Getting Iraq to Work

The American mission in Iraq must succeed. Our goal--promoting a stable, accountable democracy in the heart of the Middle East--cannot be achieved by purely military means.

Newt Gingrich
Senior Fellow Newt Gingrich
Iraqis need to establish a civil society. Without the support of mediating civic and social associations--the informal ties that bind us together--no government can long remain stable and no cohesive nation can be maintained. To establish a civil society, Iraqis must rebuild their basic infrastructure. Iraqis must take control of their destiny by rebuilding houses, stores, schools, roads, highways, mosques and churches.

But the constant threat of violence, combined with a high unemployment rate estimated between 30% and 50%, fundamentally undermines that effort. This not only sustains the fertile breeding ground for terrorist recruiters but has the same corrosive effect as it would in any city--raising the likelihood of further violence, civic decay and a crippling sense of powerlessness.

A massive effort must be made to engage in a well organized plan to rebuild Iraq. The goal: an infrastructure to support and encourage a strong, stable civil society.

The week before Christmas, the Pentagon asked Congress to approve a supplemental $100 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the estimated $500 billion spent to date. The administration should direct a small percent of that amount to create an Iraqi Citizen Job Corps, along the lines of FDR's civilian conservation corps during the Great Depression. The Job Corps can operate under the supervision of our military and with its protection. The Army Corps of Engineers might be particularly helpful in directing this effort. It will place our military in a constructive relationship with the Iraqis--both literally and figuratively.

Today, Iraq has almost 200 state-owned factories that have been abandoned by the governing authorities since the outbreak of war in 2003. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul A. Brinkley has led a team to 26 of those facilities, traveling far beyond the Green Zone to idled plants from Fallujah to Ramadi. Mr. Brinkley believes that under Department of Defense leadership, at least 10 of these facilities could be re-opened almost immediately, putting more than 10,000 Iraqis to work within weeks. This should be done without delay--and it is only the beginning.

The wages that these thousands of gainfully employed workers receive will be used to purchase goods and services that will employ other Iraqis. Those goods and services must be produced by still other Iraqis. These are the first steps in creating the requisite conditions of a stable functioning economy and the best hope of displacing retribution and violence with hope and opportunity.

We must try to achieve constructive and compassionate goals through conservative means--jump starting civic improvement and the individual work ethic in Iraq, without creating permanent subsidies. The goal is to get more Iraqis working, especially young males, who are most susceptible to the terrorist and warlord recruiters.

There are many lessons from the successful welfare reforms in New York City that can be readily applied in Iraq. In the early 1990s, New York City suffered an average of 2,000 murders a year while more than 1.1 million people--one out of every seven New Yorkers--were unemployed and on welfare. Too many neighborhoods were pervaded by a sense of hopelessness that came from a combination of high crime, high unemployment and despair. "Workfare" proved an excellent method to change this destructive decades-long paradigm. It required able-bodied welfare recipients to work 20 hours a week in exchange for their benefits. In the process, we reasserted the value of the social contract, which says that for every right there is a responsibility, for every benefit an obligation.

As many as 37,000 people participated at a single time, working in the neighborhoods that most needed their help, cleaning up streets with the Sanitation Department, removing graffiti from schools and government buildings, or helping to beautify public spaces in the Parks Department.

More than 250,000 individuals went through our Workfare program between 1994 and 2001, and their effort helped to visibly improve the quality of life in New York City. Many of them moved on to permanent employment. This change from welfare to work did as much as the New York Police Department Compstat program to keep reducing crime. A similar model can work in Iraq.

There is an opportunity not only to increase employment by rebuilding roads, houses, schools and government buildings, but also to engage the Iraqi people to participate in laying the foundation for a civil and prosperous society.

The population of Iraq is roughly 30 million with a pre-war median annual income equivalent to $700. Subsidizing unemployed Iraqis with a meaningful wage in exchange for meaningful work rebuilding their society is well within the means of the U.S. and its allies.

The entire effort will help stabilize and grow the Iraqi economy. It should be open to all willing Iraqis--Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds--as a means of helping to create a common culture through shared participation in work projects to rebuild and take ownership of their nation.

One word of caution: The program should be overseen by the U.S. military, not private contractors, to avoid unnecessary delays in deployment or accusations of cronyism in the bidding process. Our military will still be devoted to its primary role of hunting down terrorists and patrolling the streets, but administering a jobs program would be a direct extension of their effort to secure law and order. After the program has been started and becomes successful, it can be transferred to a civilian authority within the Iraqi government.

The creation of an Iraqi Citizen Job Corps will help expedite the establishment of a more stable civil society and improve the growing Iraqi economy through the transforming power of an honest day's work.

Rudy Giuliani is the former mayor of New York City. Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

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