$60B in Iraq rebuilding efforts mostly wasted, IG concludes

posted at 9:21 am on March 6, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Not entirely wasted, says Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen in his final report on Iraq reconstruction funding, but most of the $60 billion ended up either having little effect or negatively impacting the issues the money was meant to solve.  CBS News reports that Iraqi officials agree with this assessment, in language that applies to more than just this particular project:

Ten years and $60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost. …

The reconstruction effort “grew to a size much larger than was ever anticipated,” Bowen told The Associated Press in a preview of his last audit of U.S. funds spent in Iraq, to be released Wednesday. “Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended.”

In interviews with Bowen, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the U.S. funding “could have brought great change in Iraq” but fell short too often. “There was misspending of money,” said al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim whose sect makes up about 60 percent of Iraq’s population.

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country’s top Sunni Muslim official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts “had unfavorable outcomes in general.”

“You think if you throw money at a problem, you can fix it,” Kurdish government official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, told auditors. “It was just not strategic thinking.”

Actually, we have a lot of that kind of thinking behind government programs here in the US, too. We spend a lot more of it that way than $6 billion a year, and unfortunately that doesn’t have a ten-year limit.

None of this comes as a shock. Even during the early days of reconstruction, it became very clear that the money would not have the same level of efficiency one would expect in the West — in part because this was a government/military option, and in part because of the nature of the conflict in Iraq.  That much money in an artificially-impoverished nation, as was the case under Saddam Hussein, would inevitably create and exacerbate divisions between long-bitter rivals suppressed under the previous regime.  Inflated prices, dangerous work areas, and a lack of real accountability meant that corruption and failure would become endemic to the rebuilding effort.

Still, the necessity of at least trying to rebuild Iraq extends beyond the success of the individual projects.  We needed to be seen as a partner for Iraqi progress, economically as well as politically, if for no other reason than to boost the security of our troops, especially in the long fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.  While $60 billion is a lot of money, in terms of scale compared to our budgets, the percentage that the average annual expenditure took was at best 0.25% (assuming a $2.4 trillion budget), hardly a dent.

The relative success of the overall diplomatic and political strategy of the reconstruction fund could be measured in this story today, in which the Iraqis need to get help securing their nation against the civil war across the border in Syria.  Who did they call?

Top Iraqi officials called Tuesday for the United States to step up its promised delivery of major arms after an ambush well inside Iraq by suspected Islamist militants that left more than 50 Syrians and a dozen Iraqi troops dead.

The Iraqi government was clearly rattled by Monday’s incident, which seemed to bear out its worst fears that Syria’s civil war would spill into the country.

Two top Iraqi officials said the attackers were almost certainly members of al Qaida in Iraq or the Nusra Front, one of the most effective groups fighting to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. In December, the State Department added the front, known in Arabic as Jabhat al Nusra, to its list of international terrorist organizations, saying it was merely an alias for al Qaida in Iraq. Nusra has been at the forefront of recent rebel gains in Syria.

In Iraq, at least, we left behind a stable government that still considers the US a military partner to some degree, and still wants to fight against radical Islamist terror groups, and keep them from establishing another power base in their country.  That’s a far cry from Libya and Egypt at the moment.  The waste of $60 billion over ten years should be probed to see what we can learn from it and avoid those pitfalls later — especially in Afghanistan — but there were worse outcomes than just some waste and corruption in this case.


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Mostly wasted

cmsinaz on March 6, 2013 at 9:24 AM

“You think if you throw money at a problem, you can fix it,” Kurdish government official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, told auditors. “It was just not strategic thinking.”

Liar. It’s worked here, just look at the absence of poverty in America after the libs have thrown trillions of dollars at the problem.

Bishop on March 6, 2013 at 9:25 AM

Feels very princess bridey :)

cmsinaz on March 6, 2013 at 9:25 AM

That could have bought a lot of TSA uniforms…

hillsoftx on March 6, 2013 at 9:26 AM

Feels very princess bridey :)

cmsinaz on March 6, 2013 at 9:25 AM

I really, really wanted to make that joke, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work on this serious of a topic.

