The figure had been bouncing around think tanks and Capitol Hill for months, and on Dec. 1 made the front page of The Washington Post: Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq will cost the American taxpayer between $100 and $200 billion.
Think of this fantastic sum as a mountain of contracts, because that is precisely the way the gang that runs America looks at it. Citizens see the $200 billion figure as a mind-numbing cost of war. But Dick Cheney and George Bush represent the people who will soon pocket much of this money. For them, war is the ideal business environment.
The rest of us, normal human beings attempting to live in as civilized a way as we can manage, find it difficult to imagine that the world as we know it may be destroyed in a mad rush for war-generated contracts. Bush and Cheney, on the other hand, work tirelessly to achieve that result. They smell gold.
The public is conceptually trapped by the fatal words “we,” “our” and “us,” as in, “We must sacrifice our national treasure and liberties so that Iraq will no longer be a threat to us.” Yet the national treasure isn’t going far; it will circulate from the paychecks of working people through the federal middleman and directly into companies like Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s old lair, to which he will one day return. In losing “our” liberties, the domestic obstacles will have been cleared to make way for a permanent, worldwide regime of highly profitable destruction and rebuilding – the globe as a kind of Halliburton cash cow. And the “threat” posed by Iraq will be instantly reinvented, elsewhere, to feed a bloody river of new markets for the likes of Halliburton.
The people in charge of Bush are different from their class predecessors, a relatively recent mutation spawned by hyperactive capital, massive corporate corruption and the maddening allure of global plunder. They are pirates.
Bottom of the barrel
Since the oil embargo of 1973, most Americans have grown to see Big Oil as the omnipresent, global manipulator – which is, of course, true. However, in the shadows cast by the actual producers of energy – the companies that invest billions in energy extraction, refining and distribution – there has slithered forth a class that creates little or nothing of value, but thrive as political buccaneers. They waylay public resources to create private fortunes. They seize governments to create advantage or monopoly for themselves and their cronies.
Enron was such a political enterprise. It produced nothing, earning billions for its captains through felonious bookkeeping on a Smithsonian scale, while denying to the people of California electricity produced by real companies. Enron bribed the government of India to build ruinous projects that drained the nation’s treasury, and called in the U.S. State Department to enforce payment.
Enron’s Ken Lay was a prince of Texas and, through George Bush and Dick Cheney, sought to share in the looting of a world laid open to an infinity of scams and outright pillaging. Lay fell overboard, slipping on his own slime. Bush sailed on, to set the horizon aflame.
Halliburton, the corporation Dick Cheney ran between serving Bush, Sr., as Secretary of Defense and mentoring Bush, Jr., as Vice President, is uniquely adapted to permanent, global warfare. Brown & Root, now a division of Halliburton, corrupted Lyndon Johnson at the beginning of his Texas political career, and moved with LBJ to Vietnam, where it built the airstrips, roads, harbors and bases that are the infrastructure of war.
Far more than Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, it is Halliburton that represents American global penetration – and threat. As the world’s biggest oilfield construction contractor, Halliburton is positioned along the faults of global conflict, reaping billions and moving on to the next center of petrol-fueled intrigue. Halliburton employs 85,000 people in 100 countries, a presence often indistinguishable from that of the U.S. government itself.
Halliburton is the foreign legion of the military-industrial complex. Whether preparing for war or cleaning up afterwards, Halliburton is there.
“In September 2001 the company signed on to a $283 million project for Russia’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to eliminate liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles and their silos,” reported the May 1 edition of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. “In November 2001 the Philippines awarded the company a $100 million order to convert the U.S. Navy’s former ship-repair facilities in Subic Bay into a modern commercial port facility. And in December it won a $420 million contract from the British Army to support a fleet of new mammoth tank transporters.”
Halliburton is everywhere, including places that the U.S. government claims it does not want its citizens to go. Libya’s Muhamar Ghadafi contracted for hundreds of millions of dollars in Halliburton services.
Its biggest client is the U.S. Army. According to Mother Jones (May 23, 2002) Halliburton’s Brown & Root division “has provided the bulk of logistics services for the Army since 1992. Whenever U.S. troops venture abroad, Brown & Root builds the barracks, cooks the food, mops the floors, transports the goods and maintains the water systems before and after the soldiers arrive. … Brown & Root provides the Pentagon with a private battalion of engineers, janitors and other support staff.”
Halliburton has built barracks in Zaire, Haiti, Somalia and Afghanistan. It is working at the string of new bases that the CIA has plopped down in the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union since Sept. 11. Halliburton’s Colombian operations have mushroomed along with the U.S. role in that country’s civil war. It was a prime contractor for the U.S. base at Diego Garcia, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, from which the U.S. projects power towards South Asia and East Africa.
Halliburton is the definition of war for profit. Its crews prepare the launching points of war, supply and outfit war, clean up the mess of war, and rebuild after war. They are the one-stop shop of war.
The one-sixth tithe
The corporation made a fantastic killing in the former Yugoslavia. “From 1995 to 2000, Brown & Root billed the government for $2.2 billion for its logistics support in Kosovo, making the services contract the costliest in U.S. history,” according to Mother Jones. “Overall, Brown & Root’s costs amounted to nearly one-sixth of the total spent by the military on Balkans operations.”
