Score another one for the "stay the course" hypocrites in the White House. Last week, I wrote about the president talking up our progress in Afghanistan while cutting U.S. troops and funding. Now he's doing the speaking-out-of-both-sides-of-his-mouth trick when it comes to the rebuilding of Iraq.
In a speech in front of a veterans' group last week, Bush said of Iraq: "On the economic side, we will continue reconstruction efforts and help Iraq's new government implement difficult reforms that are necessary to build a modern economy and a better life."
But this presidential promise is directly contradicted by recent reports that the administration has decided not to seek any more funds for reconstruction in the new budget -- effectively signaling an end to an effort that was once touted as a Middle East version of the Marshall Plan.
In its place is a new, sink-or-swim approach summed up by Tom Delare, economics advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "The world is a competitive place," he said helpfully. While Andy Wylegala, another embassy official, sniffed, "No pain, no gain."
So forget the comparisons to rebuilding Germany after WW II, now it's all about the marketplace lifting Iraq out of the rubble -- conveniently shoving aside the fact that much of that rubble was caused by U.S. bombs.
And how's this for rewriting history: according to the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gen. William McCoy, "We were never intending to rebuild Iraq. We were providing enough funds to jump-start the reconstruction effort."
Oh, really? Tell that to President Bush who, back in August 2003, said of the rebuilding of Iraq: "The ultimate aim is for the infrastructure to be the best in the region."
But that was before the insurgency and security needs began sucking up huge chunks of money originally earmarked for electrical, water, sewage, sanitation, and oil systems.
"You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people," Colin Powell told the president before the invasion. "You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all." The Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it. Well, the president went ahead and broke Iraq, but now he appears ready to walk away from the wholesale repairs required by this fixer-upper.
"In all three aspects of our strategy," Bush told the veterans, "democracy and security and reconstruction -- we're learning from our experiences, and we're fixing what hasn't worked." But when it comes to reconstruction, it appears that what they've learned is to just walk away.
After spending almost all of the $18.6 billion Congress allotted for reconstruction in 2003 -- an amount that doesn't include the billions lost by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the billions donated by foreign countries -- Iraq is still a mess. Over two-and-a-half years after we invaded, the country is producing less electricity than before the war. Residents of Baghdad have to make do with as little as four hours of power a day.
Here's how the LA Times describes the capital: "Baghdad's roads are an obstacle course of barriers, potholes and debris. Many government and office buildings are either still gutted or strung with webs of electrical wire connecting to generators that run 12 hours on good days. A brown haze fouls the air and pools of sewage overflow dot the streets."
Not exactly a travelogue inducement to the private investors the Bushies are ready to turn the reconstruction over to.
For a preview of what a privatized Iraq will look like, check out Tuesday's Wall Street Journal piece on the Bush administration's inability to keep its corporate cronies' hands out of the Iraq cookie jar -- and its unwillingness to hold accountable even those companies suspected of looting billions meant for reconstruction through fraud and price gouging.
The key bit involves, not surprisingly, Halliburton's KBR division which, according to an audit by Pentagon auditors, failed to provide adequate documentation on $1.48 billion in expenses. Because of this, the auditors passed on their findings to the Justice Department to see if a criminal investigation is called for, and recommended that further payments to Halliburton be withheld.
Instead, Halliburton was given a $1.5 billion payment -- and, you won't believe this one, an additional $38 million in bonuses for "good performance." The question is, good for who? Certainly not the Iraqi people.
As 26-year old Baghdad resident Zaid Saleem told the Washington Post: "[Americans] are the best in destroying things but they are the worst in rebuilding."
Once again, the president has shown an unerring ability to completely screw up his priorities. When it comes to sending American soldiers into battle, he insists on "staying the course." But when it comes to fulfilling our moral obligation to rebuild Iraq, he's more than willing to cut-and-run.
And to leave the economic well-being of the Iraqi people in the hands of the Halliburtons of the world.
p.s. Watch Mickey Kaus and Eric Umansky discussing this "Money Pullout" from Iraq on bloggingheads.tv.