So, You Think $43 Million Dollars Of Your Tax Money For An Afghan Gas Station Is Bad?
During his farewell address from the White House in January of 1961, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower levied a prophetic warning to the American people:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”
A consummate advocate for reducing the potentially massive costs associated with maintaining a permanent standing army (troop and spending levels were raised and lowered as needed until the Korean War), Ike’s speech was not delivered singularly from his position as the outgoing Commander-in-Chief. As head general of the Allied Forces in the European Theater of Operations, Eisenhower had personally witnessed the incalculable misery inflicted by World War II. He had looked into the haunted eyes of those whom had survived Hitler’s “Final Solution,” seen young Americans killed by the thousands, the wounded screaming in agony in field hospitals, and driven through endless miles of swirling ash and smoking rubble that days before had been teeming cities.
He knew war, and as president during the period which Cold War tensions brought about massive shifts in America’s defense policies, he knew that the profitability of industrialized warfare could be dangerous to a republic.
Flash forward several decades and a gargantuan ballooning of the US Defense budget later to November 2, 2015, where one of the headlines making the rounds is a story about a single gas station in Sheberghan, Afghanistan that has, so far, cost the American taxpayers $43 million dollars.
Yes, you read that correctly.
$43 MILLION DOLLARS…FOR A GAS STATION.
Not only did this gas station, built with Department of Defense (DoD) funds through contractors, cost approximately $42.5 Million dollars more than the initial estimates, but it only sells an alternative natural gas-based fuel utilized by specially converted vehicles. From USA Today, “The Pentagon’s own contractor stated that [converting a car] to compressed natural gas costs $700 per car in Afghanistan. The average annual income there is $690.” To put it another light, according to the manager of the gas station in question (contacted by Vice News), he estimates “…That the station now serves around 250 natural gas-converted cars in the province of 500,000.”
The subsequent reaction from Congress has been predictably marked by outrage and shock with politicians from both parties demanding answers and bemoaning a lack of oversight and accountability. That, in and of itself, is un-fucking-believable. For the past several years, “bi-partisan” defense spending bills are passed by both democrats and republicans not because of some annually occurring miracle that somehow allows Congress to make compromises and govern, but because its a feeding frenzy. Congress routinely pads these bills with billions of dollars of projects that translate into jobs for their respective constituencies. It’s gotten to the point that one commanding general, Ray Odierno, has gone to Capitol Hill not once, not twice, but three separate times to ask the government to stop purchasing more $4.3 million dollar M-1 Abrams main battle tanks he said the military simply has zero need or use for, yet, they still keep buying them.
Regardless, that the United States Department of Defense has been wasting billions upon billions of dollars wholly unchecked for nearly two decades due to a combination of corporate greed, pitiful oversight, and political expedience is no secret. In fact, it’s widely disseminated public knowledge and has been since the very beginning of the Global War on Terror.
Even a cursory glance at the headlines over the past few years alone reveals an astounding number of incidents where tax payer money has funded one ridiculous project after the next through a reliance on government contractors and inept policy making:
A 2011 article from the Assoicated Press states that in a report presented to Congress by the Commision on Wartime Contracting, “…Through lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and payoffs to warlords and insurgents….at least $31 billion has been lost and the total could be as high as $60 billion. The commission called the estimate ‘conservative.’”
Another article from 2011 by Forbes contributor Loren Thompson provides a laundry list of vehicles and weapons systems at one time considered for deployment by the various branches of the US Military of which most never went beyond research and development. What did mere planning cost tax payers? Approximately $100 Billion.
Writer Laura Gottesdiener published a piece in 2012 for Alternet that detailed the luxurious lifestyles of the military’s approximately 1,000 admirals and generals. Perks include coteries of assistants, private jets, personal chefs, and lavish housing that costs, as reported by the New York Times, roughly $1 Million per year…per general. Gottesdiener goes on to write about a number of expensive scandals that have plagued some of the military higher-ups in addition to the 241 golf courses around the world bought for and maintained with DoD funding.
