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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why We Fight: Profiteering in An Era of Endless War

The US is in a state of denial perpetuated by the inability of Congress to end the war in Iraq.

To go on is madness; to stop would admit defeat; we are locked in the insanity of doing the same thing while expecting different results.

I've been saying now for months that the surge or any increase in troop strength would not change the result of the war. I've called the increase in troops "N-strength" (the Military calls it "end-strength") because N sounds better in a formula, which is just how the Pentagon uses its troops in the continued occupation.

Believing that the formula to achieve victory is accurate, our decision-maker in chief decided to alter one ingredient, N, while choosing to maintain the same overall formula for victory.

The Administration has rigorously avoided self-criticism of its Iraq policy. Dissent was not to be tolerated, and equated with as disloyalty. The idea that our cause is just and winnable, and the risk of loss and simple consequence of a lack of commitment, sets up failure by denying the possibility of its occurence.

Unswerving methodology which serves the ego of a single man has no place in the foreign policy of our country. Yet that self-serving and egotistical approach to winning in Iraq dominates our occupation.

Without the capacity to re-evaluate and change course in Iraq, we have been stuck on essentially the same strategy since the initial invasion. No flawed formula can be corrected by increasing one ingredient--in this case N.

If top decision-makers are to adapt and change policy they must be willing to see where they've erred and make corrections.

The military needs to function as an evolving response to the manifestation of different threats, with achievable tasks geared to specific goals. Yet like any other major bureaucracy, the Pentagon isn't so nimble. It stumbles forward blindly from the sheer inertia of momentum. A smaller, lighter force Rumsfeld tried to imitate may be the embodiment of an impossible dream--an adaptive, and reactive force which is free to act, unencumbered by policy ruling, military traditions, or even the limitations of international law and boundary.

Another source of failure in Iraq is a lack of flexibility is a lack of responsiveness; rigidity of tactics dooms our military. A new General Petraeus, has been brought in to manage what is apparently a new strategy. While talk of substantive changes in procedure and tactics are easily mouthed from the comforts of the Pentagon, adopting new strategies to the battlefield is a far more challenging affair.

Hard power alone is insufficient to achieve what must be considered at this point victory in Iraq: the restoration of a reasonable level of peace and security to the nation comparable to that which existed before our invasion, under Saddam. Chaos is too be feared above all things, anarchy is the most detestable state of affairs, especially if it's been brought by an elective war of conquest and ongoing occupation, in this case by the US and its coalition partners who invaded the country and still remain.

Perhaps even the ugly possibility of control over Iraq by our fundamentalist enemy is preferrable to what we have now. Yet our leaders' hatred of radical fundamentalism binds us to the pie-in-the-sky notion of total, unconditional victory. Such an outcome, should it be possible, requires either continuous warfare or complete eradication of the other side: genocide.

Mixed with the fervor of nationalism, American exceptionalism--the idea that our country is endowed with a set of characteristics which exempt it from norms of conduct expected of the rest of the world--precludes the possibility of anything less than total victory. The notion of anything less than total victory is deemed treasonous, and skeptical thought must be carefully suppressed among the hardcore supporters of the war. To make the possibility of failure publicly known would be nothing short of treasonous.

The same blind madness of Hitler took Germany to a similiar state of self-delusion and self-destruction. To have a nation succumb to the grandeur of an overinflated ego is nothing new. The predilection to impose our will on other nations has been common in American history; if anything the historical precendent has been one of a string of foreign entanglements separated only periodically by brief periods of military isolationism.

Yet unlike Hitler, the Administration appears at first glance to have picked on a nation that would easily fall. Any analysis of the British occupation of Iraq in the 1920's would have exposed many of the problems we now face. Through its pre-war Future of Iraq project the State Department forecast the problems that lay ahead, but were completely ignored by the White House and Pentagon.

Many of the entirely reasonable predictions were dismissed on the basis that the planners opposed the invasion and sought to prevent the war. By equating dissent with disloyalty, pragmatic concerns for the results of military intervention were dismissed.

The White House had given control for all pre-war intelligence over to the Pentagon. Rumsfeld was quick to shut out any intelligence which originated from rival agencies like the CIA and State Department. Likewise, Cheney and the White House Iraq Group inflated the fanciful musings of convicted swindler Ahmed Chalabi into "actionable intelligence."

