Last year I read of how Princeton University "Civil War" and Lincoln scholar James McPherson was on the government payroll to advise the Republican Party on how to "reconstruct" Iraq. My first thought was, well, if he uses the Republican Party during the 1865—1877 "reconstruction" of the South as his model, as he most likely would, then the results will be perfectly predictable: Little or nothing will be rebuilt or reconstructed despite spending billions of dollars; scores of Republican Party hacks, hangers on, and contractors will pocket most of the money; this will generate deep resentment among the Iraqis; and the whole disaster will be used as an excuse to throw even more taxpayer dollars down this Godforsaken rathole.
Much of the money will be used to buy the political support of various factions in Iraq in order to support this shady racket. And, many millions of these dollars will be recycled to the Republican Party in the form of campaign contributions from all of these wealthy American contractors in an effort to keep the whole racket going indefinitely.
I was right of course since, as I said, it was all perfectly predictable. Although the government and its lapdog media have been mostly silent about Iraqi "reconstruction," some information is beginning to seep out. A January 31 Baltimore Sun article by reporter David Wood gave an advance view of a "soon-to-be-released" report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, Stuart W. Brown, detailing the squandering of at least $21 billion so far. "The government of Iraq has been unable to boost the production of oil or electricity despite U.S. aid," Mr. Wood reports. Even in Baghdad, the electricity is on only 6.5 hours a day "because of political squabbles about which power plants in regions outside of Baghdad should share electricity with the capital."
"Some of the work done under U.S. supervision has been so shoddy that it will saddle the Iraqi government with additional maintenance headaches" and tax increases to pay for the "headaches." For example, the U.S.-built Baghdad Police College, which cost $73 million, has "feces and urine . . . trickling from a ceiling in the student barracks" and "massive expansion cracks have appeared" in the one-year-old building.
Because of "cost overruns [on the barracks project], much of the scheduled construction was simply abandoned. . . " An Iraqi government official who was supposed to officially take possession of the College refused to accept the worthless building.
An earlier report by Bowen’s office concluded that under former Viceroy Paul Bremmer’s rule more than $8 billion simply disappeared and is unaccounted for. The U.S. government is also unable to account for 90,000 rifles and 80,000 pistols that were supposed to arm the Iraqi police forces three years ago. Another $36.4 million that was allotted for body armor and weapons "cannot be accounted for." A billion dollars earmarked for a refinery repair program was stolen and ended up in the hands of the "insurgency." Iraq’s oil refineries are still "dilapidated" and suffering from "crippling problems" despite several billion U.S. tax dollars being earmarked to repair them. And this is just what our government bureaucrats admit to.
In all areas of government, failure is success. I call it DiLorenzo’s Iron Law of Government. If government spending on an ostensible problem makes the problem worse, the government’s response is always to spend more on it, just the opposite of how the free market operates to penalize failure and reward success. It’s still "too premature to render a verdict" on Iraqi "reconstruction," says Bowen. The "obvious" answer to this disastrous situation, he says, is to spend even more billions in "a new phase of investment." That of course is what President Bush proposed recently when he called for increased "New Deal" spending in Iraq, complete with an Iraqi Civilian Conservation Corps. Bowen also calls for America’s "allies," such as they are, to pony up additional billions. How grateful they must be for having received that request.
The Republican Party occupiers of Iraq must have studied the work of James McPherson very carefully, for history is indeed repeating itself. When the Republican Party (which was the U.S. government in the decades after the War to Prevent Southern Independence) occupied the South as a military dictatorship there was a similar squandering of incredible amounts of tax dollars. As the great Colombia University historian William Archibald Dunning wrote in his book, Essays on the Civil War, "the expenses of [Southern] governments were largely increased; offices were multiplied in all departments; salaries were made more worthy. . .; costly enterprises were undertaken . . . . The result of all this was . . . an expansion of state debts and an increase in taxation that to the property-owning class were appalling and ruinous."
Furthermore, wrote Dunning, "the progressive depletion of the public treasuries was accompanied by great private prosperity among [Republican] politicians of high and low degree." For example, Illinois native Henry Clay Warmoth was put in place as the Reconstruction governor of Louisiana and paid $8,000 per year in salary. After four years in office he "accumulated" more than $1 million and retired to a large plantation.
To help keep this racket going the Republican Party of the 1860s and 1870s subsidized pro-Republican newspapers while sometimes banning the opposition press in the South. A similar effort is underway today in Iraq.
James McPherson, who recently retired from Princeton, can now be counted as among the hangers on who have benefited financially from America’s shameful system of "reconstruction." Court historians are, after all, indispensable if the public is to be hoodwinked and lulled into acquiescing in such colossal rip-offs.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).