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Obama Channels Cheney’s Geopolitical Energy Policy June 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Energy, Environment, Nuclear weapons/power.
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Roger’s note: Back in the fall of 2008, after the election and before the inauguration, I wrote an essay entitled “Plus ça change you can believe in.”  Obama has not disappointed this cynical prediction.  I would not have thought that he would have out Bushed Bush on warmongering, but there is no surprise that he is loyal to the big money (despite the phony claim of small contributors) that put him in office.

Published on Thursday, June 21, 2012 by TomDispatch.com

 

Four Ways the President Is Pursuing Cheney’s Geopolitics of Global Energy

by Michael T. Klare

As details of his administration’s global war against terrorists, insurgents, and hostile warlords have become more widely known — a war that involves a mélange of drone attacks, covert operations, and presidentially selected assassinations — President Obama has been compared to President George W. Bush in his appetite for military action. “As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign,” Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state, wrote at Foreign Policy, “Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids.”

When it comes to international energy politics, however, it is not Bush but his vice president, Dick Cheney, who has been providing the role model for the president. As recent events have demonstrated, Obama’s energy policies globally bear an eerie likeness to Cheney’s, especially in the way he has engaged in the geopolitics of oil as part of an American global struggle for future dominance among the major powers.

More than any of the other top officials of the Bush administration — many with oil-company backgrounds — Cheney focused on the role of energy in global power politics. From 1995 to 2000, he served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a major supplier of services to the oil industry. Soon after taking office as vice president he was asked by Bush to devise a new national energy strategy that has largely governed U.S. policy ever since.

Early on, Cheney concluded that the global supply of energy was not growing fast enough to satisfy rising world demand, and that securing control over the world’s remaining oil and natural gas supplies would therefore be an essential task for any state seeking to acquire or retain a paramount position globally. He similarly grasped that a nation’s rise to prominence could be thwarted by being denied access to essential energy supplies. As coal was to the architects of the British empire, oil was for Cheney — a critical resource over which it would sometimes be necessary to go to war.

More than any of his peers, Cheney articulated such views on the importance of energy to national wealth and power. “Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature,” he told an audience at an industry conference in London in 1999. “We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world’s economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality.”

Cheney’s reference to the 1990-1991 Gulf War is particularly revealing. During that conflict, he was the secretary of defense and so supervised the American war effort. But while his boss, President George H.W. Bush, played down the role of oil in the fight against Iraq, Cheney made no secret of his belief that energy geopolitics lay at the heart of the matter. “Once [Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein] acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses,” Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked to justify the administration’s decision to intervene, “he was clearly in a position to be able to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy.”

This would be exactly the message he delivered in 2002, as the second President Bush girded himself for the invasion of Iraq. Were Saddam Hussein successful in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Cheney told a group of veterans that August 25th, “[he] could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.”

For Cheney, the geopolitics of oil lay at the core of international relations, largely determining the rise and fall of nations. From this, it followed that any steps, including war and environmental devastation, were justified so long as they enhanced America’s power at the expense of its rivals.

Cheney’s World

Through his speeches, Congressional testimony, and actions in office, it is possible to reconstruct the geopolitical blueprint that Cheney followed in his career as a top White House strategist — a blueprint that President Obama, eerily enough, now appears to be implementing, despite the many risks involved.

That blueprint consists of four key features:

1. Promote domestic oil and gas production at any cost to reduce America’s dependence on unfriendly foreign suppliers, thereby increasing Washington’s freedom of action.

2. Keep control over the oil flow from the Persian Gulf (even if the U.S. gets an ever-diminishing share of its own oil supplies from the region) in order to retain an “economic stranglehold” over other major oil importers.

3. Dominate the sea lanes of Asia, so as to control the flow of oil and other raw materials to America’s potential economic rivals, China and Japan.

4. Promote energy “diversification” in Europe, especially through increased reliance on oil and natural gas supplies from the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea basin, in order to reduce Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas, along with the political influence this brings Moscow.

The first objective, increased reliance on domestic oil and gas, was highlighted in National Energy Policy, the energy strategy Cheney devised for the president in May 2001 in close consultation with representatives of the oil giants. Although mostly known for its advocacy of increased drilling on federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Cheney Report (as it came to be known) largely focused on the threat of growing U.S. dependence on foreign oil suppliers and the need to achieve greater “energy security” through a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead program of accelerated exploitation of domestic energy supplies.

