In 2004, Stuart Bowen of Texas was asked by a friend to take on a difficult and important job, which he did.
Bowen's friend was George W. Bush, and the job was to investigate corruption and waste in Iraq, where his buddy George had launched a misguided and very costly war, as well as an effort to reconstruct that country's fractured economy. The watchdog soon learned that Air Force transport planes had been airlifting whole pallets of shrink-wrapped $100 bills from the U.S. to Baghdad — totaling some $14 billion!
The bales of cash were delivered to the care of L. Paul Bremer III, a laissez-faire ideologue who'd been installed by the Bush-Cheney regime to rebuild Iraq as a regulation-free corporate utopia. It was quickly obvious to Bowen that the utopia included no accounting of where the $14 billion went, though during the next decade he determined that "billions of dollars (were) taken out of Iraq illegally." But he couldn't get the Bushites to mount a full-fledge investigation and prosecution.
Finally, in 2010, he and his team got a break, learning that about $1.5 billion had been stolen and stashed in a bunker in rural Lebanon. However, the Obama administration wouldn't pursue this lead. Neither did the CIA, FBI or the Iraqi government.
Then, Bowen was stunned that the U.S. embassy in Lebanon was resisting his own attempts to visit the bunker, actually preventing him from entering that country. When two of his investigators did get into Lebanon, our embassy denied them permission to see the bunker, claiming it was too dangerous.
And here we go again — into yet another war in a wide and tumultuous swath of the world involved in centuries-old religio-ethno conflagrations that Euro-centric Americans don't comprehend and cannot resolve. For a clue about what we're stepping into in Iraq and Syria, with our high-tech fighter jets, drones and ultimately with our soldiers on the ground in this new war against ISIS, lets remember Afghanistan.
Beginning in the yesteryear of the Cheney-Bush regime, the promise was that our Afghan excursion would promptly dispatch the Taliban, train an effective Afghan military force and create a stable democratic government. But it turned out to be both the longest war in American history and a dismal failure on all counts. After 13 years, more than 2,000 U.S. deaths, nearly 20,000 of our troops horribly maimed and over a trillion dollars spent — what have we won?
Far from defeated, the Taliban is again on the offensive, Afghanistan's elections are a farce, government corruption is rampant, the infrastructure we built is already crumbling, there is no national unity, and more than $100 billion of the money we sent for reconstruction and training was simply stolen by the elites and shipped in suitcases to their foreign bank accounts.
The good news is that our nation's Afghan debacle is scheduled to end this year. The bad news is that it won't — a contingent of U.S. troops will remain, we will keep paying $5 billion a year to sustain the Afghan army and police, and we're on the hook for billions more each year to fund that country's bankrupt government.
So hi-ho, hi-ho — off again we go to Syria, Iraq and beyond to conquer ISIS in what is already being called "a long war." Last year, Bowen's office was formally shut down, with none of the missing cash recovered or accounted for. Remember Bowen's 10 years of frustration as Washington starts shoving new billions of dollars into the morass of its newest ill-defined war. The tab just for the direct military cost of this latest ISIS, et al misadventure will be as much as $22 billion — a year. How much of our cash for this misadventure will be stolen or "missing"? And just think how much good that money would do if we invested it here in our own people?
To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.