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This article by James Petras, was posted to Information Clearing House, August 21, 2009
The US seven-year war and occupation of Iraq is driven by several major political forces and informed by a variety of imperial interests. However these interests do not in themselves explain the depth and scope of the sustained, massive and continuing destruction of an entire society and its reduction to a permanent state of war. The range of political forces contributing to the making of the war and the subsequent US occupation include the following (in order of importance):
The most important political force was also the least openly discussed. The Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC), which includes the prominent role of long-time, hard-line unconditional Jewish supporters of the State of Israel appointed to top positions in the Bush Pentagon (Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz ), key operative in the Office of the Vice President (Irving (Scooter) Libby), the Treasury Department (Stuart Levey), the National Security Council (Elliot Abrams) and a phalanx of consultants, Presidential speechwriters (David Frum), secondary officials and policy advisers to the State Department. These committed Zionists ‘insiders’ were buttressed by thousands of full-time Israel-First functionaries in the 51 major American Jewish organizations, which form the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations (PMAJO). They openly stated that their top priority was to advance Israel’s agenda, which, in this case, was a US war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, occupy the country, physically divide Iraq, destroy its military and industrial capability and impose a pro-Israel/pro-US puppet regime. If Iraq were ethnically cleansed and divided, as advocated by the ultra-right, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the ‘Liberal’ President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and militarist-Zionist, Leslie Gelb, there would be more than several ‘client regimes’.
Top Zionist policymakers who promoted the war did not initially directly pursue the policy of systematically destroying what, in effect, was the entire Iraqi civilization. But their support and design of an occupation policy included the total dismemberment of the Iraqi state apparatus and recruitment of Israeli advisers to provide their ‘expertise’ in interrogation techniques, repression of civilian resistance and counter-insurgency. Israeli expertise certainly played a role in fomenting the intra-Iraqi religious and ethnic strife, which Israel had mastered in Palestine. The Israeli ‘model’ of colonial war and occupation – the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – and the practice of ‘total destruction’ using sectarian, ethno-religious division was evident in the notorious massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, which took place under Israeli military supervision.
The second powerful political force behind the Iraq War were civilian militarists (like Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney) who sought to extend US imperial reach in the Persian Gulf and strengthen its geo-political position by eliminating a strong, secular, nationalist backer of Arab anti-imperialist insurgency in the Middle East. The civilian militarists sought to extend the American military base encirclement of Russia and secure control over Iraqi oil reserves as a pressure point against China. The civilian militarists were less moved by Vice President Cheney’s past ties with the oil industry and more interested in his role as CEO of Halliburton’s giant military base contractor subsidiary Kellogg-Brown and Root, which was consolidating the US Empire through worldwide military base expansion. Major US oil companies, who feared losing out to European and Asian competitors, were already eager to deal with Saddam Hussein, and some of the Bush’s supporters in the oil industry had already engaged in illegal trading with the embargoed Iraqi regime. The oil industry was not inclined to promote regional instability with a war.
The militarist strategy of conquest and occupation was designed to establish a long-term colonial military presence in the form of strategic military bases with a significant and sustained contingent of colonial military advisors and combat units. The brutal colonial occupation of an independent secular state with a strong nationalist history and an advanced infrastructure with a sophisticated military and police apparatus, extensive public services and wide-spread literacy naturally led to the growth of a wide array of militant and armed anti-occupation movements. In response, US colonial officials, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agencies devised a ‘divide and rule’ strategy (the so-called ‘El Salvador solution’ associated with the former ‘hot-spot’ Ambassador and US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte) fomenting armed sectarian-based conflicts and promoting inter-religious assassinations to debilitate any effort at a united nationalist anti-imperialist movement. The dismantling of the secular civilian bureaucracy and military was designed by the Zionists in the Bush Administration to enhance Israel’s power in the region and to encourage the rise of militant Islamic groups, which had been repressed by the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Israel had mastered this strategy earlier: It originally sponsored and financed sectarian Islamic militant groups, like Hamas, as an alternative to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization and set the stage for sectarian fighting among the Palestinians.
The result of US colonial policies were to fund and multiply a wide range of internal conflicts as mullahs, tribal leaders, political gangsters, warlords, expatriates and death squads proliferated. The ‘war of all against all’ served the interests of the US occupation forces. Iraq became a pool of armed, unemployed young men, from which to recruit a new mercenary army. The ‘civil war’ and ‘ethnic conflict’ provided a pretext for the US and its Iraqi puppets to discharge hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police and functionaries from the previous regime (especially if they were from Sunni, mixed or secular families) and to undermine the basis for civilian employment. Under the cover of generalized ‘war against terror’, US Special Forces and CIA-directed death squads spread terror within Iraqi civil society, targeting anyone suspected of criticizing the puppet government – especially among the educated and professional classes, precisely the Iraqis most capable of re-constructing an independent secular republic.
The Iraq war was driven by an influential group of neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideologues with strong ties to Israel. They viewed the success of the Iraq war (by success they meant the total dismemberment of the country) as the first ‘domino’ in a series of war to ‘re-colonize’ the Middle East (in their words: “to re-draw the map”). They disguised their imperial ideology with a thin veneer of rhetoric about ‘promoting democracies’ in the Middle East (excluding, of course, the un-democratic policies of their ‘homeland’ Israel over its subjugated Palestinians). Conflating Israeli regional hegemonic ambitions with the US imperial interests, the neo-conservatives and their neo-liberal fellow travelers in the Democratic Party first backed President Bush and later President Obama in their escalation of the wars against Afghanistan and Pakistan. They unanimously supported Israel’s savage bombing campaign against Lebanon, the land and air assault and massacre of thousands of civilians trapped in Gaza, the bombing of Syrian facilities and the big push (from Israel) for a pre-emptive, full-scale military attack against Iran.
The US advocates of sequential and multiple simultaneous wars in the Middle East and South Asia believed that they could only unleash the full strength of their mass destructive power after they had secured total control of their first victim, Iraq. They were confident that Iraqi resistance would collapse rapidly after 13 years of brutal starvation sanctions imposed on the republic by the US and United Nations. In order to consolidate imperial control, American policy-makers decided to permanently silence all independent Iraqi civilian dissidents. They turned to the financing of Shia clerics and Sunni tribal assassins, and contracting scores of thousands of private mercenaries among the Kurdish Peshmerga warlords to carry out selective assassinations of leaders of civil society movements.
The US created and trained a 200,000 member Iraqi colonial puppet army composed almost entirely of Shia gunmen, and excluded experienced Iraqi military men from secular, Sunni or Christian backgrounds. A little known result of this build up of American trained and financed death squads and its puppet ‘Iraqi’ army, was the virtual destruction of the ancient Iraqi Christian population, which was displaced, its churches bombed and its leaders, bishops and intellectuals, academics and scientists assassinated or driven into exile. The US and its Israeli advisers were well aware that Iraqi Christians had played a key role the historic development of the secular, nationalist, anti-British/anti-monarchist movements and their elimination as an influential force during the first years of US occupation was no accident. The result of the US policies were to eliminate most secular democratic anti-imperialist leaders and movements and to present their murderous net-work of ‘ethno-religious’ collaborators as their uncontested ‘partners’ in sustaining the long-term US colonial presence in Iraq. With their puppets in power, Iraq would serve as a launching platform for its strategic pursuit of the other ‘dominoes’ (Syria, Iran, Central Asian Republics…).
The sustained bloody purge of Iraq under US occupation resulted in the killing 1.3 million Iraqi civilians during the first 7 years after Bush invaded in March 2003. Up to mid-2009, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has officially cost the American treasury over $666 billion. This enormous expenditure attests to its centrality in the larger US imperial strategy for the entire Middle East/South and Central Asia region. Washington’s policy of politicizing and militarizing ethno-religious differences, arming and encouraging rival tribal, religious and ethnic leaders to engage in mutual bloodletting served to destroy national unity and resistance. The ‘divide and rule’ tactics and reliance on retrograde social and religious organizations is the commonest and best-known practice in pursuing the conquest and subjugation of a unified, advanced nationalist state. Breaking up the national state, destroying nationalist consciousness and encouraging primitive ethno-religious, feudal and regional loyalties required the systematic destruction of the principal purveyors of nationalist consciousness, historical memory and secular, scientific thought. Provoking ethno-religious hatreds destroyed intermarriages, mixed communities and institutions with their long-standing personal friendships and professional ties among diverse backgrounds. The physical elimination of academics, writers, teachers, intellectuals, scientists and professionals, especially physicians, engineers, lawyers, jurists and journalists was decisive in imposing ethno-religious rule under a colonial occupation. To establish long-term dominance and sustain ethno-religious client rulers, the entire pre-existing cultural edifice, which had sustained an independent secular nationalist state, was physically destroyed by the US and its Iraqi puppets. This included destroying the libraries, census bureaus, and repositories of all property and court records, health departments, laboratories, schools, cultural centers, medical facilities and above all the entire scientific-literary-humanistic social scientific class of professionals. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi professionals and family members were driven by terror into internal and external exile. All funding for national, secular, scientific and educational institutions were cut off. Death squads engaged in the systematic murder of thousands of academics and professionals suspected of the least dissent, the least nationalist sentiment; anyone with the least capacity to re-construct the republic was marked. The Destruction of a Modern Arab Civilization
Independent, secular Iraq had the most advanced scientific-cultural order in the Arab world, despite the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s police state. There was a system of national health care, universal public education and generous welfare services, combined with unprecedented levels of gender equality. This marked the advanced nature of Iraqi civilization in the late 20th century. Separation of church and state and strict protection of religious minorities (Christians, Assyrians and others) contrasts sharply with what has resulted from the US occupation and its destruction of the Iraqi civil and governmental structures. The harsh dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein thus presided over a highly developed modern civilization in which advanced scientific work went hand in hand with a strong nationalist and anti-imperialist identity. This resulted especially in the Iraqi people and regime’s expressions of solidarity for the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli rule and occupation.
