In the direct aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, asked Washington for around US$87bn for reconstruction of the shattered country, comparing this expenditure to the Marshall Plan, by which the United States had contributed billions to help reconstruct Europe after the Second World War.
The price tag, though it seemed large, was in fact incredibly small to reconstruct a country as large and sophisticated as Iraq. The US had projected that the initial invasion, which was over in a matter of weeks, would cost roughly the same. In the end, everything about the plan was wrong.The Marshall Plan lasted just four years. In Iraq, the reconstruction went on for at least nine years and achieved painfully little.
Last week, a report from America's Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction listed the total spent at $60bn since 2004, and argued that much of the programme was wasted, beset by "over-promises, setbacks and shortcomings".
(It is worth noting that the figure to reconstruct Iraq is dwarfed by two others: the estimated cost of conducting the war, which is put somewhere north of $3 trillion, and the estimated $140 billion in profits that private defence contractors have made since the invasion.)
The report damned the US's ability to carry out such a complex project - the largest of its kind ever undertaken - calling the country's modus operandi "an adhocracy" and "a series of nine 1-year plans rather than a 9-year plan". The report cited examples of waste and incompetence, such as the three water treatment plants that cost more than half a billion dollars and yet failed to deliver enough drinkable water. Or take the improvements to a dam in Mosul, which cost $27m. An inspection found that $19m worth of the equipment was sitting around unused.
Yet the real cost of the reconstruction, as with the real cost of the misguided invasion, has been borne by Iraqis themselves. The lack of adequate water and electricity, of security and stability, of medical treatment, all of these have had lasting effects on ordinary Iraqis throughout the country. The inability to get these things right is less easy to justify given that the US chose to invade Iraq and failed to make adequate plans for the aftermath.
For the majority of Iraqis, the decision to invade has been absolutely catastrophic for their lives. America's case for invading Iraq was built on sand. Its promises and ability to execute them were even less substantial.