KAI RYSSDAL: Today the United States Senate began its first real debate on Iraq since Democrats took over. All the talking Senators have done so far has been about whether or not to have that debate. The Democratic proposal on the floor calls for troop withdrawals to start this summer. And to have all Americans out of Iraq a year from now.
The plan likely won’t pass. And even if it did, it would certainly be vetoed at the White House. Commentator Newt Gingrich suggests troops are important but lawmakers and the president ought to be fixing other things, too.
NEWT GINGRICH: We want the Iraqi government to succeed. But we aren’t setting much of an example. Take our reconstruction efforts. We have to follow cumbersome federal acquisition laws whenever we spend U.S. dollars in Iraq.
In one case, we awarded a contract to a Finnish company for 20, 17-megawatt generators. The delivery took over two years.
The process is so complex, it has essentially shut Iraqis out of the bidding process. They don’t understand the American system. So, most contracts go to foreign companies instead of Iraqi-owned businesses.
Meanwhile, unemployment and underemployment in Iraq is around 48 percent. If we jump-started more than 150 old and new Iraqi factories, we could create tens of thousands of new jobs. But instead, we’re squabbling over where the money should come from and who should get the contracts.
Instead of debating a troop surge, the President and Congress should focus on making our government work in Iraq. They could start by fixing our broken acquisition system.
They can follow a model that already exists. Provisional Reconstruction Teams are allowed to dole out small amounts of money to get jobs done fast without going through red tape. Congress should expand the amount of money these teams can spend to get jobs done quickly.
And Congress should overhaul and simplify the entire acquisition process so Iraqi businesses can compete.
We’ve got to speed up the process between approval and when projects start. It’s true that could lead to more waste. But the risk is small compared to a more rapid, more successful reconstruction.
We can still win in Iraq. But doing so requires fixing the broken bureaucracies here in Washington. After all, if our government doesn’t work, how can we expect to help the Iraqis create one that does?
RYSSDAL: Newt Gingrich was the Speaker of the House of Representatives back in the mid-90’s.
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