AUSTIN, Texas -- Q: What is the country most likely to supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists?

A: Russia.

Just thought we ought to keep a grip on reality here. It gets harder when one finds a headline like this on the front page of The Wall Street Journal: "Bush Has an Audacious Plan to Rebuild Iraq Within a Year."

How does he plan to do that? Privatize the job, what else? "The Bush administration's audacious plan to rebuild Iraq envisions a sweeping overhaul of Iraqi society within a year of war's end, but leaves much of the work to private U.S. companies," reports the Journal. Why didn't we think of that? Just hire the companies that are in the sweeping societal overhaul business, and we'll be out of there in a year.

United Nations? Not needed. Non-governmental organizations? Who cares. We're putting Iraq up for nation-building by the lowest bidders corporate America can muster. What a dandy plan. The Agency for International Development (USAID) has already invited four groups to bid on a $900 million engineering contract.

You notice they did not put the contract up for open bidding. Competitive bidding requirements were side-stepped under special rules applying to "emergency needs." According to a spokeswoman, the department preferred to work with firms "with a proven track record." That would be your basic Bechtel, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) -- a subsidiary of Halliburton -- and Parsons Corp., along with the Louis Berger Group and Fluor Corp. bidding as a team. According to the Journal, these companies made political contributions of a combined $2.8 million between 1999 and 2002, more than two-thirds of it going to Republicans. Bechtel was the largest contributor, with $1.3 million in contributions, the Journal reported.

Naturally, this news was el stinko abroad. reports: "The news that some well-connected American firms will be first in line for these billion-dollar deals did not help the administration's case for war internationally. Headlines all over the world questioned the White House's true motives for war."

If you're having a hard time envisioning the notoriously secretive Bechtel building democracy, relax -- it's just a construction contract. Interestingly enough, Salon reports that KBR may be in bankruptcy by the end of the year as a consequence of its liabilities in asbestos lawsuits. That liability exists because of a deal made by Vice President Dick Cheney when he was head of Halliburton. That should be enough to make you sleep more soundly at night.

The Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance has dandy plans to get all Iraqi children in school and to distribute school supplies. The $100 million contract covers five pilot programs for "accelerated learning" and then will become the national program within 10 months. Then we can ask, "Is their children learning?"

The U.S. Treasury Department is supposed to help overhaul Iraq's banking system, and some U.S. government officials will serve as "shadow ministers" to oversee Baghdad's bureaucracies, reports the Journal. I have my doubts about this. If John Ashcroft has to run the Iraqi Justice Department as well as his own, how's he going to find the time to cover up the boobs on statues and arrest prostitutes in New Orleans?

I hate to rain on the administration's parade, but we're not even out of Afghanistan after more than a year, and that's a much smaller job. In fact, we don't seem to have control of much in Afghanistan beyond Kabul. Poor Hamid Karzai was back in Washington last week, looking for money. Turns out the White House forgot to ask Congress for any new money for his country -- ooops, short attention span. Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona managed to get $435 million put in Afghanistan, acting on his own initiative. Turns out Iran, of axis of evil fame, has pledged $900 million to help Afghanistan. At least its opium production is back up to pre-war levels.

This nation-building is tricky stuff.

When The New York Times' Paul Krugman suggested last week that this administration was out of touch with reality, I thought maybe he was exaggerating -- but the "audacious plan" is enough to make me wonder. The last gulf War was an international effort, and we wound up paying for about 10 percent of it. Early estimates on this one are $100 billion.

Our kids' schools could use the money, too.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.