Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Costly Lesson

Relax, says Mark Hyman in his recent commentary about the “rebuilding” of Iraq: we’ve only spent twice as much on rebuilding the country we chose to invade as we did rebuilding Japan after World War II.

This is what it’s come to.

Hyman points out that in constant dollars, the current money spent to rebuild Iraq is roughly equal to the amount we spent putting Germany back together after WWII, and twice that spent in Japan. That’s not so bad, says Hyman, because Japan and Germany had relatively intact “economic infrastructures” after WWII, while Iraq’s was left to rot by Saddam Hussein.


Apparently dozens of completely flattened major cities doesn’t count in assessing the “infrastructure” of Japan and Germany, to say nothing of the utterly destroyed industrial and transportation systems.

Hyman seems to think his commentary will cushion the sticker shock of rebuilding Iraq, but it does precisely the opposite. The idea that it has already cost us as much in our attempts to build Iraq as it did to reconstruct an industrialized Germany after a world war in which millions of its citizens died is appalling.

And on top of the simple economics, let’s not forget that World War II was not a war we began preemptively and by choice.

And let’s also not forget the rosy predictions we were fed by the administration’s war lobbyists.
Paul Wolfowitz told us that the rebuilding of Iraq would pay for itself through oil revenue. Andrew Natsios, Administrator for the US Agency for International Development, told an incredulous Ted Koppel that the total bill to U.S. taxpayers for rebuilding Iraq would be a measly $1.7 billion.

Why has the “rebuilding” cost so much, particularly since
not much rebuilding has actually been done?

There are lots of reasons, including going into Iraq without support from most of our traditional allies, going in with far too few troops (despite warnings about the need for larger numbers), and not bothering to plan for the aftermath of the war.

But a lot of it is just old fashioned cronyism and corruption.

From the beginning, the Bush administration has treated the rebuilding process as primarily a political one; a way to reward friends and allies. The actual needs of the Iraqi people seem to have been ignored.

For example, the Coalition Provisional Authority was staffed largely by
incredibly young, incredibly inexperienced, and incredibly Republican neophytes. It was sort of an intern program for the spawn of the neo-cons.

No bid contracts went out to companies, many of which had ties to the administration (e.g., Halliburton).

Waste and fraud have been overlooked, often because
Republicans have clamped down on any independent oversight of the use of funds.

If this crowd had been in charge in 1945, Tokyo streets would likely still be filled with rickshaws.

Here’s just one small example of how corrupt things have gotten. Back in 2004,
MSNBC did a story about the scandalous lack of follow through on rebuilding projects in Iraq. A particular firm MSNBC focused on was an obscure little company called S&K Technologies, a company awarded a large contract in the rebuilding of Iraq.

MSNBC focused on the fact that the government was able to award the company a no-bid contract because it is owned by two Native American tribes in Montana, the Salish and Kootenai. As a minority-owned company, the government could simply award it the contract. This kept the contract from coming up for competitive bids.

Yeah, that’s not good, but the story gets worse. Earlier this year, an S&K employee (and senior member of Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq)
admitted stealing more than $2 million in funds that were supposed to go to rebuilding Iraq (small things, like keeping raw sewage from spilling into the Tigris river). Instead, he spent it on sports cars, aircraft, guns, and land in North Carolina.

On top of that, he
steered millions of dollars in contract money to companies chosen not because of their ability to do a good job at a fair price, but for their willingness to provide him with money, gifts, and willing sex partners.

As I read about this, it occurred to me that there was an interesting juxtaposition in players in the story: Indian tribes and corrupt Republicans.


And yes, a bit of Googling shows that on top of everything else, there is a connection between S&K Technologies and disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, via Republican Montana Senator Conrad Burns. Burns, a major recipient of Abramoff money,
had a sudden change of heart on an important land-management issue involving the Montana tribes after 2000 (gosh, I wonder why), and has been a major benefactor of the Salish and Kootenai tribes specifically.

More damning, Burns’s 2006 campaign manager and former legislative director
, Mark Baker, was hired to be the chief lobbyist for the Salish and Kootenai tribes. During that time, he made a killing lobbying for tribal interests, particularly that little-known tech firm, S&K Technologies.

Lesson? It’s a small and incestuous world when it comes to the cronyism and corruption that have typified the effort to rebuild . . . well . . . profiteer after the invasion of Iraq and the wider culture of criminality that pervades the Bush administration and the GOP Congressional contingent.

And it’s a lesson taxpayers have spent a lot of money to learn, and U.S. soldiers, contractors, and Iraqi civilians have paid for with their lives.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.70


At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Counterpoint Ted,
And the real "Kicker" to all this taxpayer money wasted, is that all the essential services including water, sewer, electricity and even oil production remain at LESS than pre-war levels. Hell of a job there Brownie (Bremmer, Negroponte)!
Thanks Ted, and keep bustin' Hyman.
Mike B. in SC


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