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.