A mere ‘regime change’ could not extirpate this deeply embedded and advanced secular republican culture in Iraq. The US war planners and their Israeli advisers were well aware that colonial occupation would increase Iraqi nationalist consciousness unless the secular nation was destroyed and hence, the imperial imperative to uproot and destroy the carriers of nationalist consciousness by physically eliminating the educated, the talented, the scientific, indeed the most secular elements of Iraqi society. Retrogression became the principal instrument for the US to impose its colonial puppets, with their primitive, ‘pre-national’ loyalties, in power in a culturally purged Baghdad stripped of its most sophisticated and nationalistic social strata.
According to the Al-Ahram Studies Center in Cairo, more that 310 Iraqi scientists were eliminated during the first 18 months of the US occupation – a figure that the Iraqi education ministry did not dispute.
Another report listed the killings of more than 340 intellectuals and scientists between 2005 and 2007. Bombings of institutes of higher education had pushed enrollment down to 30% of the pre-invasion figures. In one bombing in January 2007, at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University 70 students were killed with hundreds wounded. These figures compelled the UNESCO to warn that Iraq’s university system was on the brink of collapse. The numbers of prominent Iraqi scientists and professionals who have fled the country have approached 20,000. Of the 6,700 Iraqi university professors who fled since 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported than only 150 had returned by October 2008. Despite the US claims of improved security, the situation in 2008 saw numerous assassinations, including the only practicing neurosurgeon in Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, whose body was dumped on the city streets.
The raw data on the Iraqi academics, scientists and professionals assassinated by the US and allied occupation forces and the militias and shadowy forces they control is drawn from a list published by the Pakistan Daily News (www.daily.pk) on November 26, 2008. This list makes for very uncomfortable reading into the reality of systematic elimination of intellectuals in Iraq under the meat-grinder of US occupation. Assassinations
The physical elimination of an individual by assassination is an extreme form of terrorism, which has far-reaching effects rippling throughout the community from which the individual comes – in this case the world of Iraqi intellectuals, academics, professionals and creative leaders in the arts and sciences. For each Iraqi intellectual murdered, thousands of educated Iraqis fled the country or abandoned their work for safer, less vulnerable activity.
Baghdad was considered the ‘Paris’ of the Arab world, in terms of culture and art, science and education. In the 1970’s and 80’s, its universities were the envy of the Arab world. The US ‘shock and awe’ campaign that rained down on Baghdad evoked emotions akin to an aerial bombardment of the Louvre, the Sorbonne and the greatest libraries of Europe. Baghdad University was one of the most prestigious and productive universities in the Arab world. Many of its academics possessed doctoral degrees and engaged in post-doctoral studies abroad at prestigious institutions. It taught and graduated many of the top professionals and scientists in the Middle East. Even under the deadly grip of the US/UN-imposed economic sanctions that starved Iraq during the 13 years before the March 2003 invasion, thousands of graduate students and young professionals came to Iraq for post-graduate training. Young physicians from throughout the Arab world received advanced medical training in its institutions. Many of its academics presented scientific papers at major international conferences and published in prestigious journals. Most important, Baghdad University trained and maintained a highly respected scientific secular culture free of sectarian discrimination – with academics from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
This world has been forever shattered: Under US occupation, up to November 2008, eighty-three academics and researchers teaching at Baghdad University had been murdered and several thousand of their colleagues, students and family members were forced to flee. The Selection of Assassinated Academics by Discipline
The November 2008 article published by the Pakistan Daily News lists the names of a total of 154 top Baghdad-based academics, renowned in their fields, who were murdered. Altogether, a total of 281 well-known intellectuals teaching at the top universities in Iraq fell victim to the ‘death squads’ under US occupation.
Prior to the US occupation, Baghdad University possessed the premier research and teaching medical faculty in the entire Middle East attracting hundreds of young doctors for advanced training. That program has been devastated during the rise of the US-death squad regime, with few prospects of recovery. Of those murdered, 25% (21) were the most senior professors and lecturers in the medical faculty of Baghdad University, the highest percentage of any faculty. The second highest percentage of butchered faculty were the professors and researchers from Baghdad University’s renowned engineering faculty (12), followed by the top academics in the humanities (10), physical and social sciences (8 senior academics each), education (5). The remaining top academics murdered at Baghdad University spread out among the agronomy, business, physical education, communications and religious studies faculties.
At three other Baghdad universities, 53 senior academics were slaughtered, including 10 in the social sciences, 7 in the faculty of law, 6 each in medicine and the humanities, 9 in the physical sciences and 5 in engineering. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s August 20, 2002 pre-invasion joke, “…one has to assume they (scientists) have not been playing ‘tiddlywinks’(a child’s game)”( justifying the bloody purge of Iraq’s scientists in physics and chemistry. An ominous signal of the academic bloodletting that followed the invasion.
Similar bloody purges of academics occurred in all the provincial universities: 127 senior academics and scientists were assassinated at the various well-regarded universities in Mosul, Kirkuk, Basra and elsewhere. The provincial universities with the highest number of murdered senior faculty members were in cities where the US and British military and their Kurdish mercenary allies were most active: Basra (35), Mosul (35), Diyala (15) and Al-Anbar (11).
The Iraqi military and allied death squads carried out most of the killing of academics in the cities under US or ‘allied’ control. The systematic murder of academics was a nation-wide, cross-disciplinary drive to destroy the cultural and educational foundations of a modern Arab civilization. The death squads carrying out most of these assassinations were primitive, pre-modern, ethno-religious groups ‘set loose’ or instrumentalized by US military strategists to wipe out any politically conscious intellectuals and nationalist scientists who might pursue an agenda for re-building a modern, secular society and independent, unified republic.
In its panic to prevent the US invasion, the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate provided a list, which identified over 500 key Iraqi scientists to the UN on December 7, 2002. There is little doubt that this list became a core element in the US military’s hit list for eliminating Iraq’s scientific elite. In his notorious pre-invasion speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited a list of over 3,500 Iraqi scientists and technicians who would have to be ‘contained’ to prevent their expertise from being used by other countries. The US had even created a ‘budget’ of hundreds of millions of dollars, drawn from the Iraqi ‘Oil for Food’ money held by the United Nations to set up ‘civilian re-education’ programs to re-train Iraqi scientists and engineers. These highly touted programs were never seriously implemented. Cheaper ways of containing what one American policy expert termed Iraq’s ‘excess scientists, engineers and technicians’ in a Carnegie Endowment Paper (RANSAC Policy Update April 2004) became clear. The US had decided to adopt and expand the Israeli Mossad’s covert operation of assassinating selected key Iraqi scientists on an industrial scale. The US ‘Surge’ and ‘Peak Assassination’ Campaigns: 2006-2007
The high tide of terror against academics coincides with the renewal of the US military offensive in Baghdad and in the provinces. Of the total number of assassinations of Baghdad-based academics for which a date is recorded (110 known intellectuals slaughtered), almost 80% (87) occurred in 2006 and 2007. A similar pattern is found in the provinces with 77% of a total of 84 scholars murdered outside of capital during the same period. The pattern is clear: the murder rate of academics grows as the occupying US forces organize a mercenary Iraqi military and police force and provide money for the training and recruitment of rival Shia and Sunni tribesmen and militia as a means of decreasing American casualties and of purging potential dissident critics of the occupation.
The terror campaign against academics intensified in mid-2005 and reached its peak in 2006-2007, leading to the mass flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi scholars, scientists, professionals and their families overseas. Entire university medical school faculties have become refugees in Syria and elsewhere. Those who could not afford to abandon elderly parents or relatives and remained in Iraq have taken extraordinary measures to hide their identities. Some have chosen to collaborate with the US occupation forces or the puppet regime in the hope of being protected or allowed to immigrate with their families to the US or Europe, although the Europeans, especially the British are disinclined to accept Iraqi scholars. After 2008, there has been a sharp decline in the murder of academics – with only 4 assassinated that year. This reflects the massive flight of Iraqi intellectuals living abroad or in hiding rather than any change of policy on the part of the US and its mercenary puppets. As a result, Iraq’s research facilities have been decimated. The lives of those remaining support staff, including technicians, librarians and students have been devastated with few prospects for future employment.
The US war and occupation of Iraq, as Presidents Bush and Obama have declared, is a ‘success’ – an independent nation of 23 million citizens has been occupied by force, a puppet regime is ensconced, colonial mercenary troops obey American officers and the oil fields have been put up for sale. All of Iraq’s nationalist laws protecting its patrimony, its cultural treasures and national resources, have been annulled. The occupiers have imposed a ‘constitution’ favoring the US Empire. Israel and its Zionist flunkies in the Administrations of both Bush and Obama celebrate the demise of a modern adversary…and the conversion of Iraq into a cultural-political desert. In line with an alleged agreement made by the US State Department and Pentagon officials to influential collectors from the American Council for Cultural Policy in January 2003, the looted treasures of ancient Mesopotamia have ‘found’ their way into the collections of the elite in London, New York and elsewhere. The collectors can now anticipate the pillage of Iran.
