Paul Krugman looks at the promises President Bush made to rebuild Iraq and New Orleans, and the large costs of failing to deliver:
The Promiser in Chief, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: Sometimes reconstruction delayed is reconstruction denied. A few months after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush promised to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and economy. He - or, at any rate, his speechwriters - understood that reconstruction was important not just for its own sake, but as a way to deprive the growing insurgency of support. ... But for a long time, Iraqi reconstruction was more of a public relations exercise than a real effort. ... Both supporters and opponents of the war now argue that ... the Bush administration missed a crucial window of opportunity. By the time reconstruction spending began in earnest, it was in a losing race with a deteriorating security situation. As a result, the electricity and jobs that were supposed to make the killers desperate never arrived. ...
Now we're losing another window of opportunity for reconstruction. ... Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush made an elaborately staged appearance in New Orleans, where he promised big things. ... But Mr. Bush seems to have forgotten about his promise. More than three months after Katrina, a major reconstruction effort isn't even in the planning stage... "To an extent almost inconceivable a few months ago," a Los Angeles Times report ... says, "the only real actors in the rebuilding drama at the moment are the city's homeowners and business owners."
It's worth noting in passing that Mr. Bush hasn't even appointed a new team to fix the dysfunctional Federal Emergency Management Agency. .... One FEMA program has, however, been revamped. The Recovery Channel is a satellite and Internet network that used to provide practical information to disaster victims. Now it features public relations segments telling viewers what a great job FEMA and the Bush administration are doing. ...
By letting the gulf region languish, Mr. Bush is allowing a window of opportunity to close, just as he did in Iraq. ... The ... private sector can't rebuild the region on its own. The reason goes beyond the need for flood protection and basic infrastructure, which only the government can provide. Rebuilding is also blocked by a vicious circle of uncertainty. Business owners are reluctant to return to the gulf region because they aren't sure whether their customers and workers will return, too. And families are reluctant to return because they aren't sure whether businesses will be there to provide jobs and basic amenities.
A credible reconstruction plan could turn that vicious circle into a virtuous circle, in which everyone expects a regional recovery and, by acting on that expectation, helps that recovery come to pass. But as the months go by with no plan and no money, businesses and families will make permanent decisions to relocate elsewhere, and the loss of faith in a gulf region recovery will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Funny, isn't it? Back during the 2000 campaign Mr. Bush promised to avoid "nation building." And so he has. He failed to rebuild Iraq because he waited too long to get started. And now he's doing the same thing here at home.
[Update: Full column here.]