Yesterday, VMI hosted Hon. Robert M. Kimmett, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury to give some "remarks" about the Treasury's involvement in economic development in Iraq. His speech was dignified, and well-written, but clearly had been vetted for reasons of security, and probably politics. He remarked how the Treasury has taken an elevated role in helping develop Iraq economically, as our military helps them remain secure militarily.
One important issue in the development of Iraq is the role of oil and natural resources, and the risk of contracting a "Dutch Disease" or "resource curse" whereby profits generated by high prices and favorable terms of trade in the resource sector for exports essentially "crowds out" private investment in the manufacturing sector. So, when we met, I asked him about it whether this was a risk for Iraq, and answered, "no…" and went on to list a number of sectors in which Iraq has seen substantial progress. They included (in no particular order): the construction of roads, the building of schools, hospitals, and agriculture. But, with the exception of agriculture, sectors mostly represent "public goods," and most countries for which the resource curse is applied DO see impressive development in the provision of these public goods. Examples include Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and even Norway.
What is more troubling is how this economic structure might contribute to perpetuation of ethnic tensions. Put in broad terms, when there are factions in a society that identify on ethnic grounds, violence and tensions tend to arise on two fault lines: (1) they arise on the basis of control over the rents received from some strategic resource, and; (2) the ability to control the provision of public goods and confiscate their use for your own faction (and, exclude their use from the other).