misleading journalism.

    Does anyone here realize that the embed program is still in effect? Since the Newsweek article is about the administration cutting the medias access. Why haven’t any of the journalists actively pursued an embedded post?

  16. Hospitals and schools need electricity, water and sewerage to react efficiently. Such mundane usages of national treasure were beneath Sadam, who allowed electricity to such uses only after all his palaces were supplied.

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