On Native Ground
REBUILDING IRAQ BY SELLING OUT THE IRAQIS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- War, as Karl von Clausewitz wrote, is "nothing but the continuation of state policy with other means."
In the end, Persian Gulf War II wasn't about "liberating" the oppressed Iraqi people, or getting rid of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," or trying to link Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden, or any of the other phony excuses that the Bush administration used in its attempt to justify invading Iraq. Instead it was about Iraq being a test case for using bombs to accelerate the privatization of a nation's economy.
As we watch the Bush administration proceed with selling out Iraq's assets to the highest bidder, Clausewitz's observation may be perhaps the best explanation for why Persian Gulf War II had to happen.
It may cost us taxpayers more than $100 billion to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure that had been destroyed by the U.S. during 12 years of war and economic sanctions. Unfortunately, the folks getting to do the work seem to be the friends and allies of President Bush and the Republican Party.
Eyebrows were raised when the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded a no-bid capital construction contract worth up to $680 million to the San Francisco-based Bechtel Group.
You'd think U.S.AID head Andrew Natsios would know better than to give Bechtel the contract. Natsios' last job was overseeing Boston's "Big Dig," an underground highway construction project run by Bechtel which was marked by billions of dollars of cost overruns.
There were five other corporations considered by U.S.AID - Parsons, Fluor, Louis Berger Group, Washington Group International and Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR). What do these five firms have in common with Bechtel? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the six gave nearly $3.6 million in political donations between 1999 and 2001; 66 percent of the money went to the Republican Party.
It's not just money that ties companies like Bechtel to the GOP. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, President Bush's chief foreign policy tutor during the 2000 campaign, was once Bechtel's CEO. Shultz now sits on its board of directors, as does former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Retired Marine Corps Gen. Jack Sheehan is Bechtel's senior vice president and sits on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, which advises Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Bechtel's chairman, Riley Bechtel, is a member of the President's Export Council, which advises the White House on international trade issues.
While Halliburton lost out on that $680 million construction contract, the company - which apparently is still paying its former CEO, Vice President Dick Cheney, millions in deferred compensation - still made out on the war. It earned nearly a billion dollars as the primary logistics contractor for American forces in Iraq and KBR got a no-bid contract worth up to $7 billion to put out oil fires and perform other undisclosed duties for the U.S. military.
U.S.AID isn't through handing out the boodle. They've invited U.S. multinationals to submit bids for a wide range of projects. The goal is to use Iraq as what anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein has called "a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neo-liberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business."
Writing in the April 28 issue of The Nation, Klein pointed out that Gulf War II may be a template for a new type of globalization. Instead of dealing with the messiness of "free trade" agreements, it's "far easier to just tear up the country, occupy it, then rebuild it the way you want. Bush hasn't abandoned free trade, as some have claimed, he just has a new doctrine: 'Bomb before you buy.'"
Oil was the biggest prize of this war. Until last Spring, the U.S. bought half of Iraq's exports. Privatizing Iraq's oil industry is a priority for the Bush administration. But that's not the only thing in Iraq for sale.
"Some may argue that it's too simplistic to say this war is about oil," wrote Klein. "They're right. It's about oil, water, roads, trains, phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn't halted, 'free Iraq' will be the most sold country on earth."
Have the Iraqis figured this out yet? Judging from the anti-American sentiments expressed by many Iraqis in the past couple of weeks, they may have caught on to the fact that they're going to be ripped off in the stampede of American corporations racing to make a buck off of rebuilding their country. Or, as Klein put it, it's "mass theft disguised as charity."
But us taxpayers are getting equally ripped off. After shelling out $75 billion for the war, we will be paying at another $100 billion - and likely hundreds of billions more - for the peace. And all this money seems to be heading into the pockets of the friends of President Bush.
If this isn't war profiteering, what is?
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).