On a scale of one to 10, with one representing the worst and 10 the best, Stuart Bowen would put the current situation in Iraq at zero.
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The Middle East is once again on fire, and Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” sought to explain it in his Monday morning lecture at 10:45 a.m. in the Amphitheater. His was the first lecture in Week Eight’s theme of “Chautauqua’s Global Public Square.”
While driving through a crowded marketplace with his bomb squad in Kirkuk, Iraq, Brian Castner stopped the convoy to buy a watermelon.
Holding up traffic, he haggled an Iraqi man from $10 to $5 for two watermelons. That night, sitting on a picnic table, Castner and his friends cut them up into thick, juicy slices and “scrambled like young boys to get seconds.”
For more than 20 years, Chautauqua Institution has hosted a Middle East Update, an annual program that brings in foreign policy experts to help Chautauquans understand the tightly wound and highly complicated knot of conflicts and relationships in the Middle East.
This year’s Middle East Update begins at 4 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy and will continue on Aug. 12 and 13 at the same time and place. Today, Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional security programs at the Center for the National Interest, will moderate a discussion with Dennis Ross, diplomat and counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ross is also speaking at today’s morning lecture.
When Stuart Bowen first visited Iraq in February 2004, he found that his reputation as a tough litigator had evidently preceded him. Walking through the halls of his new offices as newly appointed Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, he overheard one staffer telling another: “No, we can’t do that anymore. We have a new inspector general.
Bowen was appointed to oversee the handling of $63 billion in relief funds being poured into Iraq by the United States government after the U.S. had shifted strategy to stability and reconstruction efforts. Since 2004, he has produced financial benefits for the U.S. government totalling $1.8 billion, managed 390 audits and has been responsible for 84 convictions for fraud and other crimes.
The United States assisted in the construction of a prison an hour north of Baghdad — a prison with a $40 million price tag that will never be used and was not wanted in the first place.
Khan Bani Saad Prison is just one example of the massive fraud, waste and abuse in the Iraq Reconstruction program. Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, was tasked with auditing and inspecting the various projects of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Through 34 trips to Iraq and 390 audits and inspections, Bowen’s office saved $1.8 billion — money that may otherwise have been misused on projects like Khan Bani Saad Prison.
“The Iraq War was bad for just about everyone, except private contractors.”
George Packer’s summary of the war on terror, concluded from years of research in the Middle East, set the scene for his Thursday morning lecture in the Amphitheater. Packer, a writer at The New Yorker and author of the bestselling book The Unwinding, spoke about America’s failure to fight a war and win. He said the same systemic failure of institutions caused the failure of the war, resulting in Americans suffering under a “broken contract.”