Don't Panic! November 13 2003

Your war questions answered

How is the $87.5 billion aid package for Iraq going to be spent, and why are some people upset about it? (Part Deux)

Last week, I wrote about how sticker shock is causing plenty o' folk to get upset about the recently finalized $87.5 billion spending package for Iraq. The Bush neo-cons neo-conned Americans into thinking the Iraqis would welcome us with open arms. Instead, Iraqis are welcoming us openly armed. So now we've got to spend an extra $87.5 billion this year just to keep the operation going — an amount that exceeds the annual government budget of every United State that isn't governed by Austrian-born ex-bodybuilders.

The pissed-offedness isn't just about the size of the spending package though. It's also about who's profiting from it. Talk about a nutty coincidence — it just so happens that the companies and individuals who've gotten contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan have given $500,000 to Bush's campaign chest, making Bush easily their single-biggest recipient of campaign money in recent years.

The company with the biggest slice of the oily, sandy, gravelly Iraq/Afghanistan pie is a company called Halliburton. Halliburton, and its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, will gross (and I mean gross in at least two ways) at least $2.3 billion from our Iraq spending this year and next.

Here's a quick summary of how Halliburton got the contracts.

Was that quick enough for you?

There's not much summary to give because the contracts are put together in secret. In March, Halliburton was secretly awarded a deal to put out Iraqi oil well fires in case Saddam blew them up, and then to refine and distribute Iraqi oil. Halliburton is Iraq's national company because the White House decreed it so. Halliburton did not have to compete against any other firms, American or foreign, to get the deal. Usually big Pentagon contracts — or for that matter, small non-Pentagon projects — are subject to competitive bidding. But then again, usually the company doing the bidding isn't the former corporate home of the (vice)-president.

Before he decided to run for (vice)-president, Dick Cheney ran Halliburton. From his work as Bush I's Secretary of Defense, Cheney nearly doubled Halliburton's government contract work. Cheney still receives six-figure annual checks from Halliburton. The White House denies that these checks represent a financial interest in the company. Instead the White House characterizes the money as "deferred compensation" — legalistic bullshit wordplay so plainly transparent that I'm sure it makes Clinton wish he'd thought of it first.

Responding to a question about how its connections may have helped the company get contracts, a Halliburton spokesperson acted victimized: "Certainly it's easier to assign devious motives than to take the time to learn the truth." (Send sympathy notes to wendy.hall@ halliburton.com.)

Cheney and Halliburton are just one example of the blatant conflicts of interest tainting the spending package. According to the Center For Public Integrity, 60 percent of the companies making dough off of the Iraq war have board members "who either served in or had close ties to the executive branch for Republican and Democratic administrations, for members of Congress of both parties, or at the highest levels of the military."

One of the ugliest examples is a guy named Joe Allbaugh (and I mean ugly in at least two ways). Allbaugh is one of Dubya's good buddies from Texas. Bush had him running the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a while. Now Allbaugh has a company called New Bridge Strategies whose aim is "assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq." In other words, if you pay him money, he'll help you get government contract money because he can hook you up with the prez.

In addition to worries about who among the ultra-connected are getting sweet no-bid contracts, there's also the issue of how they're spending the money. Halliburton might get its contract to sell fuel in Iraq revoked because of the super-high prices it's charging. And many Iraqis are complaining that they could do the work cheaper. After all, they were the ones who built a lot of what we're rebuilding.


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