Warning to Iran
The US invasion, occupation and destruction of a modern, scientific-cultural civilization, such as existed in Iraq, is a prelude of what the people of Iran can expect if and when a US-Israeli military attack occurs. The imperial threat to the cultural-scientific foundations of the Iranian nation has been totally absent from the narrative among the affluent Iranian student protesters and their US-funded NGO’s during their post-election ‘Lipstick Revolution’ protests. They should bear in mind that in 2004 educated, sophisticated Iraqis in Baghdad consoled themselves with a fatally misplaced optimism that ‘at least we are not like Afghanistan’. The same elite are now in squalid refugee camps in Syria and Jordan and their country more closely resembles Afghanistan than anywhere else in the Middle East. The chilling promise of President Bush in April 2003 to transform Iraq in the image of ‘our newly liberated Afghanistan’ has been fulfilled. And reports that the US Administration advisers had reviewed the Israeli Mossad policy of selective assassination of Iranian scientists should cause the pro-Western liberal intellectuals of Teheran to seriously ponder the lesson of the murderous campaign that has virtually eliminated Iraqi scientists and academics during 2006-2007. Conclusion
What does the United States (and Britain and Israel) gain from establishing a retrograde client regime, based on medieval ethno-clerical socio-political structures in Iraq? First and foremost, Iraq has become an outpost for empire. Secondly, it is a weak and backward regime incapable of challenging Israeli economic and military dominance in the region and unwilling to question the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian Arabs from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Thirdly, the destruction of the scientific, academic, cultural and legal foundations of an independent state means increasing reliance on the Western (and Chinese) multinational corporations and their technical infrastructure – facilitating imperial economic penetration and exploitation.
In the mid 19th Century, after the revolutions of 1848, the conservative French sociologist Emil Durkheim recognized that the European bourgeoisie was confronted with rising class conflict and an increasing anti-capitalist working class. Durkheim noted that, whatever its philosophical misgivings about religion and clericalism, the bourgeoisie would have to use the myths of traditional religion to ‘create’ social cohesion and undercut class polarization. He called on the educated and sophisticated Parisian capitalist class to forego its rejection of obscurantist religious dogma in favor of instrumentalizing religion as a tool to maintain its political dominance. In the same way, US strategists, including the Pentagon-Zionists, have instrumentalized the tribal-mullah, ethno-religious forces to destroy the secular national political leadership and advanced culture of Iraq in order to consolidate imperial rule – even if this strategy called for the killing off of the scientific and professional classes. Contemporary US imperial rule is based on supporting the socially and politically most backward sectors of society and applying the most advanced technology of warfare.
Israeli advisers have played a major role in instructing US occupation forces in Iraq on the practices of urban counter-insurgency and repression of civilians, drawing on their 60 years of experience. The infamous massacre of hundreds of Palestinian families at Deir Yasin in 1948 was emblematic of Zionist elimination of hundreds of productive farming villages, which had been settled for centuries by a native people with their endogenous civilization and cultural ties to the soil, in order to impose a new colonial order. The policy of the total deracination of the Palestinians is central to Israel’s advise to the US policymakers in Iraq. Their message has been carried out by their Zionist acolytes in the Bush and Obama Administrations, ordering the dismemberment of the entire modern Iraqi civil and state bureaucracy and using pre-modern tribal death squads made up of Kurds and Shia extremists to purge the modern universities and research institutions of that shattered nation.
The US imperial conquest of Iraq is built on the destruction of a modern secular republic. The cultural desert that remains (a Biblical ‘howling wilderness’ soaked in the blood of Iraq’s precious scholars) is controlled by mega-swindlers, mercenary thugs posing as ‘Iraqi officers’, tribal and ethnic cultural illiterates and medieval religious figures. They operate under the guidance and direction of West Point graduates holding ‘blue-prints for empire’, formulated by graduates of Princeton, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Chicago, eager to serve the interests of American and European multi-national corporations.
This is called ‘combined and uneven development’: The marriage of fundamentalist mullahs with Ivy League Zionists at the service of the US.
The first of 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan next month to re-win the war George W. Bush neglected to finish in his eagerness to start another one. However, "winning" the military campaign against the Taliban is the lesser half of the story.
Going into Afghanistan, the Bush administration called for a political campaign to reconstruct the country and thereby establish the authority of a stable, democratic Afghan central government. It was understood that the two campaigns -- military and political/economic -- had to go forward together; the success of each depended on the other. But the vision of a reconstructed, peaceful, stable, democratically governed Afghanistan faded fast. Most Afghans now believe that it was nothing but a cover story for the Bush administration's real goal -- to set up permanent bases in Afghanistan and occupy the country forever.
Whatever the truth of the matter, in the long run, it's not soldiers but services that count -- electricity, water, food, health care, justice, and jobs. Had the U.S. delivered the promised services on time, while employing Afghans to rebuild their own country according to their own priorities and under the supervision of their own government -- a mini-Marshall Plan -- they would now be in charge of their own defense. The forces on the other side, which we loosely call the Taliban, would also have lost much of their grounds for complaint.
Instead, the Bush administration perpetrated a scam. It used the system it set up to dispense reconstruction aid to both the countries it "liberated," Afghanistan and Iraq, to transfer American taxpayer dollars from the national treasury directly into the pockets of private war profiteers. Think of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater in Iraq; Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. They're all in it together. So far, the Bush administration has bamboozled Americans about its shady aid program. Nobody talks about it. Yet the aid scam, which would be a scandal if it weren't so profitable for so many, explains far more than does troop strength about why, today, we are on the verge of watching the whole Afghan enterprise go belly up.
What's worse, there's no reason to expect that things will change significantly on Barack Obama's watch. During the election campaign, he called repeatedly for more troops for "the right war" in Afghanistan (while pledging to draw-down U.S. forces in Iraq), but he has yet to say a significant word about the reconstruction mission. While many aid workers in that country remain full of good intentions, the delivery systems for and uses of U.S. aid have been so thoroughly corrupted that we can only expect more of the same -- unless Obama cleans house fast. But given the monumental problems on his plate, how likely is that? The Jolly Privateers
It's hard to overstate the magnitude of the failure of American reconstruction in Afghanistan. While the U.S. has occupied the country -- for seven years and counting -- and efficiently set up a network of bases and prisons, it has yet to restore to Kabul, the capital, a mud brick city slightly more populous than Houston, a single one of the public services its citizens used to enjoy. When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, they modernized the education system and built power plants, dams, factories, and apartment blocs, still the most coveted in the country. If, in the last seven years, George W. Bush did not get the lights back on in the capital, or the water flowing, or dispose of the sewage or trash, how can we assume Barack Obama will do any better with the corrupt system he's about to inherit?
Between 2002 and 2008, the U.S. pledged $10.4 billion dollars in "development" (reconstruction) aid to Afghanistan, but actually delivered only $5 billion of that amount. Considering that the U.S. is spending $36 billion a year on the war in Afghanistan and about $8 billion a month on the war in Iraq, that $5 billion in development aid looks paltry indeed. But keep in mind that, in a country as poor as Afghanistan, a little well spent money can make a big difference.
The problem is not simply that the Bush administration skimped on aid, but that it handed it over to for-profit contractors. Privatization, as is now abundantly clear, enriches only the privateers and serves only their private interests.
Take one pertinent example. When the inspectors general of the Pentagon and State Department investigated the U.S. program to train the Afghan police in 2006, they found the number of men trained (about 30,000) to be less than half the number reported by the administration (70,000). The training had lasted eight weeks at most, with no in-the-field experience whatsoever. Only about half the equipment assigned to the police -- including thousands of trucks -- could be accounted for, and the men trained were then deemed "incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work."
The American privateer training the police -- DynCorp -- went on to win no-bid contracts to train police in Iraq with similar results. The total bill for American taxpayers from 2004 to 2006: $1.6 billion. It's unclear whether that money came from the military or the development budget, but in either case it was wasted. The inspectors general reported that police incompetence contributed directly to increased opium production, the reinvigoration of the Taliban, and government corruption in general, thoroughly subverting much ballyhooed U.S. goals, both military and political.
In the does-no-one-ever-learn category: the latest American victory plan, announced in December, calls for recruiting and rearming local militias to combat the Taliban. Keep in mind that hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly donated by Japan, have already been spent to disarm local militias. A proposal to rearm them was soundly defeated last fall in the Afghan Parliament. Now, it's again the plan du jour, rubber-stamped by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Afghans protest that such a plan amounts to sponsoring civil war, which, if true, would mean that American involvement in Afghanistan might be coming full circle -- civil war being the state in which the U.S. left Afghanistan at the end of our proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. American commanders, however, insist that they must use militias because Afghan Army and police forces are "simply not available." Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy commander of American forces, told the New York Times, "We don't have enough police, [and] we don't have time to get the police ready." This, despite the State Department's award to DynCorp last August of another $317.4 million contract "to continue training civilian police forces in Afghanistan," a contract DynCorp CEO William Ballhaus greeted as "an opportunity to contribute to peace, stability and democracy in the world [and] support our government's efforts to improve people's lives." America First
In other areas less obviously connected to security, American aid policy is no less self-serving or self-defeating. Although the Bush administration handpicked the Afghan president and claims to want to extend his authority throughout the country, it refuses to channel aid money through his government's ministries. (It argues that the Afghan government is corrupt, which it is, in a pathetic, minor league sort of way.)
