Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience

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"An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the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."

By Robert O'Harrow |  December 17, 2008; 10:21 AM ET Inspectors General , iraq
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The waste of development funds in Afghanistan started in 2002 and has continued with the rapid turnover of personnel, each new person trying to have an impact...and impact being measured only by the level of funds spent, not impact on local populations and the economy.To some great extent, the return of opium poppy cultivation to at least central Helmand can be attributed to the failure of the promised extensive reconstruction program and general lack of support of for the traditional cash crops in this largest irrigation system in the country. An expansion of the development funding will result in even greater misdirection and waste.We do not appear to understand what we need to be focused on, other than to spend the over-budgeted funding.

Posted by: scott3108 | December 17, 2008 11:33 AM

What the report leaves out is the fact that the occupation violated more than 50 provisions of the Geneva Conventions and related international agreements, according to the recent book "George W. Bush, War Criminal?" They need to be recognized as war crimes and prosecuted as such.

Posted by: mikehaas | December 18, 2008 12:57 PM

The secret to successful nation building and reconstruction is finding a competent builder.

Posted by: Ami_Blue1 | December 22, 2008 9:48 AM

For the building of a nation, either here or abroad, the same basic truth must be acknowledged.

"Unless the LORD builds the house (nation) those that labor labor in vain."

This is something that the incomming administration must come to grips with. God laughs at the "wisdom" of man for the "Wisdom of man is but folly before the LORD."

This should cause us to seek HIM early and often in our affairs of state.

Posted by: daciteinc | December 22, 2008 11:17 AM

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