Iraq is good business.

August 15, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

In the September, 2006 Harper’s “Notebook,” Lewis H. Lapham begins with this quote by Rainer Werner Fassbinder: 

In the last analysis, terrorism is an idea generated by capitalism to justify better defense measures to safeguard capitalism.

Is there money to be made in Iraq?  Lapham, who has wielded a sharp pen for many years at Harpers, gets right down to business:

The winning numbers posted in the profit margins light the paths to glory. During the five years since the striking down of the World Trade Center towers, the United States Congress has appropriated well over $300 billion for the Bush Administration’s never-ending war against all the world’s evildoers. Now flowing eastward out of Washington at the rate of $1.5 billion a week, much of the money takes the form of no-bid contracts, cost-plus and often immune from audit—at least $12.3 billion to Halliburton; $5.3 billion for Parsons Corporation; $3.7 billion for Fluor Corporation; $3.1 billion for Washington Group International; $2.8 billion for Bechtel Corporation. The contracts specify the repair and reconstruction of Iraq’s depleted infrastructure—roads, power plants, hospitals, oil fields, pipelines, schools, mosques, and sewer systems—but because so many of the project sites have been deemed unsafe for visitors, the invoices translate into art objects, intricately and lovingly decorated with surcharges for undelivered concrete and nonexistent electricity.

So also the goods and services with which private security companies supplement the American military effort in Iraq. The Pentagon furnishes 130,000 troops, many of them National Guard Reservists, poorly paid, inadequately equipped, and held against their will for extended tours of duty; the private companies field an additional 50,000 personnel, some of them earning upward of $150,000 a year for driving trucks, cleaning latrines, flying helicopters, pitching tents. Unhampered by U.S. Army regulations or by Iraqi law, the military guest workers are most conspicuously employed as bodyguards for the cadres of American middle management requiring, in the words of one of the advertising brochures, “discreet travel companions” or a “heavily armored high profile convoy escort.” For a discreet companion armed with an assault rifle and a record of prior service under the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, Blackwater USA charges $600 a day, plus a 36 percent markup for expenses—travel, weapons, insurance, hotel room, ammunition.

But what about all of the carnage, the dead civilians? After all, many of them are totally innocent children.  Capitalism has the answer for that: collateral damage of the free market. This comports with the beliefs of many conservatives that the free market is the answer to all economic questions (setting aside such commons issues as entire oceans bereft of fish and global warming).  They go so far as to personify and deify the Free Market. So, what about those dead children? A peek at stock prices won’t disappoint many questioners:

For the friends of the free market operating in Iraq it doesn’t matter who gets killed or why; every day is payday, and if from time to time events take a turn for the worse—another twenty or thirty Arabs annihilated in a mosque, a BBC camera-man lost on the road to the airport—back home in America with the flags and the executive-compensation packages, the stock prices for our reliably patriotic corporations rise with the smoke from the car bombs exploding in Ramadi and Fallujah—Lockheed Martin up from $52 to $75 between July 2003 and July 2006; over the span of the same three years, Boeing up from $33 to $77; ExxonMobil up from $36 to $65; Chevron up from $36 to $66; Halliburton up from $22 to $74; Fluor up from $34 to $87.

The free market works in mysterious ways, it seems.  You might say that it blossoms shyly behind behind closed doors of corporate boardrooms all across America.  It is difficult to fathom a force more powerful than this corporate engine of freedom. So where is the applause?  Lapham answers:

In a country that recognizes no objective more worthwhile than the one incorporated in the phrase “to make a killing,” I don’t know why so many people insist on withholding their applause.

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Category: American Culture, Corruption, Current Events, Iraq, Politics, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Actually, deficit spending is often good business. Whether the money goes to Republican causes (e.g., Bush's defense buddies) or Democrat causes (e.g., FDR's 'New Deal' public service agencies) is merely a political choice. Unfortunately, deficit spending is risky business. It all depends on whether or not the money spent creates future returns to pay back the deficit-funded investment.

    For example, consider buying a house. If you take a loan to buy a house — let's say an $80k loan to buy a $100k house, and the house increases in value to $120, then you've made $20k on your investment (i.e., your down payment) of $20k (plus the interest you've paid on the loan). That's a 100% gain. However, if the house decreases in value to $80k, then you've lost $20k on your $20k investment — a 100% loss. Such are the consequences of financial leverage: when you win, you win big; when you lose, you lose big.

    Now, consider Bush's deficit spending to finance the invasion of Iraq. So far, there is little evidence to suggest the situation will turn out well. Yes, U.S. military suppliers have received truckloads of money, and they will undoubtedly invest some of it for future growth that will eventually percolate throughout the U.S. economy, but a lot of the money appears to have yielded nothing that will ever benefit the U.S. economy: namely, infrastructure in Iraq that will benefit Iraqis up until insurgents sabotage it. Right now, American taxpayers appear headed for a big loss. Or, rather, their children and grandchildren appear headed for a big loss, because that's who Bush will be giving the bill to for his misguided excesses.

    Add it to the very long list of Bush's failed business ventures.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    I'd like to reiterate: Iraq is The Seventy Million Children Left Behind War. See http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=54 .

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