A mere week after the Bush administration announced it would privatize Iraq's infrastructure, the plan has been put on hold. Perhaps someone in the administration finally realized that, since there is no Iraqi infrastructure to speak of, there isn't anything to privatize. More importantly, any future Iraqi infrastructure will have to be built with US taxpayer funds.
The $87 billion bill currently winding its way through the Senate--without much friction, unfortunately--contains a lot of pork. Three-quarters of the money will be spent on the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. About $20 billion is earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction, but even those funds contain a lot of waste. Some of the more dubious expenses include:
--$100 million for a witness protection program that will serve 100 people. That's $1 million per person to relocate them overseas and find them jobs.
--$100 million to hire 500 people to investigate Saddam Hussein's crimes against humanity. Never mind that the US military could have seized all the incriminating Iraqi government documents that it wanted way back in April, but instead let looters and saboteurs burn Iraq's government buildings. It's a little late now to sift through all those ashes. And expensive, apparently.
--$99 million to build 26 jails and prisons, at a cost of about $3.8 million apiece. Someone in the Bush administration is expecting the guerrilla war and lawlessness in Iraq to drag on for a really long time.
--$9 million to "modernize" Iraq's postal system by, among other things, assigning zip codes to the country. Okay, zip codes are important, but why $9 million just to generate a few numbers?
--$55 million for an oil pipeline repair team...which will consist of retired NBA All-stars, it seems.
--$100 to build a housing complex for 3,500 people. An Iraqi contractor has said that he could build the complex for about $10 million.
--$150 million to build one--yes, just ONE--children's hospital in the city of Basra.
--$35 million for on-the-job training for private businesses. Yes, you read that correctly: private businesses.
--$40 million for computer training classes, at $333 per month per course. Such classes cost less than half that amount at community colleges here in the US.
--$3.6 million for 600 radios and phones, at $6,000 each.
Other fripperies include a $10,000-per-month business school that will be twice as expensive as attending Harvard Business School and a fleet of $33,000 pickup trucks (which are probably meant for the All-star oil pipeline repair team).
These are just a few of the details. Many portions of the bill are so vague, and many line items so large that it's very difficult to tell what the money will spent on. For example, $130 million will go for building 10 irrigation and drainage projects, with no details of what technology will be used, how much money will be spent for labor versus equipment, and whether any funds will be allocated for ongoing maintenance. The same is true for the $2.9 billion allocated for rebuilding Iraq's electrical system and the $1 billion for a new drinking-water system.
Of course, the most ridiculous item in the bill is $600 million for the continuing operations of the Iraq Survey Group, whose leader, David Kay, admitted to Congress last week that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kay did try his best to put a spin on his report that would favor George Bush's assertions that Saddam had WMD, but the whole exercise was pathetic and futile. When Colin Powell waved a single vial of botulinum toxin in the air as "proof" of Saddam's intent to wipe out the whole United States with biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, only the most slavering right-wing apologists could listen without jeering.
This made a poor impression on our foreign "partners," from whom the Bush administration wants to collect about $20 billion in pledges to help with Iraq's reconstruction. A major donor's conference is scheduled for late October, where European nations, Japan, Russia, China, and Middle Eastern sultanates are expected to make financial commitments. But indications are not good--in fact, the Bush administrations has had to revise its expectations downward first from $20 billion to $10 billion, then downward again to $2 billion, and are now praying for at least $1 billion in donations. So far, only the European Union has announced a firm commitment of money: about $235 million--far less than was expected.
The sticking point is who will have control of the funds and what they'll be spent on. Most of the wealthy donor nations, including France and Germany, want the IMF or World Bank to set up a fund and control the financing process. The Bush administration is resisting this idea, refusing to give up even a modicum of control in Iraq. This, combined with the emerging details of the $87 billion spending bill before Congress, has made foreign nations wary of throwing their money into a bottomless pit.
American taxpayers should be equally concerned. The $20 billion in this spending bill is only the first of many outlays US taxpayers will have to make if the international community balks at funding Bush's folly. The World Bank has estimated that Iraq will need between $60-$70 billion in reconstruction funds over the next four to five years. With the US economy limping through a "jobless recovery" that has plunged millions of people into poverty and the federal government running a record deficit, we simply can't afford the kind of pork barrel politics being played out in Washington DC.
For further reading:
Paper Details Iraq Spending Plan," Alan Fram, Associated
Press, 9/22/03; "GOP Finding Iraq War Request a Tough Sell,"
Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, 10/1/03, A14; "Some Iraqis
say Bush money request doesn't address needs," Cesar G. Soriano,
USA Today, 9/29/03; "Officials Say Bush Seeks $600 Million
to Hunt Iraq Arms," James Risen and Judith Miller, New York
Times, 10/1/03; "Reconstruction 'will cost up to $70bn',"
Edward Alden, Financial Times, 9/23/03.