Chalabi had been discredited by both the State Department and the CIA, more specifically by the WMD counterproliferation unit headed by Valerie Plame. He became the primary source of intelligence for the Pentagon, which spent over $200,000 a month on Chalabi's Iraq National Congress. Chalabi has since been suspected of spying for Iran. {I saw on C-Span2's BookTV on April 16th an excellent talk at the Overseas Press Club with Craig Unger and Italian reporter Carlo Bonini who researched Chalabi for his book Collusion. I haven't been able to locate a video of the talk through BookTV.org; amazon has the book here.}

Wanting the war, neocons lowered their evidentiary standard. Any intelligence which conflicted with the case made for the war was disregarded, practically shunned. The best example of the diminished credibility of intelligence used by the Administration was Bush's 19 words concerning the yellowcake from Niger. It was only through an extensive effort by Joe Wilson that the fake evidence was exposed. Valerie Plame, rather than her husband, ended paying the price, losing both her covert status and her career in a retaliatory strike by the White House.

Without Wilson's willingness to confront the powerful, the public may never have become aware of just how negligent the Administration had been. The Mainstream Media certainly coalesced behind the President's grand scheme to bring democracy to Iraq.

The Status of the Occupation

While Iraq the secular state may have been an easy target, the country's resistance movement is proving completely unconquerable. While much of the violence plaguing the country has been characterized as sectarian, the constantly growing death toll proves that our ongoing presence may in fact be encouraging the violence. At the least, prolongation of our presence engenders more resistance; the occupation also perpetuates destabilization.

Proponents of the surge may tell us that initial results are "encouraging" or--far more realistically--"too early to tell", yet the state of chaos in Baghdad has worsened, the death count exploded, with the additional troops simply offering more targets, lifting the American death toll.

Simply adding more troops won't work. The solution in Iraq requires going in entrely opposite direction--decreasing our presence and delegating security responsibilities to others.

Recently Congress fired a weak salvo at Bush for Iraq, passing a bill which only marginally tries to hold the White responsible for making progress. The bill does include a stipulation that the US might reduce its military presence, but control over the US presence in Iraq and over our policy in Iraq appears to have been ceded by Congress to the President, despite the clear public mandate for change and withdrawal.

So why must we stay? First, the Executive has robbed Congress of its Constitutionally mandated control over the budget. In the years since 9/11, we've seen the savage instrument of brute military force emerge as a tool under the control of the Executive, without any accountability over how's its run, with limited transparency. The nationalistic front, combined with secrecy has created an environment where policy-makers and their advisers can profit from their cronyism.

Money Trail

"Iraq money trail to Bush cronies must end" by Evelyn Pringle details the web of financial underpinnings which prove players like Douglas Feith, Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney benefitted fiscally from the war.

Top defense industry executives like former Defense Secretary Cohen--of the active defense consultancy now called the Cohen Group--have seen an explosion in pay since 9/11, according to Pringle.

Flagrant conflicts of interest between political decision makers and active government officials guarantees corruption. In the shadowy world, defense contractors and former Administration officials wine and dine each other, while huge quantities of cash and stock options maake their way into and out of the public policy sector as politicians leave office.

Cheney continued to receive compensation from Halliburton into 2005. Pringle says:

Cheney himself is also taking in war profits, contrary to what he told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” in 2003, when he denied making any money off his former employer. “Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush’s vice president,” he said, “I’ve severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest.”

“I have no financial interest in Halliburton,” Cheney told Tim, “of any kind and haven’t had, now, for over three years.”

Those statements were proven false when financial disclosure forms showed that Cheney had received a deferred salary from Halliburton of $205,298 in 2001, $262,392 in 2002, $278,437 in 2003, and $294,852 in 2004.

In 2005, an analysis released by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), reported that Cheney continued to hold over 300,000 Halliburton stock options and said their value had risen 3,281 percent over the previous year, from $241,498 to more than $8 million.

Cheney played a significant role in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, and his influence over the President has been said to be the greatest of any Vice President in our history. Seeing the value of his stock options rise clearly presented a significant motive to launch the Iraq war. Also, seeing the profits of Halliburton skyrocket would be a trend that no shareholder would like to see end.

