With Congress and the White House in tense negotiations over the next $100 billion for the next six months in Iraq, we take time out today to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Andrew Natsios' appearance on ABC's Nightline.
On April 23, 2003, host Ted Koppel invited Natsios, then the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, on the program to talk about the Bush administration's estimate of the cost of rebuilding Iraq.
Younger readers may not remember Koppel, who's retired now. They may also be somewhat confused by the assumption, universally reported back in April of 2003, that the U.S.-led coalition had "taken control of Baghdad." After all, just yesterday Gen. David Petraeus said that three months of a security "surge" had produced only modest progress in its effort to, well, take control of Baghdad.
Allow me to explain to our younger, or more forgetful, readers that four years ago this month a statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled and beaten with shoes, leading to headlines all around the world prematurely declaring the conquest of the Iraqi capital. What actually happened was that the coalition forces had established a military stronghold in Baghdad's "Green Zone." Equating the existence of this base with the "control of Baghdad," it turns out, is like saying that the existence of an American base in Guantanamo Bay means the U.S. has taken control of Cuba. Four years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and 3,300+ American deaths later, U.S. forces are still hoping to take control of Baghdad, perhaps within the next six months. Or perhaps within the six months after that.
Anyway, back to Andrew Natsios. Here is the transcript of his conversation with Koppel:
TED KOPPEL (Off Camera): Well, it's a, I think you'll agree, this is a much bigger project than any that's been talked about. Indeed, I understand that more money is expected to be spent on this than was spent on the entire Marshall Plan for the rebuilding of Europe after World War II.
ANDREW NATSIOS: No, no. This doesn't even compare remotely with the size of the Marshall Plan.
TED KOPPEL (Off Camera): The Marshall Plan was $97 billion.
ANDREW NATSIOS: This is $1.7 billion.
TED KOPPEL (Off Camera): All right, this is the first. I mean, when you talk about 1.7, you're not suggesting that the rebuilding of Iraq is gonna be done for $1.7 billion?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, in terms of the American taxpayers contribution, I do, this is it for the US. The rest of the rebuilding of Iraq will be done by other countries who have already made pledges, Britain, Germany, Norway, Japan, Canada, and Iraqi oil revenues, eventually in several years, when it's up and running and there's a new government that's been democratically elected, will finish the job with their own revenues. They're going to get in $20 billion a year in oil revenues. But the American part of this will be 1.7 billion. We have no plans for any further-on funding for this.
Since then, "the American taxpayers" have spent at least half a trillion dollars — at least five times the total cost of the Marshall Plan. Chunks of money several times greater than Natsios' figure have simply gone missing and the monthly cost to the U.S. is more than $8 billion.
In 2006, President Bush appointed Andrew Natsios as the administration's special envoy to Darfur.