Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Our Money Pit on the Tigris

While the degenerating security situation in Iraq continues to grab most of the headlines, with the Shia and Sunnis now engaged in a resumption of their centuries-long bloodbath, the full scale of the Bush administration's mishandling of the occupation financing is beginning to come clear. Larry Kudlow, outspoken advocate of both the administration and the Iraqi war, admits just how bad the situation is in a recent article on the National Review's web site.

...Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, now estimates that corruption costs in Iraq have reached a startling $4 billion per year. This is vital taxpayer war money — money you’d think would be safeguarded by the GOP Congress. But nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

A Wall Street Journal story on the subject states that “the Bush administration continues to wind down its ambitious Iraq reconstruction program, which has spent ten of billions of dollars on rebuilding efforts that have largely failed to restore basic services such as water or electricity to pre-war levels.”

And why has this spending failed?

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Me.), the chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that overseas the war money, says this is a story of “mistakes made, plans poorly conceived, overwhelmed by ongoing violence, and the waste, greed, and corruption that drains dollars that should have been used to build schools, improve the electrical grid, and repair the oil infrastructure.”

True enough, corruption is a big part of this problem, in particular the oil smuggling that continues to siphon off what could be precious oil revenues for Iraq. U.S. Comptroller General David Walker says 10 percent of Iraq’s refined fuels and 30 percent of its imported fuels are being stolen.

But Bowen says this is a problem that began at home: “the Bush administration’s overall handling of Iraq contracting — from relying on no-bid contracts even when major fighting had ended, to failing to standardize contracting regulations to help prevent fraud — was deeply flawed.” He goes on to say that the U.S. has not provided the proper contracting and procurement support necessary to manage reconstruction efforts that were begun three years ago, and also cites widespread mismanagement among competing U.S. government agencies.

Kudlow wants to apportion some of the blame to the Congress, which is only fair since Congress controls the nation's checkbook (or, to be more realistic, credit card - since we are borrowing heavily to pay for this adventure). But the administration deserves even more blame for not rigorously supervising the reconstruction effort. Of course, real oversight can hardly have been expected from an administration that did not forsee - and certainly made not plans to deal with - an intifada-style insurgency after we invaded a Muslim country.

Of course, the financial corruption, wasted billions and fraud that has come to light so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

Kudlow, one senses, is waking from the ideological fog that has enshrouded him for three years, and is beginning to perceive, very reluctantly, the reality of the situation in Iraq.

I say all this as a war hawk and a war supporter. I want to win this war. I do not want to cut and run. I agree with President Bush’s basic mission of spreading democracy and freedom to the Middle East.

But after three democratic elections in Iraq, a wondrous advance for democracy, it still does not seem that we are winning this war. And if we are not winning it, then one has to worry about the possibility that we may lose it. And that would be a very bad thing.

By "winning the war" Kudlow seems to mean an ending of the violence and the establishment of a Western-style democracy in Iraq - a Baghdad that is run somewhat like Minneapolis. But that was always the fatal conceit of this war. Baghdad isn't Minneapolis; Iraqi's aren't Minnesotans. Islamic culture is hostile to Western secular-democratic values and offers no bedrock on which to build the foundations of a democratic republic. Defeating Saddam, conquering Iraq - these were acheivable military goals. Turning Iraq into a hotter, smellier version of Minneapolis is beyond our military capacity - unless one wants to flatten the place WWII-style and rebuild from the ground up with newly imported residents. The US is not now, and never was, prepared to undertake the re-construction of an entire culture. Nor is that what the administration advertised. But that's not surprising ... they really never had a clue.


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