The Other Reconstruction

With all the talk about the reconstruction of New Orleans surrounding the Katrina anniversary, the rebuilding of Iraq has gotten lost in the background. That would be a shame, because it remains one of the most important tasks for America--both morally and politically.

To recap: After a morning spent fishing back in August 2003, Bush stood in front of reporters in Crawford, TX and promised to turn Iraq's infrastructure into the "best" in the region. Three years and $30 billion later, that pledge is far from reality. The State Dept's weekly Iraq status report provides the grim stats. Power production is far below demand. Oil pumping is still not what it was before Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military remains the only force in the country that can maintain some semblance of order--despite years of training of Iraq forces. What happened?

I wrote Blood Money in an attempt to answer that basic question. A couple of quick realities: The first problem was trying to rebuild the country in the middle of a war zone. It shouldn't take a degree from Yale to tell you that isn't smart. At one point, the U.S. was spending $4 million dollars a day just to feed the contractors, whether they did any work or not. There were sometimes 5 body guards for each engineer on a job.

The second problem was the Bush administration decided to contract out the rebuilding. Blood Money tells how U.S taxpayers paid Halliburton millions to build an oil pipeline under a river. The company never finished. We paid Bechtel million more to build a hospital for one of Laura Bush's favorite charities. That has yet to be finished, either.

A final, fundamental problem was motivation. The 82nd airborne is different than Wal Mart. The battle field is not the board room. You had fine soldiers like U.S. Army Col. Ted Westhusing, 3rd in his class at West Point, who was found dead in his trailer after clashing with contractors. Whether it was a suicide or something more nefarious, the result was the same. Westhusing's--and by extension the U.S. military's--ability to succeed was frustrated by making private companies responsible for rebuilding. American soldiers have the most at stake in winning hearts and minds. When they undertook that mission, via civil affairs units or under the leadership of people like Gen. Pete Chiarelli, ordinary soldiers often did an amazing job with small amounts of money. The soldiers should have been on the front lines of the rebuilding effort. Instead, they were sidelined by the Pentagon's mania for outsourcing.