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Monday, January 14, 2008

Blake Houshell "It's the Money Stupid" (via Brad DeLong)

Referring to this NPR story, FP contributor and retired defense intelligence analyst John McCreary had this to say about the surge in his most recent NightWatch briefing:

Several retired US military officers explained in an interview on NPR yesterday that the success of the surge is economic, not military. The US pays the 70,000-80,000 fighters better than the tribal elders and al Qaida. Al Qaida tends to pay based on piece work – per operation -- whereas the US has put the tribal youth on salary. Retired General McCaffrey is quoted as saying at $10 per day per fighter the US can pay that indefinitely.

The payments began in May and the attacks declined shortly thereafter for the first time in three years. In this interpretation, it appears the US won the bidding war in a labor auction in a depressed economy where unemployment is about 50%. That at least makes sense in tying together all the other explanations.

The obvious question is, how can the U.S. military insure that these payments continue as the surge winds down? It hasn't been easy to convince the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry to put former Sunni insurgents on the payroll, and any promises to do so once the U.S. reduces its footprint in Iraq likely wouldn't be worth a bucket of warm spit. But administering these salaries is going to require a certain number of Americans to work with tribal and local leaders, make the payments, and monitor how the funds are being used. And then those people need to be protected.

It's thorny issues like this one that U.S. presidential candidates such as Barack "out of Iraq in 16 months" Obama need to address. Hope is not a plan.

One of the enduring mysteries of the Bush Bremer cluster f*ck in Iraq is why they didn't send lots of money to young unemployed Iraqi men ASAP as "reconstruction workers" or something to keep them from making trouble. The idea that Iraq would be better served by giving Iraqi money to foreign contractors could only occur to a Republican.

However, I think Hounshell has a strange take on "lessons learned." He concludes that we have found a way to neutralise a major threat to Iraq for less than $300,000,000 a year and that we have to stay in Iraq because the chance that the Iraqi government will take advantage of this discovery is "worth a bucket of warm spit." We have to keep sending our sons and daughters to kill and die in Iraq, because the Iraqi government is too stupid to solve a major problem with minor money.

Maybe they are, but the world is full of countries with bad problems many of which have violent internal conflict as a result. Should we invade all of them to impose rational policies ? If not why Iraq ?

And I mean we spent hundreds of billions plus thousands of lives because it took us 4 years to figure out how to solve the problem with $800,000 a day. Who is calling whom stupid ?

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