Profiting from the Iraq war

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

As the insurgency in Iraq escalates and the chaos in that devastated country intensifies, analysts and social scientists are attempting to explain the new phenomenon. The most commonly cited reasons for the mess the Bush administration finds itself in Iraq a year after the invasion is the “arrogance and ignorance” of the leadership in Washington.

It is widely believed that Mr George W. Bush and his advisers failed to calculate that they would stir a hornet’s nest when they launched their ruthless war on Iraq ostensibly to eliminate the non-existent weapons of mass destruction and deliver the Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Hence, according to them, the fierce resistance in Iraq is something that should have been anticipated.

If Mr Bush and his coterie of advisers failed to foresee the Iraqi insurgency, it is attributed by some political pundits to the administration’s lust for oil. Matters have been complicated by this month’s uprising which comes against the backdrop of the on-going electoral campaign in the United States through which President Bush is seeking re-election.

Had things gone according to plans, the president would have wound up the war as soon as possible and pulled out the American forces from Iraq – even as early as June 30, the deadline for the transfer of power in Baghdad to a provisional government.

With the graph of the American military fatalities in Iraq continuing to fall – until the current uprising changed the trend – Mr Bush had hoped to use this as an electioneering trump card to show that he was winning the war against terrorism.

But all this has changed. Of course, the American government is still trying to project the invasion as having been a good thing for the Iraqi people. According to them, it is just a few miscreants and diehard Baathists who are creating trouble. If you don’t pay attention to the world media and just read the website of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a body overseen by America’s pro-consul in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, a rosy picture emerges of post-invasion Iraq.

Therefore, if independent observers think otherwise, it is Mr Bush’s bad luck. Another point of view – more interesting though not quite plausible – has been put forward to explain the present developments.

According to Mark LeVine, an assistant professor of history at a California university, the chaos in Iraq suits the American administration since it allows the occupying power a free hand to run the country as it likes and thus it can extract the maximum advantage from the occupation.

In fact, some academics, such as Nancy Ries, a professor at Colgate University, even describes it as “sponsored chaos”. In other words, the war and occupation were planned to create this chaos which serves the vested interests.

This sounds very much like the conspiracy theory we are so familiar with in Pakistan. It would seem strange that the credibility of the American establishment has sunk so low that intellectuals in American universities attribute selfish motives to it as is quite normally the case in Pakistan.

Whether the chaos is sponsored or not, there is no doubt that some parties are drawing maximum advantage out of the present crisis. This may sound quite paradoxical but the fact is that the war in Iraq and the post-war crisis have drawn the attention of the media and the public away from what is happening inside Iraq. The focus is on the fighting, violence and casualties.

It is commonly known that the global corporations which have their patrons in the American government have benefited immensely from this situation. The modus operandi has been two-fold.

First, in the name of reconstruction and rebuilding 26 contracts worth $18.6 billion have been awarded to major companies from the US – at times without any competitive bidding. One of the major beneficiaries has been Halliburton, the oil services company, which has secured contracts for nearly $2billion, many of which were not even contested. (Incidentally, this company was headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney until he stepped down to contest elections in 2000). Bechtel, a construction firm, is another company to get a big chunk of the spoils – $1 billion of contracts.

The second method has been to go in for privatization in a big way and sell government-owned companies to allow many multinational corporations to step in. The Iraqi people have, of course, had no say in this matter. In fact, the occupation of Iraq has facilitated this thrust towards privatization and corporatization by foreign firms.

Iraq is now being described as the epicentre of the globalization phenomenon. Military force was used to establish American control over Iraq on flimsy pretexts – the WMD, which were to be eliminated, did not exist at all.

Now it is the military-industrial complex which is driving American policy in Iraq. What is this military-industrial complex? President Eisenhower defined it as a coalition of the military and the industrialists who profit by manufacturing arms and selling them to the government.

Eisenhower, being an ex-army man himself, would have known more about this lobby. He had warned Americans against the “acquisition of unwarranted influence” by this complex.

But it seems that President Eisenhower’s advice has been pushed aside. What is happening today amounts to a privatization of the war in Iraq. According to a report in the Guardian of London, of the US army’s budget of $87 million earmarked for Iraq, nearly $30 million will go to private contractors whose number has grown.

For every 10 servicemen/women there is a private contractor serving in Iraq. It might be recalled that the four security guards who were killed in Fallujah, sparking off the current round of fighting, were not American servicemen. They were working for Black water USA, a private company.

According to The Economist of London, there are nearly 15,000 such civilian security guards in Iraq. The Guardian also speaks of 10,000 contractors being present there.

This privatization and outsourcing of the defence mechanism will have profound implications for the way wars are conducted. Thus there have been calls from various sections in the US – the latest being Senator Robert Byrd, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – demanding an exit strategy for American servicemen and women in Iraq.

The senator profusely quoted from Alfred Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to emphasize that “someone had blunder’d” to push the American servicemen into the valley of death.

But the moot question is whether President Bush now has the power to take this decision? True, politically he would not want to appear to be abandoning his mission which is still not accomplished. But more than that, will the military-industrial complex, which has now emerged as a major player in the globalization-privatization process, allow America to pull out of Iraq?

Today, the arms lobby is exerting more influence on American policymakers than ever before. Thus, three major weapon manufacturers procure contracts worth 30 billion dollars from the Pentagon. Many of their former executives and consultants are now working for the government.

The arms industry also backs many of the think tanks which are determining American foreign and defence policy. With the substantial presence of the private sector in America’s defence system, will it allow an early pull-back from Iraq?
Tags: Defence, Foreign Poliy