The picture below (from the New York Times) speaks most eloquently on the essence of the Bush Regime’s brutal, grubby Babylonian Conquest: fat mercenaries guarding the construction of yet another prison.
The picture comes from a story on the "overhead costs" of reconstruction projects, based on a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, who found astonishing amounts of waste and cost overruns by the crony contractors who came to feast on the carcass that Bush killed for them. Two main points emerge from the report.
First, that the IG’s catalogue of gouging, feather-bedding and other profitable forms of war-profiteering is by no means complete, because "the United States has not properly tracked how much such expenses have taken from the $18.4 billion of taxpayer-financed reconstruction approved by Congress two years ago." In fact, the IG’s office was only able to examine only $1.3 billion of the contracts.
In other words, as oft reported here (and here and here), much of that money has simply disappeared — into corporate coffers, into copious baksheesh for the Bush-backed Iraqi government, into kickbacks for Congressional vultures, and doubtless into slush funds both for covert ops (including perhaps the Bushists’ deliberate fomenting of terrorism and arming of militias) and domestic politics. We are most likely seeing the fruits of some of this blood money wash up on American screens at this very moment, as the GOP’s last-ditch "Smear and Fear" campaign goes into hyperdrive.
The second salient point is the fact that most of this "overhead" is not going toward security costs. Apologists for the Dear Leader’s war crime have been quick to answer any criticism of the woeful dearth of "reconstruction" — and the fact that the Iraqi people now have lower levels of electricity, fuel, health care, sanitation, etc. than before the invasion — by blaming the colossal waste and fraud on the insurgents. But the Inspector General — appointed by the Bush Administration itself — tells us that the war-crime apologists are dead wrong:
The report said the prime reason was not the need to provide security, though those costs have clearly risen in the perilous environment, and are a burden that both contractors and American officials routinely blame for such increases. Instead, the inspector general pointed to a simple bureaucratic flaw: the United States ordered the contractors and their equipment to Iraq and then let them sit idle for months at a time. The delay between “mobilization,” or assembling the teams in Iraq, and the start of actual construction was as long as nine months.
“The government blew the whistle for these guys to go to Iraq and the meter ran,” said Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office. “The government was billed for sometimes nine months before work began.”
The findings are similar to those of a growing list of inspections, audits and investigations that have concluded that the program to rebuild Iraq has often fallen short for the most mundane of reasons: poorly written contracts, ineffective or nonexistent oversight, needless project delays and egregiously poor construction practices.
“This report is the latest chapter in a long, sad and expensive tale about how contracting in Iraq was more about shoveling money out the door than actually getting real results on the ground,” said Stephen Ellis, a vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington. “These contracts were to design and build important items for oil infrastructure, hospitals and education, but in some cases more than half of the money padded corporate coffers instead,” he said.
None of this is surprising. War profiteering by favored corporate cronies was one of the primary benefits envisaged by the Bush Regime as it drove so relentlessly and deceitfully toward the baseless and unprovoked attack. This "waste" and "overhead" was and is a key part of the whole operation. Certainly, the betterment of Iraqi lives was far down the list of priorities for the "reconstruction" program. As we noted here last week, the whole war has been a cash cow that will swell the personal fortunes and fuel the partisan agenda of the Bush Faction players, even if they are turfed out of office in 2008. Thus it was inevitable that the $18 billion boondoggle would produce results like this:
The report provided the first official estimate that, in some cases, more money was being spent on housing and feeding employees, completing paperwork and providing security than on actual construction. Those overhead costs have ranged from under 20 percent to as much as 55 percent of the budgets, according to the report…. On similar projects in the United States, those costs generally run to a few percent.
The highest proportion of overhead was incurred in oil-facility contracts won by KBR Inc., the Halliburton subsidiary formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root, which has frequently been challenged by critics in Congress and elsewhere.
The latter finding on KBR is "news" on the order of "sun rises in the east" or "pigs eat swill." In fact, Halliburton’s unconscionable gulping of blood money — and the fact that Dick Cheney still receives huge annual sums from the company — are so well-established now that they pass almost unnoticed. "Halliburton, Cheney, yeah, everybody knows that. Even Leno’s stopped telling jokes about it." This stark corruption — an unprecedented scandal in American history: a sitting vice-president openly taking cash from a war industry during a war of which he himself is a prime instigator — has almost lost its power to shock.
(Of course, KBR played a very similar role during the Vietnam War, when huge wads of its massive war profits were certainly kicked back to serving politicians like Lyndon Johnson and others in the then-Democratic majority, as well as to key Republicans. But in those days, bought pols had the decency to trouser their bribes on the QT, not serve openly on the payroll. Here, as in so many things, the Bush Regime is openly embracing — and often codifying in law — dark practices once thought shameful to acknowledge. I suppose we must at least admire their refreshing candor in being so forthrightly corrupt, bloodthirsty and belligerent.)
The IG’s report is devastating: but again, all this waste was built into the system from the start. Halliburton and the other swill-swallowers were given "cost-plus" contracts (many of them simply handed out like Halloween candy, without any of that silly-billy nonsense about competitive bidding). This means that they are guaranteed a certain set profit, no matter how far their costs balloon. There is simply no incentive for them to even try to bring a project in at cost — or indeed, to even complete it at all. There’s just too much money to be made by running up the meter, throwing away material and buying it again, cutting lucrative side deals with suppliers (and re-suppliers), mercenaries, local officials, etc.
This ethos of waste, corruption and utter disregard for the money of the American people — and the lives and well-being of the Iraqi people — is characteristic of the entire malevolent enterprise. A war of aggression launched without any justification whatsoever beyond the greed and power-lust of a band of corrupt authoritarian militarists — led by two men who squirmed and weaseled mightily to avoid combat in their youths but have no compunction whatsoever about sending other people off to kill and die — was bound to produce the moral horror that we see in Iraq today. And make no mistake — despite all the White House PR about "timetables" and strategy shifts, despite the rising hopes of ousting Bush’s bootlicking rubberstamps from control of the Congress, the stark truth (which I noted here in May) remains: There is no good solution to the hell Bush has wrought in his arrogance and folly. There is only blood and horror all the way down.
Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.