Instead of giving aid money for Afghan schools to the Ministry of Education, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds private American contractors to start literacy programs for adults. As a result, Afghan teachers abandon the public schools and education administrators leave the Ministry for higher paying jobs with those contractors, further undermining public education and governance. The Bush administration may have no particular reason to sabotage its handpicked government, but it has had every reason to befriend private contractors who have, in turn, kicked back generously to election campaigns and Republican coffers.
There are other peculiar features of American development aid. Nearly half of it (47%) goes to support "technical assistance." Translated, that means overpaid American "experts," often totally unqualified -- somebody's good old college buddies -- are paid handsomely to advise the locals on matters ranging from office procedures to pesticide use, even when the Afghans neither request nor welcome such advice. By contrast, the universally admired aid programs of Sweden and Ireland allocate only 4% and 2% respectively to such technical assistance, and when asked, they send real experts. American technical advisors, like American privateers, are paid by checks -- big ones -- that pass directly from the federal treasury to private accounts in American banks, thus helping to insure that about 86 cents of every dollar designated for U.S. "foreign" aid anywhere in the world never leaves the U.S.A.
American aid that actually makes it abroad arrives with strings attached. At least 70% of it is "tied" to the purchase of American products. A food aid program, for example, might require Afghanistan to purchase American agricultural products in preference to their own, thus putting Afghan farmers out of business or driving even more of them into the poppy trade. (The percentage of aid from Sweden, Ireland, and the United Kingdom that is similarly tied: zero.)
Testifying before a congressional subcommittee on May 8, 2001, Andrew Natsios, then head of USAID, described American aid as "a key foreign policy instrument [that] helps nations prepare for participation in the global trading system and become better markets for U.S. exports." Such so-called aid cuts American business in right from the start. USAID has even developed a system for "preselecting" certain private contractors, then inviting only those preselected companies to apply for contracts the agency wants to issue.
Often, in fact, only one of the preselected contractors puts in for the job and then -- if you need a hint as to what's really going on -- just happens to award subcontracts to some of the others. It's remarkable, too, how many former USAID officials have passed through the famed revolving door in Washington to become highly paid consultants to private contractors -- and vice versa. By January 2006, the Bush administration had co-opted USAID altogether. The once independent aid agency launched by President Kennedy in 1961 became a subsidiary of the State Department and a partner of the Pentagon.
Oh, and keep in mind one more thing: While the private contractors may be in it for the duration, most employees and technical experts in Afghanistan stay on the job only six months to a year because it's considered such a "hardship post." As a result, projects tend not to last long and to be remarkably unrelated to those that came before or will come after. Contractors collect the big bucks whether or not the aid they contracted to deliver benefits Afghans, or even reaches them.
These arrangements help explain why Afghanistan remains such a shambles. The Afghan Scam
It's not that American aid has done nothing. Check out the USAID website and you'll find a summary of what is claimed for it (under the glorious heading of "Afghanistan Reborn"). It will inform you that USAID has completed literally thousands of projects in that country. The USAID loves numbers, but don't be deceived by them. A thousand short-term USAID projects can't hold a candle to one long, careful, patient program run, year after year, by a bunch of Afghans led by a single Swede.
If there has been any progress in Afghanistan, especially in and around Kabul, it's largely been because two-thirds of the reconstruction aid to Afghanistan comes from other (mostly European) countries that do a better job, and partly because the country's druglords spend big on palatial homes and services in the capital. But the one-third of international aid that is supposed to come from the U.S., and that might make a critical difference when added to the work of others, eternally falls into the wrong pockets.
What would Afghans have done differently, if they'd been in charge? They'd have built much smaller schools, and a lot more of them, in places more convenient to children than to foreign construction crews. Afghans would have hired Afghans to do the building. Louis Berger Group had the contract to build more than 1,000 schools at a cost of $274,000 per school. Already way behind schedule in 2005, they had finished only a small fraction of them when roofs began to collapse under the snows of winter.
Believe me, given that same $274,000, Afghans would have built 15 or 20 schools with good roofs. The same math can be applied to medical clinics. Afghans would also have chosen to repair irrigation systems and wells, to restore ruined orchards, vineyards, and fields. Amazingly enough, USAID initially had no agricultural programs in a country where rural subsistence farmers are 85% of the population. Now, after seven years, the agency finally claims to have "improved" irrigation on "nearly 15%" of arable land. And you can be sure that Afghans wouldn't have chosen -- again -- the Louis Berger Group to rebuild the 389-mile long Kabul/Kandahar highway with foreign labor at a cost of $1 million per mile.
As things now stand, Afghans, as well as Afghan-Americans who go back to help their homeland, have to play by American rules. Recently an Afghan-American contractor who competed for reconstruction contracts told me that the American military is getting in on the aid scam. To apply for a contract, Afghan applicants now have to fill out a form (in English!) that may run to 50 pages. My informant, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, commented that it's next to impossible to figure out "what they look for." He won a contract only when he took a hint and hired an American "expert" -- a retired military officer -- to fill out the form. The expert claimed the "standard fee" for his service: 25% of the value of the contract.
Another Afghan-American informed me that he was proud to have worked with an American construction company building schools with USAID funds. Taken on as a translator, he persuaded the company not only to hire Afghan laborers, but also to raise their pay gradually from $1.00 per day to $10.00 per day. "They could feed their families," he said, "and it was all cost over-run, so cost didn't matter. The boss was already billing the government $10.00 to $15.00 an hour for labor, so he could afford to pay $10.00 a day and still make a profit." My informant didn't question the corruption in such over-billing. After all, Afghans often tack on something extra for themselves, and they don't call it corruption either. But on this scale it adds up to millions going into the assumedly deep pockets of one American privateer.
Yet a third Afghan-American, a businessman who has worked on American projects in his homeland, insisted that when Bush pledged $10.4 billion in aid, President Karzai should have offered him a deal: "Give me $2 billion in cash, I'll kick back the rest to you, and you can take your army and go home."
"If Karzai had put the cash in an Afghan bank," the businessman added, "and spent it himself on what people really need, both Afghanistan and Karzai would be in much better shape today." Yes, he was half-joking, but he wasn't wrong.
Don't think of such stories, and thousands of others like them, as merely tales of the everyday theft or waste of a few hundred million dollars -- a form of well-organized, routine graft that leaves the corruption of Karzai's government in the shade and will undoubtedly continue unremarked upon in the Obama years. Those multi-millions that will continue to be poured down the Afghan drain really represent promises made to a people whose country and culture we have devastated more than once. They are promises made by our government, paid for by our taxpayers, and repeatedly broken.
These stories, which you'll seldom hear about, are every bit as important as the debates about military strength and tactics and strategy in Afghanistan that dominate public discourse today. Those promises, made in our name, were once said to be why we fight; now -- broken -- they remind us that we've already lost.
This article by Charlotte Hsu, was originally published in the LasVegas Sun, December 28, 2008
This is what he would remember when he got back: the cramped foxhole, the stench of his unwashed body, MRE menu item No. 2, Jamaican pork chop.
He would remember the way the sand of the Kuwaiti desert would drift into his eyes, his ears, everything, giving him reason to clean his weapon twice a day as he waited to cross the border.
He would remember calling his mom, nervous but proud, after finding out in January 2003, at the end of holiday leave, that he would be going to Iraq.
What would he remember about Iraq?
Friends he lost. Survivor’s guilt. He would remember how Iraqis lined the streets to cheer his arrival in Baghdad, and how, later, the people of Fallujah just wanted him to leave. He would remember how different he was when it all began. At the start of this journey, he was in favor of the war.
This is Christopher Gallagher’s story.
Christopher Gallagher, U.S. Marine Corps corporal, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. Service in Iraq: 2003, the invasion; 2004, Haditha Dam; 2005, Fallujah.
• • •
Apr. 2, 2003 — “I am writing this letter from a fighting hole, behind my machine gun. I am fine for now. How is everyone back home?
“The first couple of days the Iraqi soldiers were surrendering by the hundreds. I have heard reports of American POWs being murdered. What have you heard? The first hundred hours of this war I was awake. It is hard finding time to sleep out here.”
This letter is from Gallagher’s first deployment. It was the first time he had ever traveled overseas. He wrote his family (“Dear Family, Mom, Dad, Matt, Joel, etc.”) in Farmingdale, N.Y., where he grew up before moving to Las Vegas in 2006.
The note was on military stationery — a single sheet of paper carrying the Marine Corps emblem: eagle, globe and anchor.
• • •
In the invasion of Iraq, Gallagher’s battalion fought from the town of Safwan on the Kuwaiti border through Basra and onto Baghdad. He didn’t shower for two months.
Fellow Marines secured oil fields and airports. Gallagher’s job was to establish radio communications and conduct security operations, “a machine gun post set up on top of a hill, or something like that, guarding a small area around yourself,” he recalls.
Gallagher’s battalion was the first Marine unit to enter Baghdad, and he remembers it well: “The people invaded the streets and were lining the streets of Baghdad, saying, ‘Saddam bad, Bush good.’ At the time we were considered liberators.”
He saw people everywhere, watching, cheering. But Gallagher couldn’t talk to them. That was off limits.
The day after his battalion took Baghdad, he sat down for breakfast at the Palestine Hotel with reporters, including an Iraqi woman about his age, a graduate of Baghdad University.
He remembers the meal — pita bread with tea and honey. But he can’t quite recall the specifics of what they discussed.
