Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The ultimate Brinks truck

Not much has come out of the widely anticipated grilling of Paul Bremer by Congressional Democrats. The WaPo's Dana Milbank attributes it to Dem rustiness in the art of holding investigative hearings, as well as Bremer's elusiveness.

Still, the one subject they did manage to bring up rather boggles the mind.

Near the end of 2003, as the United States prepared to hand over control of the country to the Iraqi government, the Iraqi finance minister expressed concern over his ability to pay government expenses during the first few months.

A fair concern. So what did we do? Perhaps we helped them set up accounting and finance systems. Or electronically transferred money to their accounts. Or let them channel payments through our own systems until theirs were up and running.

Well, no. Our solution was to airlift in $5.5 billion. In cash. On pallets. 363 tons of it.

The money belonged to the Iraqis, consisting of proceeds from oil exports and frozen Saddam-era assets. This wasn't U.S. aid, which usually has strings and financial controls attached. So perhaps outrage is misplaced. It was their money, and if they wanted it in cash, why not?

All well and good, but who really believes it all went to pay legitimate government expenses? How much of that, I wonder, has ended up helping finance the death squads and insurgents? How much of that disappeared into the pockets of corrupt officials? Dumping billions in cash into a war zone is akin to pouring gasoline on a raging fire. It was simply a dumb thing to do.

Then again, this is Paul Bremer we're talking about, and dumb (or even delusional) things seem to be his speciality. I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

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