Iraq … It’s not like Charlie Wilson’s war
Ambassador Chris Hill, the retiring U.S. envoy to Baghdad, is confident the Iraq war will not end up like Charlie Wilson’s war.
Wilson, the late Texas congressman, was a driving force behind the U.S. funding of mujahideen rebels who fought a Soviet occupation force in Afghanistan in the 1980s. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, U.S. attention shifted elsewhere and Afghanistan slipped into civil war.
Not a likely scenario in Iraq, Hill told a State Department briefing Tuesday.
“During my 16 months there I never lacked for senior people being, first of all, well-informed, and secondly, engaged and visiting, so I never had that (inattention) problem,” he said.
“I never lacked for the Washington bureaucracy offering me tips on how to do my job,” Hill added, warming to the theme. “It was amazing. Every day it was a new idea that I never thought of. And, uh, I appreciated every one of them.”
While lack of attention from Washington might not be a problem, money might be.
Hill said Iraq is headed back toward being a major oil producer. While it has so far failed to produce a new oil law, the country has worked around the problem by signing oil service contracts with major international firms.
Production is now at 2 million barrels per day, and Hill said if things go well Iraq could be producing 8 million barrels per day in seven to 10 years.
In the meantime, Iraq still needs U.S. and other foreign financial assistance.
“People need to understand that the overall national security outlay is plummeting … as we pull out Stryker brigades and things like that,” Hill said, referring to armored combat units.
“Funding for peace is a lot cheaper … than funding for war. And yet we’re having some challenges there.”
He said he understood the difficult spending tradeoffs faced by Congress.
But Iraq has not yet realized its oil potential and will face financial difficulty until it does, he said.
“So I think it behooves people to understand that it’s going to take a little more time,” Hill said. “It’s going to take a few more years, at the end of which we will have done the job and we will not have to be funding Iraq projects for the rest of history.”
Photo credit: Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani (Hill speaks at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier this year) Reuters/Jamal Penjweny (Hill lays a wreath at a memorial for Kurds killed in a chemical attack in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq)