Monday, July 30, 2007

Finally, the Electricity Issue Goes Big Time

I've been amazed for a while that the pathetically small - and shrinking - amount of electricity that Baghdadis get everyday has gotten about zero airtime.

Finally, with our dear Ambassador disclosing in Congressional testimony that the daily average for electricity is just an "hour or two", as we reach the worst of summer, it just isn't being ignored any more. This disclosure coming after the government had simply stopped tracking the statistic a couple months ago on the theory that, like in a marriage, if you simply don't talk about a problem, that it just goes away. (H/T Colbert)

The LA Times ran a piece earlier this week about the obfuscation, and here's some good commentary from Americablog that I won't try to outdo:
Insurgencies depend on local support. That support dries up when people feel they are being adequately taken care of by the government. Electricity is near the top of that list. Iraqis look at the U.S. and think (and frequently ask), if you could put a man on the moon, why can't you get us electricity? And after a while, incompetence tends to get interpreted as malice. But don't take my word for it that it's an Iraqi priority -- Ambassador Crocker himself recently told CBS news that electricity was "more important to the average Iraqi than all 18 benchmarks rolled up into one."

And what's the official reason for ceasing to report this metric? "The change, a State Department spokesman said, reflects a technical decision by reconstruction officials in Baghdad who are scaling back efforts to estimate electricity consumption as they wind down U.S. involvement in rebuilding Iraq's power grid." Just as the summer starts to heat up and hours of power are plummeting to near-nonexistence, we're . . . winding down U.S. involvement in rebuilding Iraq's power grid.
..And as I was reviewing my previous blog posts for references I was reminded what my congressional representative, Jane Harman (D), had to say about this topic on June 15, 2006:
Since I returned from my third trip to Iraq last September, I have been calling on the Administration to develop an exit strategy. And I believe it is now time to begin the phased, strategic redeployment of U.S. and coalition forces out of Iraq on a schedule designed by military commanders, not designed by the US Congress.

"The U.S. is part of the solution in Iraq, but our large military presence is part of the problem. Beginning to reduce the "footprint," while maintaining an over-the-horizon strike force, will improve our chances for success.

"I think we have 3-6 months to advance three objectives:

"First, helping the new Iraqi government provide electrical power, particularly in Baghdad, and deliver other critical economic and social services to the Iraqi people.

"Second, supporting the Iraqi government in its effort to disarm Shiite militias and integrate them into a trained Iraqi national security force.

"Third, continuing the process, begun by our able Ambassador Khalilzad, of obtaining buy-in from Sunni political leaders.

"Achieving these objectives will enable us to leave Iraq in better shape than we found it.

"The next three months are critical. We have a moral obligation to assist Iraq on its path to democracy, but if clearly-defined minimum objectives cannot be achieved within that time frame, the prospects for success in Iraq could all but disappear. So a change of course is urgently needed.
I wonder how Jane Harman can avoid thinking that prospects for success have disappeared, given that we're now thirteen months later and Baghdad gets around one-third of the power it did when she made that statement.

Leaving Iraq better than we found it means that we will never leave...

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