Here We Go With the Pallets of Cash Again (Remember Paul Bremer?)

Kabul corruption“Show me the money, or at least some receipts scribbled on the backs of old envelopes and grocery bags,” wrote Joseph Galloway at Common Dreams in February of 2007. He continued:

“This week, we were treated to the spectacle of the former U.S. civilian overlord of Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, squirming in the hot seat as he attempted with little success to explain what he did with 363 TONS of newly printed, shrink-wrapped $100 bills he had flown to Baghdad. [He] said that a lot of the cash was delivered to ministries of the Iraqi government to meet payrolls that were patently fraudulent.

The Department of Defense’s special inspector general for Iraq, Stuart Bowen, said that a 2005 audit he conducted found that in some ministries the payroll was padded with up to 90 percent “ghost employees” — people who didn’t really work there or perhaps didn’t really exist. Bremer said that he decided to provide the money to meet those payrolls, even though he knew they were bogus, for fear of starting riots and demonstrations among the Iraqis, real and imagined. …

I can think of no period in American history when we sat idly by while $12 billion just disappeared, poof, without a paper trail; without heads rolling; without someone going to prison.

Remember the sense of vertigo this story induced in you (well, me anyway) when you read it? If you haven’t heard about the latest wrinkle, prepare for your head to spin anew. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Corruption Suspected in Airlift of Billions in Cash From Kabul, Matthew Rosenberg reports:

In Iraq, the brutality displayed by Americans toward Iraqis and Iraqis toward Iraqis was shocking. Many Americans wrote American brutality off to our soldiers put in the impossible position of making hair-trigger decisions about who was an insurgent and who was a civilian. Nor did most of us want any part of responsibility for Iraqi brutality. It may have been an unjustified war, many of us no doubt thought, but at least we gave them their freedom — and look what they did with it.

At least this time, while they can’t expect a Presidential Medal of Freedom to be forthcoming as it was for Bremer (generosity above and beyond the call of duty?), “U.S. and Afghan officials,” the WSJ article continues, “say they are targeting the flows in major anticorruption and drug trafficking investigations because of their size relative to Afghanistan’s small economy and the murkiness of their origins.”

Okay, Americans are notorious for tuning out the violence committed by our government and military in our names. But why didn’t Americans react more strongly to the visceral image of cold hard cash — shorn of the discretion of checks or wire transfers — stacked on pallets sent to a corrupt government? If one of those pallets were stacked with just singles, it would be enough to provide any one of us with income for life.

More to the point, do Focal Points readers think this new story from Afghanistan, on the heels of McChrystal’s faux pas, as well as his fatalism about our mission there, could gain traction and convince Americans once and for all that there’s nothing to be gained from our presence in Afghanistan? Kindly respond in the comments section.