Saturday, September 22, 2007

$6 Billion in Iraq contracts under criminal investigation; $88 Billion more audited for "financial irregularities"

Remind me again.

Why, precisely, was the United States in such a doggone hurry to invade Iraq?

Why -- remind me again -- was the hallucinatory vision of a "smoking gun . . . in the form of a mushroom cloud" seemingly so imminent (in the minds of some people in Washington, at least; certainly not here in the "fly-over" states) that the Bush Administration could not even bother to wait for Hans Blix to complete the weapons inspections, and to reveal what we now all know: namely, that there never were any WMDs, and that Colin Powell was absolutely correct in his February, 2001, remarks in Egypt?

Quoth Secretary Powell:
We had a good discussion, the [Egyptian] Foreign Minister and I and the [Egyptian] President and I, had a good discussion about the nature of the sanctions--the fact that the sanctions exist-- not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction. We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose. That purpose is every bit as important now as it was ten years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are policies that we are going to keep in place, but we are always willing to review them to make sure that they are being carried out in a way that does not affect the Iraqi people but does affect the Iraqi regime's ambitions and the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we had a good conversation on this issue.
As many (including this writer) have pointed out since *before* the time of the Iraq invasion, the U.S., by choosing not to invade Iraq, might have been in a better position to devote more resources to accomplishing its mission in Afghanistan.

And, presumably, that mission includes making sure that Afghanistan does not produce record crops of opium poppies. Discouragingly, the Washington Post, in December, 2006, offered the following to report:

Opium production in Afghanistan, which provides more than 90 percent of the world's heroin, broke all records in 2006, reaching a historic high despite ongoing U.S.-sponsored eradication efforts, the Bush administration reported yesterday.

In addition to a 26 percent production increase over past year -- for a total of 5,644 metric tons -- the amount of land under cultivation in opium poppies grew by 61 percent. Cultivation in the two main production provinces, Helmand in the southwest and Oruzgan in central Afghanistan, was up by 132 percent.

According to Spiegel, NATO now even is considering whether to legalize the Afghan heroin trade -- presumably (though not overtly) to enable enterprising persons or organizations to redirect some of that profit (recall the CIA's use of drug trafficking during the Reagan Administration, to finance its Congressionally-unapproved wars against democratic movements in Central America) to promoting neoconservatives' agenda (even after Bush is out of office), rather than for the drugs to be used to promote solely the agenda of the people described as "enemies" of the U.S. when the President does news conferences.

Perhaps the reason for the Iraq invasion really was WMDs; but then, if that were true, might not it have made some sense to give the inspections another six months or a year, in order to get better information about the real situation in Iraq?

Perhaps the reason really was that Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy (indeed, the same bad guy he had been during the Reagan Administration -- when we were actively equipping him with weapons, including chemical weapons (a/k/a "WMDs")). But that rationale does not seem so plausible, either.

After all, the U.S. not only seems to have exhibited a persistent and historic tolerance for really bad dictators who abuse their people (often with the assistance of training from U.S. government special "schools" that teach all manner of unsavory techniques for abusing and controlling subject populations) -- people like our friends Pinochet, Suharto, the Shah of Iran, and the list goes on; but on top of mere tolerance, the U.S. has a history of actively intervening in other countries to put such despots into power and to keep them there.

Perhaps the real reason for going into Iraq was to write on a clean slate -- to set up, for all the world to see, a "free market democracy" conceived -- from scratch -- in the image of how right-wing think tanks believed (and believe) that every nation (including ours) ought to be governed. With billions of dollars in oil reserves to support, and kick-start, an "economic miracle" in Iraq, how could such an experiment conceivably fail to produce spectacular results?

