The End of Ideology?

THE END OF IDEOLOGY?….Apparently the Bush administration is finally fessing up about the reconstruction mess in Iraq:

The State Department has ordered a major reevaluation of the troubled $18.4-billion Iraq reconstruction effort, blaming problems on early decisions to hire U.S. firms for major infrastructure projects.

….The new approach will also place a strong emphasis on spending remaining funds to contract with Iraqi companies, which have experienced fewer problems with insurgents and have lower overhead than U.S. multinational firms.

….Bill Taylor, who heads the civilian reconstruction management office in Iraq, which wrote the report, said remaining funds would increasingly be focused on “systems” rather than individual projects. Iraqis have been frustrated, for instance, that new water treatment plants have been built without new water lines, resulting in millions of gallons of clean water that has no way to reach homes.

In a way, this is nothing new: we’ve known for a long time that postwar reconstruction of Iraq has been a disaster. But this fills in one more piece of the puzzle that explains why it was such a disaster. It’s not just that administration neocons lived in a fantasyland of flowers and gratefully liberated Iraqis before the war, but that they compounded this after the war by turning Iraq into a grand social experiment in neocon economic fantasies as well.

When Jay Garner tried to hire well-regarded experts who had real experience with reconstruction plans, he was turned down because they were too “liberal.” When Garner was abruptly replaced by Paul Bremer, Bremer staffed the CPA with inexperienced ideologues recruited from the Heritage Foundation. Foreign contractors were banned from Iraq out of pique, regardless of whether they were the best qualified. Unions were trampled and ignored because they didn’t fit the privatization agenda. Naomi Klein, who traveled to Iraq last year to report on the reconstruction for Harper’s, found Bremer pursuing plans for Iraq that were so outlandish they tested even her well-known skills for hyperbole:

Governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush’s Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

The State Department’s new report just confirms all the rest: lack of planning, ideological rigidity, and insistence on using administration pals like Halliburton has produced a debacle. Instead of doing what was best for Iraq, the Bush administration has insisted from the beginning on using the war as a means of trying out its pet theories and rewarding its campaign supporters.

Still, even though it’s a wee bit late, good for the State Department for finally facing up to this. I mean that. With any luck, this will usher in an era of facing up to facts on the ground instead of using the population of Iraq as lab rats for conservative fantasies about how national economies ought to work. We’ll see.