When Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush were seeking their first term as chief executives in office, running against Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, strategists were worried about an "October Surprise" scuttling their chances of unseating the incumbents. If you recall, Iranian militants were holding 70 Americans hostage in Tehran and their release before the election could have tipped the election.
As we all know, the hostages were released as Ronald Reagan was taking the oath of office in 1980. The "October Surprise" did not materialize, but conspiracy buffs later resurrected the name during the 1988 presidential campaign, claiming that the Reagan-Bush team had cut a deal with the Iranians that the hostages not be released before the election. Claims were never substantiated, and the term "October Surprise" has come to be known as a conspiracy to unveil something dramatic to influence a November presidential election. Example: Osama bin Laden is captured by the United States and held secretly until Halloween, when his "capture" is made public. This would surely give the Bush-Cheney a lock on a second term.
We are not suggesting this has or will happen, but that would be an example of a big event that would influence the voters.
Having any major news break in late October can make -- or break -- a candidate. Late last week an audit of expenditures in Iraq showed that U.S. and Iraqi officials doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in oil proceeds and other moneys for Iraqi projects earlier this year, but there was little effort to monitor or justify the expenditures.
According to an Associated Press report, the report monitored spending by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run governing agency which went out of existence in June; Iraqi ministries; the Kurdish Regional Government and Iraqi provisional governments. It covered the period from January to June this year.
In the CPA programs, "We found 37 cases where contracting files could not be located," the auditors said. The cost of the contracts: $185 million. In another 52 cases, there was no record of the goods received for $87.9 million in expenditures.
In a military commanders' program to buy back weapons, $1.4 million was spent from a fund that specifically prohibited such expenditures, auditors said.
The report was released by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee and a leading critic of reconstruction spending to rebuild Iraq. Perhaps the report is the Kerry campaign's "October Surprise."
Regardless of intent, these questions need to be answered. All of us, the American taxpayers, are underwriting the effort to build a democratic Iraq. The least the administration can do is tell the auditors where the money has been spent.