From the NYT:

“An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.

The history, the first official account of its kind, is circulating in draft form here and in Washington among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials. It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag — particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army — the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.

In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.’” (…)

The bitterest message of all for the reconstruction program may be the way the history ends. The hard figures on basic services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed.

By mid-2008, the history says, $117 billion had been spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, including some $50 billion in United States taxpayer money.”

What’s worse, a lot of the damage was done not by the invasion, but by the subsequent looting, which could have been largely prevented had we had enough troops on the ground. Or, better still, had we not invaded Iraq in the first place.

It’s worth recalling that at the time, we were all being told by columnists and bloggers on the right that the reason we kept reading stories about things going wrong in Iraq was that journalists were only reporting the bad stuff. (Who can forget all those repainted schools we were endlessly urged to write more about?) If I were one of the people who discounted all the bad reports because I assumed they were due to liberal bias, I’d be spending a lot of time rethinking that position — not because I think the media is flawless, but because assuming that you can discount any story that doesn’t fit your ideological preconceptions virtually ensures that you’ll get things badly wrong.

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