September 09, 2003


Who’s fleeing Iraq? Not the Iraqis, as Martin Peretz reports in a subscriber-only piece for the WSJ:

It is the departure of NGOs, with their relentless pretense to be the conscience of humanity amidst all its depravity, that truly rankles. And they run the gamut: Oxfam, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children, Swedish Rescue Services, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Medecins sans Frontieres, Merlin. On Aug. 20, Oxfam said it was staying; by Aug. 28, it was gone. According to the Financial Times, the ICRC's venture in Iraq had been one of the world's largest humanitarian operations. Now two-thirds of its foreign staff is gone, and more are on their way. Save the Children claimed on its Web site to have the "largest presence in Iraq." It has just about vanished. According to The Mercury of Australia, "there are dozens of non-governmental aid and support groups working in Iraq . . . and most of them were studying whether to reduce foreign staff, or already had." A spokesman for Caritas said simply, "most of them are reducing their staff as much as possible" and spiriting them out to safety.

Many of the NGOs that are on their way out of Iraq from fear -- if we believe them -- maintain elaborate operations in Liberia, where their employees were until recently probably more at risk than in Iraq. After all, Liberia has been plagued by wanton, random killing. And yet the relief workers soldiered on. Meanwhile, in Iraq -- where whatever mistakes have been made by the occupying authorities and however vexing the internal struggles, there can be no doubt that the U.S. wants to leave the country in a better way than it found it -- the NGOs are leaving in droves.

May (er, might) have been better for Iraq if they’d never arrived.

Posted by Tim Blair at September 9, 2003 04:31 AM

“May have been better for Iraq if they’d never arrived.” Nope. “Might” not “may” for the counterfactual.

Might have been better for Iraq if they’d never arrived.


May be better for Iraq if they never arrive.

Or even

May have been better for Iraq if they’ve never arrived
may have been better for Iraq if they’ve not arrived.)

Posted by: ForNow at September 9, 2003 at 04:54 AM

And could it be that they were never really needed? At least, their brand of aid.

Posted by: Rebecca Harris at September 9, 2003 at 05:42 AM

"Save the Children claimed on its Web site to have the 'largest presence in Iraq.'"

What is there, competition? A hip hop style east coast west coast beef? Kurdistan vs. Basra? "Stay out of Najaf, Catholics, this is STC's turf"

Do they make music videos? Flashy chrome rims on their Land Cruisers and Suburbans? Holding stacks of dollar bills or dinars while rolling through the streets? Shout outs to ICRC in Kabul, Afghanistan?

God I hate NGOs

Posted by: Bob at September 9, 2003 at 06:34 AM

You folks are being way too nice to the NGOs. These clowns spend money like water, and make our politicians look like tight wad virgins.

Posted by: Homer Robinson at September 9, 2003 at 07:11 AM

Flashy chrome rims AND a really, really loud stereo. Don't forget the loud stereo. The better to cow the ignorant natives into compliance.

Posted by: Tongue Boy at September 9, 2003 at 07:20 AM

it would have been better if they had stayed in there then we could hate them more, goody two shoes taking the credit for the real work of our troops and Government. then when they died as squelchy soft unarmed targets we could tell them how stupid they were.

OTOH, maybe (just maybe) Martin Peretz, sitting on his derierre in New York sipping chardonnay and editing the new republic has no fucking idea what its really like to be an unarmed (western) foreign national on the ground in Iraq at the moment, let alone one trying to effectively wag an aid-logistics tail.

Posted by: pzorf at September 9, 2003 at 07:30 AM

He quoted the Mercury?!?

Posted by: Alex Hidell at September 9, 2003 at 09:52 AM

NGOs suck but I think this article is an example of the disingenuous spinning we detest from th left. Liberia is not Iraq, the nuts there are not specifically targeting westeners.

In Iraq the islamic crazies are SPECIFICALLY targeting the reconstruction progress, that means NGOs are very likely to be victims since they aren't armed and the even glorious jihadis have figured out that marines shoot back.

So say fuck NGOs for any number of a vast range of reasons, but they're right that their people are going to be killed if they remain on the ground.

It's actually a win for Iraq that these jackles are fleeing though :)

Posted by: Amos at September 9, 2003 at 10:25 AM

What one found amusing but telling is the sheer numbers of `staff' that were in Iraq.Not at-typical though.

Posted by: d at September 9, 2003 at 10:33 AM

Alex, that must have been the Illawarra Mercury. Don't knock it. It's the best paper we've got going for us in Australia since the late lamented Truth. Who else exposed pedophilia rings in Wollongong, corrupt mayors, ALP-owned brothels on the South Coast, etc?

Posted by: Rob (No.1) at September 9, 2003 at 11:27 AM

Bob, it's a competitive market for the foreign aid dollar (either through private or govt funding). Why wouldn't you try to advertise that you've got the largest presence?

Posted by: LD at September 9, 2003 at 11:37 AM

My mother-in-law has just returned home.

“May have been better for me if she'd never arrived.” Nope. “Might” not “may” for the counterfactual.