Ed Morrissey on March 6, 2013 at 9:27 AM

$60 billion…….meh…….

That’s just a latte for the Ruling class.

PappyD61 on March 6, 2013 at 9:31 AM

…what Bishop said!

KOOLAID2 on March 6, 2013 at 9:33 AM

The real waste – in turns of US lives was, and is, Afghanistan.

I believe the George Bush was misguided for going beyond the fall of a Taliban and getting us stuck in that mess.

Does history not teach us anything?

The day the Taliban fell – we should have undertaken a massive exterior containment campaign with Afghanistan.

Huge mistake – and tragic.

jake-the-goose on March 6, 2013 at 9:36 AM

While $60 billion is a lot of money, in terms of scale compared to our budgets, the percentage that the average annual expenditure took was at best 0.25% (assuming a $2.4 trillion budget), hardly a dent.

Ed, don’t you know that the Iraq war/rebuilding (plus the Bush tax cuts) is the reason for our debt? It must be true because that’s all I’ve ever heard liberals say… and say loudly.

Bitter Clinger on March 6, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Does history not teach us anything?

jake-the-goose on March 6, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Not a God Damn thing…

PatriotRider on March 6, 2013 at 9:47 AM

Well, on the bright side…it created bi-partisanship agreement between the kurds, shiites and sunni’s.

HumpBot Salvation on March 6, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Iraq was a not only a waste of money and lives, it was a also a strategic mistake. Same goes with our attempts to civilize Afghanistan. After 9-11 we should have bombed and invaded Afghanistan and Western Pakistan, eliminated who we wanted eliminated, put some northern alliance henchman in charge, declared victory and went home. Bush could have accomplished this in two years at most. The fact is we don’t need middle eastern oil anymore. Let the Europeans and Chinese scrap over the Islamic world.

The thing that has always mystified me is we invaded Iraq to get the weapons of mass destruction, yet Pakistan has them. Pakistan was a bigger supporter of Islamic Jihad than Iraq was. Pakistan unlike Iraq actually was involved in 9-11. Pakistan unlike Iraq actually has lots of “weapons of mass destruction”. Frankly we bombed the wrong country!

The biggest strategic debacle of all was while the U.S. fought around in the Middle East, both Russia and China used that time to gain ground on us. China is potentially the greatest strategic threat this country has ever faced. Not saying that it will happen, China at some point could go democratic and actually be a potential future friend, but they could also go National Socialist, which is the road they are headed down now it seems.

Plus on top of that….Iraq basically got Obama elected.

William Eaton on March 6, 2013 at 10:00 AM

In Iraq, at least, we left behind a stable government that still considers the US a military partner to some degree, and still wants to fight against radical Islamist terror groups,

Stable government? Military partner? Fight against Islamists? Jeebus!

Just milking Uncle Sucker until they can profitably cut your throat.

Muslims don’t do friends among the unbelievers Ed, that pops up early in the koran, they mean it.

BL@KBIRD on March 6, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Ed i like it :)

cmsinaz on March 6, 2013 at 10:08 AM

The waste of $60 billion over ten years should be probed to see what we can learn from it and avoid those pitfalls later — especially in Afghanistan — but there were worse outcomes than just some waste and corruption in this case.

This is the standard now? All it takes for a fiscal conservative to completely abandon principle is to name-drop Iraq?

We should spend a significant amount of money on combating global warming because “there [are] worse outcomes than just some waste and corruption in this case.” – No sell.

We should spend a significant amount of money on combating global warming in Iraq because “there [are] worse outcomes than just some waste and corruption in this case.” – Buy! Buy! Buy!

segasagez on March 6, 2013 at 10:09 AM

And we all know how hard the IG works.

kuro_shogun on March 6, 2013 at 10:20 AM

$60 billion…….meh…….

That’s just a latte for the Ruling class.

