Ask Bechtel what war is good for by Bob Herbert, The International Herald Tribune, 22 April 2003
A license to make money
NEW YORK Somewhere George Shultz is smiling.
Shultz, whose photo could appropriately appear next to any definition of the military-industrial complex, was secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan and has been a perennial heavyweight with the powerful Bechtel Group of San Francisco, where he previously reigned as president and is now a board member and senior counselor.
Unlike the anti-war soul singer Edwin Starr -- who, in an ironic bit of timing, went to his eternal reward this month just as U.S. ground forces were sweeping toward Baghdad -- Shultz knows what war is good for.
And he wanted this war with Iraq. Oh, how he wanted this war. Shultz was chairman of the fiercely pro-war Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which was committed to moving beyond the political liberation of the oil-rich country to the conveniently profitable "reconstruction of its economy."
Under the headline "Act Now; The Danger Is Immediate," Shultz, in an op-ed article in The Washington Post last September, wrote: "A strong foundation exists for immediate military action against Hussein and for a multilateral effort to rebuild Iraq after he is gone."
Gee, I wonder which company he thought might lead that effort.
Last week Shultz's Bechtel Group was able to demonstrate exactly what wars are good for. The Bush administration gave it the first big Iraqi reconstruction contract, a prized $680 million deal over 18 months that puts Bechtel in the driver's seat for the long-term reconstruction of the country, which could cost $100 billion or more.
Bechtel essentially was given a license to make money. And that license was granted in a closed-door process that was restricted to a handful of politically connected U.S. companies.
When the George Bushes and the George Shultzes were banging the drums for war with Iraq, we didn't hear one word from them about the benefits that would be accruing to corporate behemoths like Bechtel. And we didn't pay much attention to the grotesque conflict of interest engaged in by corporate titans and their government cronies who were pushing young American men and women into the flames of a war that ultimately would pour billions of dollars into a very select group of corporate coffers.
Now the corporations (and not just Bechtel, by any means) have a lock on Iraq, and U.S. taxpayers are obliged to pay the bill.
Among those in Congress who are beginning to challenge this loathsome process is Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who is one of the lead sponsors of a bipartisan bill that would require a public explanation of any decision to award Iraqi reconstruction contracts without a "fully open, competitive bidding process."
In an interview, he said, "You look at this process, which is secret, limited or closed bidding, and you have to ask yourself: Why are these companies being picked? How's this process taking place, and is this the best use of scarce taxpayer money at a time when seniors can't afford medicine, kids are having trouble getting access to a quality education and local communities are just getting pounded? The administration has been keeping the taxpayers in the dark with respect to how this money is being used."
The blatant warmongering followed immediately by profiteering inevitably raise questions about the real reasons American men and women have been fighting and dying in Iraq. President George W. Bush told Americans the war was about weapons of mass destruction and the need to get rid of the degenerate Saddam. There was also talk about democracy taking root in Iraq and spreading like spring flowers throughout the Arab world.
The two things that were never openly discussed, that never became part of the national conversation, were oil and money. Those crucial topics were left to the major behind-the-scenes operators, many of whom are now cashing in.
The favoritism, the secretive method by which the contracts are being awarded and the arrogant and unconscionable exclusion of the United Nations and even close U.S. allies from significant roles in the administration and reconstruction of Iraq all contribute to the most cynical interpretation of American motives.
Those who fought bravely in Iraq, for reasons they felt were noble and unassailable, deserve better.
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