Tom Friedman pitched such a notion, as did a fair number of the well-paid intellectuals at AEI, the Hoover Institute, and other such places. If that was the real agenda, then suffice it to say that the project (quite predictably) has indeed produced spectacular results (just not the kind of spectacle that Mr. Rumsfeld and his friends at Hoover presumably had in mind). It also almost goes without saying that this is hardly the first time that experiments in imposing the Fredrich Hayeck / Milton Friedman / Ludwig von Mises vision of "the way things ought to be" upon some hapless target state have produced something entirely different from the capitalist utopia that the Republicans' favorite intellectuals have been so eager to promise since even prior to World War II.

On the other hand, if the real agenda in Iraq was simply a reverse-robin-hood scheme, in the basest tradition of crony capitalism, to divert the proceeds of federal income taxation (vehemently opposed, on principle, by those same right-wing think-tanks who brought you the War) away from needed investments in domestic infrastructure, health-care, or education -- by instead focusing billions of dollars of government spending on large and profitable contracts for companies like Bechtel, Halliburton, Blackwater, CACI and others (not to mention the other contractors who build all the weapons and equipment that our military uses) -- then the Iraq war has actually been a spectacular success, perhaps even exceeding the wildest dreams of the people who conceived of it in the first place.

No wonder the people profiting from the war want it to go on and on and on, without end.

After all, this time they're fucking the taxpayers like they've never fucked the taxpayers before, and who hasn't -- in the passionate throes of truly profound carnal satisfaction -- had the thought cross his or her mind, "I wish I could keep doing this forever?"

The real beauty of how the Bush Administration has engineered things is that the people on the receiving end of the benefits of war (all those generous payments that are going to Iraq, and to the contractors serving the U.S. government in Iraq, rather than to domestic needs) are paying remarkably little of the taxes that the U.S. government collects to support all this spending. Granted, much of the money is borrowed (to be payed by future taxpayers), but the point still remains that working people are paying most of the taxes, while the ultra-rich are receiving most of the financial benefits of the War.

Remember, in contrast to the level of taxes imposed on workers' payrolls, when it comes to non-payroll income, such as dividends or capital gains from investment securities (or, even worse, the inheritance of large estates), the Bush Administration has seen to it that not everyone actually is required anymore (as they were, to a greater degree in, say, the Republican Eisenhower administration) to pay their fair share.

No longer is the percentage of annual income paid by individuals and corporations, in taxes, to support the common good, even remotely comparable between those who earn their livelihood exploiting the labor of others (a U.S. Senator once aptly described them as "riding in the wagon" -- although Phil Gramm seemed to have a different population in mind when he was actually, and without realizing it, describing the ultra-rich), and people who actually work for a living.

Now, one would think that the deal concocted by Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld for Bush's cronies at Halliburton, Blackwater, Bechtel, et al., would have been good enough. It ought to be possible to make decent (indeed, obscene) profits, just on the crony contracts alone -- without piling fraud on top of the "legal" profits that the companies are receiving.

After all, if these companies -- "loyal Bushies" all -- really are as "patriotic" and as interested in promoting and preserving truth, justice, and the American way, as we have been told, then wouldn't they want to make certain to take extra pains to carry out their contracts in the most exemplary manner imaginable -- efficiently, free from fraud and over-billing, transparently, and accountably. Wouldn't it be so much easier to persuade all those countries (including the U.S. -- starting with prisons and schools, but rapidly moving on to roads and other infrastructure) that your kind are so eager to take over and to operate, that they really want you running the show, if you were able to point to a track record of efficiency, honesty, and results, in Iraq?

And yet, now it appears that the impulse to pile fraud on top of cronyism and graft may have proven irresistible. If only the American people could focus on the reality in Iraq -- and how things got to be the way they are over there -- long enough for the knowledge to become permanently seared into the national memory. Sadly, I'm afraid, American memories are short.

We won't do much better at remembering not to be burned again by Bush's cronies (and remembering to spend the money on keeping our domestic affairs in order, before launching expensive adventures overseas), than we will at un-doing the long-term damage done by Monica Goodling's hiring practices at the Justice Department, now that Alberto Gonzalez's head has been taken as a trophy for display in the public square.

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