The creation of stable and free societies in both war-torn states can be accomplished, Natsios contended, through cultivating new market economies that yield jobs and improve standards of living, building civil societies, restoring essential services, encouraging the constitutional conventions, and disarming and demobilizing competing military factions that seek to thwart democratic progress.
USAID has spent about 80 percent of the $2.5 billion approved by Congress in the first supplemental bill for Iraqi reconstruction--the largest such undertaking since the Marshall Plan. On the most basic level, the agency has worked closely with the World Food Program to restore food services to Iraqi citizens; by November, the Iraqi Ministry of Trade intends to take over running the entire food system soon.
Natsios also detailed how the funds have been spent to improve all aspects of Iraqi life. The nationwide healthcare budget has multiplied twenty-fold from the prewar level of $10 million, and reopened health clinics have delivered 4.2 million vaccinations since major combat ended. Infrastructure has been greatly improved--reliable electricity has been restored in Basra for the first time since the Iran-Iraq War, the trading port of Um Qasr has been returned to working condition, Baghdad International Airport has been modernized, and most Baghdad area sewage treatment and pumping plants have been repaired. Over five million new math and science textbooks equip the newly rebuilt 1,600 schools in Iraq.
USAID performs a similar role in Afghanistan, helping to administer $800 million in spending there during the past two years. The first year of freedom from the Taliban regime saw an 82 percent increase in wheat production--enough to feed the nation and begin foreign exportation. Profitable vineyards destroyed by the Taliban are springing back to life. The central bank, aided by USAID, launched a new and stable currency. Two hundred and fifty million textbooks have been printed, and 33 percent of Afghan girls now attend school. By 2006, USAID plans to add 800 new schools to the 200 already completed. One hundred and twenty-one new health clinics have been constructed, and another 400 will follow over the next three years. Existing roads are being repaired and new ones paved. Radio Afghanistan began operations and now faces competition from numerous private radio stations. Like their Iraqi counterparts, the Afghan people are writing their own constitution after being oppressed under decades of tyranny and conflict.
Natsios noted: "The media report bad news, in all areas, regardless of the administration, for all countries. That's just the nature of the news media. And so the fact that there were no riots, no demonstrations, no reports of mass starvation in the food system is not a reportable event on the front pages of a newspaper."
By improving the infrastructure, health system, economy, and security, USAID can assist both the Iraqis and the Afghans in claiming ownership of their national reconstruction. Natsios observed that both peoples have shown great restraint as their prospective totalitarian regimes fell and will prove instrumental to beginning an era under which all citizens enjoy the blessings of progress and freedom.