The Iraqis are saying that the United States owes them $6.6 billion. But I say hold on a minute, and let's do some investigating and some basic accounting work.
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We Owe How Much??
It seems to me that certain Iraqi officials and even some of our own government policy wonks need to go back to accounting school. A lack of basic bookkeeping skills is the only reason I can think of for anybody to consider the outlandish idea that the U.S. government still owes $6.6 billion of the money that it airlifted to Iraq in 2003.
Paul Richter (no relation!) of the Los Angeles Times announced this financial fiasco in a June 2011 story that boggles the mind. It seems that some of our best and brightest bean counters figured out they could fit $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of hundred dollar bills into a C130 transport plane, and right then and there they created a new monetary unit of measurement. Now, you want to give me a Christmas present, how about a C130, that’s what I'm talking about! Anyway, they sent over five C130s, which everyone knows is $12 billion, right after Saddam Hussein was captured. Let’s figure out where that money went, okay?
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Who Didn't Take It
This all happened right around the time that Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton, was contracted to go in and rebuild Iraq’s war-torn infrastructure. There were many people, including erstwhile political opponent John Kerry, who accused Cheney of benefiting from Halliburton’s contracts to the tune of $2 million; but FactCheck.org swears that’s not true. FactCheck says that Cheney received most of that money before he ever took office. I guess the money didn’t go into Cheney’s pockets, as much as I would like to blame him.
Then, I became curious about the people who are hollering that we owe the money. One of them is Stuart Bowen, an American lawyer (uh-huh) who spent a brief stint suing Texans who didn’t follow state licensing protocols, and earned his suspenders by serving on the staff of the Texas governor—that’s right, George W. Bush himself. He helped count the military votes in the presidential election of 2000, thus ensuring that Bush was elected to office. But that happened before Saddam was captured, so the money didn’t go in his pockets.
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Next, I took a look at Henry Waxman, the Democrat from California who heads up the Committee on Government Reform. The photo that Paul Richter used bore a caption that says he has held hearings on waste and fraud. Immediately I suspected him of pocketing the money.
But then I found on his website a letter written in late 2003 chastising the Bush administration for its “secrecy, deceit, and politics" and concluding that he would refuse to vote in favor of Bush’s request to send $87 billion to Iraq and Afghanistan. That would have been 36 planes, plus the pilot and the navigators would have had to stuff a bunch of bricks of Benjamins into their pockets! Well, I'm not sure why Mr. Waxman is saying that we can’t account for the money, because I know we spent a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and Benjamins over in Iraq, but I don’t think it went into his pocket.
Unfortunately, the president of Iraq’s Board of Supreme Audits, Dr. Abdul Basit Turki Saeed, is threatening to sue us in court for the money. It’s doubtful he took the money, because he looks like a nice man and he has six kids. So he just wouldn't do it.
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Following the Money Trail
My mind kept coming back to Halliburton. Even if Cheney didn’t profit from its work, I wondered how much the company billed for its reconstruction services. Maybe it overcharged by accident, and it could just pay Iraq back, right? I discovered that KBR was Halliburton’s subsidiary company on site in the region at the time, so I followed a couple links to find out more about KBR. Some of the links had scary soldier silhouettes on them, and I clicked off right away! But before you could say Dick’s Your Uncle I landed on a 2009 Washington Post story written by Ellen Nakashima, which says that KBR in its work there was connected to fraud cases that totaled $13 billion! You have to admit that $13 billion is a very close match to what the original five C130s sent over there.
Armed with all these C130 cost variables, I went back to Richter’s story, which puts the total amount that we’ve spent on reconstruction and development projects at $61 billion. MSNBC’s John W. Schoen estimates the cost a bit higher at $1.8 billion per week. It would take only 33 weeks spending $1.8 billion to reach $61 billion; you and I know, and our soldiers know, that we’ve been there a heck of a lot longer than that.
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Doing the Math
I wondered if we spent that much extra money just in fuel, amortized depreciation of the C130 planes used to help Iraq, and salary for the airmen who flew the planes, and so I just did the math.
A C130 guzzles 200 gallons of fuel per hour, and that’s not allowing for the excessive costs of all those bricked-up Benjamins. If you spend $3,600 per hour on fuel, and it’s a 37.5 hour trip to Iraq, then it costs $270,000 for each plane to fly there and back. I bet those heavy planes cost double, so with five planes, plus the additional 31 planes, you have a cost of $9,720,000—minimum!
It takes at least three people to fly a C130. For those 36 trips, we had to pay the servicemen lots and lots of Benjamins; without knowing their pay grade—and don’t forget that in accounting, you have to adjust for the cost of recruitment, training, and fringe benefits—I would add on at least a million. And that’s not even considering the airmen who stand on the field and wave those ping pong paddles.
One of our C130s—the plane, not the bricked-up Benjamins—costs the American people $48.5 million or more, depending on the model. For a piece of capital equipment that expensive, you would have to amortize depreciation—let’s say over five years.
But what if we have used more than 36 planes since the war began? What if we put the depreciation from the C130s into a contra account? Everyone who remembers the ′80s knows that this government has previously put money into contra accounts! If we used six planes a month at $48 million for a decade-long war, and amortized depreciation over five years, the total would be 720 planes times $48 million, multipled by 20 percent, for a sum of…$6.9 billion--just for one year! Add in the amount for the fuel and the soldiers’ salaries, and we are over $7 billion.
I think the Iraqis owe us a little bit back, or at least a little gratitude and maybe an apology.
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Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.