“A primary goal of the National Energy Policy is to add supply from diverse sources,” the report declared. “This means domestic oil, gas, and coal. It also means hydropower and nuclear power.” The plan also called for a concerted drive to increase U.S. reliance on friendly sources of energy in the Western hemisphere, especially Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.

The second objective, control over the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, was, for Cheney, the principal reason for both the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Although before that invasion, the president and other top officials focused on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, his human rights record, and the need to bring democracy to Iraq, Cheney never wavered in his belief that the basic goal was to ensure that Washington would control the Middle Eastern oil jugular.

After Saddam’s ouster and the occupation of Iraq began, Cheney was especially outspoken in his insistence that neighboring Iran be prevented, by force of arms if need be, from challenging American preeminence in the Gulf. “We’ll keep the sea lanes open,” he declared from the deck of an aircraft carrier during maneuvers off the coast of Iran in May 2007. “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”

Cheney also focused in a major way on ensuring control over the sea lanes from the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf (out of which 35% of the world’s tradable oil flows each day) across the Indian Ocean, through the Straits of Malacca, and into the South and East China Seas. To this day, these maritime corridors remain essential for the economic survival of China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, bringing oil and other raw materials to their industries and carrying manufactured goods to their markets abroad. By maintaining U.S. control over these vital conduits, Cheney sought to guarantee the loyalty of America’s key Asian allies and constrain the rise of China. In pursuit of these classic geopolitical objectives, he pushed for an enhanced U.S. naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the establishment of a network of military alliances linking Japan, Australia, and India, all aimed at containing China.

Finally, Cheney sought to rein in America’s other major great-power rival, Russia. While his boss, George W. Bush, spoke of the potential for cooperation with Moscow, Cheney, still an energy cold warrior, viewed Russia as a geopolitical competitor and sought every opportunity to diminish its power and influence. He particularly feared that Europe’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas could undermine its resolve to resist aggressive Russian moves in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

To counter this trend, Cheney tried to persuade the Europeans to get more of their energy from the Caspian Sea basin by building new pipelines to that region via Georgia and Turkey. The idea was to bypass Russia by persuading Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to export their gas through these conduits, not those owned by Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled monopoly. When Georgia came under attack from Russian forces in August 2008, after Georgian troops shelled the pro-Moscow enclave of South Ossetia, Cheney was the first senior U.S. official to visit Tbilisi, bringing a promise of $1 billion in reconstruction assistance, as well as an offer of fast-track entry into NATO. France and Germany blocked the move, fearing Moscow might respond with actions that could destabilize Europe.

Obama as Cheney

This four-part geopolitical blueprint, relentlessly pursued by Cheney while vice president, is now being implemented in every respect by President Obama.

When it comes to the pursuit of enhanced energy independence, Obama has embraced the ultra-nationalistic orientation of the 2001 Cheney report, with its call for increased reliance on domestic and Western Hemisphere oil and natural gas — no matter the dangers of drilling in environmentally fragile offshore areas or the use of hazardous techniques like hydro-fracking. In recent speeches, he has boasted of his administration’s efforts to facilitate increased oil and gas drilling at home and promised to speed drilling in new locations, including offshore Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Over the last three years,” he boasted in his January State of the Union address, “we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years… Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.” He spoke with particular enthusiasm about the extraction of natural gas via fracking from shale deposits: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”

Obama has also voiced his desire to increase U.S. reliance on Western Hemisphere energy, thereby diminishing its dependence on unreliable and unfriendly suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. In March 2011, with the Arab Spring gaining momentum, he traveled to Brazil for five days of trade talks, a geopolitical energy pivot noted at the time. In the eyes of many observers, Obama’s focus on Brazil was inextricably linked to that country’s emergence as a major oil producer, thanks to new discoveries in the “pre-salt” fields off its coast in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, discoveries that could help the U.S. wean itself off Middle Eastern oil but could also turn out to be pollution nightmares. Although environmentalists have warned of the risks of drilling in the pre-salt fields, where a Deepwater Horizon-like blowout is an ever-present danger, Obama has made no secret of his geopolitical priorities. “By some estimates, the oil you recently discovered off the shores of Brazil could amount to twice the reserves we have in the United States,” he told Brazilian business leaders in that country’s capital. “When you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers. At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”

At the same time, Obama has made it clear that the U.S. will retain its role as the ultimate guardian of the Persian Gulf sea lanes. Even while trumpeting the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, he has insisted that the United States will bolster its air, naval, and special operations forces in the Gulf region, so as to remain the preeminent military power there. “Back to the future,” is how Major General Karl R. Horst, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command, described the new posture, referring to a time before the Iraq War when the U.S. exercised dominance in the region mainly through its air and naval superiority.

