U.S. Pulls Plug on Iraqi Reconstruction, Press Yawns

While critics slam the press for failing to report the good news in Iraq, it looks like there'll be less of it to report anyway -- not that anyone is paying attention.

USA Today is the only paper to lead today with what, in our estimation, is pretty big news. The head of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq has declared that America is done paying the bills to rebuild the country. “The Iraqi government needs to build up its capability to do its own capital budget investment,” said Daniel Speckhard, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.

The government has slipped a noose around the $21 billion program that, according to the article, was supposed to “fix or build schools, roads, clinics, ports, bridges, government offices, phone networks, power plants and water systems.” USA Today also quotes the top U.S. auditor for the program who says the reconstruction efforts were actually in major disarray, criticizing the program for “cost overruns, corruption, understaffing and bureaucratic infighting.” There is less electricity capacity in Iraq now than before the war; while only 49 of 136 water projects and 300 out of 425 electricity projects have been finished to date. The program, which was supposed to possibly provide employment for 1.5 million Iraqis has only created 77,000 jobs.

What does all this add up to? A botched program that is now going to be shut down, leaving Iraqis to fend for themselves. This, at the same time that the administration is selling hard the premise that, although there might be a bit of violence, the reconstruction of Iraq is well under way and that, furthermore, this is proof positive of the war’s success. All this while critics of the press coverage of Iraq complain bitterly that reporters are refusing to tell the wonderful story of reconstruction across the country.

There’s some small satisfaction in seeing that bromide exposed for what it is. But for us any sense of vindication is tempered by a more immediate question: Why is USA Today the only one covering this story? We found only one other article on the news, and that by the AP.

When a president claims that things are good and getting better at the same time that his administration is pulling the rug out from under those very projects that could give Iraqis even a smidgen of hope, that strikes us as N-E-W-S.

Not recognizing that is the real press failure du jour, not the absence of stories about schoolhouses getting paint jobs.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.