Gallagher was 20.
That was back when the Palestine housed journalists who came to cover the war, 2 1/2 years before a truck bomb shook the building.
Who knows what happened to those people Gallagher met at the hotel? That Iraqi journalist, where is she now? Maybe she is still covering the war. Maybe she fled her country. Maybe she’s dead.
• • •
Part of what Gallagher remembers about Iraq comes from photographs. Snapshots like the one taken in 2003 of Gallagher and eight members of his platoon, posing on the concrete roof of a building in Baghdad.
Behind them rise thick columns of smoke, black and tilted, drifting across the smoldering city.
Five years later, sitting in his Las Vegas living room, Gallagher points out that he is the only one in the picture wearing a helmet.
In Iraq, he was always careful, always on the lookout. He became, in his words, “less trusting of humanity.” In that way, the war stayed with him even after he returned home.
Back in Vegas, he says he is still “hypervigilant, always more cautious. Kind of like — in a way, almost like a minor paranoia. I’m less trusting of people, because the people over there, they smile at you one minute, and the next day they’ll be shooting at you.”
Even so, despite the nerves and fear, in 2003 Gallagher was optimistic about the war.
Writing home in on April 2, he told his family the weather had been comfortable. He wished his mom a happy birthday, said he was thinking that the two of them and his grandma could visit Atlantic City when he got back.
He finished his letter: “Tell everyone I will see them soon after the Marines have killed Saddam and the war is over.”
• • •
At home, Americans watched the siege of Baghdad on CNN, marveling at the fireworks display — the buildings exploding, the red and yellow tracer rounds flying across the sky like shooting stars.
Magazines and newspapers carried pictures of the carnage, bodies floating in water, refugees fleeing.
Gallagher’s mother, Catherine Jackson, worried, unable to watch the news while he was abroad.
“I became very depressed,” she remembers. “I checked the mailbox every day, religiously. I cried every day, religiously. I was just worried about him and his health. Would I get him home? Would he come home? And when he did come home, would he come home in one piece? I didn’t know what to expect.”
To her, Gallagher’s letters meant a lot. They meant that somewhere thousands of miles away, her son was still alive.
• • •
Gallagher describes Thai chicken: “A bowl of snot with some water chestnuts, little pieces of chicken.”
Of MREs in general: “I remember them all, all very unfondly ... It comes in a sealed package. And imagine a piece of chicken in there. It looks like a piece of chicken, I don’t know if it is. They had a variety of food, but none of it was good for you. It had so many preservatives in it.”
e concluded that the only good thing that came in those rations was the candy — Skittles, Charms or M&Ms. Marines would trade with one another, Skittles for M&Ms and vice versa. Charms, considered bad luck, ended up in the garbage.
• • •
MREs aside, living conditions at Haditha Dam were good in 2004.
Gallagher slept in a bunk bed, lifted weights, showered twice a week, sometimes even with hot water. His family sent Snickers, cigarettes and powdered Country Time pink lemonade.
n March, he wrote to his mother, saying he’d received her package. The postscript reminded her that he smoked Parliament Lights.
The message was scrawled in black ink on the back of a postcard bearing the image of the front page of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes from April 11, 2003. The headline, “Baghdad falls to U.S. forces,” ran large down the right-hand side, set against the iconic photograph of the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down.
“Do you remember this day almost a year ago when Marines from task force 3/4 took the statue down,” Gallagher wrote.
At Haditha Dam, he was a radio operator, part of a skeleton crew of Marines guarding the dam. Most of the men in his battalion had been called to fight in the siege of Fallujah. Some never made it back. He lost a couple of friends.
“One minute they’re there. One minute they’re gone.”
• • •
Some of the letters Gallagher wrote were never mailed. But he held on to them. These were his “final letters” — the ones his family would have received had he died.
“To Shannon,” one such note to his older sister begins. “Hi I am sorry for this tragic event you are going through, you helped raise me when mom and dad were not around ... All you have to do is close your eyes and pray, I will be there. I wanted to be a good uncle for James and Alyssa. I would have liked to see them grow up and live a good life.”
And to Gallagher’s younger brother: “I wish I could be there for you Matt. I love you so much and you will never know how much the time that we have spent together hanging out since I enlisted meant to me. If you have noticed all the extra gifts I have gotten for you, it was to try to make up for my absence.”
In what would have been his final letter to his mother and father, Gallagher wrote that he loved them, that he’d watch over them in heaven alongside Grandpa Rich, Grandma, Grandpa Jackson and Uncle Joe.
“Let everyone know I died with honor, keeping all Americans free from foreign dictatorships,” he wrote.
“I was not always the best kid to have, I joined the Corps to straighten my life out and find direction. Mom you were my best friend and were a great emotional support. Dad you were always there, from the time you taught me to bowl until I got on the bus for Parris Island.
“As I write this letter and look back on my life I only remember how much i enjoyed living it. They say ‘Everyone dies but not everyone lives.’ I just hope I turned out to be a respectable and upstanding person like you raised me to be.”
Gallagher showed the letter to his mother. She read it once and couldn’t read it again.
• • •
By the end of his third deployment, Gallagher says, “I was wondering what we were doing there. Because we were essentially driving around just waiting to be blown up. Nobody wanted to be there anymore, everybody just wanted to come home.”
The Iraqis, Gallagher says, didn’t want the troops there either. He remembers the disgust, the anger in their eyes.
“There was no point to any of the patrols,” he says. “We were told that al-Qaida was causing all the trouble, but yet it was mostly the people living in these towns. It was Iraqis.”
In Fallujah, Gallagher was a radio operator for an 81 mm mortar platoon. He worked at a checkpoint outside the city, a job he likened to herding cattle.
Everyone coming through had to have his retinas scanned. Everyone had to get an ID card. Everyone had to be searched.
Gallagher spent eight hours on duty, eight hours off. When he wasn’t manning the checkpoint, he patrolled in vehicles and on foot, sweating under a scorching Iraqi sun.
He searched homes, feeling no guilt, no remorse. He grew angry when he gave information on a firefight to his higher ups only to find out later that “the report that they filed was not what I said.”
He wondered why he didn’t have proper armor. During his first deployment, he remembers, he didn’t have plates in his vest to protect him from bullets and shrapnel. Through his last deployment, he said, his Humvees had what the troops called “hillbilly armor,” a piece of metal in the shape of a door hanging off the side of the vehicle.
“I was pissed off. I was in Iraq,” Gallagher remembers. “I supported the war and supported the troops. I thought they were one and the same.” But, he said, “I didn’t want to be there anymore.”
He slept on a cot in a wooden hut housing 20. Fellow soldiers on patrol found propane tanks and 30- or 40-gallon drums and used them to fashion a makeshift shower.
Once a week, he got hot food — maybe prime rib, maybe beef stew. It didn’t make him sick like the other meals or the dirty water he said the military gave him.
• • •
Gallagher is 26 now, no longer on active duty. He has been home, on U.S. soil, for three years.
He has no regrets. In May 2001, as a senior in high school in Farmingdale, N.Y., he signed up to join the Marines to see the world, to “become someone.”
His mother worried, afraid of what might happen even though it was a time of peace. On Sept. 11, Gallagher was at boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. He and his fellow recruits, training together in the humid southern summer, knew war was coming.
Looking back, Gallagher says the Marine Corps made him a better person.
He is more focused, more disciplined. One of the worst students in his high school class, he pulled a 3.5 grade-point average while studying at the College of Southern Nevada on the G.I. Bill. He left school to learn to be an electrician. He makes good money, helps support his mom.
He can take direction but also has leadership skills. Along the way, in Iraq, he made lifelong friends, some people he normally wouldn’t hang out or talk to. What brought them together?
“We were willing to die for each other.”
• • •
Gallagher was once in favor of the war. He remembers that well.
How much things have changed.
After returning to America, he read about the war, watched movies about the war, talked to friends about the war that left him with so many memories.
No weapons of mass destruction were found. Gallagher felt the country’s leaders had lied to him.
He learned as many U.S.-paid civilian contractors were stationed in Iraq as troops. He read about how war brings profit, raining fortune upon security companies, food companies ... the list goes on.
He believes the government was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, a view many people consider radical. But Gallagher believes it’s the truth. People like to believe in what’s easiest to believe, he says. He has read more about the terrorist attacks than many fellow Americans.
And the soldiers, the Marines, the airmen, the young people like Gallagher who fought abroad?
Gallagher felt the country and the Veterans Affairs Department abandoned them when they came back.
A friend of his who was shot in the leg saw disability benefits reduced. Other servicemen and servicewomen struggled to get care for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“These are people, that their friends blew up in front of them,” Gallagher says. “They still have a lot of death and destruction (on their minds), and they’re just messed up.”
He is disgusted.
“The Defense Department recently came out with a memo saying all troops must remain apolitical ... saying that you’re a soldier, you have no opinions, you don’t count. I think soldiers should have more of a voice, be able to speak out.”
So in September, Gallagher co-founded a Las Vegas chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
• • •
Some of Gallagher’s memories of Iraq are hazy, as if obscured by bleached sheets of hot desert sand. Others are clear. Some of what he remembers he won’t talk about.
For him, the war is over, now. He won’t be going back.
But Iraq will stay with him, always — in his photographs, in his letters, in this story, his story.
This article, by Nick Turse, was originally published in The Asia Times, June 26, 2008
The top Pentagon contractors, like death and taxes, almost never change. In 2002, the massive arms dealers Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman ranked one, two and three among Department of Defense (DoD) contractors, taking in US$17 billion, $16.6 billion and $8.7 billion.
Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman did it again in 2003 ($21.9 billion, $17.3 billion and $11.1 billion); 2004 ($20.7 billion, $17.1 billion and $11.9 billion); 2005 ($19.4 billion, $18.3 billion and $13.5 billion); 2006 ($26.6 billion, $20.3 billion and $16.6 billion); and, not surprisingly, 2007 as well ($27.8 billion $22.5 billion and $14.6 billion).
Other regulars receiving mega-tax-funded payouts in a similarly clockwork-like manner include defense giants General Dynamics, Raytheon, the British weapons maker BAE Systems and former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, as well as BP, Shell and other power players from the military-petroleum complex.
With the basic Pentagon budget now clocking in at roughly $541 billion per year - before "supplemental" war funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and President George W Bush's "war on terror", as well as national security spending by other agencies, are factored in - even Lockheed's hefty $28 billion take is a small percentage of the massive total. Obviously, significant sums of money are headed to other companies. However, most of them, including some of the largest, are all but unknown even to Pentagon-watchers and antiwar critics with a good grasp of the military industrial complex.
Last year, in a piece headlined "Washington's $8 billion shadow", Vanity Fair published an expose of one of the better-known large stealth contractors, SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). SAIC, however, is just one of tens of thousands of Pentagon contractors. Many of these firms receive only tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Pentagon every year. Some take home millions, tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars.
Then there's a select group that are masters of the universe in the ever-expanding military-corporate complex, regularly scoring more than a billion tax dollars a year from the DoD. Unlike Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, however, most of these billion-dollar babies manage to fly beneath the radar of media (not to mention public) attention. If appearing at all, they generally do so innocuously in the business pages of newspapers. When it comes to their support for the Pentagon's wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are, in media terms, missing in action.
So, who are some of these mystery defense contractors you've probably never heard of? Here are snapshot portraits, culled largely from their own corporate documents, of five of the Pentagon's secret billion-dollar babies:
1. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc.
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $3,360,739,032. This is billionaire investor Ronald Perelman's massive holding company. It has "interests in a diversified portfolio of public and private companies" that includes the cosmetics maker Revlon and Panavision (the folks who make the cameras that bring you TV shows like 24 and CSI).
MacAndrews & Forbes might, at first blush, seem an unlikely defense contractor, but one of those privately owned companies it holds is AM General - the folks who make the military Humvee. Today, says the company, nearly 200,000 Humvees have been "built and delivered to the US armed forces and more than 50 friendly overseas nations". Humvees, however, are only part of the story.
AM General has also assisted Carnegie Mellon University researchers in developing robots for the Pentagon blue-skies outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's "Grand Challenge", an autonomous robot-vehicle competition. Last year, AM General and General Dynamics Land Systems, a subsidiary of mega-weapons maker General Dynamics, formed a joint venture "to compete for the US Army and Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program". AM General has even gone to war - dispatching its "field service representatives" and "maintenance technical representatives" to Iraq where they were embedded with US troops.
As such, it's hardly surprising that, this year, the company received one of the Defense Logistics Agency's Outstanding Readiness Support Awards. Nor should anyone be surprised to discover that a top MacAndrews & Forbes corporate honcho, executive vice chairman and chief administrative officer Barry F Schwartz, contributed a total of at least $10,000 to Straight Talk America, the political action committee of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who famously said it would be "fine" with him if US troops occupied Iraq for "maybe a hundred years" (if not "a thousand" or "a million").
Perhaps hedging their bets just a bit, MacAndrews & Forbes is diversifying into an emerging complex-within-the-complex: homeland security. Recently, AM General sold the Department of Homeland Security's Border Patrol "more than 100 HUMMER K-series trucks for use in border security operations".
2. DRS Technologies, Inc.
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $1,791,321,140. Incorporated during the Vietnam War, DRS Technologies has long been "a leading supplier of integrated products, services and support to military forces, intelligence agencies and prime contractors worldwide"; that is, they have been in the business of fielding products that enhance some of the DoD's deadliest weaponry, including "DDG-51 Aegis destroyers, M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicles, OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, AH-64 Apache helicopters, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters, F-15 Eagle tactical fighters ... [and] Ohio, Los Angeles and Virginia class submarines."
They even have "contracts that support future military platforms, such as the DDG-1000 destroyer, CVN-78 next-generation aircraft carrier, Littoral combat ship and Future Combat System".
In addition to 2007's haul of Pentagon dollars, DRS Technologies has continued to clean up in 2008 for a range of projects, including: a $16.2 million army contract for refrigeration units; $51 million in new orders from the army for thermal weapon sights (part of a five-year, $2.3-billion deal inked in 2007); a $10.1 million contract to build more than 140 M989A1 heavy expanded mobility ammunition trailers (to transport "numerous and extremely heavy multiple launch rocket system pods, palletized or non-palletized conventional ammunition and fuel bladders"); and a $23 million deal "to provide engineering support, field service support and general depot repairs for the mast mounted sights (MMS) on OH-58 Kiowa Warrior attack helicopters," among many other contracts.
Fitch Ratings, an international credit rating agency, recently made a smart, if perhaps understated, point - one that actually fits all of these billion-dollar babies. DRS, it wrote, "has benefited from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan ..."
3. Harris Corporation
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $1,501,163,834. Harris is "an international communications and information technology company serving government, defense and commercial markets in more than 150 countries".
It has an annual revenue of more than $4 billion and an impressive roster of former military personnel and other military-corporate complex insiders on its payroll. Not only does Harris assist and do business with a number of the Pentagon's largest contractors (like Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems), it is also an active participant in occupations abroad.
On its website, the company boasts, "Harris technology has been used for a variety of commercial and defense applications, including the war in Iraq where the [Harris software] system provided detailed, 3-D representations of Baghdad and other key Iraqi cities."
Last year, Harris signed multiple deals with the military, including contracts to create a high-speed digital data link that transmits tactical video, radar, acoustic and other sensor data from US
Navy MH-60R helicopters to their host ships. It also supplies the navy with advanced computers that provide the "highly sophisticated moving maps and critical mission information via cockpit displays" used by flight crews.
In the first six months of this year, Harris has continued its hard work for the complex. In January, the company was "selected by the US Air Force for the Network and Space Operations and Maintenance (NSOM) program" for "a base contract and six options that bring the potential overall value to $410 million over six-and-a-half-years" to provide "operations and maintenance support to the 50th Space Wing's Air Force Satellite Control Network at locations around the world."
In May, the company was "awarded a three-year, $20 million contract by [top 10 Pentagon contractor] L3 Communications to provide products and services for a next-generation Tactical Video Capture System (TVCS)" - a system that integrates real-time video streams to enhance tactical training exercises - "that will support training at various US Marine Corps locations across the US and abroad".
That same month, Harris was also "awarded a potential five-year, $85 million Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract from the US Navy for multiband satellite communications terminals that will provide advanced communications for aircraft carriers and other large deck ships".
In addition, Harris is now hard at work in the homeland. Not only did the company pick up more than $3 million from the Department of Homeland Security last year, but national security expert Tim Shorrock, in a 2007 CorpWatch article, "Domestic spying, Inc", specifically noted that Harris and fellow intelligence industry contractors "stand to profit from th[e] unprecedented expansion of America's domestic intelligence system".
4. Navistar Defense
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $1,166,805,361. Still listed in Pentagon documents under its old name, International Military and Government, LLC, Navistar is the military subsidiary of Navistar International Corporation - "a holding company whose individual units provide integrated and best-in-class transportation solutions".
While the company has served the US military since World War I, it's known, if at all, by the public for making some of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles designed to thwart Iraqi roadside bombs. As of April 2008, the US military had "ordered 5,214 total production MaxxPro MRAP vehicles" from Navistar and, that same month, the company was awarded "a contract valued at more than $261 million ... for engineering upgrades to the armor used on International MaxxPro MRAP vehicles".
But Navistar makes more than MRAPs. Just last month, the company signed a "multi-year contract valued at nearly $1.3 billion" with the US Army "to provide medium tactical vehicles and spare parts to the Afghanistan National Police, Afghan National Army and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense". This followed a 2005 multi-year army contract, worth $430 million, "for more than 2,900 vehicles and spare parts".
Obviously, the company is significantly, profitably, and proudly involved in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As Tom Feifar, the Global Defense and Export general manager for Navistar Parts, put it late last year, "It's an honor to be a part of the effort to support our troops."
5. Evergreen International Airlines
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $1,105,610,723. A privately held global aviation services company, it has subsidiaries in related industries such as helicopter aviation (Evergreen Helicopters, Inc), as well as a few unrelated efforts like producing "agricultural, nursery and wine products" (Evergreen Agricultural Enterprises, Inc).
Evergreen has been on the Pentagon's payroll for a long time. In 2004, Ed Connolly, the executive vice president of Evergreen International Airlines, stated, "Evergreen has flown continuously for the [US Air Force] Air Mobility Command since 1975 and is proud to continue its long-standing history of supporting the US armed forces global missions with quality and reliable services."
Not surprisingly, Evergreen has been intimately involved in the occupation of Iraq. In fact, in 2004, the company received "approximately 200 awards for its support of international airlift services during the Iraq war" from the air force's Air Mobility Command. An air force general even handed out these medals and certificates of achievement to Evergreen's employees.
