Last year the State Department embarked on $343 million worth of construction projects around the country to upgrade facilities to accommodate the police training program, which was to have comprised hundreds of trainers and more than 1,000 support staff members working in three cities — Baghdad, Erbil and Basra — for five years. But like so much else in the nine years of war, occupation and reconstruction here, it has not gone as planned. ...NYT
The Bush/Cheney administration started two "wars of choice" (unnecessary military actions), spent us from surplus into deficit. When it finally handed the White House over in 2008, it did so in the midst of a financial crash and what is now accepted to have been the onset of a depression -- four years and counting. In Iraq, the Bush State Department designed and built a mammoth embassy and then set out to invest in businesses around that war-torn, fractious nation. Over time America lost billions in waves of corruption. Millions in cash "just" disappeared and couldn't be accounted for. The fragmented accounting America got, such as it was, told us of investments that failed or disappeared -- or existed on paper only.
Finally, the Iraqis pushed us out. And now we're left with money owing on unfinished business in Iraq that we can't afford to pay for.
In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.
What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.
The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan. Instead, it has emerged as the latest high-profile example of the waning American influence here following the military withdrawal, and it reflects a costly miscalculation on the part of American officials, who did not count on the Iraqi government to assert its sovereignty so aggressively. ...NYT
Here's a thought. The motivation behind the move into Iraq, a move that couldn't be explained in any other way, was formulated during Cheney's 2001 energy task force meeting -- still under wraps, still a partial mystery. But we do know that our push into Iraq was mapped out in that meeting. We wanted control over their oil.
Many complain, and rightly, that when we calculate the real cost of a gallon of oil in this country, we don't calculate its cost to the environment and, god knows, we don't factor in the costs of the wars we contract in order to maintain a steady supply of oil. What would the cost of a gallon of oil be if we added the overall costs of the Iraq war?
Meanwhile, how come that police training effort was such a bust? For one thing, it wasn't safe for them to leave their costly barracks.
After realizing that the security environment would largely prevent the trainers from traveling outside their barracks, the focus of the program was shifted to holding seminars and PowerPoint presentations on topics like how to spot suicide bombers, protect human rights and deal with large crowds.
The trainers are mostly retired state troopers and other law enforcement personnel on leave from their jobs back home, and a number of officials who criticized the program questioned what those trainers have to offer Iraqi police officials who have been operating in a war zone for years.
Mr. Perito said that the State Department never developed a suitable curriculum and that instead, advisers often “end up talking about their own experiences or tell war stories and it’s not relevant.” ...NYT
On the other hand, the government of Iraq hasn't been doing badly at all when it comes to security. The Washington Post reported the other day that oil revenues are soaring: Iraq "could be supplying nearly half of the incremental growth in world oil demand" according to one expert. That prediction will turn out to have been optimistic if a dispute between Iraq's central government and Kurdistan isn't resolve. Still:
The cornerstone of Iraq’s progress has been the government’s ability since 2008 to reduce violence and then to maintain security after the U.S. troop withdrawal at the end of last year. Militias and terrorist groups still detonate bombs, attack security forces and target government officials for assassination. But the death toll has dropped dramatically.
These security gains have helped the oil sector. A strategic pipeline to Turkey was once unusable because it was bombed so often; for the past few years, it has carried about 20 percent of the country’s exports. ...WaPo
Given Mitt Romney's proclivities as a cold warrior, would he embrace -- in fact look for, in a burst of Cheneyitis -- a war? Syria might be very tempting.
For many, the al-Qaida-style tactics recall those once familiar in the country's eastern neighbor, Iraq, raising fears that Syria's conflict is drifting further away from the Arab Spring calls for political change and closer to a bloody insurgency.
"Syria is slowly but surely turning into another Iraq," said Bilal Y. Saab, a Syria expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
The presence of al-Qaida militants and other extremists adds a wild card element to the Syria conflict that could further hamper international efforts to end it. While world powers and U.N. observers in Syria can pressure the government and the opposition to stick to special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, they have no means of influencing shadowy Islamic militants who often don't claim their own attacks.
Western officials say there is little doubt that al-Qaida-affiliated extremists have made inroads in Syria since the popular uprising against President Bashar Assad began 14 months ago. But much remains unclear about their numbers, influence and activities inside Syria. ...AP