Thursday, October 18, 2007

Follow the Money to Iraq

I have watched the movie ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN many, many times. The thing I like the best about it is that I know how it is going to turn out. Probably the most famous line in the movie is “Follow the money.” It doesn’t take a clandestine meeting in a dark parking garage to know the truth of this traditional and often ignored axiom.

The new American Embassy under construction in Iraq has already cost over $600 Million and is not finished yet, and there is no end in sight, like the war itself. Last year Congress appropriated some $1.3 Billion for the project. Plans call for the new embassy to have all the luxuries and necessities of the modern self-contained fortress, its own water, utilities, and sewage treatment, swimming pool, gym, and food court. It will be ten times the size of any other embassy. Anywhere. Ever. Although many details are classified, most of the construction work is being done by a contractor with close ties to Halliburton, the company, well you know which company Halliburton is. Edward Peck, a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq told NPR recently he thinks the project is out of hand and inappropriate. He has the novel idea that American Embassies should be for diplomacy, reporting to the U.S. government frankly and without agenda what is going on in the host country and telling the government of the host country what is going on in the United States. Ed Peck and I were neighbors in Cairo, Egypt, when we both served at the American Embassy there during the Carter administration. We did not work directly together and certainly were not pals, but he was disliked and disrespected by most of the people I did work with directly, and that was enough for me to hold him in high regard and trust.

The price tag for the War in Iraq runs about $12-Billion per month. I guess I could try to calculate how much this comes to per day, but I’m not sure how many zeroes there are in a billion. You, too? I know that pretty soon this will “add up to some real money,” as Ev Dirksen, the late U.S. Senator from Illinois used to say in a unique and lovely voice. He was a Republican but a very charming one. The War in Iraq is not about money. But what is about? Supporting the troops? Avenging America for a fiendish attack at its busy heart by a ubiquitous enemy. Oil? Middle East security and stability? Certainly not about money. My beer buddy Luther says, when people say it’s not about money, it’s usually about the money.

In the early days of the War in Iraq, the Americans in charge lost $9 Billion. Misplaced it. Vanished. Poof. Into thin air. Now you see it, now you don’t. Nobody knows exactly what happened. Maybe it was bad bookkeeping. Some of it was loaded on an airplane and shipped to Baghdad in duffle bags crammed with freshly printed $100 bills bundled and wrapped in heat-shrink plastic. Maybe it fell out of the airplane or off the truck when it was unloaded. Why worry or make a big deal out of this? It was not even our money anyway. No harm to the U.S. taxpayer. It was money about Iraqi oil, “Oil for Food Program” money. That was a humanitarian program that allowed Iraq, despite an oil embargo, to sell some oil in order to keep the Iraqi people from going hungry. If the money got lost, did the food part go missing, too?

(Originally posted 9-19-07)

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter

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