Money and Our Meth Habit

We lacked a lot of things in Iraq: flush toilets, fresh vegetables, the comfort of family members nearby, and of course adult supervision, strategic guidance, and common sense. Like Guns N' Roses' budget for meth after a new hit, the one thing we did not lack was money. There was money everywhere. A soldier recalled unloading pallets of new US hundred-dollar bills, millions of dollars flushing out of the belly of a C-130 cargo aircraft to be picked up off the runway by forklifts (operated by soldiers who would make less in their lifetimes than what was on their skids at that moment). You couldn't walk around a corner without stumbling over bales of money; the place was lousy with it. In my twenty-three years working for the State Department, we never had enough money. We were always being told to "do more with less," as if slogans were cash. Now there was literally more money than we could spend. It was weird.

We'd be watching the news from home about foreclosures, and I'd be reading e-mails from my sister about school cutbacks, while signing off on tens of thousands of dollars for stuff in Iraq. At one point we were tasked to give out microgrants, $5,000 in actual cash handed to an Iraqi to "open a business," no strings attached. If he took the money and in front of us spent it on dope and pinball, it was no matter. We wondered among ourselves whether we shouldn't be running a PRT in Detroit or New Orleans instead of Baghdad. In addition to the $63 billion Congress had handed us for Iraq's reconstruction, we also had some $91 billion of captured Iraqi funds (that were mostly misplaced by the Coalition Provisional Authority), plus another $18 billion donated by countries such as Japan and South Korea. In 2009, we had another $387 million for aid to internal refugees that paid for many reconstruction-like projects. If that was not enough, over a billion additional US dollars were spent on operating costs for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. By comparison, the reconstruction of Germany and Japan cost, in 2010 dollars, only $32 billion and $17 billion, respectively.

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