In Amnesty International's 2006 report, "Below the Radar: Secret Flights to Torture and 'Disappearance'," the human-rights organization noted that Evergreen was one of only a handful of private companies with current permits to land at US military bases worldwide.
That same year, the company even airlifted FOX News personality Bill O'Reilly and his TV show crew to Kuwait and Iraq to meet and greet troops, sign books and pictures and hand out trinkets. And just last year the company was part of a consortium, including such high-profile commercial carriers as American, Delta and United Airlines that the Pentagon awarded a "$1,031,154,403 firm fixed-price contract for international airlift services ... [that] is expected to be completed September 2008".
Under the radar
All told, these five stealth corporations from the military-corporate complex received more than $8.9 billion in taxpayer dollars in 2007. To put this into perspective, that sum is almost $2 billion more than the Bush administration's proposed 2009 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency. Put another way, it's about nine times what one-sixth of the world's population spent on food last year.
Tens of thousands of defense contractors - from well-known "civilian" corporations (like Coca-Cola, Kraft and Dell) to tiny companies - have fattened up on the Pentagon and its wars. Most of the time, large or small, they fly under the radar and are seldom identified as defense contractors at all. So it's hardly surprising that firms like Harris and Evergreen, without name recognition outside their own worlds, can take in billions in taxpayer dollars without notice or comment in our increasingly militarized civilian economy.
When the history of the Iraq war is finally written, chances are that these five billion-dollar babies, and most of the other defense contractors involved in making the US occupation possible, will be left out. Until we begin coming to grips with the role of such corporations in creating the material basis for an imperial foreign policy, we'll never be able to grasp fully how the Pentagon works and why the US so regularly makes war in, and carries out occupations of, distant lands.
This article by Tom Engelhardt, was first posted to Tom Dispatch, June 29, 2008
On March 19, 2003, as his shock-and-awe campaign against Iraq was being launched, George W. Bush addressed the nation. "My fellow citizens," he began, "at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger." We were entering Iraq, he insisted, "with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people."
Within weeks, of course, that "great civilization" was being looted, pillaged, and shipped abroad. Saddam Hussein's Baathist dictatorship was no more and, soon enough, the Iraqi Army of 400,000 had been officially disbanded by L. Paul Bremer, the head of the occupying Coalition Provisional Authority and the President's viceroy in Baghdad. By then, ministry buildings -- except for the oil and interior ministries -- were just looted shells. Schools, hospitals, museums, libraries, just about everything that was national or meaningful, had been stripped bare. Meanwhile, in their new offices in Saddam's former palaces, America's neoconservative occupiers were already bringing in the administration's crony corporations -- Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR, Bechtel, and others -- to finish off the job of looting the country under the rubric of "reconstruction." Somehow, these "administrators" managed to "spend" $20 billion of Iraq's oil money, already in the "Development Fund for Iraq," even before the first year of occupation was over -- and to no effect whatsoever. They also managed to create what Ed Harriman in the London Review of Books labeled "the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East." (No small trick given the competition.)
Before the Sunni insurgency even had a chance to ramp up in 2003, they were already pouring billions of U.S. tax dollars into what would become their massive military mega-bases meant to last a millennium, and, of course, they were dreaming about opening Iraq's oil industry to the major oil multinationals and to a privatized future as an oil spigot for the West.
On May 1, 2003, six weeks after he had announced his war to the nation and the world, the President landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier returning from the Persian Gulf where its planes had just launched 16,500 missions and dropped 1.6 million pounds of ordnance on Iraq. From its flight deck, he spoke triumphantly, against the backdrop of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, assuring Americans that we had "prevailed." "Today," he said, "we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians." In fact, according to Human Rights Watch, the initial shock-and-awe strikes he had ordered killed only civilians, possibly hundreds of them, without touching a single official of Saddam Hussein's "regime."
Who's Counting Now?
Since that first day of "liberation," Iraqis have never stopped dying in prodigious numbers. Now, more than five years after the U.S. "prevailed" with such "precision," a more modest version of the same success story has once again taken the beaches of the mainstream media, if not by storm, then by siege. When it comes to Iraq, the good news is unavoidable. It's in the air. Not victory exactly, but a slow-motion movement toward a "stable" Iraq, a country with which we might be moderately content.
The President's surge -- those extra 30,000 ground troops sent into Iraq in the first half of 2007 -- has, it is claimed, proven the negativity of all the doubters and critics unwarranted. Indeed, it is now agreed, security conditions have improved significantly and in ways "that few thought likely a year ago."
You already know the story well enough. It turns out that, as in Vietnam many decades ago, the U.S. military is counting like mad. So, for instance, according to the Pentagon, attacks on American and Iraqi troops are down 70% compared to June 2007; IED (roadside bomb) attacks have dropped almost 90% over the same period; in May, for the first time, fewer Americans died in Iraq than in Afghanistan (where the President's other war, some seven-plus years later, is going poorly indeed); and, above all else, "violence" is down. ("All major indicators of violence in Iraq have dropped by between 40 and 80 percent since February 2007, when President Bush committed an additional 30,000 troops to the war there, the Pentagon reported.")
Think of this as the equivalent of Vietnam's infamous "body count," but in reverse. In a country where the U.S. generally occupies only the land its troops are on, the normal measures of military victory long ago went out the window, so bodies have to stand in. In Vietnam, the question was: How many enemy dead could you tote up? The greater the slaughter, the closer you assumedly were to obliterating the other side (or, at least, its will). As it turned out, by what the grunts dubbed "the Mere Gook Rule" -- "If it's dead and it's Vietnamese, it's VC [Vietcong]… " -- any body would do in a pinch when it came to the metrics of victory.
In Iraq today, the counting being most widely publicized runs in the opposite direction. Success now can be measured in less deaths; and, by all usual counts, Iraqi deaths have indeed been falling since the height of sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing in the early months of 2007. In part, this has occurred because millions of people have already been driven out of their homes and many neighborhoods, especially in the capital, "cleansed." At the same time, in Sunni areas, significant numbers of insurgents have joined the Awakening Movement. They have been paid off by the U.S. military to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, while, assumedly, biding their time until the American presence ebbs to take on "the Persians" -- that is, the Shiite (and Kurdish) government embedded in Baghdad's fortified, American-controlled Green Zone.
As a result, cratered Iraq -- a land with at least 50% unemployment, still lacking decent electricity, potable water, hospitals with drugs (or even doctors, so many having fled), or courts with judges (40 of them having been assassinated and many more injured since 2003) or lawyers, many of whom joined the more than two million Iraqis who have gone into exile -- is, today, modestly quieter. But don't be fooled. So many years later, Iraqis are still dying in prodigious numbers, and significant numbers of those dying are doing so at the hands of Americans.
It's not just the family, including possibly four children under the age of 12, who died last week when a U.S. jet blasted their house in Tikrit (after their father, evidently believing thieves were about, fired shots in the air with a U.S. patrol nearby); or the manager and two female employees of a bank at Baghdad International Airport ("three criminals," according to a U.S. military statement) killed when their car was shot up by soldiers from a U.S. convoy; or the unarmed civilian, a relative of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who died in an early morning American raid in the southern town of Janaja; or the men, woman, and child in a car "which failed to stop at a [U.S.] checkpoint on the outskirts of Mosul because, according to a U.S. military statement, the two men were armed and one man inside the car made 'threatening movements'"; or, according to the U.N., the estimated 1,000 dead in Baghdad's vast, heavily populated Shiite slum of Sadr City, mostly civilians, 60% women and children, in fighting in April and May in which U.S. troops and air power played a significant role.
In fact, one great difference between the "liberation" moment of 2003 and the "stabilization" moment of 2008 is simply that what began as "regime change" -- missiles and bombs theoretically meant for that Saddamist deck of 55 leadership cards -- then developed into a war against a Sunni insurgency, and is now functionally a war against Shiites as well. Particularly targeted of late has been the movement headed by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a fierce opponent of the American occupation, who is especially popular among the impoverished Shiite masses in Baghdad and southern Iraq. In Shiite areas, his party, according to a U.S. intelligence estimate, would probably win upwards of 60% of the votes in the upcoming provincial elections, if they were fairly conducted. In recent months, the U.S. military in "support" of its Iraqi allies in the Maliki government has fought fierce battles in both the southern oil city of Basra and Sadr City against Sadr's militia, with the usual sizeable numbers of civilian casualties.
In other words, despite all the talk about onrushing "stability," looked at another way, the U.S. faces an ever more complicated and spreading, if intermittent, war. With it has gone another, somewhat less publicized kind of body count. Consider, for instance, a small passage from a recent piece by New York Times correspondent Thom Shanker on inter-service rivalries in Iraq. The U.S. Army, he reports, is now ramping up its own air arm (just as it did in the Vietnam era). In the last year, it has launched Task Force ODIN, the name being an acronym for "observe, detect, identify and neutralize," but also the über-god of Norse mythology (and perhaps a reminder of the godlike attitudes those in the air can develop towards those being "neutralized" on the ground).
With its headquarters at a base near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's old hometown, the unit consists of only "about 300 people and 25 aircraft." Shanker calls it "a Rube Goldberg collection of surveillance and communications and attack systems, a mash-up of manned and remotely piloted vehicles, commercial aircraft with high-tech infrared sensors strapped to the fuselage, along with attack helicopters and infantry."
