An unfortunate truth is that Washington's plan for nation building has been hamstrung because the insurgents have been targeting contractors and construction workers. This lethal violence maneuvered the US into a "security first, reconstruction later" mode, reminding us that on every battlefield, the enemy always has a vote.
True, the United States has poured billions into rebuilding Iraq. But the standing joke among Iraqis is that a US company will be awarded a $10 billion contract. The work is then subcontracted to a construction company in Kuwait, which in turn subcontracts to an Iraqi firm, which in turn hires four kids to paint a school. Iraqis then laugh and say, "You can be sure none of those kids ever sees the $10 billion." This cynicism, along with the legacy of massive corruption under former dictator Saddam Hussein, has hobbled US reconstruction efforts.
In addition to focusing on massive nation-building in an ethnically diverse country, the US might even now try to concentrate on the little things that weigh heavily on Iraqis' hearts. A modest start: Recreate secular educational institutions. This requires smarter reconstruction efforts toward rebuilding schools and universities, and providing decent textbooks.
Today, only half of Iraqi children attend primary school, compared with 80 percent in 2005, according to a UN report.
Lest we forget, Iraqis today compare the poor state of schooling under the Americans to the free and prestigious system under Hussein. By the late 1980s, Iraq had mostly wiped out illiteracy. But today, nearly one-third of Iraqi adults can't read.
Now, because of instability and unresolved security issues, students can attend school only for a couple of hours a week, on the "good" days.