Happy Andrew Natsios Day

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.

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  • Steve

    Heckuva Job, Natsy!

  • MM

    We have always been at war with …
    Aw, the heck with it.

  • Zingo Stertch

    I really hope I’m pronouncing the name wrong, because if he’s named ‘Nazi-os’, well… It’s either a terrible name or the least popular cereal ever.

  • 85% Duane

    We have always been at war with …
    .. Republicans?

  • Hysterical Woman

    Half a trillion dollars?
    I remember when we had a surplus.

  • Turcano

    “I really hope I’m pronouncing the name wrong, because if he’s named ‘Nazi-os’, well… It’s either a terrible name or the least popular cereal ever.”
    But it comes with swastika-shaped marshmallow bits!
    Sorry, that was a little to good to pass up.

  • Zingo Stertch

    Swastika-shaped bits only get you so far. Then again, it does have a delicious speed coating that makes up for the fact that the Mussolini Express is always an hour late.

  • grenadine

    Nazi-Os! The superior cereal!

  • grenadine

    It goes without saying that all the mallows are white…

  • eugene magnier

    another way to look at this is that we spent ~3 billion / year (in 1948 dollars) on the Marshall plan, or about 1% of the US GDP at the time. Current GDP is about 10 trillion, or a bit more, so the 125billion per year we have spent is about 1% of current GDP. Thus, we are currently sinking as much into Iraq as a fraction of our GDP as we did for the entire Marshall plan, for which we rescued the economies of some 200million people, rather than just making life worse for some 26 million people…

  • the opoponax

    yes. that’s why they’re called the master-mallows.

  • Jeff

    Nazi-Ohs — they leave JewiStars in the dust!
    OK, that might be crossing the line…

  • Nenya

    In 2006, President Bush appointed Andrew Natsios as the administration’s special envoy to Darfur.
    Oh dear God.

  • ako

    In 2006, President Bush appointed Andrew Natsios as the administration’s special envoy to Darfur.
    Oh dear God.
    On the bright side, he might lose a couple billion again, and leave it somewhere that the Darfuris can benefit.
    On the down side, that’s the best outcome I can see happening.

  • lightning

    We have to find a way to deal with politicians (and others!) who make totally wild promises ($1.7 billion??) and then just forget about them. This is especially true with anything involving numbers — political reporters seem to be incapable of doing basic arithmetic.
    Something I’ve done with some success in the engineering world is to put money on it. “$1.7 billion? It’ll be ten times that. As a matter of fact I’ll *bet* you that within three years, we spend $17 billion. Twenty five cents. Cash money — I will *not* take your IOU. C’mon, big talker. Put your money where your mouth is. Put up or shut up.”
    It’s really funny to watch somebody who’s been promising the moon refuse to make a $0.25 bet. I think I’ve been taken up on it once. (I won.) Usually, the answer is “[mumble, mumble] well, perhaps we’re being a bit optimistic here, but …”
    As it is, politicians can promise anything at all and never get called on it. If a used- car salesman tried that, he’d end up in jail.

  • Davis. X. Machina

    Given the personnel policies of this adminstration, anybody that wrong should at least have gotten a Cabinet-level appointment.
    If I were Natsios, I’d grieve it.

  • Dawn

    “We have no plans for any further-on funding for this.”
    Of course they didn’t have plans. They didn’t have plans for a lot of things concerning Iraq.

  • Happy Andrew Natsios Day

    Almost everyone have heard the hit single ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin. The song has a very catchy way of conveying its message of being happy to everyone. Bobby Mcferiin’s simple message surely made a lot of people by telling them not to …

  • fe_man

    Maybe he’ll learn from his mistakes…. just because he’s been appointed by bush doesn’t mean he is Bush… but I’m probably just being optomistic so I don’t leave the country after graduation.
    Speaking of all the young readers… I’m 23 and haven’t forgotten, who’s younger?

