Saturday, February 24, 2007

Where are the fiscal conservatives on Iraq?

A few weeks ago, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did an outstanding breakout of the cost of the Iraq War to date, at $400 billion and counting it's $1,333 for every citizen of the United States.

For that kind of money, you could run the Wisconsin state government - current annual budget around $27 billion - for around a decade and a half.

Or, if you're a budding Donald Trump, you could scoop up all of the taxable property in the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County - homes, offices and factories - and still have around $337 billion in change, according to estimated taxable values.
Now that the perspective is in place, let's talk about a major reason for both increased cost and continued instability. As reported by the AP, contractors in Iraq face death and injury the same as our soldiers, but many of the contractors are making at least $100,000 a year (an ad in last week's Economist was offering at least $150,000). With 120,000 civilian contractors in Iraq, the price tag is at least $12 billion a year. That $12 billion is before the contractor's company's mark-up on the labor, which if it is the 20% standard rate for stateside work, taxpayers are forking over at least $2.4 billion in fees.

While there are some jobs in Iraq that are highly specialised, many of the jobs are ones soldiers used to do or the Iraqi people could themselves. Of the 501 jobs in Iraq that KBR (one of the largest contractors, bringing in $12 billion themselves from Iraq in 2006) is trying to fill, many are for carpenters, cooks, plumbers, truck drivers and auto mechanics.

With the Iraq Study Group finding unemployment ranging from 20-60%, it is no wonder employment in the militias is appealing. Even in an editorial from The Korea Times saying providing increased employment will not quell the violence, there is this little nugget of truth:

Many young Iraqis join militias because that is where the money is. They can earn more hanging around with a gun in their hands than by working in construction or trade. Supporters of the insurgency are happy to plant a roadside bomb in exchange for extra cash. Instead of focusing on a large jobs program, the US could do more to bring peace to Iraq by reducing the money from Iraqi government coffers and smuggling activities that funds the payrolls of the insurgents and militias.
I don't know what the average member of the Mahdi Army is making, but I doubt it's $100,000. Our soldiers and contractors are dying, in part, because we're being outbid for the economic loyalty of young Iraqis. While the aforementioned AP story highlights the resentment felt by soldiers working side by side with contractors making five times what they do, the resentment toward the contractors from the Iraqis is much higher and with a fatal cost.

If we are going to be borrowing and paying interest on money from places like China to invest in Iraqi reconstruction, we at the very least could be doing it wisely. The financial mismanagement in Iraq is going to haunt the unborn grandchildren of my unborn children. Real fiscal conservatives would have been hopping up and down about this waste years ago, however Congress had been silent before the Iraq debate. Now various forms of waste are being highlighted by members of Congress and the Government Accountability Office on a regular basis. The hiring of contractors is one area that can be remedied quickly. Taxpayers should not be funding corporate profits filling jobs the Iraqis can do themselves and at a lower cost.

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