Editorial Blog: Hard Lessons: -The Iraq Reconstruction Experience

The Washington Post

December 17, 2008 –  Now for your reading pleasure, Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, a 500-plus page tome that comprises interviews with “hundreds of individuals” and a “review of thousands of documents.”

It is an official history that essentially offers the perspective of Stuart Bowen, chief of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), on efforts by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

In short, the whole thing turned into a vast money hole into which the Pentagon poured billions.

It’s absolutely fascinating stuff. The results it documents seem, in retrospect, almost predictable. And yet. In a time of war, the president and his advisers almost always get the benefit of the doubt. Now we know the price of that generosity.

From The Post’s Karen DeYoung:

“As the United States prepares for a major expansion of its development and reconstruction programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, government investigators have described the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq as a failure that wasted billions.”

From James Glanz and T. Christian Miller at the New York Times:

“An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.”

Here’s an excerpt that Government Inc. finds particularly interesting:

“After briefly considering asking the Congress for $5 billion, [Dave] Nash [a retired Rear Admiral serving as an advisor] and his planners decided to request a massive increase in reconstruction funding for Iraq. Nash, working with CPA’s senior advisors, pulled together a long list of infrastructure projects with a cost equaling $27 billion. They then whittled it down to $20.3 billion. Bremer approved this request and sent it to Washington in early August 2003.

“On August 15, 2003, Joshua Bolten, Director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, wrote Secretary Rumsfeld, objecting to the size of CPA’s request. The White House had already told the Congress that it would not ask for more money for Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003. Bolten said the CPA would have to provide a fully-detailed justification before the Administration would go back to the Congress for more money for Iraq. In May, the CPA had hired Tom Korologos, a veteran lobbyist, as its congressional liaison. He addressed Bolten’s concerns in a memo to Bremer on August 17, 2003.

“‘To delay getting our funds will be a political disaster for the President,’ he wrote. ‘His election will hang for a large part on show of progress in Iraq and without the funding this year, progress will grind to a halt.’ Korologos added that he did not believe that the Congress would turn down the supplemental request because “the faster the Iraq CPA succeeds, the quicker ‘our 150,000 boys over there’ will start coming home.”

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