Friday, January 06, 2006


By William Fisher

Barely a month after appointing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to take over the leading role in supervising and coordinating the U.S. reconstruction program in Iraq, President George W. Bush announced he would not seek further funding for these efforts.

Relatively little of the $30 billion allocated for reconstruction since the
invasion remains to be spent, and spending authority is scheduled to run out
in June 2007. A decision not to renew the reconstruction program leaves Iraq
with tens of billions of dollars in unfinished projects, and an oil industry
and electrical grid that have yet to return to pre-war production levels.

It also leaves the State Department with mandates to provide a “focal point” for reconstruction efforts and the supervise and coordinate reconstruction programs not only in Iraq, but also in other countries that are emerging from civil strife. These include Afghanistan, but Bush Administration officials have announced they will henceforth rely more on the Afghan Government, NATO, and contractors from other countries.

The switch from the Pentagon to the State Department came in a little-noticed December 7 Presidential National Security Directive that said, “The Secretary of State shall coordinate and lead integrated United States Government efforts”, coordinating these efforts with the Secretary of Defense to ensure harmonization with any planned or ongoing U.S. military operations across the spectrum of conflict.”

The State Department will lead U.S. Government efforts to prevent countries at risk “from being used as a base of operations or safe haven for extremists, terrorists, organized crime groups, or others who pose a threat to U.S. foreign policy, security, or economic interests,” said the Bush directive.

Some administration observers say the switch from the Pentagon to the State Department was a product of increasing frustration with the pace of reconstruction work in Iraq. They also believe the cutoff in reconstruction funding is part of a new White House narrative that includes reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq before U.S. mid-term elections in November 2006.

According to a report by the special inspector general for Iraq (IG), reconstruction officials cannot say how many planned projects they will complete, and there is no clear source for hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to operate the projects that have been finished.

The IG’s report describes some progress but also an array of projects that have gone awry, sometimes astonishingly, like electrical substations that were built at great cost but never connected to the country's electrical grid. With more than 93 percent of the American money now committed to specific projects, it could become increasingly difficult to solve those problems.

Much of the reconstruction funding has been diverted to other projects. At least $2.5 billion earmarked for infrastructure and schools was diverted to building up a security force. Funds originally intended to repair the electricity grid and sewage and sanitation system were used to train special bomb squad units and a hostage rescue force. The US has shifted funds to build 10 new prisons to keep pace with the insurgency, and safe houses and armored cars for Iraqi judges.

In addition to the diversion of funds to other types of projects, the reconstruction efforts have been plagued by substantial corruption and overcharging by contractors.

Hundreds of millions of dollars from the reconstruction fund was also used to hold elections and for four changes of government, and establish a criminal justice system, including $128 million to examine several mass graves of Saddam's victims.

While 3,600 projects will be completed by the end of the year, the cost of security has eaten up as much as 25%-30% of each project, according to the IG. A U.S. congressional report last October forecast that many reconstruction projects were unlikely to get off the ground because of security costs.

Production on Iraq's national electrical grid remains at 4,000 megawatts, 400 megawatts below pre-war levels, with the average Iraqi receiving less than 12 hours of power a day. Oil production, which was supposed to provide the funds for Iraqi reconstruction, according to the Pentagon's prewar planning, also remains well below prewar levels. The shortfall has been attributed mainly to sabotage by insurgents. Iraq's refineries are currently producing approximately 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, compared with 2.6 million barrels on the eve of the invasion.

The ending of reconstruction funding appears to mark a change from a promise the president made in 2003 to provide Iraq with the best infrastructure in the region.

But just how far the U.S. intended to go in that process has always been murky. For example, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee in March 2003, “I don't believe that the United States has the responsibility for reconstruction, in a sense…[Reconstruction] funds can come from those various sources I mentioned: frozen assets, oil revenues and a variety of other things, including the Oil for Food, which has a very substantial number of billions of dollars in it.”

On the other hand, that view seems to contradict a 2003 report from the consulting contractor hired by the Pentagon to lay out the future of Iraq’s economy. The company, BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Virginia, said, "It should be clearly understood that the efforts undertaken will be designed to establish the basic legal framework for a functioning market economy; taking appropriate advantage of the unique opportunity for rapid progress in this area presented by the current configuration of political circumstances. Reforms are envisioned in the areas of fiscal reform, financial sector reform, trade, legal and regulatory, and privatization."

The report added, “The reconstruction of Iraq has begun. Not the reconstruction of vital public services such as water, electricity or public security, but rather the radical reconstruction of its entire economy.”

Clearly, this has not happened. And the president’s recent funding decision suggests it is not likely to happen any time soon.

With many of Iraq’s key ministries in disarray and some dogged by persistent corruption it is doubtful that the current government infrastructure will be competent to manage the many remaining large-scale reconstruction projects.


By William Fisher

The news stories chosen as the top ten of 2005 by members of the
“righteous-wing” of the Republican Party offers significant insight into what U.S. religious conservatives consider most important.

The nominations came from readers of CitizenLink, a web page of Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family”. Dobson’s organization has become one of the most influential conservative voices in shaping a wide range of U.S. policies. Dr. Dobson is known to be close to the Bush White House, particularly to the president’s chief political advisor, Karl Rove.

