Show Us the Money

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My son, who served in Iraq for a year… found it unbelievable that the army has been paying $200 a truckload for sand, in the desert, which they had to use to fill the sandbags with.

caller Claudia from Thompson, CT

Most of the public discussion about the fiscal management of the Iraq war has focussed on Halliburton, and a steady stream of whistle-blowers fresh from Iraq has provided adequate fuel for an ever-simmering fire. But the constant focus on Halliburton and a handful of other contractors has distracted us from larger questions of overall policy and priorities. Like: how much money has been spent in Iraq? And where? And on what? And whose money are we talking about, anyway?

If the general public doesn’t seem to be asking these questions with a unified voice, several governmental and international agencies have been poking around for themselves. There have been a number of audits recently, and they’ve been truly damning. They tell a collective story of colossal fiscal irresponsibility, gross negligence, and, throughout, a stunning lack of oversight or controls. And these weren’t penned by radical anti-war groups. The Pentagon commissioned one itself. The GAO another. A consortium made up of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development a third. Others were written by Congressionally constituted inspection teams.

Our hope is to learn about actual policy, and crucial shifts in that policy, by looking at where the money — both U.S. funds and Iraqi oil revenue — is actually being spent. Still, more than six audits later, the questions are rising faster than the answers. A billion here, a billion there: pretty soon you’re missing real money.

Ed Harriman

Author of “Where has all the money gone?” in the London Review of Books

[On the phone from London]

From David’s pre-interview notes

Harriman is an American reporter and television documentary producer who has lived in London for a while now. He went to Iraq to work on a film following the U.S. invasion, and had hoped to make another, but decided it had become too dangerous. So he did the next best thing: he read every official audit looking into the ways that U.S. and Iraqi funds have been spent as part of the “rebuilding” of Iraq. It’s a pile that reached from the floor to the top of his desk — imagine ten phone books stacked upon one another — and he figures he’s the only person in the world to have read all of them.

Pratap Chatterjee

Managing Editor of CorpWatch

Author of Iraq, Inc.

[In a Berkeley, CA studio]

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  • It all sounds too easy: a massive task handled by massive corporations spending massive amounts of money making a massive mess. And it all means, no doubt, that the war in Iraq was wrong.

    Well it is a massive task, so who else should handle it: The Iraqis alone? Minority owned businesses? Small companies?

    The amounts of money are massive considered alone, but how massive when compared to the magnitude of the task? Or the oil revenue available? Or the lost productivity of the Saddam years?

    And no doubt the lack of oversight is stunning, but compared to what: Enron? WorldCom? The Marshall Plan?

    So, are we going to hear some substantive comparisons or just more: THOUSAND dollar VCRs! MILLION dollar tab at a FIVE STAR HOTEL!! BILLIONS spent!!!

    Whew — got that out of my system.

  • joel

    A little off this particular emphasis, but certainly at the root of it, so…..

    One would think the citizens of the world would start realizing that essentially all the world’s savagery, misery, blood shed and violent death among innocent people of the world, by far the major victims, is the result of government action on the behalf of a miniscule fraction of the world’s population. One would think people would begin to boycott any and all government agencies not directly involved in creating friendly relations with their own citizens and all others. Only government actions with one’s own agreement should be funded or otherwise supported by each citizen. Earmarked tax payments are the only meaningful vote anyone has in the behavior of their government. It matters not whom the government functionaries are. It is time to wake up and take responsibility for one’s own government, environment and circumstances of government actions affecting the lives of people by being responsible to whom one provides the means to undertake unwanted actions. A government not engaged in making friends for the citizenry instead of making enemies should be starved out of office.

    How about a show asking tax paying people why they pay their governments to make enemies for them instead of making friends for them. If the government is making their lives more difficult and worrisome, why do they give them money with which to do it? Why not give to the agencies of government which one perceives as making life more fulfilling with peace of mind? Let the other agencies get paid by their advocates or do without. Such a show should be entertaining to hear people trying to make sense of the reverse. And there are some who will try.

  • JamesFlynn

    Though macabre, I’d to hear a Levitt Freakonomics-style cost/benefit analysis of the war in Iraq – just de-politicise the debate, take away all moral context, and analyse it from a cold, hard economic perspective.

    Forget “imminent danger” from WMD, forget “spreading democracy”, or whatever we’re saying the reasons for going to war are – just tell us how much we spent, and what have we got to show for the cash today?

    “We spent XYZ billion, but now we’ve got a second secure supplier of crude oil, which we can use as an advantage in negotiations with saudi suppliers, and this is worth QRS”


    “The cost of a financial instrument on wall street for providing a guaranteed supply of oil for 10 years is ABC. The invasion of Iraq secured a supply which is worth XYZ to our economy”.

  • Abby

    When you have a chance, it would be great if someone could post the link to the website with the documents mentioned in the broadcast.

  • David

    Abby, web sites for all of the documents can be found at the top of Ed Harriman’s London Review of Books article.

  • Shef

    Here’s a site which has been functioning for some time now – From the Open Society Institute. Check out the reprint there of the WSJ article on Stuart Bowen, a former Bush aide, now special inspector general for the reconstruction of Iraq, presently blowing the whistle and stirring up trouble with the administration on the subject of mishandled money and the war in Iraq. I have been reading this stuff off and on for months…..and wondering “doesn’t anybody care that this is going on?”. Thanks for making this a topic. I especially liked the revealing of the Rumsfeld Vietnam/Iraq irony…and spooky how the former incarnation of Halliburton operated in Vietnam much like Halliburton is in Iraq today. Keep the open sources flowing!