Here's the money paragraph of his piece with its triumphalist body count:
"The work of the new aviation battalion was initially kept secret, but Army officials involved in its planning say it has been exceptionally active, using remotely piloted surveillance aircraft to call in Apache helicopter strikes with missiles and heavy machine gun fire that have killed more than 3,000 adversaries in the last year and led to the capture of almost 150 insurgent leaders."
We have no idea how that figure of more than 3,000 dead Iraqis was gathered (given that we're talking about an air unit), or what percentage of those dead were actually civilians, but certainly some among them died in the recent fighting in heavily populated Sadr City. In any case, consider that number for a moment: One modest-sized Army air unit/one year = 3,000+ dead Iraqis.
Now, consider that the Air Force in Iraq in that same year, according to Shanker, "quadrupled its number of sorties and increased its bombing tenfold." Consider that significant numbers of those sorties have been over heavily populated cities, or that, according to the Washington Post, between late March and late May, more than 200 powerful Hellfire missiles were fired into Baghdad (mainly, undoubtedly, into the Sadr City area); or that the unmanned aerial vehicles, the Predator (armed with two Hellfire missiles) and the larger, far more deadly Reaper (armed with up to 14 of those missiles), carried out, according to Shanker, 64 and 32 attacks, respectively, in Iraq and Afghanistan between the beginning of March and June.
And we're not even considering here U.S. military operations on the ground in Basra earlier in the year (special forces units were sent into the city when the Iraqi military and police seemed to be buckling), or in campaigns in Sunni or mixed areas to the north of Baghdad, or simply in ongoing everyday operations. Although individual body counts are now regularly announced for specific operations (not the case in the early years in Iraq), who knows what the overall carnage amounts to. One thing can be said however: The pacification campaign in Iraq really hasn't flagged since the Sunni insurgency gained strength in late 2003. Reformulated by General David Petraeus in 2007, it's just the sort of effort that occupying Great Powers have long been known to apply to rebellious possessions.
Iraq as a Surge-athon
To fully assess just what lurks beneath the "good news" from Iraq, including those 3,000 "adversaries" that Task Force ODIN "neutralized," we would have to do a different kind of counting of which we're incapable, not because no one's doing it, but because we have minimal access to the numbers. Let me try, however, to outline briefly some of what can be known -- and then you can judge the good news for yourself.
American troop strength in Iraq now stands at about 146,000. That's perhaps 16,000 more than in January 2007 just before the surge began. It's also about 16,000 more than in April 2003 when Baghdad was taken. According to Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press, the latest Pentagon plans are to order about 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq in 2009, which would keep troop levels at or above that 140,000 mark.
In addition, a vast force of private contractors, armed and unarmed, is in the country. There is no way to know how many of these hired hands and hired guns are actually there, but it's a reasonable guess that they add up to more -- possibly substantially more -- than the troops on hand.
Since February 2007 in the U.S., only one "surge" has been discussed, almost nonstop -- those 30,000 ground troops the President ordered largely into the Baghdad area. A surprising number of other surges have, however, been underway, even if barely noted in the U.S. These add up to a remarkable Bush administration urge to surge that puts American policy in Iraq in quite a different light.
Among these surges, for instance, has been a political surge of U.S. "advisors" and "mentors" to the Iraqi government, police, and military. In another of his superb reports for the New York Review of Books, "Embedded in Iraq," Michael Massing says that the main elements of this "little known political surge… were spelled out in a classified 'Joint Campaign Plan' completed in May 2007." It represented, he writes, a "sharp expansion."
"Specialists from Treasury and Justice, Commerce and Agriculture were assigned to government ministries to help draw up budgets and weed out sectarian elements. The Agency for International Development and the Army Corps of Engineers set up projects to boost nutrition and reinforce dams. Provincial Reconstruction Teams were stationed in Baghdad and elsewhere to help repair infrastructure, improve water and electrical systems, and stimulate the economy."
We know as well that American advisers are now deeply involved with local government bodies in contested areas; that American advisers, evidently hired from private contractors, are embedded in the key interior, defense, and oil ministries; that advisers, also hired from private contractors, are helping the Iraqi police and that a new multiyear contract with DynCorp International, which already has 700 civilian police advisers in the country, will raise that number above 800. Their mission: "to advise, train and mentor the Iraqi Police Service, Ministry of Interior, and Department of Border Enforcement."
In this period, even academics have surged into Iraq as the military has embedded anthropologists, political scientists, and sociologists from the "Human Terrain System" in military units to advise on local customs and "cultural understanding." One of them, a political scientist completing her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, was recently killed in a bombing in Sadr City.
We know that more than 20,000 Iraqis are now in two U.S. prisons, Camp Bucca in the south of the country and state-of-the-art Camp Cropper on the outskirts of Baghdad. Both of these have been continually upgraded. In this period, though, it seems that a surge in prison building (and assumedly prisoners) has also been underway. The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports that a new "Theater Internment Facility Reconciliation Center" -- i.e. prison -- is being built near Camp Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad. A "new contract calls for providing food for 'up to 5,000 detainees' [there] and will also cover 150 Iraqi nationals, who apparently will work at the facility." Another "reconciliation center" is to be opened at Ramadi in al-Anbar Province.
All of this is, again, being done through private contractors, including a contract for some company to "guard" the "property" of up to 60,000 Iraqi detainees. ("The contracted personnel will be responsible for the accountability, inventory, and storage of all property.") This, reports Sharon Weinberger of Wired's Danger Room blog, is evidently in anticipation of a "surge of approximately 15,000 detainees in the upcoming six months."
In addition, the Iraqi military, with its embedded American advisors, remains almost totally dependent on the U.S. military. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, based on "a classified study of Iraqi Army battalions," just 10% of them "are capable of operating independently in counterinsurgency operations and... even then they rely on American support." For logistics, planning, supplies -- almost everything that makes a military function -- the Iraqi military relies on the U.S. military and would be helpless without it.
More than five years after Baghdad fell, there still is no real Iraqi air force. The Iraqi military now depends ever more on the quick and constant application of American air power -- and U.S. air power in the region has surged in the last year and a half. The use of drones like the Predator and Reaper, whose pilots are stationed at Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas and other distant spots, has also surged, doubling since the beginning of 2007. Meanwhile, new machines, including a "platoon" of 30 of the Army's experimental Micro Air Vehicles, which can hover "in one place [and]… stare down with 'electro-optical and infrared cameras,'" are being rushed into action in Iraq, which is increasingly a laboratory for the testing of the latest U.S. weaponry.
In addition, for unknown billions of dollars, the upgrading of American bases in that country, especially the mega-bases, continues, while possibly the largest embassy on the planet, a vast citadel inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone meant to house 1,000 "diplomats" (and large numbers of guards and support staff of every sort), is nearly finished.
Finally, among the various surges of these last 18 months, there has been a surge in Bush administration demands for an American future in Iraq. In ongoing negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement, U.S. negotiators have demanded access to nearly 60 bases, control of Iraqi air space to 29,000 feet, the right to arrest Iraqis without explanation or permission, the right to bring troops into and out of the country without permission or notification, the right to launch military operations on the same basis, and immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for troops and private contractors.
In other words, wherever you might have looked over the last year or more, a surge-athon was under way. It was meant to solidify the American position in Iraq for the long term as an occupying power. Not withdrawing or drawing down, but ramping up has been the order of the day, no matter what was being debated, discussed, or written about in the United States.
That ramping up makes some sense of the "good news" and "stability" of this moment. Among other things, it's hardly surprising that weakly armed guerrilla forces (whether Shiite or Sunni), when faced with such a display of power have no desire to take it on frontally.
Given the situation of Iraq more than five years after the invasion, to speak of this urge to surge and its results as "success" or as "good news" is essentially obscene. Think of Iraq instead as a cocked gun. It's loaded, it's held to your head, and things are improving only to the extent that, recently, it hasn't gone off.
Iraq itself is wreckage beyond anything that could have been imagined back in March 2003; liberation is, by now, a black joke; the Bush administration's "benchmarks" for Iraqi success remain largely unmet, and still we keep "liberating" that land, still we keep killing Iraqis in prodigious numbers. A Vietnam-style body count, once banished by an administration that wanted no reminders of the last disastrous American counterinsurgency war, is now back with a vengeance, even if violence is down. These days, in its statements, the U.S. military is counting scalps almost everywhere there's fighting in Iraq.
A Great Lie of History
"We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people." This was one of the great lies of history. And all the while, the price of oil -- the one product Iraq has and, in present conditions, can't get at adequately -- continues to soar. There is no "good news" in any of this, unless you happen to be an undertaker, nor is there any end to it in sight.
Of the political surge in Iraq -- all those advisers and Provincial Reconstruction Teams pouring into the country -- Michael Massing has written bluntly: "[I]t has been an utter failure. 'Dysfunctional' is how one visiting adviser described it, citing bitter inter-agency battles, micromanagement from Washington, and an acute mismatch between the skills of the advisers and the needs of the Iraqi government."
The same could be said -- and someday undoubtedly will be -- of the rest of the U.S. effort, including the much lauded recent counterinsurgency part of it.
So let me offer this bit of advice. When you read the news, skip the "good" part. The figures demonstrating "improvement" may (or may not) be perfectly real, but they also represent an effort to dominate (as well as divide and conquer) in an essentially colonial fashion; worse yet, it's an effort barely held together by baling wire and reliant on the destruction of ever more Iraqi neighborhoods.
If you want a prediction, here it is and it couldn't be simpler: This cannot end well. Not for Washington. Not for the U.S. military. Not for Americans. And, above all, not for Iraqis.