Dick Cheney was Halliburton CEO and largest individual shareholder when he left to take charge of George Bush. His business is war, and he will shape U.S. policy to achieve it. Halliburton will get a large chunk of the $200 billion cost of maintaining the troops that invade and occupy Iraq, and the lion’s share of rebuilding the infrastructure, afterwards. Then they will move on to the next profit-center of manufactured crisis. Most likely, they are already there.
Halliburton and its less-known sisters have perfected the mechanisms of perpetual conflict, and seized the reins of superpower government. We are ruled from the pirates’ lair.
Thus, it is also logical that the Bush administration demands privatization of every possible specialty in the U.S. armed forces, both civilian and military. Hundreds of thousands, in and out of uniform, will lose their positions so that Halliburton and other profiteers can claim more contracts. Put bluntly, Cheney and his crowd see war as a contractual arrangement.
The conflict between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the generals and admirals of the Pentagon is also deeply rooted in Rumsfeld’s disdain for all things public. The men in uniform are warriors who believe they are serving their country. Rumsfeld serves his class, which seeks to profit by war. (In the larger scheme of things, Colin Powell’s private motivations do not matter.)
The big bill
When The Washington Post sent its reporters to the White House to inquire about the costs of the impending war against Iraq, they were treated like children asking silly questions. “A White House official, speaking on condition of not being identified, said it would be premature to talk about the costs of a war with Iraq because President Bush has not decided on the use of military force,” said the Post’s December 1 article.
During the first go-round with Iraq, Bush, Sr., got off relatively cheaply, charging the U.S. treasury only about $7 billion for the Gulf War, about 12 percent of the total cost. Germany, Japan and Kuwait picked up much of the tab, and Saudi Arabia contributed $16.8 billion to what was called “Operation Tin Cup.”
Not this time. A former U.S. ambassador to the kingdom told the Post “the Saudi government would find it politically impossible to pick up a substantial portion of the costs of a new Gulf War even if it had the money, because the Saudi public is ‘now 100 percent against an attack on Iraq.’” European and Japanese wallets aren’t open, either.
So, U.S. taxpayers will have to shoulder virtually the entire cost. Here’s what $200 billion represents:
The entire 2001 cost of what is generally called welfare, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Welfare to Work program, and food stamps: $38.8 billion.
Plus, all federal spending on education in 1999–2000: $55 billion.
Plus, the entire 2002 budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development: $30.4 billion.
Plus, the entire 2000–2001 budget of the Department of Labor: $34.2 billion.
Plus, the value of all U.S. agricultural exports to the world in fiscal 2000: $50.9 billion. Total: $209.3 billion, a little bit over the projected cost of war and occupation of one country; but then, overruns can be predicted.
Even Halliburton can’t absorb this much business. The predator-scavenger class must therefore reproduce itself to meet the demands of permanent war, changing fundamentally the relationship of forces within American business as a whole. The Cheney-Bush pirates are about to birth a new brood of billionaire pillagers and parasites with no direct connection to the well being of the domestic economy and those of us who depend on it.
Menace to society
The Business Roundtable represents the people who used to say, what’s good for General Motors is good for America. Henry Ford wrote the old corporate rule that it serves business interests when employees are able to afford the products they manufacture. Highways, schools, hospitals, police forces – and yes, subsistence for the poorest populations – are all part of the public supports that keep economies going and the rich secure in their comfort. $200 billion for non-productive war cuts the legs out from under these structures – and that’s just the cost of Bush’s first big adventure.
The Business Roundtable is worried. These are the men who sit atop a $10 trillion domestic economy that is under assault by the Bush-Cheney class. Last month, the Roundtable shocked the finance capital speculators – the people who can pick up their money and run with the Bush-Cheney crowd – by calling for payroll tax cuts for low- and middle-income workers. “The CEOs of The Business Roundtable believe that we can jumpstart economic growth if our government takes action that helps put cash into consumers’ pockets to stimulate demand and ignite our economy,” said chairman John T. Dillon.
General Motors wants to sell its cars to people with steady salaries and acceptable credit ratings. Corporations know that the states in which they operate are going broke, and that no business model can be crafted as a substitute. There is among the old rich a creeping realization that the wrecking crew is in charge. As Ohio Republican Rep. Michael G. Oxley told Bloomberg News, “We can pass damn near anything in the House.”
Increasingly, that kind of talk is scaring important sectors among the rich. The class that Bush and Cheney represent really is different. They have allegiances to no one. Pirates profit by chaos. The executives who sit at the Business Roundtable fear “uncertainty” in the marketplace above all else. The national emergency that Bush and Cheney so clearly crave is uncharted territory, far too uncertain for comfort. In our Oct. 3 issue, we wrote, “no one knows what freedoms are required to maintain a complicated market society such as ours, but we may be forced to find out.”
Only mass mobilization can dislodge the pirates from power. Along the way, however, do not be surprised if unaccustomed allies appear from unexpected places. George Bush and Dick Cheney are menaces to society as a whole.
Glen Ford and Peter Gamble are co-publishers of The Black Commentator and have worked in the field of journalism for many years. The Black Commentator is an internet publication of commentary, analysis and investigations on issues affecting African Americans. To read the article online go to www.blackcommenator.com. Reprinted here with permission from the publishers.