The Spoils of War
By Michelle Mairesse
Weeks before the Bush administration let slip the dogs of war in Iraq, grubbing for the spoils of war had already begun in Washington.
The evidence appeared in a leaked 99-page document from the US Agency for International Development. Usually, USAID posts contracts on the Internet for open bidding, but this plan, “The Vision of Post Conflict Iraq,” went secretly to only five American companies.
In early March, the agency invited these favorites to submit bids for the largest reconstruction effort since the end of World War II:
- Bechtel Group, Inc.
- Fluor Corporation
- Halliburton Company
- Louis Berger Group Inc.
- Parsons Corporation
USAID offered $900 million in government agency contracts for reconstruction of Iraqi roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, power grids, water systems and civic services in “Post Conflict Iraq.”
Some Americans murmured that we could use some of those services here at home, where we endure pot-holed roads, tottering bridges, overcrowded schools and hospitals, inefficient power grids, polluted water systems and civic services wrecked by unregulated privatization and cronyism.
The London Times (3/6/03) complained that the USAID document and others like it indicated that "America has been planning a war regardless of international opinion," and that only American companies would be the beneficiaries. Quite right. Bush administration chickenhawks have planned to attack Iraq since 1997. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the other chickenhawks don't give a fig for international opinion concerning the methods they use to promote their agendas.
When Rumsfeld was president of Searle Corporation he grew frustrated over the Food and Drug Administration's refusal to approve Searle's dangerous artificial sweetener, aspartame, which the body converts to formaldehyde. As part of Reagan's transition team in 1977, Rumsfeld appointed a Defense Department contractor as head of the FDA and got aspartame approved.
Recently, Rumsfeld has been questioned about his membership in a Swiss firm that illegally sold war materiel to North Korea, but both he and the Swiss have suffered a memory lapse.
As for the Times' complaint about favoritism, administration spokespersons brushed aside such complaints by invoking the “urgent circumstances” clause in government procurement procedures plus the wartime requirement of Pentagon security clearance, which the five American companies had already secured.
Over the past two election cycles, the very well-connected Favored Five who got the nod from USAID contributed among them a total of $2.8 million, 68% to Republicans.
Some of the criticisms of USAID and its vision of post-war reconstruction could have been averted. The planners envision a military governor assisted by a civilian. A pacified Iraq is to flourish under the command of General (Viceroy?) Tommy Franks. Serving under Franks will be retired Lt. General Jay Garner, who will head the new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. He is a leading figure in the US Lobby group the Jewish Institute for National Affairs and a friend and adviser to Ariel Sharon.
- Fluor contributed more than $483,000. Fluor was well-connected; its vice president of strategy and government services recently served as the acting assistant secretary of the Army, where he directed its $35 billion-a-year procurement budget. We can assume he picked up a few pointers.
- Bechtel contributed $1.3 million between 1999 and 2002. Bechtel has employed a former Defense Secretary, a former Secretary of State, and a former CIA Director before each of them served in government. Although Bechtel is currently facing allegations that it was one of the 24 companies that illegally sold weapons to Iraq during the ‘80s, the Ashcroft Justice Department is not expected to embarrass anyone.
- Kellogg, Brown & Root and parent company Halliburton, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995 until 2000, gave more than $709,000 to our unbribable politicians, presumably as a token of affection. Halliburton contributed $17,677 to Bush’s presidential campaign. Halliburton currently pays Cheney $1 million a year in deferred fees (part of his $20 million retirement bonus), but Cheney insists that he has no conflict of interest. Cheney refuses to release minutes from his meetings with energy company executives, including those from Enron.
During his stint as CEO of Halliburton, Cheney promoted Arthur Anderson's illegal accounting practices, the same practices that wiped out the Arthur Anderson accounting firm.
Although the Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting an ongoing investigation of Halliburton’s shady dealings, and there are allegations of questionable dealings with Iran (like Bechtel’s with Iraq), the firm remains on the USAID’s contractors list, though no longer at the top.
Unfortunately, Garner’s profile is unlikely to recommend him to most Iraqis. He has been a strong proponent of high energy laser weapons on the battlefield. He won the allegiance of the Kurds after Gulf War I, a feat that rankles with a majority of Iraqis. After retiring as a three-star general in 1997, he became president of SY Technology, a provider of communications and targeting systems for missiles. Garner sued a former military colleague who accused him of obtaining government contracts without undergoing the bidding process. The case was settled out of court. Over the years, Garner has publicly made pro-Zionist statements. Once again the insensitive, tone-deaf Bush administration, which prefers to govern by fiat, chalks up another egregious, in-your-face appointment.
Garner will administer both reconstruction and humanitarian aid contracts. He plans to hire 100 “free Iraqis” now living in the United States to staff postwar government ministries overseeing police, the courts, and the military, and supervise the approximately 2 million Iraqi bureaucrats presently serving. Another 300,000 Iraqi soldiers will be employed (cheap labor?) in construction projects sponsored by USAID.
Hussein Ibish (Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2003) strongly disapproves of Garner and his 23 ministries, each headed by an American with Iraqi advisors.
