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The Bottom Line on Iraq

Boys, boys, you’re all right. Sure, it’s Daddy, oil and imperialism, not to mention a messianic sense of righteous purpose, a deep-seated contempt for the peace movement and, to be fair, the irrefutable fact that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein.

But there’s also an overarching mentality feeding the administration’s collective delusions, and it can be found by looking to corporate America’s bottom line. The dots leading from Wall Street to the West Wing situation room are the ones that need connecting. There’s money to be made in post-war Iraq, and the sooner we get the pesky war over with, the sooner we (by which I mean George Bush’s corporate cronies) can start making it.

The nugget of truth that former Bush economic guru Lawrence Lindsey let slip last fall shortly before he was shoved out the oval office door says it all. Momentarily forgetting that he was talking to the press and not his buddies in the White House, he admitted: “The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.”

To hell with worldwide protests, an unsupportive Security Council, a diplomatically dubious Hans Blix, an Osama giddy at the prospect of a united Arab world and a panicked populace grasping at the very slender reed of duct tape and Saran Wrap to protect itself from the inevitable terrorist blow-back—the business of America is still business. No one in the administration embodies this bottom line mentality more than Dick Cheney. The vice president is one of those ideological purists who never let little things like logic, morality, or mass murder interfere with the single-minded pursuit of profits.

His on-again, off-again relationship with the Butcher of Baghdad is a textbook example of what modern moralists condemn as “situational ethics,” an extremely convenient code that allows you to do what you want when you want and still feel good about it in the morning. In the Cheney White House (let’s call it what it is), anything that can be rationalized is right.

The two were clearly on the outs back during the Gulf War, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense, and the first President Bush dubbed Saddam “Hitler revisited.”

Then Cheney moved to the private sector and suddenly things between him and Saddam warmed up considerably. With Cheney in the CEO’s seat, Halliburton helped Iraq reconstruct its war-torn oil industry with $73 million worth of equipment and services—becoming Baghdad’s biggest such supplier. Kinda nice how that worked out for the vice-president, really: Oversee the destruction of an industry that you then profit from by rebuilding.

When, during the 2000 campaign, Cheney was asked about his company’s Iraqi escapades, he flat-out denied them. But the truth remains: When it came to making a buck, Cheney apparently had no qualms about doing business with “Hitler revisited.”

And make no mistake, this wasn’t a case of hard-nosed realpolitik—the rationale for Rummy’s cuddly overtures to Saddam back in ‘83 despite his almost daily habit of gassing Iranians. That, we were told, was all about “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

No, Cheney’s company chose to do business with Saddam after the rape of Kuwait. After Scuds had been fired at Tel Aviv and Riyadh. After American soldiers had been sent home from Desert Storm in body bags. And in 2000, just months before pocketing his $34 million Halliburton retirement package and joining the GOP ticket, Cheney was lobbying for an end to U.N. sanctions against Saddam.

Of course, American businessmen are nothing if not flexible. So his former cronies at Halliburton are now at the head of the line of companies expected to reap the estimated $2 billion it will take to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure following Saddam’s ouster. This burn-and-build approach to business guarantees that there will be a market for Halliburton’s services as long as it has a friend in high places to periodically carpet bomb a country for it.

In the meantime, Halliburton, among many other Pentagon contracts, has a lucrative 10-year deal to provide food services to the Army that comes with no lid on potential costs. Lenin once scoffed that “a capitalist would sell rope to his own hangman.” And, while the man got more than a few things wrong, he’s been proven right on this one time and time again: From Hewlett-Packard and Bechtel helping arm Saddam back in the ’80s, to the good folks at Boeing, Hughes Electronics, Lockheed Martin and Loral Space whose corporate greed helped China steal rocket and missile secrets—and point a few dozen long-range nukes our way.

Clearly, our national interest runs a distant second when pitted against the rapacious desires of special interests and the politicians they buy with massive campaign contributions. Oil and gas companies donated $26.7 million to Bush and his fellow Republicans during the 2000 election and another $18 million in 2002. So does it really come as any surprise that Cheney’s staff held secret meetings in October with executives from Exxon Mobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips—and yes, Halliburton—to discuss who would get what in a post-Saddam Iraq? As they say, to the victors—and the big buck donors—go the sp-oil-s.

Here’s my bottom line: At a time of war, at what point does subverting our national security in the name of profitability turn from ugly business into high treason?

—Arianna Huffington


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