Close to a third of respondents nominated the Terri Schiavo case as their number one choice. Editors of the website explained the story this way:

“The disabled Florida woman, whose tragic story moved and motivated
pro-lifers nationwide, passed away in March after 14 days without food and water -- a death sentence imposed by court order. Even Congress, which worked late into the night to pass unprecedented legislation that could have saved Schiavo, was unable in the end to blunt the efforts of her estranged husband -- who battled in court for years to have his wife's nutrition and hydration suspended, even though she was not brain dead, only disabled.”

Trailing by only a few percentage points was what the website called the “Supreme Court Shakeup”, explaining to readers, “After more than a decade with the same roster of justices, the highest court in the land underwent major changes. Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement July; Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away in September. In their place, President Bush nominated two judges deemed by family advocates to be precisely the kind of "strict constructionists" the court desperately needs: new Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justice nominee Samuel Alito (tapped after Bush's original choice, White House counsel Harriet Miers, withdrew her nomination in the wake of criticism from many pro-family groups.)”

The third top nominee was “The battle for marriage”. The organization said, “There were several victories, and a few disappointments, in the fight to preserve traditional marriage. On the upside, voters in Kansas and Texas came out in record numbers to overwhelmingly approve marriage amendments in their state -- and four other states passed measures to put such amendments before voters in 2006. In California, meanwhile, the Legislature passed a bill to allow same-sex marriages, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promptly vetoed it. On the downside, Connecticut passed a civil-unions law and a federal district court struck down Nebraska 's marriage amendment, claiming it was unconstitutional, a decision that underscored the need for a federal marriage amendment.”

But not all Christian leaders agree. Rev. Tim Smith of the year-old Christian Alliance of Jacksonville, Florida, called the Dobson list “a wonderful window into the vacuous worldview of American fundamentalism, its petty peeves and prejudices collected for all to see.”

“Apart from Katrina, there is hardly a matter of substance on the list,” he told IPS, asking, “Where on this list are the dead of the Iraq war and the tens of billions sunk into that money pit? Can one imagine a war being left off the top ten stories of the year in 1943, 1953 or 1968? Where is the story of the traitor discovered in the White House or any of the other scandals involving the GOP, which these people brought to power? They cry a river over a couple of slabs of marble that the Supreme Court took down and get fighting mad when Macy's wishes people "Happy Holidays, " but why isn't the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Christians in Darfur on their radar?”

He added, “I think Jesus said something about straining on gnats while swallowing a camel that might apply here.”

Other issues Dr. Dobson’s readers rated as important included:

(Bad news): Failure to establish an “xxx domain” for pornographic Web sites;

(Good news): Defeat of a hate-crimes amendment extending special protections to homosexuals; the agreement among 14 Senate "moderates" to “allow a handful of blocked nominees to receive up-or-down confirmation votes -- in exchange for leaving the filibuster on the table for liberals to use again in "extraordinary" circumstances”;

(Bad news): New Air Force Academy guidelines that told the chaplains to “stop sharing their faith with cadets”, stopped short of banning all public prayer and worship, but limited it to ‘brief, nonsectarian prayer’ at special ceremonies”;

(Bad news): The Supreme court's rulings on a pair of cases involving public display of the Ten Commandments “failed to set a national standard for what's constitutional and what isn't” and created “further confusion about what forms of religious expression are allowable”;

(Good news): The “battle for Christmas” and the attention paid by the mainstream media to local governments and major retailers banishing "Merry Christmas" on the grounds that it's not "inclusive" enough;

(Good news): Hurricanes and the Christian response – “Christian ministries and everyday believers were indispensable to the recovery process”.

CitizenLink summed up its findings by noting that “2005 was a whirlwind year
for pro-family causes is the very definition of understatement. From the courts to the Congress, from public policy to the public square, the 365 days of the past 12 months were filled with miraculous victories and heartbreaking defeats for Christian Americans who advocate for righteousness.”

In contrast, the website of another major religious group, The Sojourners, listed its own 2005 achievements. These included:

Participating in the G-8 Summit, where it helped convene a religious forum with more than 50 prominent Christian leaders from the U.S. and the U.K. and pressed senior U.S. and British officials to cancel of 100% of the debt owed by 18 of the world's most impoverished countries and double foreign assistance to sub-Saharan Africa;

Campaigning at the U.N. World Summit for “breaking the silence on the tragic deaths of 30,000 children daily due to poverty-related causes.” The campaign successfully pressed the U.S. government to meet its commitments toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015;

Standing up for people most affected by “misguided spending priorities” by generating 100,000 calls and e-mails to Congress to influence political leaders, the media, and other faith groups to speak out against “cutting billions of dollars in health care, child care, food stamps, and student loans”;

Mobilizing members to sign a “Katrina Pledge”, containing “both a personal and political commitment to rebuild the devastated region while also reordering our national agenda to prioritize the needs of people living in poverty”;

Sending more than 50,000 e-mails to Congress and the president opposing privatization of the Social Security system;

Working to organize five interfaith worship services targeting Washington, D.C.'s key media and policymaking institutions to generate pressure to end the crisis in Darfur;

Mobilizing more than 900 vigils “to count the deadly human and political cost” of the Iraq war;

Urging Congress to support the successful efforts of Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, to prohibit torture of prisoners held by the U.S.

Speaking out against “attempts by the religious right to hijack Christianity for their own agenda” and cautioning Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, not to “play the faith card by telling people of faith that we must align ourselves with one narrow set of policies."