“Most disturbing is the role apparently planned for Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, a U.S.-created opposition group based in London with no visible presence or support in Iraq. He is extremely popular with the neoconservatives in and around the administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
"In the Middle East, however, Chalabi is also known for swindling tens of millions of dollars from a bank he headed in Jordan. In April 1992, he was sentenced in absentia to 22 years' hard labor on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and speculation with the Jordanian dinar. For many months this man has been demanding that Washington appoint him prime minister of Iraq. It is cold comfort indeed to learn that he will be Garner's ‘advisor’ at a ministry of finance.”
The whole setup sounds like Afghanistan on steroids. Maybe they haven't noticed lately, but Afghanistan has reverted to tribal warfare; the women are wearing tents again, and DynCorp has a contract for providing 200 body-guards to protect the appointed President, Karzai.
The leaked USAID plan stirred up consternation in Great Britain. Although British troops were slated to share dangers with American troops in the event of war, the spoils of war appeared to be moving into the American sector. Even as the five American construction behemoths submitted their bids, British Petroleum and Shell were pressuring their government to nail down exploration rights in postwar Iraq. Control of Iraq would mean control of the world’s second largest oil reserves, where of 70 proven fields, only 15 have been developed. Both British companies are on record as favoring a production-sharing contract splitting oil revenues between Iraq and the international companies that would develop the fields.
No matter what the chickenhawks say about setting the oil aside for the Iraqi people, American oil developing firms have a record of behaving like the camel who stuck his nose under the tent flap and insinuated himself gradually into the whole tent.
The Brits had reason to worry. In January, The Wall Street Journal predicted that the first contracts would probably go to companies that could keep Iraq's oil pumping (such as Halliburton Co., where Vice President Dick Cheney formerly served as chief executive, and Schlumberger Limited), for an estimated $1.5 billion in contracts.
The Favored Five were reportedly offered $1.5 billion by USAID, while only $50 million was allotted to non-profit groups (such as CARE, Save the Children, and Oxfam), the multilateral organizations that have proved their worth in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and southern Africa. These do-gooder groups just don't get it. Chickenhawks have only contempt for people who work for nothing. Chickenhawks are deferential to their God but love Mammon.
After all, Lewis Berger Group was already at work reconstructing Afghanistan, and Halliburton (through its subsidiary Brown and Root) was already on the ground in Turkey and Kuwait servicing US troops to the tune of close to a billion dollars. (Brown and Root also supports army operations in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Georgia, Jordan, and Uzbekistan.)
After receiving open bids for smaller contracts, on March 24, USAID officially awarded Stevedoring Services of America a $4.8 million contract to reopen and operate Iran’s only deep-water port at embattled Umm al Qasr. A much more lucrative contract, initially worth an estimated $600 million, will be awarded soon to a firm capable of rebuilding bridges, roads, hospitals, and water-treatment plants. Representative Maxine Waters commented, "I think there's a serious irony in the administration letting contracts to rebuild bridges that they haven't bombed yet."
The Chicago Tribune (March 20, 2003) feels betrayed by Republicans, who have always claimed to be the party of fiscal responsibility. The Tribune calculates that the tab for invading Iraq “could exceed $100 billion, a sum more than the annual budget for the departments of Energy, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Justice combined, a sum that does not include the expenses of reconstruction. All in all, the total cost could amount to half a trillion dollars over the next decade.
Yes, it could happen. Yale economist William Nordhaus believes that rebuilding Iraq will cost up to $600 billion over 10 years.
During World War II, everyone sacrificed. Food, fuel, and other commodities were rationed, military conscription was universal, and the very rich paid up to 90% of their income in taxes. During Gulf War II, high-pressure army recruiters enlist the poor, the very rich get massive tax cuts, and the budget masters slash services to veterans.
At present, the United States has more than a million men and women serving in five military commands girdling the globe. We have treaties guaranteeing the survival of Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, and even France.
But why stop there? If the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz is to be believed, last year Under Secretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq the United States would "deal with" Iran, Syria and North Korea. So that’s the plan: Tomorrow the world.
What were these people in charge of our destiny thinking of when they marched us into this morass?
It's obvious, isn't it? The chickenhawks have no intention of taking out Saddam Hussein, rebuilding Iraq, and exiting. Even 58 years following World War II, American troops are still stationed in Germany and Japan.
Iraq is a plutocrat's dream: the most advanced of the Arab states, with the best-educated population, though surrounded by desert, blessed with water. Iraq is the keystone to southeast Asia, and, lest we forget, sits on all that oil.
Did I mention that Saddam Hussein trades in Euro currency, not in dollars? The chickenhawks will fix that too.
Senator Byrd, you are not alone. We, the majority that elected Gore and got Bush, also weep for our country.
This just in:
On April 29 Larry Margasak reported that Stevedoring Services did not have a security clearance before it was awarded a 4.8 million dollar contract for reconstruction work in Iraq. “The agency awarding Iraq reconstruction contracts deleted its requirement for a security clearance after realizing it awarded a project to a company that lacked one, an internal report says.
“The U.S. Agency for International Development justified the change by deciding the situation in Iraq made the clearance unnecessary for seaport rebuilding work.
“The explanation didn't impress the agency's inspector general. USAID should have changed the requirement before selecting a contractor not afterward, according to a report Monday by Bruce Crandlemire, the assistant inspector general for audit.”