Passing the Electrical Buck

Before the invasion, the White House vowed to restore prosperity to Iraq, starting with electricity production. In July 2003, Army Maj. Gen. Carl Strock, deputy director of operations for the CPA, warned: “Electricity is probably the most important thing we’re doing right now…Without it, nothing else works in the country.” OMB Director Josh Bolton then predicted power would be restored “fully to prewar levels within the next 60 days,” or by August 2003. Two years and $1.2 billion later, however, the average daily output in Iraq is actually lower than before the invasion. Today, according to State Department figures, “Iraq now averages just 8.5 hours of electricity a day, with some provinces getting as little as five hours.”

Iraqis are understandably upset. The Washington Post reported this weekend that in a recent poll, Iraqis put “inadequate electricity” as the number one priority for the new government, way ahead of “crime,” which was fourth, or “terrorists,” which ranked eighth. What went so wrong?

For starters, instead of sending seasoned experts to lead the massive reconstruction project, the Bush White House sent very young, inexperienced ideologues who were chosen for their party loyalty rather than for any experience or training.

On top of that, the Coalition Provisional Authority somehow misplaced nearly $9 billion of reconstruction funds. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bown, chalked the missing money up to inefficiencies and bad management, saying, “The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure that [Development Fund for Iraq] funds were used in a transparent manner.”

Finally, the power plants themselves suffered from the rampant post-war looting and the raging insurgency. Former CPA head L. Paul Bremer placed blame for that squarely on White House shoulders, saying: “We paid a big price for not stopping [the looting] because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness….We never had enough troops on the ground.” Military officials like Gen. Eric Shinseki warned successful reconstruction would take more troops than the Pentagon was willing to send in the beginning; instead of heeding his advice, he was ridiculed by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Today, instead of owning up to responsibility and finding a way to fix it, U.S. officials are taking the “hey, man, not my problem” approach. The U.S. Embassy’s current Iraq Reconstruction Management Office head, William Taylor, for example, is trying to pass the buck to the new Iraqi government, insisting it’s not America’s problem: “It is the government of this country who is going to provide electricity. The Americans don’t provide electricity.”