The front page of today’s NYT provides a thematic juxtaposition that is the stuff of a newspaper editor’s dreams: President Bush making a surprise, valedictory visit to Iraq (why, asks an only vaguely curious nation? for the customary pelting with shoes, of course), and an article summarizing Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience.
Hard Lessons is the yet-unpublished official history of the chapter in Iraqi/American relations which opened as a “Mission Accomplished” banner unfurled to welcome the George the Conqueror to his minutely orchestrated aircraft carrier photo op. The lengthy report apparently chronicles all manner of waste, political manipulation, and general haplessness on the way to running up a $117 billion price tag, $50 billion of which came from the American taxpayer. Much of this ground was deftly covered by George Packer in his book The Assassin’s Gate. But I’m dying to read the report nonetheless, stamped as it is with the imprimatur of officialdom and with material derived form two more years of shenanigans.
With his “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns,” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will likely emerge from history as an arrogant buffoon, sort of Robert McNamara with a bigger ego, if such a thing is possible. And even though Rummy was always good for a quotable column inch or so, he may deliver the biggest money line of his career in this report. Responding to the Jay Garner, the administration’s first Iraq viceroy, on the topic of the cost of Iraqi reconstruction, the Secretary was correct–sort of:
My friend, if you think we are going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.
Exactly how sadly, we now have some idea.