Defense sector spending is now treated as quite distinct from other government ependitures, which have come to be known as "non-military expenditures" in federal budget jargon. I recently read that 40% of the federal budget now goes to private sector companies--growth in the military budget (nearly doubling under Bush to more than $650 billion plus supplementals) is a big reason why.

While its players have benefitted tremendously from the increase in oil prices and military spending, the White House hasn't been alone in nursing the military industrial complex along. By noon on 9/11 anyone could surely have seen the federal dollars lining a golden road for defense contractors in what would later become the Global War on Terror. The rich veins of public monies that feed the War on Terror tempt politicians to channel contracts to favored companies and cronies.

Now in power, the Democrats appear far less inclined to turn off the spigot. Perhaps they too are eager to cash in on ties with the war machine which may have gone underutilized in their days out of power. At the very least Democratic supporters of the war can expect corporation donations, which could be called the spoils of war these days--apparently a never-ending stream of cash to pay for open-ended war.

Federal spending in the cause of war is entirely legal, but some in Congress were apparently too greedy, or insufficiently cautious of outside scrutiny to exploit the benevolence of their private sector cronies, close friends they are. I referred to the "Duke" Cunningham case, not exposed in the Mainstream Media, in a previous post. The former California Congressman had been caught living in a contractor's harbour-bound yacht, even as he sat on the Armed Service Committee deciding how contracts would be awarded in the defense sector.

Veteran peace activists know well the motive and precedent for war profiteering. It's an easy way for parasitic entities to cash in on political connections. Wars are notorious for their rapid depletion of equipment and the omnipresent need for replacement.

Support for our troops is also an obstacle in confronting the militiary industrial complex and the corruption and destruction it wreaks. The nationalism of war--draping our foreign military interventions in the flag--masks much of the scandalous malfeasance and greedy struggle at the trough for unscrupulous capitalists to profit off the misery of war.

What better vehicle for transferring tax monies to a well-positions circle of crony capitalist than war? Expenditures are huge and accounting vulnerable to the fog of war. Not billions, but rather trillions have simply disappeared. Catherine Austin Fitts offers excellent exposure on the matter of disappearing money on her solari.com website here. One website, www.whereisthemoney.org, is even dedicated to the effort to find the misplaced cash. It cites Rumsfeld as saying "we cannot track $2.3 trillion" on the day before 9/11, see the CBS video.

The investigation of the Pentagon's missing 2.3 trillion or so (Who's counting? Besides who could know?) is stunning both in its silence and complete absence of any paper trail for auditors to follow.

Washington's bad bookkeeping made its way into the Iraq occupation. There is a report of a transfer of $2.4 billion in $100 bills to Baghdad in 2004 from the Los Angeles Times. An aid organization discovered the disappearance of huge sums of money early in the Occupation, see their report here. Apparently, no one knows just where that money and countless other billions went.

Iraq has become a mess by design, if the war is to be measured by the financial benefit of the war's spending for a fortunate few. The conflict of interest may be known, and publicly addressed, but as long as principal decision-makers can legally accept compensation from outside parties while in office, the corruption will continue, and with it the preservation of war profiteering as a motive in the making and continuation of war.

War Profits, the Easy Way

Extracting the real spoils of war from Iraq--its oil--is far more challenging and indirect a method than profiteering. Long-term infrastructure investments are needed and Production Sharing Agreements must be signed which depend on the preservation of governmental authority. Funds to protect the extraction of oil may not provided indefinitely out of public coffers; security firms risk losing government contracts.

During the Gold Rush, astute entrepreneurs sold shovels instead of prospecting for the gold themselves. Why take additional risks and face uncertainties? Demand for shovels was high, so the prices were good and profits large. With wars, it make equal sense to avoid fighting when you can personally proft from selling the guns and bullets. Risk is lower, and no one shoots at you.

War profiteering is an effective method for the ambitious and politically well-connected who lack moral constraints on their avarice. The only requirement is a war and wars can always be found, if not manufactured. And for the truly lazy (or clever), the instability that wars create can generate profits; so if the war causes the price of oil to triple, why not buy and hold oil stocks! If the continuation of the war keeps jacking up some companies' profits, it makes sense to own their stock, if the morality of how one makes their money is not an issue.

Other Sources

Corruption in Iraq
"Iraq Occupation Ran on a Policy of Corruption" by Brian Dominick

Democratic "Withdrawal" Bill
"That Was an Antiwar Vote?" by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair



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