And it wasn’t their own personal wealth squandered, so what do they care about it.

hawkeye54 on March 6, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Say what you will but the military needed that fight.I witnessed the entire system get cranked up and it did a fantastic job.Sure we lost alot of good people but we learned to adapt and fight this kind of war and are better for it.

docflash on March 6, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Fraud, waste and abuse. This is just another example of why we need to mind our own business.

MoreLiberty on March 6, 2013 at 10:51 AM

Just skimming the report, I notice on page 87 of the pdf a chart listing Obligations and Expenditures of Major US Reconstruction Funds as of Sep ’12. Total obligated is $49.32B (expended isn’t much different). Here are the major categories and amounts obligated:

Security and Rule of Law – $27.32B
Infrastructure – $11.88B
Governance – $8.32B
Economy – $1.82B

Each category has a few sub-sectors. I’m going to have to read more to find out what they are calling waste and what’s “mostly” waste and how it breaks down for each category, since it appears that Security and Rule of Law and Governance could be a lot more intangible than infrastructure projects. Oh, and the top category appears to include rebuilding Iraq’s Military and Police forces.

In any event, I wonder whose learning curve waste should be measured against — ours or theirs — and whether they took that distinction into account and whether they apportioned it.

Dusty on March 6, 2013 at 10:59 AM

spend a lot more of it that way than $6 billion a year

Typo in the main article.

WitchDoctor on March 6, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Actually, we have a lot of that kind of thinking behind government programs here in the US, too. We spend a lot more of it that way than $6 billion a year, and unfortunately that doesn’t have a ten-year limit.

I’d like to propose an amendment to the US Constitution, that any legislation passed by Congress must either be renewed every ten years, or must no longer be considered law.

JohnGalt23 on March 6, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Invading Iraq was one of the most foolish things this nation has done.

Tasha on March 6, 2013 at 11:07 AM

After 9-11 we should have bombed and invaded Afghanistan and Western Pakistan, eliminated who we wanted eliminated, put some northern alliance henchman in charge, declared victory and went home

Exactly. I hope we have cured ourselves of the Wilsonian impulse.

PattyJ on March 6, 2013 at 11:12 AM

Iraqi Christians were better off under Saddam. So was the United States.

Next time, let’s give Bill Kristol, John McCain, Lucy Graham and company AK-47s and send them off into battle.

bw222 on March 6, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Who would have thunk thank burying money in a corrupt sand-pit shithole would turn out to be a waste of money? Nah, nobody could see it. NO MORE BUSH!

Archivarix on March 6, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Who would have thunk thankt burying money in a corrupt sand-pit shithole would turn out to be a waste? Nah, nobody could see it. NO MORE BUSH!

Archivarix on March 6, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Mostly wasted… it’s like being mostly pregnant.

Marcola on March 6, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Inflated prices, dangerous work areas, and a lack of real accountability meant that corruption and failure would become endemic to the rebuilding effort.

Corruption and failure are pervasive in their culture, rooted in tribalism and Islamism. These are powerful regressive forces, deeply rooted in Arab societies. Until they can be overcome to a significant degree, there will be little to no improvement.

novaculus on March 6, 2013 at 12:11 PM

I can see and only think that any arms we provide to third worlders are eventually used, by the ruling government, to impose tyranny on its people .

jake49 on March 6, 2013 at 12:21 PM

Corruption and failure are pervasive in their culture, rooted in tribalism and Islamism atheism. These are powerful regressive forces, deeply rooted in Arab socialist societies. Until they can be overcome to a significant degree, there will be little to no improvement.

novaculus on March 6, 2013 at 12:11 PM

General all-purpose description — substitute appropriate specifics at will.

AesopFan on March 6, 2013 at 2:48 PM

Iraq is an oil rich nation that should be able to pay its own bills and handle its own affairs. The sad thing is that corruption runs extremely deep in Iraqi culture……………………… and, sadly such corruption even exists in the United States.

SC.Charlie on March 6, 2013 at 3:05 PM

We let Pakistan, develop into a nuclear power, in part because they were our ally in Afghanistan, that was the reason why it was important to prevent Iraq from developing a program,

narciso on March 7, 2013 at 12:31 AM