The Cost of Reconstruction

War Is Hell But Peace Is Harder

Former Ambassador Jim Dobbins knows all about the problems that lie ahead in Iraq. Dobbins headed up every one of America's nation rebuilding exercises in the past decade. He supervised efforts in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Mike Wallace talked to him and others about the next nation rebuilding effort that the U.S. will undertake—and what it will cost us.


"In Afghanistan, we set fairly low objectives," says Dobbins. "Afghanistan is not on its way to becoming a stable, democratic, peaceful state. But it's a lot better than it was, and we haven't invested a lot in it."

"Iraq's different. Iraq's more important. It's in a more sensitive region. It's larger. It's more complex. There's more at stake. And that means we're going to have to do more and be there longer in all likelihood."

Iraq is especially important because it sits in the explosive Middle East, surrounded by countries full of people now hostile to America and its war with Iraq.

It's American bombs that are doing most of this damage, and apparently American companies will win most of the rebuilding contracts. The Bush administration asked a few American companies to bid for the business back in January.

That seems only right to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

"It seems to me to make a good deal of sense that if it's American money, then it could go to an American corporation which benefits American workers and American taxpayers," says Armitage. "Seems to me the better part of wisdom."

Haliburton, a giant construction conglomerate, has already won the first multi-million dollar contract to put out oil well fires.

Vice President Dick Cheney used to run Haliburton, which announced this week that it will not bid on other projects in Iraq, but could still make millions as a secondary contractor.

Most companies being asked to bid, it turns out, are major Republican contributors--among them Bechtel, which has former Secretary of State George Shultz on its board.

The White House says these companies have the most experience, and can do the best job rebuilding roads and bridges, airports and seaports, water systems and oil wells.

But Britain and other countries want contracts, too.

Beyond reconstruction, the U.S. plans to make massive improvements to Iraq's health and education systems, training teachers and nurses and providing school books and medical equipment.

But before all this can start, the fighting must stop. And after that, lots of American troops will still be needed to maintain security.

How many troops? You hear anything from 75,000 to 200,000.

Dobbins says the Army's chief of staff has even reported that several hundred thousand troops would be required to make a reasonable effort.

But if the U.S. assigned 200,000 troops to post-war Iraq, it would tie up the Army's entire infantry. "That's a major drain on America's resources," adds Dobbins. "And a major limitation on our flexibility to use forces elsewhere."

But Armitage believes they don't all have to be U.S. troops.

"We have coalition forces involved," says Armitage. "British, Australian, you have several Bulgarian. You have other countries that indicated a willingness to take part in post-hostility--that is, stability--operations."

Bulgarians aside, the vast majority of troops are bound to be American, at least at the start.

Dobbins is out of government now, but after leading America's post-war effort in Afghanistan, he knows what the troops will have to do in Iraq.

"At the lowest level, simply law and order, dealing with murders, rapes, looting, rioting--all of which are likely, are the kinds of things that increase in a violent, turbulent situation in which the local institutions for security have either been destroyed, disrupted or totally discredited."

Of course, fighting could erupt between different ethnic or religious groups, or by people who were abused by Saddam and are now determined to get even.

"It could well be that the depth of oppression leads to large-scale retributive violence," says Dobbins.

So, all of a sudden, the people American troops are going to be protecting are the people around Saddam.

Armitage says this is going to be a challenge: "There are high tensions. There are high grudges in the area. But we're going to do what we can do to peacefully resolve conflicts," he said.

This means protecting Iraqis from their own hostile countrymen, and also protecting Iraq from other potentially hostile countries, like Iran and Turkey.

"If you disarm a country so it can't threaten its neighbors, you also prevent it from ever defending itself against its neighbors adequately," says Dobbins. "As a result, you assume a long-term obligation with regard to that country's security. U.S. troops have remained in Germany and Japan to this day."

So, America plans to re-establish the Iraqi Army.

"We'll try to help develop a smaller yet professional Iraqi army which is armed appropriately to be able to defend their territory," says Armitage.

Who's going to help the U.S. pay for the salaries and the arms and equipment of this reconstituted Iraqi army? How about police at the local level? The Council on Foreign Relations reports that maintaining security will cost close to $20 billion a year.

Would the U.S. welcome help from the Germans and the French? Would the President stand in the way if Jacques Chirac decided that he wanted to help with money and troops?

Armitage says they would certainly welcome their support.

Unlike Afghanistan, Armitage says, Iraq will be able to shoulder some of the post-war costs itself.

"Remember, Iraq is not Afghanistan. It has money. It's got a commodity called oil. So I suspect the reconstruction costs are going to be less than some say," he adds.

Dobbins, however, believes the Iraqi oil fields won't be able to yield profits in the short-term because they're in such bad need of investment and repair.

Getting cash or peace keepers from other countries will hinge on how much control the U.S. insists on holding over post-war Iraq. France and many countries that opposed the war in the first place want the United Nations in charge of administering Iraq. But so far, the U.S. plans to limit the U.N. role to distributing humanitarian aid, while America oversees security, reconstruction, and forming a new Iraqi government.

The administration apparently believes that a legitimate election can be held in Iraq within three years.

"I think three years would be the outer limit," says Armitage. "Democracy is not a great mystery."

Then why isn't there more of it?

"I think because many times it's hijacked by people intent on personal gain. Greed, avarice," adds Armitage.

So how long should the U.S. be prepared to stay in Iraq?

"I don't know any nation-building exercise that's been deemed successful that lasted less than five years," says Dobbins.

"Now, that doesn't mean we govern Iraq for five years. But it does mean that U.S. forces, U.S. civilians and significant U.S. money will have to continue to be devoted to Iraq's transformation through that period."

The question comes down to this: Are Americans willing to stay and pay over the long haul to rebuild Iraq?

"I think Americans certainly are willing to do what's necessary to rid the world of this monster and this danger," says Armitage. "Once the monster's gone, I think by implication that we are there to make sure it doesn't come back again."

"My bottom line is that war may be hell," adds Dobbins. "Peace is more difficult. But we've done it successfully before. And we can do it successfully now."
  • Rebecca Leung

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