While less conspicuous than “boots on the ground,” the expanded air and naval presence will be kept strong enough to overpower any conceivable adversary. “We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared last October. Such a build-up has in fact been accentuated, in preparation either for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should Obama conclude that negotiations to curb Iranian enrichment activities have reached a dead end, or to clear the Strait of Hormuz, if the Iranians carry out threats to block oil shipping there in retaliation for the even harsher economic sanctions due to be imposed after July 1st.

Like Cheney, Obama also seeks to ensure U.S. control over the vital sea lanes extending from the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea. This is, in fact, the heart of Obama’s much publicized policy “pivot” to Asia and his new military doctrine, first revealed in a speech to the Australian Parliament on November 17th. “As we plan and budget for the future,” he declared, “we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.” A major priority of this effort, he indicated, would be enhanced “maritime security,” especially in the South China Sea.

Central to the Obama plan — like that advanced by Dick Cheney in 2007 — is the construction of a network of bases and alliances encircling China, the globe’s rising power, in an arc stretching from Japan and South Korea in the north to Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the southeast and thence to India in the southwest. When describing this effort in Canberra, Obama revealed that he had just concluded an agreement with the Australian government to establish a new U.S. military basing facility at Darwin on the country’s northern coast, near the South China Sea. He also spoke of the ultimate goal of U.S. geopolitics: a region-embracing coalition of anti-Chinese states that would include India. “We see America’s enhanced presence across Southeast Asia,” both in growing ties with local powers like Australia and “in our welcome of India as it ‘looks east’ and plays a larger role as an Asian power.”

As anyone who follows Asian affairs is aware, a strategy aimed at encircling China — especially one intended to incorporate India into America’s existing Asian alliance system — is certain to produce alarm and pushback from Beijing. “I don’t think they’re going to be very happy,” said Mark Valencia, a senior researcher at the National Bureau of Asian Research, speaking of China’s reaction. “I’m not optimistic in the long run as to how this is going to wind up.”

Finally, Obama has followed in Cheney’s footsteps in his efforts to reduce Russia’s influence in Europe and Central Asia by promoting the construction of new oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian via Georgia and Turkey to Europe. On June 5th, at the Caspian Oil and Gas Conference in Baku, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan read a message from Obama promising Washington’s support for a proposed Trans-Anatolia gas pipeline, a conduit designed to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan across Georgia and Turkey to Europe — bypassing Russia, naturally. At the same time, Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Georgia, just as Cheney had, to reaffirm U.S. support and offer increased U.S. military aid. As during the Bush-Cheney era, these moves are bound to be seen in Moscow as part of a calculated drive to lessen Russia’s influence in the region — and so are certain to elicit a hostile response.

In virtually every respect, then, when it comes to energy geopolitics the Obama administration continues to carry out the strategic blueprint pioneered by Dick Cheney during the two Bush administrations. What explains this surprising behavior? Assuming that it doesn’t represent a literal effort to replicate Cheney’s thinking — and there’s no evidence of that — it clearly represents the triumph of imperial geopolitics (and hidebound thinking) over ideology, principle, or even simple openness to new ideas.

When you get two figures as different as Obama and Cheney pursuing the same pathways in the world — and the first time around was anything but a success — it’s a sign of just how closed and airless the world of Washington really has become. At a time when most Americans are weary of grand ideological crusades, the pursuit of what looks like simple national self-interest — in the form of assured energy supplies — may appear far more attractive as a rationale for military and political involvement abroad.

In addition, Obama and his advisers are no doubt influenced by talk of a new “golden age” of North American oil and gas, made possible by the exploitation of shale deposits and other unconventional — and often dirty — energy resources. According to projections given by the Department of Energy, U.S. reliance on imported energy is likely to decline in the years ahead (though there is a domestic price to be paid for such “independence”), while China’s will only rise — a seeming geopolitical advantage for the United States that Obama appears to relish.

It is easy enough to grasp the appeal of such energy geopolitics for White House strategists, especially given the woeful state of the U.S. economy and the declining utility of other instruments of state power. And if you are prepared to overlook the growing environmental risks of reliance on offshore oil, shale gas, and other unconventional forms of energy, rising U.S. energy output conveys certain geopolitical advantages. But as history suggests, engaging in aggressive global geopolitical confrontations with other determined, well-armed players usually leads to friction, crisis, war, and disaster.

