Q'ash Q'ow

The only hearing we'll ever have about the greatest fraud in American history is at its peak of media exposure, and as usual, the public, which is busy preparing to give the Bush administration the dumbest second chance imaginable, has reacted with yawns. "What else is on?", says Mr. & Mrs. This Time For Sure, as Henry "Voice in the Wilderness" Waxman wonders exactly what happened to the literally hundreds of tons of cash we sent to the Iraqi provisional government.

Superlatives like "greatest fraud in American history" and "most egregious misuse of funds since the nation's founding" are easy to toss around in this atmosphere of madness and corruption; numbers that, even adjusted for time and inflation, make the works of Warren Harding's Ohio Gang look like the boosting of a corner bodega, are repeated ad nauseam, but don't seem to carry much heft when propped up against bodycounts. Waxman is grimly aware of this; he knows that this grotesque theft and mismanagement will never compare in the public imagination to the bloodstained ink dedicated to dead American soldiers. And so he tries to tie this indefensibly criminal theft of taxpayer money into the only story anyone cares about, wondering if the stunning lack of oversight given these gargantuan sums of money might have resulted in some of it ending up in the hands of insurgents. The loathesome Paul Bremer, in his own defense, blames the Iraqis: it was they who asked for the money; it was their corrupt system that the money entered (as if there was no opportunity for an occupying military power to enact oversight and control procedures); it was they who stole it.

The focus on Iraqis -- their requesting the funds, their theft of same, the question of whether their white-hats or black-hats ended up with it -- is, to say the least, a complete dodge. The sums were arrived at by the American provisional authority; the money was, at every point, handled by, kept by, and disbursed by, Americans, many of them young neoconservatives (a bunch not known for their fiscal prudency with other people's money, and saturated in the profit-above-all ideology handed down by their god-man, Ronald Reagan) drafted by Heritage Foundation skill-set searches, culled from the ranks of right-wing think-tank interns. While it may well be the case that Iraqis plundered the lion's share of the money, the blame lies squarely with our own: the occupational government had innumerable opportunities to institute controls and did nothing, meaning that billions of dollars passed through the hands of the callow and greedy with no particular structure preventing them from putting it in their pockets. Hundreds of millions in Iraqi cash no doubt are back in the U.S. now, awaiting disposition at the hands of clever accountants and tax lawyers and financial professionals, as Paul Bremer points the finger of blame at the rapacious brown hordes and their culture of corruption. Nothing has been done, nothing is being done, and nothing ever will be done to punish these basest sorts of war profiteers, and it's not as if it's over; despite coerced assurances from our government's lead auditor, Stuart Bowen, that American corruption is a minor and managable (unspoken: and perfectly acceptable) component of the U.S. presence in Iraq, the theft and fraud continues. Already the G.O.P. is turning the lone hearing over the greatest mismanagement of government funds in world history into a political football, accusing Democrats of using it as a partisan club to beat on an unpopular president. Indiana Republican Dan Burton knows what side his bread is bloodied on: "We are in a war against terrorists. To have a blame meeting isn't, in my opinion, constructive," he says.

Don't worry about it, Mr. Burton. A few pesky nobodies will continue to complain, but they won't be listened to. Soon enough, the American public will have something new to think about.

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