Shrinking the Vastness

The picture is me waiting for my ride.  Notice the coat and gloves.  It is cold around here in the mornings and colder still up in the air. 

Vast – that is the adjective that usually comes before Anbar.  The province is not really so big.  It is about the size of North Carolina, but it is vaster because it lacks infrastructure.  Vastness is really a time/distance/hardship equation.  You can drive from Wilmington to Asheville in a few hours and expect to find plenty of restaurants and gas stations to help you along.  Driving across Anbar is just not practical at all and there are places where you just can’t get there from here.  We are trapped by the vastness of Anbar and Iraqi leaders are in a worse position than we are.  So we help them with a program called “helicopter governance.”  We provide air assets that allow the governor and his staff to travel to meet local officials and the people of the province.  When the governor of Anbar went to Al Qaim, I got to go along, since AQ is in my district.

The governor seemed a decent sort who wanted to help the people of Anbar.  Local officials in Al Qaim, many of whom I know and respect, are also decent sorts.  When they got together, they got along and cooperated.  The governor promised to fund projects and address many of the concerns they voiced.  It looked like a productive town meeting.  It went as it was supposed to go.  But I have doubts about the whole system.

Sometimes things fail  not in spite of our best efforts but because of them. You always have to look to the whole, to the systemic solutions.  Good intentions, good individuals & even good particular results do not suffice.

Everything was reasonable, but many of the things requested should not be in the purview of government.  They are the business of private business.  Maybe this is just an earlier stage of development, which they will pass through.  This country is still recovering from years of socialism, after all. The other problem was “earmarks.”  In the U.S. we complain about earmarks.  This session was about nothing but earmarks.  Every one of the requests granted represented a specific earmark.  The program was working, but the system was not.

Our goal as a PRT and as USG officials in Iraq is to help the people of Iraq develop systems that will make this heroic sort of political display unnecessary.  Priorities should be addressed through prosaic & routine governmental procedures.  It should not require special interventions by government officials to get normal services.  We take so much for granted in the U.S.  In most places in our country we have reasonably competent & honest officials, but more importantly we have systems in place to make it possible for them to do their work and to a decent extent let us do ours.  We complain about it, but when you see the alternatives ours doesn’t look so bad.  The current Iraqi system reminds me of the goat grab I described in an earlier post.  All the food is in the middle, available, but you have to be there to grab it.

The governor regaled his colleagues with a great and wonderful thing he had observed during a visit to America.  He sent a box from Texas to New York.  He did not require a special request to get into the post office.  Even more surprising, the box arrived in New York completely intact.  Whoddathought the post office was so wonderful.  We take a lot for granted. 

Below is the town hall meeting.  Notice the TV camera.  No matter how vast a place is, you cannot escape the TV cameras.