In this regard, Cheney’s geopolitical maneuvering led us into two costly Middle Eastern wars while heightening tensions with both China and Russia. President Obama claims he seeks to build a more peaceful world, but copying the Cheney energy blueprint is bound to produce the exact opposite.

© 2012 Michael T. Klare

 

 

 

Michael T. Klare

Michael T. Klare is the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His newest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, has just recently been published. His other books include: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum. A documentary version of that book is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Private Contractors “Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot” February 20, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Haiti.
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Friday 19 February 2010

by: Anthony Fenton  |  Inter Press Service

Vancouver – Critics are concerned that private military contractors are positioning themselves at the centre of an emerging “shock doctrine” for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Next month, a prominent umbrella organisation for private military and logistic corporations, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), is co-organising a “Haiti summit” which aims to bring together “leading officials” for “private consultations with attending contractors and investors” in Miami, Florida.

Dubbed the “mercenary trade association” by journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: the Rise of the World’ Most Powerful Mercenary Army”, the IPOA wasted no time setting up a “Haiti Earthquake Support” page on its website following the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country.

IPOA’s director Doug Brooks says, “The first contacts we got were journalists looking for security when they went in.” The website of IPOA member company, Hart Security, says they are currently in Haiti “supporting clients from the fields of media, consultancy and medical in their disaster recovery efforts.” Several other IPOA members have either bid on or received contracts for work in Haiti.

Likewise, the private military contractor, Raidon Tactics, has at least 30 former U.S. Special Operations soldiers on the ground, where they have been guarding aid convoys and providing security for “news agencies,” according to a Raidon employee who told IPS his company received over 1,000 phone calls in response to an ad posting “for open positions for Static Security Positions and Mobile Security Positions” in Haiti.

Just over a week following the earthquake, the IPOA teamed up with Global Investment Summits (GIS), a UK-based private company that specialises in bringing private contractors and government officials from “emerging post-conflict countries” together, to host an “Afghanistan Reconstruction Summit”, in Istanbul, Turkey. It was there, says IPOA’s director Doug Brooks, that the idea for the Haiti summit was hatched “over beers”.

GIS’s CEO, Kevin Lumb, told IPS that the key feature of the Haiti summit will be “what we call roundtables, [where] we put the ministers and their procurement people, and arrange appointments with contractors.” Lumb added that his company “specialise[s] in putting governments together [with private contractors].”

IPOA was “so pleased” with the Afghanistan summit, says Lumb, they asked GIS to do “all the organising, all the selling” for the Haiti summit. Lumb pointed out that all of the profits from the event will be donated to the Clinton-Bush Haiti relief fund.

While acknowledging that there will be a “a commercial angle” to the event and that “major companies, major players in the world” have committed to attend, Lumb declined to name most of the participants.

One of the companies Lumb did mention is DACC Associates, a private contractor that specialises in management and security consulting with contracts providing “advice and counsel” to governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

DACC President Douglas Melvin, a former Special Forces commander, State Department official and director of Security and Administrative Services for President George W. Bush, acknowledged that “from a revenue perspective, yes there’s wonderful opportunities at these events.”

Melvin added that he believes most attendees will be “coming together for the right reasons,” a genuine concern for Haiti, are “not coming to exploit” the dire situation there, and does not expect his company to profit off of their potential contracts there.

Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, is concerned that the thesis of her best-selling book will once again be tested in Haiti. She told IPS in an e-mail, “Haiti doesn’t need cookie cutter one-size fits all reconstruction, designed by the same gang that made same such a hash of Iraq, Afghanistan and New Orleans – and indeed the same people responsible for the decimation of Haiti’s own economy in the name of ‘aid.’”

Unhappy with critics’ characterisation of the IPOA, Brooks said, “If Scahill and Klein have the resources, the capabilities, the equipment, to go in and do it themselves then more power to them.”

University of California at Los Angeles professor Nandini Gunewardena, co-editor of “Capitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster Reconstruction,” told IPS that “privatisation is not the way to go for disaster assistance.”

“Traditionally, corporations have positioned themselves in a way that they benefit at the expense of the people. We cannot afford for that to happen in Haiti,” she said, adding that “any kind of intermediate or long-term assistance strategy has to be framed within that framework of human security.”

This, according to the U.N-.based Commission on Human Security, means “creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.”

