Sunday, June 08, 2003

Here's a story you won't see on FoxNews:

By Chicago standards, Baghdad, along with almost all the rest of Iraq, is a catastrophe. For that matter, conditions are disastrous even by the looser standards of places like Beirut, Bogotá, and Bombay. Reports from the scene are in general agreement on the essentials. Iraq is well rid of the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. But the blithe assumptions of the Iraq war’s Pentagon architects—that a grateful Iraqi nation, with a little help from American know-how and Iraqi oil cash, would quickly pick itself up, dust itself off, and start all over again—are as shattered as the buildings that used to house Saddam’s favorite restaurants.

In Baghdad, and in many other Iraqi cities and towns, civic society has degenerated into a Hobbesian state of nature. Despite the heroic efforts of a scattered minority of midlevel Iraqi civil servants, the services that make urban life viable are functioning, at best, erratically. More often, they do not function at all. “In the most palpable of ways, the American promise of a new Iraq is floundering on the inability of the American occupiers to provide basic services,” the Times’s Neela Banerjee reported a few days ago. (Perhaps with an eye to educating her White House readers, she added that Baghdad is “about the size of metropolitan Houston.”) Telephones are dead. Electricity and running water work, if at all, for only a few hours a day. Because the water pumps are hobbled by power outages, raw sewage is pouring into the Tigris River and is leaking into the fresh-water system, spreading disease and making the city stink. Hospitals that are secure enough to remain open overflow with patients, but they are short of food, medical supplies, and personnel. (Only a fifth of prewar health staffs are showing up for work.) Worst of all is the pervasive, well-founded fear of crime. Armed thugs rule the streets, especially in the pitch-black nights. “Amid such privations,” Banerjee writes, “one of the few things that thrives now in Baghdad, at least, is a deepening distrust and anger toward the United States.”


The Bush Administration no longer flaunts its contempt for nation-building abroad, but it remains resolutely hostile to nation-building at home. Its domestic policy consists almost solely of a never-ending campaign to reduce the taxes of the very rich. Not all of this largesse will be paid for by loading debt onto future generations. Some of it is being paid for right now, by cuts in public services—cuts that outweigh the spare-change breaks for less affluent families which the Administration, in selling its successive tax elixirs, has had to include in order to suppress the electorate’s gag reflex. The pain is especially acute at the state level, where net federal help is in decline. States are cancelling school construction, truncating the academic year, increasing class sizes, and eliminating preschool and after-school programs. Health benefits are being slashed, and a million people will likely lose coverage altogether. In many states, even cops are getting laid off.

Yet people still think Bushco is doing a fine job. But then again, half the country thinks Iraq was behind the 9-11 attacks too. What does that say about us as a nation, and what does it say about the state of the media?