Saturday, April 28, 2007

Said the Joker to the Thief

I didn't think it was possible to make the US experience in Vietnam look good, but somehow this Administration has managed it:

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

The inspections ranged geographically from northern to southern Iraq and covered projects as varied as a maternity hospital, barracks for an Iraqi special forces unit and a power station for Baghdad International Airport.

At the airport, crucially important for the functioning of the country, inspectors found that while $11.8 million had been spent on new electrical generators, $8.6 million worth were no longer functioning.

At the maternity hospital, a rehabilitation project in the northern city of Erbil, an expensive incinerator for medical waste was padlocked — Iraqis at the hospital could not find the key when inspectors asked to see the equipment — and partly as a result, medical waste including syringes, used bandages and empty drug vials were clogging the sewage system and probably contaminating the water system.

The newly built water purification system was not functioning either.

Officials at the oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said they had made an effort to sample different regions and various types of projects, but that they were constrained from taking a true random sample in part because many projects were in areas too unsafe to visit. So, they said, the initial set of eight projects — which cost a total of about $150 million — cannot be seen as a true statistical measure of the thousands of projects in the roughly $30 billion American rebuilding program.

But the officials said the initial findings raised serious new concerns about the effort.

The reconstruction effort was originally designed as nearly equal to the military push to stabilize Iraq, allow the government to function and business to flourish, and promote good will toward the United States.
Winning hearts and minds, indeed. This Administration can't even mimic the vaunted reconstruction of Europe which replaced the horror of World War II with the European Union of today. It can't learn anything from history at all.

I remember two distinctive things about Vietnam: Soldiers served a two year tour and went home; and they could go to Saigon in relative safety. We didn't lose control of Saigon until we withdrew, but in Iraq, with a "surge," we can't even control access to the Iraqi Parliament in the Green Zone. And our standard of sucess in Iraq has sunk so low now, it can no longer be seen:

President Bush explained why in a television interview on Tuesday. "If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory," he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.
I haven't bothered to look up the transcript to see how Mr. Rose followed that absurd declaration. Frankly, anything less than: "Are you insane?" could hardly be considered an honest response.

So we've poured out money like water in the desert sands to rebuild Iraq, and we haven't done that right. We've poured out American and Iraqi blood in order to pacify and stabilize Iraq, and we haven't done that right. We've displaced almost 4 million Iraqis, and almost nobody in America seems to even notice. Frankly, I think we are numb.

Is there anything about this Iraq debacle that has been done right? Anything at all?

Update: And I never even got to Katrina the first time around....

Many of the U.S. diplomats who received the message, however, were beginning to witness a more embarrassing reality. They knew the U.S. government was turning down many allies' offers of manpower, supplies and expertise worth untold millions of dollars. Eventually the United States also would fail to collect most of the unprecedented outpouring of international cash assistance for Katrina's victims.

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services -- such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships -- were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder of the federal government's difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.
I think it's safe to subsitute "difficulty" with "absolute and complete inability."

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