Denouncing the “standard recipe of neoliberal policies,” Gunewardena said, “If private corporations are going to contribute to Haiti’s restoration, they have to be held accountable, not to their own standards, but to those of the people.”

Reached by telephone, Haiti’s former Minister of Defence under the first presidency of Jean Bertand Aristide, Patrick Elie, agreed. He’s worried about the potential privatisation of his country’s rebuilding, “because these private companies [aren't] liable, you can’t take them to the United Nations, you can’t take them to The Hague, and they operate in kind of legal limbo. And they are the more dangerous for it.”

Elie, who accepted a position as advisor to President Rene Preval following the earthquake, added “These guys are like vultures coming to grab the loot over this disaster, and probably money that might have been injected into the Haitian economy is going to be just grabbed by these companies and I’m sure that they are not only these mercenary companies but also the other companies like Halliburton or these other ones that always [come] on the heels of the troops.”

In its 2008 report, “Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity,” the NGO Human Rights First decried the “failure of the U.S. government to effectively control their actions, and in particular the inability or unwillingness of the Department of Justice (DoJ) to hold them criminally responsible for their illegal actions.”

The IPOA’s Brooks told IPS that members of the Haitian diaspora and Haiti’s embassy have been invited and are “going to be a big part” of the summit.

While stressing that it’s impossible to know the exact details of an event that is planned outside of public scrutiny, Elie countered that if high-level Haitian officials were to participate, “It’s either out of ignorance or complicity.”

Worried that Haiti is already seeing armed contractors in addition to the presence of more than 20,000 U.S., Canadian, and U.N. soldiers, Elie says he has seen private contractors accompanying NGOs, “walking about carrying assault rifles.”

If the U.S. military pulls out and hands over the armed presence to private contractors, “It opens the door to all kinds of abuses. Let’s face it, the Haitian state is too weak to really deal efficiently with this kind of threat if it materialises,” he said.

The history of post-disaster political economy has shown that such a threat is all too likely, says Elie. “We’ve seen it happen so many times before that whenever there is a disaster, there are a bunch of vultures trying to profit from it, whether it’s a man-made disaster like Iraq, or a nature-made disaster like Haiti.”

The Privatization of “Obama’s War” June 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Published on Saturday, June 6, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Michael Winship

The sudden reappearance of former Vice President Dick Cheney over the last few months — seeming to emerge from his famous undisclosed location more frequently now than he ever did when he was in office — does not mean six more weeks of winter. But it does bring to mind that classic country and western song, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”

Or, maybe, “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Someone Who Will.”

In his self-appointed role as voice of the opposition, Mr. Cheney has been playing Nostradamus, gloomily predicting doom if the Obama White House continues to set aside Bush administration policy, setting the stage for recrimination and finger-pointing should there be another terrorist attack on America.

Cheney’s grouchy legacy is the gift that keeps on giving. Just this week, The Washington Post reported for the first time that while vice president, Cheney oversaw “at least” four of those briefings given to senior members of Congress about enhanced interrogation techniques; “part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used on detainees…

“An official who witnessed one of Cheney’s briefing sessions with lawmakers said the vice president’s presence appeared to be calculated to give additional heft to the CIA’s case for maintaining the program.”

And remember Halliburton, the international energy services company of which Cheney used to be the CEO? After the fall of Baghdad, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR were the happy recipients of billions of dollars in outside contracts to take care of the military and rebuild Iraq’s petroleum industry. Waste, shoddy workmanship (like faulty wiring that caused fatal electric shocks) and corruption ran wild, Pentagon investigators allege, even as Vice President Cheney was still receiving deferred compensation and stock options.

Reporting for TomDispatch.com, Pratap Chatterjee, author of the book, Halliburton’s Army, writes, “In early May, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, DCAA [Defense Contract Audit Agency] director April G. Stephenson told the independent, bipartisan, congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that, since 2004, her staff had sent 32 cases of suspected overbilling, bribery and other possible violations of the law to the Pentagon inspector general. The ‘vast majority’ of these cases, she testified, were linked to KBR, which accounts for a staggering 43 percent of the dollars the Pentagon has spent in Iraq.”

In one instance, KBR was charging an average $38,000 apiece for “prefabricated living units” on bases in Iraq; another contractor offered to provide them for $18,000. But of a questionable $553 million in payments to KBR that the DCAA blocked or suspended, the Pentagon has gone ahead and agreed to pay $439 million, accepting KBR’s explanations.

