Ending U.S. Funding for Iraq and other Middle East Reconstruction Projects
Students researching U.S./Middle East policy should be aware of the influence of special interest groups. The Founders cautioned about “factions,” explaining that when federal policies helped or hurt particular groups, they would lobby for special treatment. The benefits of special interest legislation and policies would flow to concentrated groups while the costs would be spread across taxpayers nationwide.
Most of us don’t do in-depth research on policies toward Middle East countries, or reflect upon special interests that benefit from federal spending across the Middle East. Drawing from last year’s election reform topic: voters are “rationally ignorant” of U.S./Middle East policies. People may be curious but they understand that more research on policies and options wouldn’t allow them to change anything, at least by voting.
Debaters are unusual given their interest in debate incentivizes them to spend time developing and supporting affirmative cases, and preparing to counter reforms proposed by opposing teams. At tournaments debaters can act as legislators working to make the world a better place.
Out in the real world though, politicians have to get elected and reelected, and that means both building support among voters and raising funds for campaigns.
Who are the factions, or special interests, surrounding the 2014-2015 topic? Resolved: The United States should significantly reform its policy toward one or more countries in the Middle East.
Apart from the great many economic, political, and religious disputes across the Middle East are separate problems with the U.S. federal responses to these problems. Military branches ask for increased spending to support U.S. allies in the Middle East.
This article in The Atlantic looks as some of the problems U.S. military spending for Middle East and other international operations, and especially emphasizes the lack of interest by the public. “The Tragedy of the American Military.”
This animated video looks at dramatic spending increases for the F-16. A key problem was bureaucratic design compromises so the futuristic plane could be deployed across military branches. Now it is way too expensive and not so capable at particular tasks. The spending momentum is now pushing the project forward, with hundreds of military contractors building parts, and with maybe tens of thousands of jobs involved.
Shortly after Saddam fell, the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund
came into play. Its initial $2.475 billion supported rebuilding in the
• water/sanitation infrastructure
• feeding and food distribution
• relief efforts for refugees, internally displaced persons, and vulnerable
individuals, including assistance for families of innocent Iraqi
civilians who suffered losses as a result of military operations
• health care
• economic and financial policy
• governance and the rule of law
• humanitarian demining
U.S. contractors, working with the new Iraqi government, spent some $26 billion on hundreds of projects in Iraq. Here is a summary from a Mother Jones article drawing from the SIGIR official report:
• Training the Iraqi military: $1.32 billion
SIGIR says: “As with the police force, the number of troops reporting for duty continually fell below desired levels, with AWOL rates exceeding 3% per month.”
• Providing military, logistical, and maintenance support for the Iraqi military: $2.6 billion
• Renovating and building Iraqi military bases: $4.1 billion
• Supplying the Iraqi military with aircraft, boats, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other gear: $3.4 billion
• Developing an elite counterterrorism force: $237 million*
Maybe: Since the US government did not keep track of this specific expenditure, SIGIR says “the total costs of the program remained unknown.”
• Training, staffing, and supplying Iraqi police: $9.4 billion
• Developing the “Sons of Iraq” program to train to provide jobs for about 100,000 mostly Sunni insurgents: $370 million
SIGIR says: “Financial controls were weak, program managers could not tell whether SOI members received their US-funded salaries, and [the Pentagon] was unable to provide evaluations of the program’s outcomes.”
• Developing other infrastructure security programs: $300 million
• Shoring-up Iraq’s courts: $681 million.
SIGIR says: “The court system contends with human rights issues, including reported acts of torture and retaliatory prosecutions by police and military authorities.”
• Building prisons, including the never-completed Khan Bani S’ad prison: $165 million
Total cost of rebuilding, training, supplying the Iraqi military, police, and justice system: Around $26 billion
U.S. policy toward the Middle East could be reformed to focus on security and to avoid “nation-building” reconstruction projects and expenses. Such projects attract special interests (factions) lobbying for more spending on essentially an infinite list of potentially worthy projects.
The Iraqi government now has billions in annual revenue from oil sales. Even with the recent fall in oil prices, Iraqi oil provides a huge reservoir for reconstruction projects managed and paid for by Iraqis, not the U.S. Here is a recent report noting Iraqi oil revenue in December at over $5 billion.
The Ministry of Oil announced that oil exports averaged 2.516 million barrels per day in January. This number represents a decrease of almost fifteen percent from December 2014.Based on international oil prices, this would create revenue of $3.258 billion. December 2014 boasted revenue of $5.161 billion for Iraq. Oil revenue makes up 95 percent of Iraq’s budget.
For debaters, focusing on nation-building expenditures allows the affirmative to avoid the very serious military challenges Iraq faces with ISIS. Instead, the policy change is to pull the plug on U.S.-funded nation-building projects in Iraq.
This is not to claim that projects were “bad” or “wasteful.” Surely some were while others provide valuable infrastructure and services to Iraq after the turmoil and destruction of war Sunni/Shia violence. U.S. aid agencies do not have a strong track record in reconstruction expenses in Iraq (or Afghanistan).
Economist Chris Coyne researches the institutional problems with nation-building in his book, After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy (link in Amazon “Look Inside”).