By Robert Scheer
The public, seeing through the tissue of Bush administration lies told to justify an invasion that never had anything to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 or weapons of mass destruction, now has begun a national questioning: Why are we still in Iraq? The answers posted most widely on the Internet by critics of the war suggest its continuation as a naked imperial grab for the world’s second-largest petroleum source, but that is wrong.
It’s not primarily about the oil; it’s much more about the military-industrial complex, the label employed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower 45 years ago when he warned of the dangers of “a permanent arms industry of vast proportions.”
The Cold War had provided the rationale for the first peacetime creation of a militarized economy. While the former general, Eisenhower, was well aware of the military threat posed by the Soviet Union, he chose in his farewell presidential address to the nation to warn that the war profiteers had an agenda of their own, one that was inimical to the survival of American democracy:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Ponder those words as you consider the predominant presence of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney in the councils of this White House, and how his old company has profiteered more than any other from the disaster that is Iraq. Despite having been found to have overcharged some $60 million to the U.S. military for fuel deliveries, the formerly bankrupt Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root continues to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in lucrative contracts.
There is more. Military spending has skyrocketed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, returning to Cold War levels. A devastating report by the Center for Defense Information, founded by former top-ranking admirals and generals, reveals that in the most recent federal budget overall defense spending will rise to more than $550 billion. Compare that to the $20 billion that the United Nations and all of its agencies and funds spend each year on all of its programs to make this a safer and more livable world.
That U.S. military budget exceeds what the rest of the world’s nations combined spend on defense. Nor can it be justified as militarily necessary to counter terrorists, who used primitive $10 box cutters to commandeer civilian aircraft on 9/11. It only makes sense as a field of dreams for defense contractors and their allies in Washington who seized upon the 9/11 tragedy to invent a new Cold War. Imagine their panic at the end of the old one and their glee at this newfound opportunity.
Yes, some in those circles were also eager to exploit Iraq’s oil wealth, which does explain the abysmal indifference to the deteriorating situation in resource-poor Afghanistan, birthplace of the Sept. 11 plot, while our nation’s resources are squandered in occupying Iraq, which had nothing to do with it.
Yes, some, like Paul Wolfowitz, the genius who was the No. 2 in the U.S. Defense Department and has been rewarded for his leadership with appointment as head of the World Bank, did argue that Iraq’s oil revenue would pay for our imperial adventure. A recent study by Nobel Prize-wining economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes marked that absurdity by estimating the true cost of the Iraq adventure to U.S taxpayers at a whopping $2.267 trillion, in excess of any cost borne by the Iraqis themselves.
The big prize here for Bush’s foreign policy is not the acquisition of natural resources or the enhancement of U.S. security, but rather the lining of the pockets of the defense contractors, the merchants of death who mine our treasury. But because the arms industry is coddled by political parties and the mass media, their antics go largely unnoticed. Our politicians and pundits argue endlessly about a couple of billion dollars that may be spent on improving education or ending poverty, but they casually waste that amount in a few days in Iraq.
As Eisenhower warned: “We should take nothing for granted, only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ... We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”
Too bad we no longer have leading Republicans, or Democrats, warning of that danger.
AP Photo / Khalid Mohammed
A private contractor gestures to colleagues flying over in a helicopter after a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad in 2005.