Might have been better for me if she’d never arrived.
May be better for me if she never arrives.
Or even
May have been better for me if she has never arrived
may have been better for me if she has not arrived.)

Posted by: pooh at September 9, 2003 at 12:43 PM

Peretz fails to draw the correct conclusion from a crucial distinction that he notices.
Liberia has been plagued by wanton, random killing.
Whereas in Iraq, the UN and foreign-affiliated agencies, are being specifically targetted by fundamentalist terrorists and fascist partisans.
It follows that the risk for NGO's is higher, whatever the good intentions of the US.
Good intnetions are not everything, the US will need about $500 bill to fix up this mess.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at September 9, 2003 at 01:13 PM

Oh, I was thinking the Hobart Mercury. Still, I'm surprised that either one is read by people at the WSJ.

Posted by: Alex Hidell at September 9, 2003 at 01:51 PM

Do you know that NGO's hire lost of salesmen.

Their job is to make the "sell" to large donors.

They even get commissions, etc.

very high paying job.

Doesn't sound like what you would think (or see in a movie), a dingy basement office full of volunteers trying to make a difference.

Imagined high powered salesmen, lawyers, living in fancy digs.

Posted by: Aaron Sec hrist at September 9, 2003 at 03:08 PM

When did NGOs start to be specifically targeted by the bad guys? Sure there was the UN bombing, but what about the Jordanian embassy? Or the Shi'ite mosque? Oxfam says nothing about being "specifically targeted" in this open letter. This is about as close as they come to saying they're being specifically targeted: "Several NGOs have been held up and had their cars stolen, or been robbed at gunpoint, some of this seems to be opportunistic rather than because of ill will towards them."

It's a little more understandable for the ICRC, seeing as how one of their workers was killed. But they don't mention being specifically targeted, either. "...the Iraqi capital is currently a very dangerous place. This is especially true for the people of Baghdad who suffer the consequences of daily criminal attacks against individuals and public infrastructure."

NGOs do dangerous work, they should be given credit for that. But why Liberia or the Congo and not Iraq, when they're not being specifically targeted?

Posted by: scott h. at September 9, 2003 at 03:13 PM

That's a nice sweeping statement. Watch much ACA?

Posted by: LD at September 9, 2003 at 03:16 PM

Speaking of salesmen for non-profits...
In the early '90s I had an old college friend who worked as a full-time paid fund-raiser for Boy Scouts in south Mississippi -- company car, expenses, commission. His main tasks were constantly working the "old boy" & "good ole boy" networks of the well off (often w/sports tournaments) or coordinating fund-raisers at the troop level (w/ dirty work & expenses borne by the Scouts).
He had horror stories of how little of net proceeds ever made it back to the troops. Even the big summer camps, far from being subsidized, were profit centers based on the fees charged to attend & participate in various activities. There was a whole hierarchy of council, district, region & state-level paid fund-raisers feeding off the stream of contributions, and the top people did extremely well for themselves (lots of national conferences in cushy locales to go to, too, and openly skimming unofficial perks like crazy.)

He didn't like it, but it was a job. The last straw came when the state organization wanted to drop the leases on the vehicles yet turn around and require the sales guys to lease their own car (and it had to be a higher caliber one than the org had been leasing) and just reimburse on mileage. If somebody got dumped for not paying quota they would be saddled with an expensive auto lease.

Sleazy bastards all around.

I can't imagine the NGOs are any better.

Posted by: newscaper at September 9, 2003 at 06:29 PM

The GAO (General Accounting Office) published a report on NGO's and USAID last year that is available on line via the GAO site archive search. For anyone who'd like hard facts and details, the GAO is a great source... AID has a yearly budget for development dough in the neighborhood of $8 billion a year, and according to the GAO over half of that money dissapears into NGO "operations" in jurisdictions that neither the GAO (nor FBI, IRS, etc) can audit.

My personal experience with USAID and the biggie NGO's in south Asia (etc) is that their operations end up distributing about 10-15% and waste or steal the rest shamelessly.

Allow me to offer a different perspective on the biggie NGO's bailing out on the Iraqis... with the US goverenment there in Iraq the NGO's all face the prospect of having to provide an honest accounting of where the billions went, and they ran not because of a couple bombs, but because if they get caught cooking the books in Iraq the NGO's entire GLOBAL funding would be at risk. When NGO's operate in dictatorships and corrupt backwaters, they know their safety is assured because they're paying off the goverenment thugs (who look at 'development' as a cash cow), and if something goes wrong in the country the NGO is in, it's staff always knows they can just jump a plane and go back to the US or Europe... but if a US military inspector general catches them stealing, there's no place for them to run.

Posted by: A Crawford at September 10, 2003 at 01:34 AM

NGO's are outta Iraq for the simple reason they can no longer work their political agendas there.
They operate their fund raising on the rationale of 'raising awareness'. A noble cause when applied to areas of health and education. However when applied to political activism, I'd suggest 'raising awareness' is not only hypocritical but pollutes NGOs credibility at home and abroad, thereby undermining Australias national interest.

Posted by: Jafa at September 10, 2003 at 02:14 AM