Walk Around Money

Back in the day, local pols would go out onto the street and share walk around money with frontline workers as an incentive to get out the vote. It was a tried-and-true method that also led to corruption now and then, but that's another story.

The thought came to mind when I was reading the fascinating piece in The Post today by Dana Hedgpeth and Sarah Cohen. The reporters examined a database containing 26,000 records about some $2.8 billion in spending by U.S. forces in Iraq through something called the Commander's Emergency Response Program.

Instead of seeking votes, the soldiers dishing this walk around money are looking to win hearts and minds. A $100 here, a million there. Here's a riff about stuff they found in the database (click and look around for yourself):

"Army documents show that $48,000 was spent on 6,000 pairs of children's shoes; an additional $50,000 bought 625 sheep for people described in records as "starving poor locals" in a Baghdad neighborhood. Soldiers ordered $100,000 worth of dolls and $500,000 in action figures made to look like Iraqi Security Forces. About $14,250 was spent on "I Love Iraq" T-shirts. More than $75,000 sent a delegation to a women's and civil rights conference in Cairo. And $12,800 was spent for two pools to cool bears and tigers at Zawra Park Zoo in Baghdad."

The program was meant to be for "short-term, small-scale 'urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction,'" as they put it. Their probe found that it has turned into something far more amorphous and open-ended.

Military folks say the program works. It may. The reality for now, however, is that no one knows for sure where all the money has gone, and whether the people supplying the cash, you taxpayers, are getting enough in return.

Somebody, please tell me the right price of hearts and minds these days.

By Robert O'Harrow |  August 11, 2008; 2:48 PM ET
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I want an "I love Iraq" T-shirt.

Posted by: Nick | August 12, 2008 8:08 AM

Not sure I understand your statement, ". . .that no one knows for sure where all the money has gone. . ." You listed where it went; dolls, action figures, etc. If you are implying that someone is lying, I suggest you provide proof. If you have none, but suspect it, then do your job as a journalist and investigate the veracity of what is being reported by the government. Otherwise you are merely a rumor monger at best, and at worst you are smearing our troops who are doing some very good humanitarian work with the money. You ask what is the price for winning hearts and minds? A better quetion is what is the cost of NOT winning hearts and minds?

Posted by: wjs | August 12, 2008 9:43 AM

This is just another failed policy of the U.S. government that refuses to learn that when you throw money around over seas for any reason you do not accomplish anything but more resentment and hatred. We have not learned that proping up dictators with millions of dollars does not do anything for the masses, re: the Philipnes and others.Buying sheep and dolls is not going to endear a people to western ideals either. A people who's country has been invaded and who do not believe in democracy. They have lived as separate tribes and embrace ancient cultures and beliefs. Action figures will not change that. The U.S. no longer has deep pockets to throw money around. In 20 years we will be a third world nation if we don't wise up!!! Wake up America!!!

Posted by: Wasted Spending | August 13, 2008 10:36 AM

i too was stunned by this military give-away. an unanswered question is how many soldiers are stealing money from this program. the numbers and amounts are probably huge.we, the taxpayers, are the real victims of this military rip-off.

Posted by: joseph towers | August 13, 2008 12:17 PM

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