On Point: Getting It Done Under The Gaze Of Peter Jennings

by Austin Bay
October 22, 2003

I refer to it as "The Sentence" -- the run-on, pile-on but still not complex enough sentence.

It had a dramatic concept. Let the reader struggle through it and get an optic feel for the task Iraqis and Americans face in post-Saddam Iraq.

Here's the rhetorical bedlam as published in The Weekly Standard, Dec. 9, 2002:

"U.S. and allied forces liberating Iraq will attempt -- more or less simultaneously -- to end combat operations, cork public passions, disarm Iraqi battalions, bury the dead, generate electricity, pump potable water, bring law out of embittering lawlessness, empty jails of political prisoners, pack jails with criminals, turn armed partisans into peaceful citizens, rearm local cops who were once enemy infantry, shoot terrorists, thwart chiselers, carpetbaggers and black marketeers, fix sewers, feed refugees, patch potholes, get trash trucks rolling and accomplish all this under the lidless gaze of Peter Jennings and Al Jazeera."

Quite a job. Guess what -- six months after Saddam's fall, it's getting done. That's why Al Qaeda's latest tape exhorts jihadis to attack. Terrorists are losing in Iraq, "the central battlefield."

Looming strategic success in Iraq runs counter to "if it bleeds it leads" headline coverage and commentary from Axis of Neville (Chamberlain) pundits. The headlines aren't false. Parts of Iraq are war zones, where fighting and dying continue. "Disarming" may take years. Saddam's filched billions and hidden weapons caches prop a flickering resistance. "Rearming" Iraq police is going too slowly.

Headlines, however, aren't the full story. Building goes on behind and around the bleeding, and that's the truly big news. Brick by brick creation isn't as sensational as bomb by bomb destruction, but brick by brick amounts to more. It's why in three years, give or take, Iraqis will have their own make-or-break chance to do something truly revolutionary -- run an Arab democracy.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) plays a central role in the building. On Oct. 1, I spoke with Lewis Lucke, mission director of USAID operations in Iraq. The 52-year-old multilingual Lucke oversees around 500 contractors and reports directly to Paul Bremer, U.S. administrator in Iraq. Lucke had retired from USAID, but 9-11 brought him back to public service. This is personal sacrifice for the greater good and why people like Lew Lucke earn special respect.

Is there chaos in Iraq? "In places, there are security problems," Lucke said, "but the real story is change."

Positive change. As headlines blared Baghdadi complaints about electrical blackouts, Lucke showed me that in late August power generation hit 84 percent of pre-Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) output. For the record, Iraq reached 100 percent on Oct. 5. The story headlines missed? Saddam's Iraq suffered continual outages, except in Baghdad and politically favored towns. The United States opted for fair distribution in Iraq, "systemized power sharing." The new Iraq doesn't cheat Shias and Kurds of megawatts, so Baghdadis must share the juice. Howling headlines, however, left the impression electrical generation was failing miserably.

Iraqi kids must return to school. USAID hoped to have 1,000 schools ready on Sept. 30. Already, 1,515 have opened. That's astonishing. USAID got an international contractor to quickly produce 1.5 million "student kits" for the new term. The kits included pencils and paper, but also a calculator. Iraqi kids got the kits. USAID will take this program a step further. Future supplies -- including desks -- will come from Iraqi contractors. This pumps capital into small Iraqi businesses. I follow several Third World micro-development projects and from seeds like this real economies grow. While oil production is critical to Iraqi economic success, long-haul democratic success means a nation of stakeholders, not petro-sheiks.

Another project provided 22.3 million doses of vaccines to 4.2 million children. Shots from a syringe don't rate the same headlines as shots sprayed by Baathist AK-47s, but preventing epidemics surely rates a mention. Imagine the accusations and outrage from Axis of Neville pundits -- The New York Times Maureen Dowd for example -- if typhoid broke out in, say, Basra.

Is "reinventing Iraq" complicated? Of course. We knew it would be -- read The Sentence. Truly civilizing servants like Lewis Lucke are up to the task.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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