Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Iraq: Following the Money

"Follow the money." -- Deep Throat, to Bob Woodward, behind the orange glow of a cigarette in an unlit parking garage, Washington, DC, 1972.

While America has been enthralled with the Democratic primaries, the general election, the NBA playoffs, and Tiger Woods' post-knee surgery exploits, a lot of really neat stuff has been going on in Iraq.

U.S. troop casualties are at record lows, Iraqi army/police casualties are at record lows, and Iraqi civilian casualties are at record lows, too (despite the persistent but increasingly rare spectacular attacks like the one that claimed 51 lives in Baghdad today). Signs of normalcy return to Baghdad and other cities day by day, and public opinion polls show increased confidence in Prime Minister Maliki (thanks in large part to the success of recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City) as well as increased optimism for the future. More Gulf Arab states are formalizing diplomatic relationships with Iraq in the form of embassies and consulates that have been closed since 2003 or 2004 due to security concerns.

As General Petraeus is quick to remind us, however, all these security gains are "fragile and reversible." He's right.

What's just as important -- maybe even more so -- for Iraq's long-term success as a prosperous democracy in the heart of the Middle East -- is the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that will bring an improved job market and better consumer options for Iraqis. (Remember, debriefs of detained insurgents have consistently shown that financial considerations have driven more insurgent behavior than have any other single motive).

Guess what?

The FDI trickle is starting to become a flow, and it matters. (http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20080617/1a_lede17_dom.art.htm) With every dollar of foreign investment that comes in, more and more international actors have a key stake in the future success and stability of Iraq. More Iraqis have sources of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. That strengthens civil society.

As I might say, it strengthens Iraq's social capital.

There are many factors in place that are going to lead Iraq to be a league leader in GDP growth over the next several years -- significant oil wealth (daily exports have passed pre-2003 levels, with crude prices in the stratosphere), religious tourism, a largely untapped labor pool, and a huge market hungry for the consumer goods that they've largely been denied either through state repression (1968-1991), international sanctions (1991-2003), and the privations of war (2003-present).

As my CO told us two years ago, "Stop looking for the big picture in Iraq. There is no big picture. There are just lots and lots of little ones."

Every step in the positive feedback loop of improved security and a more robust economy is a little picture that will help bring healing to a people that have suffered more over the past two generations -- through no fault of their own, mind you -- than most us will ever care to know, or even imagine.


Shannon said...

Thank you so much for sharing. That is incredible news. Since a very small amount of the media cares to report on anything in Iraq other than dead Americans and their crying wives, it is wonderful that you share the good news that many people long to hear. What a concept,the opportunity to appreciate our troops rather than feel sorry for them. They deserve coverage on the hard work they are doing, not ONLY on the price they and their brave loved ones have to pay for it. Although, that, IS very important and meaningful coverage. I know you worked just as hard in Iraq and you will do so in the future. Thank you, it couldn't be done without you!

The New Englander said...


You're spot-on with what you said..anytime ANYONE dies prematurely, it's a tragedy. What's frustrating, though, is that when people like Maureen Dowd of the NYT write that U.S. soldiers are just "standing around waiting to be blown up" they're totally missing the point of what 99% of those soldiers are doing -- putting in VERY long days with no weekends or holidays to help accomplish a mission.

..And no matter what anyone's politics -- Republican, Democrat, or neither...love or hate Bush, support or don't support our troop presence overseas, anyone with a heart should feel good about a people who have long suffered being able to see some light at the end of the tunnel...of course, the economic and political gains there will work together in a positive feedback loop.

thanks for reading!