HUMANITARIAN AID IN IRAQ….Amy Sullivan is sort of half-heartedly defending Franklin Graham from criticism on the left that it’s stupid to allow a Christian prosyletizing organization into Iraq right now:

The thrust of many of these commentaries is that the Bush administration should be doing something to stop Graham and Samaritan’s Purse from entering Iraq and that its failure to do so represents official approval of missionary efforts in Iraq. As I have noted before, I don’t think Bush and Co. are out to turn the country into a theocracy nor — the President’s unfortunate use of the word last year notwithstanding — do I think they are pursuing a modern-day “crusade” in the Middle East. I do think that they are both thoughtless and tone-deaf about how their rhetoric sounds to everyone outside their small religious world-view and don’t much care about the message sent by allowing proselytizing organizations to operate in Iraq.

But doesn’t it also send the wrong message to award no-bid Iraq contracts to Halliburton? Or when our Rumsfeld-anointed man in Iraq is weapons-dealer Jay Garner, a man whose idea of relating to the Iraqis is to tell them they’ve been living under a mushroom? Won’t it send the wrong message when American companies start pouring into the country to spread the gospel about the glories of salvation by consumption? Why pick on Franklin Graham, whose organization — let’s admit it — has done amazing work in some of the neediest places in the world, spending more than a $100 million a year on relief efforts?

Matt Yglesias says he is “semi-convinced. I’m not.

The question here isn’t so much about Graham’s organization per se, but about the Bush administration’s treatment of private organizations (NGOs) in general. There are a large number of private groups that want to get into Iraq, and a larger number still that could assist with humanitarian work that the army is ill equipped to handle. So the real question is: why Graham’s group and not the others? What kind of policy encourages a Christian prosyletizing group, even an effective one like Graham’s, instead of long-established secular relief groups that are far less likely to cause PR problems in a Muslim country like Iraq?

From the beginning, the Bush administration should have had a non-military program in place to take advantage of the expertise and help that private aid groups could offer in the immediate aftermath of the war. Instead they quite obviously developed a program that was more likely to put off humanitarian aid than it was to encourage it. This is a scandal.