KBR, Halliburton and the private security firm Blackwater have come to symbolize the excesses of outsourcing warfare. So you’d think that with a new sheriff like Barack Obama in town, such practices would be on the “Things Not to Do” list. Not so.

According to new Pentagon statistics, in the second quarter of this year, there has been a 23% increase in the number of private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq and a 29% hike in Afghanistan. In fact, outside contractors now make up approximately half of our forces fighting in the two countries. “This means,” according to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, “there are a whopping 242,647 contractors working on these two U.S. wars.”

Scahill, who runs an excellent new website called “Rebel Reports,” spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. “What we have seen happen, as a result of this incredible reliance on private military contractors, is that the United States has created a new system for waging war,” he said. By hiring foreign nationals as mercenaries, “You turn the entire world into your recruiting ground. You intricately link corporate profits to an escalation of warfare and make it profitable for companies to participate in your wars.

“In the process of doing that you undermine US democratic policies. And you also violate the sovereignty of other nations, because you’re making their citizens combatants in a war to which their country is not a party.

“I feel that the end game of all of this could well be the disintegration of the nation-state apparatus in the world. And it could be replaced by a scenario where you have corporations with their own private armies. To me, that would be a devastating development. But it’s happening on a micro level. And I fear it will start to happen on a much bigger scale.”

Jeremy Scahill’s comments come just as Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, the man slated to be the new commander of our troops in Afghanistan says the cost of our strategy there is going to cost America and its NATO allies billions of additional dollars for years to come. In fact, according to budget documents released by the Pentagon last month, as of next year, the cost of the war in Afghanistan — more and more known as “Obama’s War” — will exceed the cost of the war in Iraq.

The President asserted in his Cairo speech on Thursday that he has no desire to keep troops or establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. But according to Jeremy Scahill, “I think what we’re seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world,” he told Moyers, “but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era.”

Maybe that’s one more reason Dick Cheney, private contractor emeritus, won’t go away.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.

LaVena Johnson: Raped and Murdered on a Military Base in Iraq March 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Racism, War, Women.
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laverna-johnson

By David A. Love, The Black Commentator.

Posted March 3, 2009, www.alternet.org

Have you heard the story about LaVena Johnson?

LaVena Johnson, a high school honor student, decided to enlist in the Army to pay for college. On July 19, 2005, after serving eight weeks in Iraq, she was killed, eight days short of her 20th birthday.

Pvt. Johnson — she was posthumously promoted to private first class — was found dead on a military base in Balad, Iraq, in a tent belonging to military contractor KBR, a spinoff and former subsidiary of Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company. She was the first woman from Missouri to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army officially ruled her death a suicide, saying she shot herself in the head, case closed. But this is where the story begins.

Johnson’s family knew something was wrong. They had talked to her on the phone a few days earlier, and she was in a great mood as usual, and was planning to come home for the holidays, earlier than expected.

Questions were raised when Johnson’s family viewed her body. There were suspicious bruises, and while the military claimed that this right-handed soldier had shot herself in the head with an M-16 rifle, the gunshot wound was on the left side of her head.

But the truth began to make itself known when the family received the autopsy report and photos they had requested under the Freedom of Information Act:

The 5-foot tall, 100-pound woman had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, probably a weapon. Her nose had been broken, and her teeth knocked back. There were bruises, teeth marks and scratches on the upper part of her body. Her back and right hand had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. Her genital area was bruised and lacerated, and lye had been poured into her vagina. The debris found on her suggested her body had been dragged.

And despite all this mutilation, she was fully clothed when her body was found in the tent, with a blood trail leading to the tent.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Army has refused to investigate. Through an online petition, ColorofChange.org demanded an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Johnson’s story is really several stories in one, and is about more than an individual Black woman who was raped and killed by her fellow soldiers. African Americans have fought in every war since the Revolutionary War, and often their country has been a far more formidable foe to them than the so-called enemy they were told to fight.

Often, youth of color, lacking opportunities at home and in need of money, look to the military as a career option and a way to pay for school. But in light of all the death and destruction of the unjust and immoral war in Iraq, fewer of them took the bait this time, and opposition to the war among Black youth has posed a challenge for Army recruiters.

Perhaps these young people were channeling war resisters of a prior generation, such as Muhammad Ali, who once said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. … They never called me nigger.” That war was devastating to poor communities of all races, and the black community in particular, as their young men came home in the thousands in body bags, or maimed, traumatized, as dope fiends or completely insane.

It was this “cruel manipulation of the poor,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, one that united people of different races “in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.”