  • cjmr

    Speaking of all the young readers… I’m 23 and haven’t forgotten, who’s younger?
    See the tail end of the comments thread for the last LB post. There are at least two people younger than you.

  • Eli

    I happen to remember our own Paul Wolfowitz quoting many of these same figures to a Senate Committee, putting special emphasis on the Iraqi Oil figures. Such wonderful math skills made him a PERFECT candidate for running the World Bank.
    In all seriousness, the economic point of view of how we were going to prosecute this war is the best example about how incredibly misguided these people were. They honestly had no idea the kind of ethnic tensions that were boiling in this country, which is something anyone with a graduate degree in mideast anthropology could have told you straight out. The fact that these people thought that Iraq could be generating its own money instead of just being a huge sink hole for dollars is insane.

  • Matt

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…..

  • Kevin

    I started laughing internally, and then it hit me… Darfur… and I actually did start to tear up.

  • none

    So, why does the government continue to do this? What is their motivation? If this was Oceania where everything was suppressed, then I could see how making wild, unsupportable guesses and crazy assumptions would be somehow beneficial; I mean, it’s not like anyone will ever suspect anything. But a lot of things nowadays is much more open than that; we KNOW that the Iraq reconstruction will cost more than that. Their own reports confirm this. So why not just dodge the question or say that “it’s too early to speculate”. Yeah, it’s weaselly but at least your supporters will have something to use to defend you on Internet forums (“See, ignorant hippy? He never actually GAVE that number; in fact he communicated the REAL figure via Semaphore!”)

  • Rhys

    Good article Fred. One minor nitpick:
    “Four years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and 3,300+ American deaths later, …”
    That should read:
    “Four years, hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and 3,300+ American deaths later, …”
    That missing piece is the 600 pound gorilla sitting in the middle of room being ignored in this whole debate over the future of the Iraq War. And it is the one thing that must never be ignored if this we are to prevent similar tradgedies in the future.

  • e. nonee moose

    ANDREW NATSIOS: And while I’m chatting with you Ted, would you like to buy a bridge?

  • Ian

    “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.” That was the funniest thing I’d read today, until I read about the Nazi-Ohs.
    Nazi-ohs! Now available in two new flavors: Bavarian hops and bitter Illinois.

  • Dean Booth

    At one of the debates in 2004, Kerry mentioned Iraq costing $200B so far. The next day the Repubs were all over it: what an exaggerator, it’s only $180B! And, of course, the media played along.
    Natsios’ lie was just one of many lies about the war exposed before the election. Yet most American shrugged and voted for Bush, probably because Kerry “looked French.”
    Thank goodness the Nazi-o’s comments have eased my pain caused by thinking about what Bush has wrought.

  • none


  • Matthew F

    While Natsios was unbelievably (literally) way, way wrong, if you’re going to compare it to the Marshall Plan, you’ve got to include inflation. Using this inflation calculator — http://www.westegg.com/inflation/ — $97 billion 1947 dollars is roughly $900 billion dollars today. The current spending is still incredibly shameful, but the roughly $500 billion we’ve spent so far wasn’t all for rebuilding: it includes the war effort itself. Of course, since the entire World War II effort, cost the US about $2,400 billion or so in current dollars, this has still been one hell of an expensive war in comparison.

  • Jesurgislac

    Dean Booth: Yet most American shrugged and voted for Bush,
    Even the official results don’t claim that. The official results say Bush got a popular vote win by just over 3M – 3% of the total vote.
    And the unofficial, look at what the Republican Party were doing, look at the exit polls… say most Americans shrugged and voted for Kerry.

  • SeaShell

    I’ve lurked here for a while. The posts and comments always make me laugh (not a good thing at work)
    To MatthewF:
    The $97Bn was in 2003 dollars. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_plan#Expenditures the Marshall Plan only spent ~$13Bn (1950’s dollars) over 4 years so using your inflation calculator that is the $97Bn.

  • Matthew F

    *sigh* I had a moment of non-despair. Alas.