It's not exactly incompetence in Iraq

In Seeing Like a State, James Scott debunks the ideology of "high modernism", the simplifying and standardizing concepts used by states to make their impossibly messy domains coherent to central authorities. State planners impose these standardizations — whether of measurement, city road grids, landholding patterns, even ethnicity — on the population to advance goals like social control and extraction of resources (taxation, natural resources, conscription). Sometimes these measures of central control become caught up in utopian ideologies and aesthetics, giving birth to massive social engineering projects. Be it Soviet bureaucrats collectivizing agriculture or Brasilian city planners building Brasilia, their visions are deeply homogenizing, authoritarian, and arrogant. Only they know how things should be done, and regular people exist only to carry out their orders.

But this always leads to disaster because it delegitimizes and ignores the practical, on-the-ground knowledge that regular people possess. This specialized knowledge, gained from experience rather than pure modernist theories built on supposedly universal principles, is vital to the everyday workings of complex social systems. Of course it's the regular folks who are always sacrificed to the high planners' visions.

Here's an interesting small-scale example in USA-occupied Iraq of what Scott is talking about:
Some Iraqis also complain that Western engineers have been unable to grasp the complexities of a creaky electrical grid that is a patchwork of ancient Russian, German, Yugoslavian, Chinese and American equipment. The Iraqis say that the engineers, often Americans, reflexively reach for fancy new gear costing tens of millions of dollars that can take months or years to order, ship and install. Iraqis are skilled at balancing the vast swirl of electrical supply and demand on their grid with phone calls and intuition, while Americans rely on computerized sensors and automatic control circuitry. (The New York Times, "In Race to Give Power to Iraqis, Electricity Lags", 2004 June 14)
After the United States devasted Iraq's electrical system in the first USA-Iraq war and then used sanctions to prevent it from rebuilding, Iraqis developed complex and highly local forms of knowledge as they jury-rigged the system to keep going. Now that the United States is saddled with the problems it created, its engineers and bureaucrats disdain the methods of Iraqis and try to impose their own elegant, "advanced" solutions. It's no wonder the occupation has failed to return electricity service even to its pre-conquest levels, much less to the levels reached before sanctions and the 1991 war.

This is an important but isolated insight from The New York Times. Sad to say, the rest of the article features subtle racism against Iraqis, as when the reporter, James Glanz, has the deputy minister of electricity "spitting out the words [critical of Americans] in slightly imperfect English"). He also passes on, without comment, the explanation from the senior American adviser on electricity that rebuilding is taking longer than expected because "engineers discovered that Saddam Hussein's government had left [generators] in a decrepit state". It seems that the deliberate American bombing of the electricity grid in 1991 and the sanctions that prevented its rebuilding have, thru some incredible process of alchemy, become the perfidy of Saddam Hussein.

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