Forty years later, we find ourselves in another unjust and senseless war. This “home invasion” of Iraq, as Philadelphia veteran journalist Reggie Bryant aptly characterized it. And Johnson is a symbol of this war, as a casualty who risks being swept under the rug.

We may never know how many crimes have been hidden in Iraq. War is good for that sort of thing and little else, concealing the rapes, murders, shooting of children, bombing and pillaging of homes, the money stealing, and other crimes that are committed — including the crime that is war itself. People are taught to kill like animals, to dehumanize and humiliate others.

But the case of Johnson raises yet another issue: Violence against women is a problem in the U.S. military, and other slayings and suspicious deaths similar to Johnson’s are being classified as suicides. And Johnson is not the only woman to die a suspicious death on the Balad military base.

Retired Army Reserve Col. Ann Wright said 1 in 3 women who join the military will be raped or sexually assaulted by servicemen. Of the 94 military women who died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom, 36 died from injuries unrelated to combat. While a number of them were ruled as suicides and homicides, 15 deaths remain that smell suspicious. For example, eight women from Fort Hood, Texas, died of “non-combat-related injuries” at Camp Taji, three of whom were raped before their deaths. Camp Taji is an Army base about 10 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Also, a number of female employees of Halliburton/KBR have been sexually harassed, assaulted and gang raped in Iraq. Their employment contract calls for such cases to be decided through arbitration rather than in a court of law. Halliburton and KBR, these war profiteers awash with money, even wanted one alleged rape victim to pay for their costs to defend themselves in arbitration. Lord have mercy …

It is clear that under President George W. Bush, no friend of justice, the cases of these brutalized and slain women could not see the light of day. But we are living in a new time, so it seems, and perhaps now is the time that the family of LaVena Johnson, and all those other nameless women killed by the military, will find the justice they deserve.

Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

 

“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”

Judge Judy

 

Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?

In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”

(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)

 

In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword.  The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions.  The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).

 

In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.”  He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.”  (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).

 

Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure.  If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.

 

In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.

 

First the latter.  Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”

A bald faced lie.

Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.”  Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’”  She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”

Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).

Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.”   Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions.  He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.”  It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.

Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission.  As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel,  and Blackwater, now Xe).  Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial.  Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.

As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years.  But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.

Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.”  Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).

The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”

Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie.  In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.  But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place?  In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration.  The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.

(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.”  “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”

http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/128916/why_the_dark_secrets_of_the_first_gulf_war_are_still_haunting_us/)

As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.

Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years.  They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?  Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity? 

There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention.  One of them is “war profiteering.”  Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton.  And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.

The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq.  It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation  Iraqi  Liberation.

Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”

Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”

Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade.  Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”

Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”

Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison.  U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.

Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”

Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.

Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”

Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.

Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”

Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it.  Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”

Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”

Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?

Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”

Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.

Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”

Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees.  It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees.  Right?  We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.

Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”

Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.

One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Afghan Scam: The Untold Story of Why the US Is Bound to Fail in Afghanistan January 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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1 comment so far

 11 January 2009

by: Ann Jones, TomDispatch.com

    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.

    —-

    Ann Jones wrote at length about the failure of American aid in Kabul in Winter (Metropolitan Books), a book about American meddling in Afghanistan as well as her experience as a humanitarian aid worker there from 2002 to 2006. For more information, visit her website. For a concise report on many of the defects in international aid mentioned here, check out Real Aid (pdf file), a report issued in 2005 by the South African NGO Action Aid.

Suit Claims Halliburton, KBR Sickened Base December 6, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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KBR is facing a lawsuit brought by troops in Iraq, for providing contaminated water. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty images)

by: Kelly Kennedy, Army Times

A Georgia man has filed a lawsuit against contractor KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton, saying the companies exposed everyone at Joint Base Balad in Iraq to unsafe water, food and hazardous fumes from the burn pit there.

    Joshua Eller, who worked as a civilian computer-aided drafting technician with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, said military personnel, contractors and third-country nationals may have been sickened by contamination at the largest U.S. installation in Iraq, home to more than 30,000 service members, Defense Department civilians and contractors.

    “Defendants promised the United States government that they would supply safe water for hygienic and recreational uses, safe food supplies and properly operate base incinerators to dispose of medical waste safely,” according to the lawsuit, filed Nov. 26 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. “Defendants utterly failed to perform their promised duties.”

    Eller and his attorneys are seeking to have the lawsuit declared a class action.

