That’s What War’s Good For
and Gentlemen, we have a winner in Iraq. Yes, I know that
the last smart bomb has yet to be dropped on Baghdad. But
that’s just a formality. The war has already been won. The
conquering heroes are not generals in fatigues but CEOs in
suits, and the shock troops are not an advance guard of commandos
but legions of lobbyists.
The Bush administration is currently in the process of doling
out over $1.5 billion in government contracts to American
companies lining up to cash in on the rebuilding of postwar
Iraq. So bombs away! The more destruction the better—at least
for the lucky few in the rebuilding business.
The United Nations has traditionally overseen the reconstruction
of war zones like Afghanistan or Kosovo. But in keeping with
its unilateral, the-world-is-our-sandbox approach to this
invasion, the White House has decided to nail a “Made in the
USA” sign on this Iraqi fixer-upper. Postwar Iraq will be
rebuilt using red, white and blueprints.
Talk about advance planning: Even as thousands of bombs rain
down on the Iraqi people, the administration is already picking
and choosing who will be given the lucrative job of cleaning
up the rubble. Postwar rebuilding is a solitary bright spot
in our own carpet-bombed economy.
To further expedite matters, the war-powers-that-be invoked
“urgent circumstances” clauses that allowed them to subvert
the requisite competitive bidding process—the free market
be damned—and invite a select group of companies to bid on
the rebuilding projects. No British companies were included,
which has left many of them seething and meeting with government
officials in London to find out where they stand.
So just which companies were given first crack at the post-Saddam
spoils? Well, given Team Bush’s track record, it will probably
not fill you with “shock and awe” to learn that the common
denominator among the chosen few is a proven willingness to
make large campaign donations to the Grand Old Party. Between
them, the bidders—a quartet of well-connected corporate consortiums
that includes Bechtel Group, Fluor Corp., and, of course,
Vice President Cheney’s old cronies at Halliburton [see Halliburton
story, page 10]—have donated a combined $2.8 million over
the past two election cycles, 68 percent of which went to
The insider track given these fat-cat donors proves afresh
that splurging on a politician is one of the soundest and
safest investments you can make. Where else will a $2.8 million
ante offer you a one-in-four shot at raking in a $1.5 billion
And that $1.5 billion is just for starters. The president
is planning to give post-Saddam Iraq an extreme makeover:
a wide-ranging overhaul that will include the transformation
of the country’s educational, health-care and banking systems—all
funded by taxpayer dollars and administered by private U.S.
contractors. Think of it as a Marshall Plan for profit. “The
administration’s goal,” reads one of the reconstruction contracts
that are up for bids, “is to provide tangible evidence to
the people of Iraq that the U.S. will support efforts to bring
the country to political security and economic prosperity.”
As a first step toward Iraqi prosperity, the president’s ambitious
postwar plan earmarks $100 million to ensure that Iraq’s 25,000
schools have all the supplies and support necessary to “function
at a standard level of quality”—including books and supplies
for 4.1 million Iraqi schoolchildren.
I’m sure those schools in Oregon that are being forced to
shut down a month early due to inadequate funding, or the
low-income students in California who are suing the state
in a desperate effort to obtain adequate textbooks and qualified
teachers of their own, would love to see the same kind of
“tangible evidence” of President Bush’s support.
The same goes for our flatlining public health care system.
While more than a million poor Americans are about to lose
their access to publicly funded medical care, the president
is in the market for a corporate contractor to oversee a $100
million upgrade of Iraq’s hospitals and clinics.
And the White House has announced its intention to redesign
Iraq’s financial rules and banking system after it bombs the
country halfway to oblivion. Too bad the administration keeps
watering down reforms for the financial rules and banking
system here at home.
That’s another way corporate America is profiting from the
looming war. With all eyes on Iraq, few are paying attention
to how little is being done to reform and redesign our own
The new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission,
for instance, is getting away with an enforcement regime every
bit as limp as that of his predecessor, the supremely spineless
Last week, in his first congressional testimony since assuming
control of the watchdog agency, William Donaldson made it
clear that, despite a massive increase in the SEC’s budget,
we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of fundamental reform—stressing
that one of his top priorities would be boosting the morale
of the agency.
I don’t know about you, but I would feel a whole lot better
if he’d made boosting the morale of a badly burned public
job No. 1. Tossing a slew of corporate crooks in the slammer
would be a good start.
Maybe America’s beleaguered investors should band together
with this country’s “left behind” schoolchildren and start
stockpiling a couple of plywood drones with overly long wingspans,
some high-strength aluminum tubes, and a few discarded canisters
of chemical gas.
Apparently, that’s the only way to get this administration’s
Huffington is the author of Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate
Greed and Political Corruption are Undermining America. For
information on the book, visit www.PigsAtTheTrough.com.