>Instead of focusing on Bush’s plan to send 20,000 or so more troops to Iraq as pretty much everyone else seems to be doing, I’d like to discuss the economic and regional dimensions of his “new” strategy.
In his speech President Bush pledged to aid the Iraqi government in creating more jobs with longer term sustainable programs. In fact, the Pentagon has already begun making good on this pledge having refurbished tens of factories all over Iraq to ready them for operation at the hands of Iraqis. Unfortunately, Bush continues to stress the importance of Provincial Reconstruction Teams or PRTs which have been criticized by the U.S. government’s own agencies as being largely ineffective.
Instead of doubling the number of PRTs, as Bush intends to do, more funds and resources ought to be directed towards the Community Action Program (CAP). CAP works to develop Iraq’s economy from the bottom-up, by employing local Iraqis in community-based initiatives devised by the Iraqis themselves. CAP has operations all over Iraq, including in its more volatile regions and, according to the U.S. government’s own auditors, has a 98% success rate.
This is where the money needs to go, but sadly Bush seems content throwing money at the proven failures that have been the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
Whether we like it or not, Iran and Syria are an inextricable part of the Iraqi conflict. Beyond the levels of influence they hold over the vast majority of Iraqis, the two countries, Syria and Iran have a real interest in ensuring that the Iraqi civil war does not escalate to the point of an all-out regional conflict. Both countries, Syria more so, have already began suffering from the conflict in their capacity as hosts to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. Their economies are being hit hard by the sudden influx of Iraqis, and it is unclear whether they will continue to accept refugees. (For more on the refugee crisis, I suggest you read our interview with Refugees International advocate, Sean Garcia). The United States must at least talk to Iran and Syria in order to coordinate a strategy that will address the needs of these refugees. Of course the U.S. has yet to accept responsibility for the crisis, much less recognize it so…
Here is what Bush had to say about Iran and Syria:
“Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
The U.S. recently acted on this threat by storming an Iranian consular building in Iraq and detaining several employees. Fact of the matter is that regardless of whether the U.S. and Iran have a relationship at the state level, there are many low-level negotiations going between coalition forces and Iranians or at least those sympathetic to the Iranians. Acts such as this one will obviously jeopardize these much-needed negotiations.