Every little bit helps

The Bush administration is collecting donations to help rebuild Iraq. It has raised $600 so far.

Published September 26, 2005 4:05PM (EDT)

Earlier this month, the Bush administration launched an unusual way to finance the reconstruction of Iraq: It began taking donations from the American public. Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, announced the plan on Sept. 9. His agency said at the time that the Iraq Partnership program would "help American citizens learn more about official U.S. assistance for Iraq and make contributions to high-impact development projects."

So how's it going?

According to a report over the weekend, the fund has collected all of $600 so far. Not $600 million, not $600,000, but $600 -- or, as Britain's Observer sniped, about enough to buy two iPods. A spokeswoman for USAID told the Observer that the agency isn't disappointed with the amount contributed so far and that every little bit helps.

Why have the contributions been so slow in coming? Maybe it's because people have been distracted by needs back home. Maybe it's because the White House keeps assuring everyone that the federal government has all the money it needs to meet its "priorities." Or maybe it's because we were all told when the war began that Iraqi oil revenues would cover the cost of the reconstruction. As the Los Angeles Times reports today, that plan isn't working out so well: The paper says that engineering mistakes, poor leadership, shifting priorities, security issues, poor maintenance and contract disputes between the United States and a Halliburton subsidiary have all contributed to the failure to rebuild critical components of Iraq's oil facilities and deprived the country of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue.

So maybe taking contributions from individual citizens isn't such a bad way to go. Estimates for the cost of rebuilding Iraq seem to float in the $50 billion to $100 billion range. At the current rate, USAID will have that covered in about 5 million years.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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