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Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraqby T. Christian Miller
Synopses & Reviews
It was supposed to be quick and easy. The Bush Administration even promised that it wouldn't cost American taxpayers a thing — Iraqi oil revenues would pay for it all. But billions and billions of dollars, and thousands of lives, later, the Iraqi reconstruction is an undeniable failure. Iraq pumps out less oil now than it did under Saddam. At best, Iraqis average all of twelve hours a day of electricity. American soldiers lack body armor and adequate protection for their motor vehicles.
Increasingly worse off, Iraqis turn against us. Increasingly worse off, our troops are killed by a strengthening insurgency.
As T. Christian Miller reveals in this searing and timely book, the Bush Administration has fatally undermined the war effort and our soldiers by handing out mountains of cash not to the best companies for the reconstruction effort, but to buddies, cronies, relatives and political hacks — some of whom have simply taken the money and run with it.
Blistering, brilliant and shocking, this will be the breakout title when it comes to Iraq books, and the catalyst for national debate.
"Miller's collection of riveting, disheartening narratives chronicle the spendthrift methods of the coalition behind the Iraq invasion, featuring so many spurious entrepreneurs, opportunistic politicians and greedy contractors that it almost requires a pen and paper to keep track of them all. Beginning with the war itself, Miller demonstrates how the high hopes and genuine passion of those in the front lines paved the way for corruption, fraud and criminal negligence. Miller cites countless improbable, self-serving schemes, including Alaska Senator Ted Stevens's plan to get Iraq's cellular phone network built by Eskimos; the high-end children's hospital proposed and built by Bush family friends at the expense of Iraq's already-existing and badly in-need health facilities; and the work of Halliburton, whose unprecedented involvement makes for disturbing revelations: 'From reveille to lights out, the American military depended on Halliburton for its existence.' Miller's telling examples, covering everything from water and electricity restoration to security, health care and oil production, are at once depressing and compelling, and one gets the sense that Miller could've gone on ad infinitum relating unfinished and tarnished projects. Though Miller jumps from one sector of Iraq's infrastructure to another and shows little concern for chronology, the coalition's effort itself is too disorganized and the avaricious characters too plentiful to permit Miller to concoct a more unified and linear narrative. Despite this, Miller's important account fascinates throughout with the breadth and depth of the ongoing debacle." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"When future historians sift through the wreckage of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, they will rely in large part on a handful of books by brilliant reporters who watched the debacle unfold. George Packer's 'The Assassins' Gate' is one such book, and Thomas E. Ricks' 'Fiasco' is certain to be another. To this short list of indispensable accounts detailing how what was supposed to be a liberation... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) became a quagmire, I would now add T. Christian Miller's 'Blood Money.' Most accounts have focused on the political and military mistakes made in invading and occupying Iraq. These errors have become somewhat familiar: the failure to plan for an occupation, even a short-term one; the U.S. proconsul L. Paul Bremer's careless destruction of all that remained of order in Iraq — the Baath Party and the army — in one fell swoop; and above all, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's persistent refusal to acknowledge that an Iraqi insurgency was growing and to raise U.S. troop levels accordingly. Miller, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, fills in the missing piece: the staggering incompetence and corruption of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort, which may have done almost as much as anything else to turn the Iraqi population against its occupiers. Despite headlines in recent years about Halliburton's hefty revenues, this has been, in general, the less-covered dimension of the Iraq adventure. At its heart, 'Blood Money' is the tale of how Washington left a country desperately in need of rebuilding to the whims of money-hungry private contractors, and of how the lack of clear lines of authority doomed efficiency, effectiveness and accountability from the start. The result? 'In almost every way the rebuilding has fallen short,' Miller writes, despite some successes, such as the reconstruction of thousands of Iraqi schools and the vaccination of tens of thousands of Iraqi children. 'After three years Iraqis have less power in their homes than under Saddam. Hospital neonatal units lose electricity, and doctors watch children die .... Oil production is far below its prewar peak. Poor Iraqis in Baghdad slums suffer through outbreaks of easily preventable diseases like hepatitis for lack of clean water or health care.' And what bothers him most now, he says, is that the Bush administration seems about to give up on the reconstruction, slashing its funding even as it extends the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. How did the country that authored the Marshall Plan botch Iraq? By way of explanation, Miller brings to life the villains and heroes of the often arcane reconstruction effort. His villains include politically connected contractors such as Mike Battles and Scott Custer, whom the former inspector general of the U.S. Army's Fifth Corps calls 'rip-off artists' and who, Miller reports, never endured 'any serious effort' from the Bush administration to recover the taxpayer dollars they were responsible for; senators such as Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who, Miller writes, inserted language into the $18.4-billion Iraq-reconstruction bill of November 2003 guaranteeing 'special contracting privileges for a group of constituents (the Alaska Native Corporations) that supplied Stevens ... with votes' ; Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator Bremer, whom Miller accuses of simply not paying attention while such depredations were happening under his nose; and even Laura Bush, who championed an extravagant showcase hospital on the outskirts of Basra that Miller reports drained money and attention away from the small-scale health clinics that Iraqis really needed. Miller's heroes are the ordinary soldiers and administrators who went to Iraq with the best intentions and tried desperately to make life better for the Iraqis — and almost always failed. Some, Miller writes, such as Army Lt. Col. Ted Westhusing, a security trainer assigned to oversee one suspect U.S. contractor, may have been driven to suicide because of it. None of these stories is more engrossing — and as full of the high drama that only true-life villainy and heroism can supply — than Miller's account of the outrageous tale of Jack Shaw, a senior Pentagon official who brazenly interfered with the creation of Iraq's mobile-phone network. Miller writes that even though contracts had already been handed out, Shaw, a deputy undersecretary of defense described as someone who 'could have been a caricature of the Beltway insider,' sought to benefit a company linked to a friend of his. According to a November 2003 e-mail from Shaw that Miller cites, the Pentagon official tried to use a new contract for a police mobile network as a 'back door' for his friend's company to set up its own commercial cellphone network. Then, Miller adds, Shaw used Sen. Stevens' legal loophole, intended to award Iraq contracts to 'native Alaskans' on a no-bid basis, to sneak in his favored consortium. When a brave and honest CPA official, Daniel Sudnick, tried to blow the whistle, Miller reports that Shaw spread stories around the Pentagon suggesting that Sudnick was corrupt, resulting in the latter's being forced to resign. Shaw's actions were finally exposed, but because of the confusion he created, it took more than two years before a police mobile-phone network was installed in Iraq. 'During that time thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi police officers were killed, at least some of whom could have been saved had they been able to pick up a phone and call for help,' Miller notes. Shaw was finally fired in December 2004, but Miller reports that — in keeping with the Bush administration's unblemished record of never holding a senior official responsible for any lapse of judgment — his departure was not explained and he was never held accountable. Miller also tells the inspiring story of Shaw's mirror opposite, Stuart Bowen, the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, who, despite his own insider GOP connections, turned into an indefatigable investigator and truth-teller. And the book provides the best account yet of the pitfalls of contracting security out to private companies. Miller obtained documents from the Army Corps of Engineers that show that 'private security contractors played a leading role in the daily violence of Iraq' but never faced the penalties served up to, say, the military abusers at Abu Ghraib prison. Often acting without any coordination with U.S. forces, Miller writes, contractors would fire at Iraqi cars even when they hadn't been obviously provoked. This arbitrary treatment enraged Iraqis, especially since the contractors were effectively immune from criminal or civil charges. Miller doesn't always give us the full picture: His chapter on Iraq's electricity problem, probably the single biggest setback to reconstruction, seems like an afterthought. It is also hard not to feel sympathy for contractors who worked in horrific conditions: About 500 of them have lost their lives in Iraq. But one of the many virtues of Miller's book is its balance. Halliburton, for example, comes off better than you might expect: The firm almost unfailingly supplied the promised services to troops (as anyone who has eaten at one of its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root's well-stocked dining facilities can attest) even as it gouged taxpayers for oil profits. 'The company delivered, but wasted a lot of money doing it,' Miller says. That, sadly, is more than one can say about the rest of the reconstruction effort, which for the most part didn't deliver at all. Michael Hirsh is a senior editor at Newsweek and the author of 'At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World.'" Reviewed by Michael Hirsh, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Readers interested in understanding the political and economic dynamics behind the faltering campaign in Iraq will appreciate this investigation." Booklist
"Another epitaph for Mr. Bush's War, and a book sure to fascinate — and anger — its readers." Kirkus Reviews
"[Miller's] compelling account...describes naiveté, incompetence, corruption and venality on a scale so colossal as to make it impossible to blame the results on any single figure....Above all, it raises questions about the seriousness of those who formulate U.S. policy." Los Angeles Times
An investigative reporter pens an explosive indictment of how the Bush Administration wasted billions in Iraq through sweetheart deals to G.O.P. supporters, outrageous contracts to corrupt companies, and absurdly naive assumptions.
About the Author
T. Christian Miller is an investigative reporter who writes for the Los Angeles Times' Washington bureau. In his ten years as a professional journalist, he has covered four wars and a presidential campaign, and has reported from more than two dozen countries; he was once kidnapped by leftist guerillas in Bogotá. Miller is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two young children.
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