    Diana Gabriel, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, said her company is “improperly named” in the lawsuit. “As such, we expect Halliburton to be dismissed from the action as Halliburton has no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the actions alleged,” Gabriel said. “It would be inappropriate for Halliburton to comment on the merits of a matter affecting only the interest of KBR.”

    Halliburton announced in April 2007 that it had dissolved its ties with KBR, which had been its contracting, engineering and construction unit since the 1960s.

    Heather Browne, director of corporate communications for KBR, said her company “has not been formally served with this litigation, so we are not commenting at this time.”

    Eller filed his claim after he deployed in February 2006 for 10 months. The lawsuit claims he developed skin lesions that subsequently spread, filled with fluid and burst. He said they went away, then reappeared, followed by blisters on his feet that made it painful for him to walk. He said they healed, but continue to return every three to four months.

    Then, Eller said he experienced vomiting, cramping and diarrhea, and continues to suffer severe abdominal pain.

    “Plaintiff witnessed the open air burn pit in operation at Balad Air Force Base,” the lawsuit states. “On one occasion, he witnessed a wild dog running around base with a human arm in its mouth. The human arm had been dumped on the open air burn pit by KBR.”

    Eller said he still has nightmares and has been diagnosed with adjustment disorder.

    The lawsuit states that KBR was required to comply with military standards for clean water, and monitor it. Eller accused KBR of not performing water quality tests and of not properly treating or chlorinating water, and said an audit by the Defense Department backs up his claim.

    A report from Wil Granger, KBR’s water quality manager for Iraq, states that non-potable water used for showering was not disinfected. “This caused an unknown population to be exposed to potentially harmful water for an undetermined amount of time,” according to the report. The report also stated the problems occurred all across Iraq and were not confined to Balad.

    The lawsuit states there was no formalized training for KBR employees in proper water operations, and the company maintained insufficient documentation about water safety. The suit notes that former KBR employees Ben Carter and Ken May testified at a congressional hearing in January 2006 that KBR used contaminated water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Carter testified that he found the water polluted with sewage and that KBR did not chlorinate it.

    The lawsuit states the swimming pools at Balad were also filled with unsafe water.

    Eller also accused KBR of serving spoiled, expired and rotten food to the troops, as well as dishes that may have been contaminated with shrapnel

    “Defendants knowingly and intentionally supplied and served food that was well past its expiration date, in some cases over a year past its expiration date,” the lawsuit states. “Even when it was called to the attention of the KBR food service managers that the food was expired, KBR still served the food to U.S. forces.”

    The food included chicken, beef, fish, eggs and dairy products, which caused cases of salmonella poisoning, according to the lawsuit.

    “KBR prevented their employees from speaking with government auditors and hid employees from auditors by moving them from bases when an audit was scheduled,” the lawsuit states. “Any employees that spoke with auditors were sent to more dangerous locations in Iraq as punishment.”

    The lawsuit also accuses KBR of shipping ice in mortuary trucks that “still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces.”

    Eller also accuses KBR of failing to maintain a medical incinerator at Joint Base Balad, which has been confirmed by two surgeons in interviews with Military Times about the Balad burn pit. Instead, according to the lawsuit and the physicians, medical waste, such as needles, amputated body parts and bloody bandages were burned in the open-air pit.

    “Wild dogs in the area raided the burn pit and carried off human remains,” the lawsuit states. “The wild dogs could be seen roaming the base with body parts in their mouths, to the great distress of the U.S. forces.”

    According to military regulations, medical waste must be burned in an incinerator to prevent anyone from breathing hazardous fumes.

    “On at least one occasion, defendants were attempting to improperly dispose of medical waste at an open-air burn pit by backing a truck full of medical waste up to the pit and emptying the contents onto the fire,” the lawsuit states. “The truck caught fire. Defendants fraudulent actions were thereby discovered by the military.”

    The lawsuit also states that the contractors burned old lithium batteries in the pits, “causing noxious and unsafe blue smoke to drift over the base.”

    Military Times has received more than 100 letters from troops saying they were sickened by fumes from the burn pits, which burned plastics, petroleum products, rubber, dining-facility waste and batteries.

    The lawsuit asks that the plaintiffs receive monetary compensation for physical injuries, emotional distress, fear of future disease, and need for continued medical treatment and involvement, and that KBR and Halliburton be stripped of all revenue and profits earned “from their pattern of constant misconduct and callous disregard to the welfare of Americans serving and working in Iraq.”

    Werner Ayers, LLP, of Houston, and Burk O’Neil LLC of Washington, D.C., are representing Eller.

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