A 2013 special report from Reuters staff writer Scott Paltrow details how DoD employees at the Cleveland, Ohio based office of the Defense Financing and Accounting Service were routinely ordered to alter Navy spending records in order to match the aggregate budgetary figures supplied by the military match the tallies held by the US Treasury.
A 2014 article by Matthew Gault, a contributor to the popular military blog Warisboring.com, exposed that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), whose task it is to procure all manner of supplies necessitated by the nation’s armed forces from contracted producers routinely threw away millions of dollars of surplus or potentially faulty parts for the Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected Truck, or MRAP. Why the trash heap instead of simply returning the parts to the manufacturer? According to an anonymous DLA employee, “Due to time restraints, lack of training and just plain laziness the [agency’s quality-assurance specialists] have been disposing of millions and millions of dollars worth of new material every year.”
Speaking of the DLA, this troubled agency apparently has a penchant for astounding feats of government waste.
An ABC News piece, also from 2014, details how the DLA turned $486 Million worth of cargo planes purchased by the United States for the bourgeoning Afghan Air Force into $32,000 worth of scrap metal when it was determined that the planes were ill-suited for the arid Afghan climate.
News articles aside, there have been entire books written about the jaw-dropping financial waste perpetrated by the DoD. Perhaps foremost among these is Peter Van Buren’s scathing memoir We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A former Foreign Services Officer with the US State Department, Van Buren deployed to Iraq in 2009 with a Provincial Reconstruction Team tasked with jump-starting Iraq’s destroyed economy in the hopes of providing economic stability for the increasingly pessimistic Iraqi people in an attempt to stymie the appeal of radicalism.
Throughout Van Buren’s book, ineptitude, cronyism, and slack-jawed stupidity culminate in a litany of wasteful projects that served to only further alienate the Iraqi people from the country, and their system of government, that many had once hailed as liberators.
Some notable incidents from the book include:
-The construction of a $22.5 million dollar automated frozen chicken packaging plant, built in a country without a reliable electric grid (frozen chicken needs to be kept frozen and freezers need electricity) where the cost of a live chicken from the local market is a fraction of the pre-packaged kind.
-An ambassador that imported hundreds of square feet of sod from Kuwait via armored vehicles after tons of grass seed failed to take root in the public spaces around the American-controlled Green Zone. The estimated cost of shipping the sod varied anywhere from $2 to $5 million. Additionally, the cost of using thousands of gallons of purified water used to keep the sod alive in country suffering from staggering shortages of potable water (in and of itself responsible for innumerable deaths) is incalculable.
-Pastry-making classes for Iraqi women with the intent of inspiring them to open their own bakeries…in cities that largely lacked running water and electricity in the midst of a sectarian civil war.
-Paying $25,000 to a local acting troupe to produce a play about political reconciliation that was never produced or performed.
In short, the routine appearance of news stories about the glutinous use of tax payer’s funds is hardly news at all. It’s been happening for years with no end in sight. Politicians feigning anger when the occasional multi-million dollar boondoggle gets a few seconds in the 24-hour news cycle would be laughable were it not so wholly depressing; especially when you take into account the sufferings endured by deployed soldiers over the past 14 years of relentless warfare.
Families having to save up and buy their relatives body armor because the military doesn’t supply it for them, infantrymen in Afghanistan lacking helicopter air support that could have provided vital protection or life saving medical evacuation for those wounded during a fire fights, soldiers living in flea infested, plywood huts without the most basic amenities of modern living, all because the money is simply not there.
One would think that the seemingly inexorable persistence of the military’s unchecked use of tax payer funding might incur the ire of more politicians, especially those campaigning to reduce the national debt or adhere to a doctrine of “fiscal responsibility.” However, recent statements from a variety of the candidates running for president in 2016 would dictate otherwise. As long as politicians continue to pay lip service to “the troops” while wholly ignoring the long standing policies regarding essentially unrestricted defense spending, the American tax payer will continue to foot the bill while the American soldier continue to suffer as a result.
Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld said it best:
“You go to war with the army you have, not the army might want or wish to have…”