Nation Building Doesn't Work

by Patrick Appel

After Obama's Iraq speech, David Brooks wrote a column titled, "Nation Building Works." Joel Wing begs to differ:

There are several problems with Brooks’ argument. First, the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction considers the rebuilding of Iraq a failure. The Bush administration did not adequately plan, nor coordinate its post-war program. The lack of security undermined the entire effort causing huge cost overruns, the abandonment of some projects, and led to a huge transfer of funds to building the country’s security forces rather than the economy and services. Iraqis were also rarely consulted, bad contracts and mismanagement led to huge amounts of waste, and there was a lack of unity of command and coordination between the different U.S. agencies involved. Its hard for Brooks to say that Iraq is a success if the main U.S. agency tasked with reviewing the reconstruction of the country does not feel that it worked.

Second, as Brooks himself writes, all of Iraq’s economic growth is based upon oil.

Petroleum accounts for 70% of the GDP, but only 1-2% of the workforce. It provides 90% of the government’s revenue, but Baghdad doesn’t have the capacity to invest most of that money into infrastructure. The growth in the economy is also largely due to oil prices recovering from the world recession rather than any increase in production or exports. Iraq, like many oil dependent countries, has huge natural wealth that simply does not trickle down to the average citizen, so numbers on economic growth, etc. are misleading. Third, Brooks’ selection of topics for living standards is a bit odd, but is caused by his reliance upon the Iraq Index that does not really cover humanitarian issues well. While telephone land lines are obviously important, cell phone and internet access seem to be an indicator of consumer spending more than anything else. If Brooks had taken the time to consult the United Nations he would’ve found that Iraq is towards the bottom of the region in many humanitarian categories such as literacy, infant mortality, and maternal deaths. Its education system has fallen apart, and it has high poverty rates, and youth unemployment. That makes Iraq a rather typical Third World nation.