SECDEF DON RUMSFELD paid a surprise visit to Baghdad today, “bearing warnings for the country’s new leaders of government corruption and civil turbulence,” as the New York Times put it.
But not shocked that Rumsfeld neglected to mention the U.S. government’s own oil-for-slush scandal in Iraq, in which military commanders hand out hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, with little or no accounting.
We’re shocked that Rumsfeld is lecturing the Iraqis on corruption when report after report says that U.S. officials and soldiers in Iraq have been throwing sackfuls of money around “like footballs.”
And that Medal of Freedom honoree Jerry Bremer‘s now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority couldn’t account for perhaps $4 billion of the funds it was given. The BBC, reporting last February the testimony of former CPA official Franklin Willis, pointed out:
Huge cash payments were made to Iraqi contractors out of the back of pick-up trucks, in scenes reminiscent of the “Wild West,” he said.
Do you think that this might possibly contribute to the problem of corruption in Iraq?
By the way, Bloomberg News reports, Rumsfeld told reporters during his visit that the U.S. has no exit strategy for withdrawing U.S. troops—it depends on the Iraqis’ “capacity to provide their own security.”
Awed at Rumsfeld’s gall, because we know how well that “security” is working out. In my March 28 item, “Coming Soon! Police Academy: Baghdad!,” the muddled, obfuscated, and increasingly vague reports from U.S. officials indicate that the number of Iraqi police may have even fallen in the past year.
But mostly we’re just numb at dumb stuff like these two paragraphs from the coverage of Rumsfeld’s visit by this morning’s New York Times. Quoting only administration officials—just as Pravda used to do—Thom Shanker writes:
Administration officials have voiced concerns that Iraq could fall prey to political purges motivated by religion, ethnicity, tribal or political affiliations that could upset the careful balance being built.
In particular, Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to emphasize during his visit here that competence should be rewarded among those Iraqis already at jobs organizing, training and equipping security forces within the Interior and Defense Ministries, and that unnecessary personnel changes could hobble stabilization efforts now under way.
No shock and awe there. And not a word in the story about other facets of Iraqi corruption, like the oil-for-slush scandal that our own officials and soldiers are participating in.
And there’s plenty of material that’s on the record, despite the fact that Congress has not held a single hearing on Iraq construction contracts or possible fund misuse.
Don’t blame Democrats like Henry Waxman and Byron Dorgan. In February, Dorgan’s Democratic Policy Committee held a faux hearing (it had no official impact) in which ex-CPA official Willis testified.
Waxman also “testified” at the hearing—how else is he going to get his Government Reform Committee Minority Office staff’s excellent investigative work out in the open?—and it’s well worth reading:
“. . . We also know that $1.5 billion in [Development Fund for Iraq monies] were used to pay Halliburton’s inflated fuel prices.”
“My staff had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Willis before he came to D.C. to testify. He told us that Iraq was like the ‘Wild West,’ awash in brand-new $100 bills.”
The Times didn’t send anyone to the “hearing,” but it did carry a Reuters story that included this morsel:
Audits [in January 2005] by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction were particularly scathing over the CPA’s handling of more than $20 billion of Iraq’s own money and said lack of oversight opened up these funds to corruption.
North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan said passing money stuffed into plastic bags to contractors made it all the more difficult to track funds.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post, which regularly kicks the Times‘ ass in coverage of the Bush administration, went to the “hearing.” Griff Witte (legman for ex-Post Managing Editor Steve Coll‘s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning book Ghost Wars, on the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan before 9/11) produced a workmanlike story, which led with this:
A government contractor defrauded the Coalition Provisional Authority of tens of millions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction funds and the Bush administration has done little to try to recover the money, an attorney for two whistle-blowers told Democratic lawmakers.
Witte’s colleague Dana Milbank wrote a shrewd analysis of the Dorgan “hearing” and the Democrats’ frustration in not being able to get the word out about scandalous activities in Iraq:
Dorgan has held “hearings” on Halliburton’s role in Iraq and on Bush’s Social Security plan. And Dorgan has promised to have such sessions monthly, if not more frequently.
The Democrats’ complaint is that Republicans, who control the real committees, will not hold hearings on anything that might embarrass the administration. “There is a serious problem here in the Congress with a lack of oversight hearings,” Dorgan said at his hearing/event.
Which enables people like Rumsfeld to get away with lecturing others about corruption and incompetence.