Us Millions In Iraq Wasted I Saw Lewis

US Millions in Iraq Wasted

I saw Lewis Black, the comedian, in Detroit last month. Lewis does angry humor. But at one point he went on a rant about how you just had to look around Detroit to see how the Congress was allowing our cities to deteriorate, and he flew into a genuine rage. A little sheepish, he admitted, “That was a private moment, and I’m sorry you had to see it. Note to self: just getting mad without a joke is not cool.”

It is such a shame that there is virtually nothing going on on the streets downtown Detroit in the evening. Even the Borders closes at 7 pm. A single block in Greektown and the casinos are the only exceptions, as far as downtown shops go. An entertainment venue like Cobo Hall is designed so that the suburbanites can actually exit into its parking lot from the freeway, and never have to deal with the city at all. Because Detroit fell below a million in population with the last census, it even lost a good deal of Federal aid.

The true cost of the Iraq misadventure is consistently underestimated by the Bush administration, which does not even include the extra funds in the budget deficit! They even sneak the wounded soldiers back into this country so that the public does not get an accurate sense of the war’s human costs for Americans.

So in light of the complete uninterest of the US government in the quality of life in much of the United States, an item like the below is especially maddening.

T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times reports that:

“Iraqi officials have crippled scores of water, sewage and electrical plants refurbished with U.S. funds by failing to maintain and operate them properly, wasting millions of American taxpayer dollars, according to interviews and documents.

Hardest hit has been the effort to rebuild Iraq’s water and sewage systems, a multibillion-dollar task considered to be among the most crucial components of the effort to improve daily life for Iraqis. Of more than 40 such plants run by the Iraqis, not one is being operated properly, according to the Bechtel Group, the contractor at work on the project.

The power grid faces similar problems.

Miller quotes Bechtel and others as saying that Iraqis lack training and are lazy, explaining why the refurbished plants are not being kept up.

But there is another possible explanation. The American contractors that did the work, did it in the American way. The Iraqi engineers and technicians had their own techniques and equipment and spare parts. After the Gulf War in 1991, they were able to get the electricity grid back up, using indigenous methods, in less than a year.

It was widely alleged that the Americans spent far too much on the work done, and that local Iraqi firms could have done it better, cheaper and more quickly. And the problem of putting in a lot of unfamiliar American equipment may well be that Iraqi technicians don’t know how to work it or keep it up without special training.

Miller doesn’t appear to have spoken to any of the Iraqi engineers at the plants, who might have been able to say something about all this. The Iraqi bureaucrats to whom he spoke complained that they did not have the money it took to keep up the facilities. (Since sabotage of oil pipelines has been very successful, this excuse may well be true).

Someone with knowledge of the matter also suggested to me that some problems may derive from just jerry-rigging a patchwork of old, dilapidated French, German and Russian equipment, hastily and somewhate haphazardly, and that this method, too, might be producing the subsequent failures.

Imagine what a few billion dollars from US AID could do for downtown Detroit. Bush is wasting it instead on plants in Iraq that probably can’t even be kept up afterwards.

Note to self: Just getting angry without a joke is not cool.