Iraq Garage Sale: Today's Outrage

The U.S. is tossing out $30 million in equipment at each military base in Iraq as troops withdraw.
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BAGHDAD (TheStreet) -- Lost amid Gen. Stanley McChrystal's dismissal by President Obama yesterday were a bunch of other things the military was getting rid of: namely just about everything in Iraq that isn't nailed down.

A report from Reuters from

Iraq

on Monday found that items including

Colgate-Palmolive

(CL) - Get Report

Irish Spring soap,

Playboy

(PLA)

DVDs and hardware from

Burger King

(BKC)

and

Krispy Kreme

(KKD)

outlets from U.S. bases are being auctioned or sold on the black market in Iraq as the U.S. prepares to pull out its remaining 85,000 soldiers over the next 18 months. M-16 clips and body armor are scattered among air-conditioners and refrigerators from 370 bases the U.S. has handed over to the Iraqis since the withdrawal began.

U.S. Brigadier General Gustave Perna said about 20 million pounds of equipment has been "pushed out," bringing in $500,000 for Iraq's state treasury. That's a hay penny compared to the roughly $850 billion the U.S. has spent on the Iraq war since 2003 and the more than $3 trillion the war will cost the U.S. economy after interest on debt is paid, military operational capacity is restored and health care for returning veterans is addressed. Considering that, unlike the materials they used, veterans have to actually come home from this war, that last budget item is especially pertinent.

Yet the hay penny of payback that resale items have brought in so far shows exactly what, if anything, the military and U.S. contractors like

KBR

(KBR) - Get Report

and

Halliburton

(HAL) - Get Report

can hope to recover when the U.S. campaign in Iraq wraps up late next year.

Rather than debating whether the mission was a success because Saddam Hussein has been replaced by something resembling democracy or whether it was a failure because neither weapons of mass destruction nor pre-existing ties to al-Qaeda were found, perhaps the military brass and their bosses in the executive and legislative branches should have spent some time determining what money and resources in Iraq could be salvaged by our cash-poor country before declaring everything expendable and putting Operation Iraqi Freedom on

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

.

As Reuters notes, the U.S. received at least some return on its investment in Kosovo when, after driving out Serb forces in 1999, it established a base camp that continues to thrive to this day. Even in Iraq, much of the leftover U.S. hardware will head to Afghanistan or return home, while base transports including old

Ford

(F) - Get Report

and

GMC

SUVs are being driven by members of the Iraqi government, who also have furniture from U.S. bases in their offices. However, there's no need to ditch satellite dishes, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, driers and refrigerators like they're Huey helicopters taking up needed space on a carrier deck after the

fall of Saigon

.

Military personnel quoted in an

NPR report

earlier this month said that they were signing away bases in Iraq containing $25 million to $30 million worth of equipment apiece. Though some items don't make sense to keep -- a $5,000 blast wall costs $15,000 to ship -- that $25 million to $30 million per base could go a long way toward, for example, helping personnel coping with combat-related

mental-health issues and stress

, easing their transition from the military health system to the

Department of Veterans Affairs'

(VA) health-care system or helping assuage

record levels of veteran unemployment

.

In their haste to move beyond the Iraq war, the military hierarchy and the government are shortchanging both the taxpayers who invested their nation's future in it and the military personnel who paid a much heftier stake. Instead of cleaning out their bases like college seniors leaving town after graduation, perhaps the powers that be should consider using the nation's one remaining surplus -- even if it's only glorified garage sale -- to help pay what they owe.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.