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The $100 Billion Misunderstanding

Dec 20, 2008
The Pentagon Papers revealed the debacle that was the Vietnam war, and now the New York Times and the online journalism web site ProPublica have published what should be an equally incendiary document, Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, written by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction following several years of interviews and study.

The bottom line? The reconstruction effort in Iraq has wasted over $100 billion, much of it American taxpayer money, through a combination of poor or nonexistent planning, disruptions caused by the insurgency, turf wars among uncoordinated participants, and fraud: “[A] massive waste of taxpayer dollars.”1

ProPublica provides particularly useful Excerpts from the 513-page report. They reveal that reconstruction was inadequately planned for before the invasion and ineptly pursued afterwards. In what appears to be full-fledged bureaucratic panic, agencies and offices opened and closed; administrators came and went; huge projects lay dormant halfway to completion and completed projects were not sustained; turf wars between Defense, State, USAID, the White House and others resulted in huge wastes of time and money. And through it all, an insurgency which to this day holds sway throughout Iraq played havoc with the few coordinated actions the various offices and authorities managed to mount during their short tenures.

The Inspector General concludes, “Why was so large a reconstruction program pursued in so insecure an environment? Others will have to provide that answer.”2

Obama has pledged (sort of) to disengage us from this Slough of Despond. However, he has also pledged to get us more involved in the slough to the east in Afghanistan, boosting both military and reconstruction efforts in an environment which is proving even more intractable than Iraq. If pursued, this unilateral, military response to an essentially multilateral situation calling for international policing efforts, particularly in a region which has proven time and again to be unmanageable by history’s very best managers, will be a morass into which will sink Obama and all his hope for change.

“Hard Lessons” is a road map to disaster. Nothing in the manner we have pursued our efforts in Afghanistan to date, and nothing in the announced plans of the new administration, give us reason to believe we are not still on that road.
1 Hard Lessons, pg. iii.
2 Ibid.
tags: History | Militarism | Obama

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