If You Build It, Will They Maintain It?

In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.

But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq’s ability to provide basic services to its people.


Spencer Ackerman did an item this morning urging the appointment of General David Petraeus as DC Police Chief, observing that many of the ideas of counterinsurgency strategy are basically in line with a modern progressive “tough on crime, tough on the root causes of crime” approach. I don’t actually think it would make much sense to put a high-ranking general in charge of a police department, but the point the suggestion is meant to illustrate has, I think, a lot of merit. The basic ideas employed in something like a “clear, hold, build” approach to Baghdad are basically a super-charged version of what you would want to do to get serious about bringing improved public safety, economic opportunity, and public health to a bad neighborhood in Washington or Baltimore or Detroit.

Which sort of raises the question of whether it mightn’t make more sense to deploy these kind of resources in troubled parts of our own country. A lot of the things that seem really problematic for COIN—language problems, this issue with the locals actually being too poor to maintain the projects we kick off, etc.—wouldn’t apply in a domestic context.