A US base in Iraq is getting a $30 million "dining hall" -- i.e., a mess hall -- this Christmas. The problem, of course, is that there won't be many people to feed by then. It's construction is, according to Associated Press, the result of "bad planning and botched paperwork."
The project is too far along to stop, making the mess hall a future monument to the waste and inefficiency plaguing the war effort, according to an independent panel investigating contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In its first report to Congress, the Wartime Contracting Commission presents a bleak assessment of how tens of billions of dollars have been spent since 2001. The 111-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, documents poor management, weak oversight, and a failure to learn from past mistakes as recurring themes in wartime contracting.
Over-reliance on contractors, "no central data base of who all these contractors are, what services they provide, and how much they're paid," and no oversight of these contractors bears a lot of the blame. A White House and Pentagon willing to almost literally throw money at every problem is another. And a congress unwilling to say no to that White House was yet another.
During the Bush administration, there was a pretense that war was some sort of self-running machine, that civilian input in and oversight of military matters during times of conflict was un-American. Bush said he was the Commander in Chief -- as if that were his office -- when it suited him and pretended that the president had no business horning in on the war when it didn't. As a result, the government sent billions to Iraq, without any real idea what was happening to all that money.
And, when we leave Iraq, we'll leave many of these problems behind. In fact, we already are. "At Rustamiyah, a seven-acre forward operating base turned over to the Iraqis in March, the military population plunged from 1,490 to 62 in just three months," reports AP. "During the same period, the contractor population dropped from 928 to 338, leaving more than five contractors for every service member."
I mentioned that congress had a chance to jump in here and do something, right? For most of that time, that congress was Republican. And every time Bush wanted money thrown at Iraq, they threw money at Iraq, shutting down debate by questioning the patriotism of critics. Tens of billions went down the drain -- or, more accurately, into contractor's pockets -- and all that money accomplished very little. We have things like that $30 million Christmas present to show for it. Useless, empty, and expensive, it'll stand out there in the desert, the result of government corruption and a lack of accountability. It's a white elephant whose only real purpose was to redirect taxpayer money into corporate wallets. The Iraq war's estimated cost will be $3 trillion -- note the T -- before the last dollar is spent paying for it and its consequences. And every step of the way, Republicans in Congress argued in favor of throwing more money, with less oversight. The Republican party became the War party and anyone questioning anything was immediately labeled insufficiently patriotic and not supportive of the troops.
So I guess the rule here is that you get to throw all the money you like at a nation's problems, so long as that nation isn't the United States. After spending $787 billion in economic stimulus -- that Republicans fought tooth and nail -- it's looking likely that we'll have to spend more. And Republicans will also fight that tooth and nail. Compare those two numbers -- $787 billion vs. $3 trillion -- and the GOP looks pennywise and pound foolish.
Or maybe just plain foolish. Last week, the party unveiled a plan to cut spending. It was a big deal -- or at least, they said it was. The Republican plan would save $375 billion over the next five years by cutting things like crossing guards. Other cuts were less concrete. Of the $375 billion Republicans claimed to cut, only $23 billion could be accounted for.
"The GOP proposes capping discretionary spending on a variety of domestic priorities, from veterans to education and roads, which is certainly one way to stop spending, even if it's a foolish one. But the GOP doesn't even bother to specify what programs would get cut," wrote Ezra Klein. "So a 'real budget cut' apparently means promising to spend less in the future and not saying how you would do it. The last time the GOP proposed this kind of fuzzy thinking, they were ridiculed by reporters. This proposal is not going to get anywhere in congress..."
And it's not meant to. This is just GOP grandstanding with made-up numbers. And let's not even go into the idiocy of cutting spending during a recession -- that proposal was rejected by voters last November. Republicans are always saying they want to run government like a business, but what Republicans propose, if you include the massive spending we've sent to Iraq, is cutting spending on your own business, while investing heavily in a competitor. I'm sorry, who's un-American again? Because from where I'm standing it looks a lot like Republicans believe they were elected to represent Iraq.
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