In the week that oil prices once again crested
a barrel and more Americans than at any time since the Great Depression
on their homes than the homes were worth; in the year that the subprime market
crashed, global markets shuddered, the previously unnoticed credit-default
swap market threatened to go into the tank, stagflation
rose, the "R" word (for recession)
hit the headlines (while the "D" word lurked), within weeks of the fifth anniversary
of his invasion of Iraq, the President of the United States officially discovered
the war economy.
George W. Bush and Laura Bush were being interviewed
by NBC's Ann Curry when the subject turned to the war in Iraq. Curry
reminded the President that his wife had once
said, "No one suffers more than their president. I hope they know
the burden of worry that's on his shoulders every single day for our
troops." The conversation continued thusly:
"Bush: And as people are now beginning to see, Iraq
is changing, democracy is beginning to tak[e] hold. And I'm convinced
50 years from now people look back and say thank God there was those
who were willing to sacrifice.
"Curry: But you're saying you're going to have to carry that
burden... Some Americans believe that they feel they're carrying the
burden because of this economy.
"Bush: Yeah, well
"Curry: They say they say they're suffering because of
"Bush: I don't agree with that.
"Curry: You don't agree with that? Has nothing do with the
economy, the war? The spending on the war?
"Bush: I don't think so. I think actually, the spending on
the war might help with jobs.
"Curry: Oh, yeah?
"Bush: Yeah, because we're buying equipment, and people are
working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses."
In other words, in honor of the soon-to-arrive fifth anniversary of
his war without end, the President has offered a formula for economic
success in bad times that might be summed up this way: less houses,
bases, more weaponry, more war. This, of course, comes from the
man who, between 2001 and today, presided over an official Pentagon
budget that leapt
by more than 60% from $316 billion to $507 billion, and by more than
30% since Iraq was invaded. Looked at another way, between 2001 and
the latest emergency supplemental request to
pay for his wars (first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq), supplemental
funding for war-fighting has jumped from $17 billion to $189 billion,
an increase of 1,011%. At the same time, almost miraculously, the U.S.
armed forces have been driven to the edge of the military equivalent
It's clear that as a "war president" our Commander-in-Chef has really whipped
up a storm in the White House kitchen between the moment he launched his invasion
on March 19, 2003 and the present. Think of it as a tale of two recipes:
George Bush's Commander-in-Chef Mission Accomplished Baghdad
3 tablespoons, Iraqi extra virgin oil [no olives]
of crude oil (and the necessary no-bid contracts to protect it)
and disinformation (including Iraqi mushroom [clouds] and 9/11
Saddam [pork] links)
Shock 'n awe-tichoke cruise missiles and B-1 bombers (in quantity)
130,000 American troops (Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki
suggested that, for this victory stew, "several
hundred thousand" American troops were needed, but he was hustled
out of the kitchen.)
1 head of Saddam Hussein
1 bunch, coalition of the dilling, finely chopped
1 cup, Congressional authorization for war
2 sprigs of Iraqi exiles
Embedded reporters (to taste)
Dough for accompanying Iraqi flatbread, $50-60
million worth (Top Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey suggested
that $200 billion might be a more reasonable figure, but he, too,
ousted from the kitchen.)
Flower petals (edible
and in season)
In a heavy casserole, heat extra virgin Iraqi oil over a medium
Add disinformation (mushrooms and links) and sauté until brown; repeat
process. (You cannot repeat
too many times.)
Add sprigs of Iraqi exiles.
Pour in cup of Congressional authorization for war. Stir vigorously
as this tends to evaporate.
Pour in sea of crude oil. Raise heat to high. Quickly add shock
'n awe-tichoke cruise missiles and B-1 bombers. Cover tightly and
bring to a boil. (If this "decapitation"
cooking process works and you suddenly find yourself with the head
of Saddam Hussein, add it as well.)
Stir in 130,000 American troops. Grind in embedded reporters (to
taste). Add chopped coalition of the dilling. Bring back to a boil.
Cover, lower the heat, and simmer, stirring periodically, for three
Remove to a platter. Serve piping hot, otherwise "stuff
happens." If possible, hire Shi'ite waiters to strew edible flower petals
atop the victory stew at the table for dramatic effect.
In fact, we know who sat down to that "table" in the years after 2003
to eat more than their fill. It was, of course, a cast of characters
from the war economy.
The Feasters (a non-inclusive list):
Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR): Until April 2007 a subsidiary
of Halliburton, KBR garnered $20.1 billion in Iraq contracts from the
Bush administration. The company reported a $2.3
billion profit in 2006. According to a Center for Public Integrity
KBR was the single biggest corporate winner from the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. In terms of the dollar value of its Iraq contracts, it
received nine times as much as the second largest Iraq contractor, DynCorp.
Halliburton: In 2002, Halliburton was number 37 on the Pentagon's
list of top 100 contractors with $500 million in contracts. By
2006, it was number six, with $6.1 billion in contracts, an increase
of more than 1,000%.
Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Peter W. Singer puts this in context,
noting in a September 2007 policy
paper that "the amount paid to Halliburton-KBR for just that period
is roughly three times what the U.S. government paid to fight the entire
1991 Persian Gulf War. When putting other wars into current dollar amounts,
the U.S. government paid Halliburton about $7 billion more than
it cost the United States to fight the American Revolution, the War
of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish American War combined."
Bechtel: In all, Bechtel was granted about $3 billion in contracts
for work in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. According to the San
Francisco Chronicle, some of its projects included: $1.075 billion for
repairs to power stations and the electrical grid; $210 million for water and
sanitation projects; $109 million for surface transportation repairs, including
roads and railways; and $90 million for repairing or replacing buildings. The
company ran afoul of investigators for not finishing many of the jobs it started.
Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector
general for Iraq reconstruction, issued a report in 2006 that repeatedly
cited Bechtel mismanagement, including for the construction of the Basra
Children's Hospital, a project that was supposed to be completed by December
2005 at a cost of $50 million. By July 2007, costs had soared to between $90
million and $131 million. The company was dropped from the project which to
this day remains
Blackwater: According to investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill,
Blackwater, the notorious
private security company, has
won about $1 billion in State Department contracts.
Lockheed Martin: This company is the largest recipient of Pentagon
contracts. It received $26.6 billion in contracts from the Pentagon in 2006,
a 36% increase over 2005. Since 2003, when the war against Iraq began, the company
has seen its Pentagon contracts jump 20% or nearly $5 billion. Lockheed Martin's
slogan, "we never forget who we're working for," clearly refers to the Pentagon,
the company's best customer by a long shot. According to the Orlando
Business Journal, "Lockheed Martin Corp. reported profits up 9.6 percent
last quarter? The Bethesda-based defense contractor posted fourth-quarter 
net income of $799 million, or $1.89 per share, compared with $729 million,
or $1.68 per share in the same quarter a year ago? Sales rose in every category
of Lockheed's business except its aeronautics division."
Boeing: In 2003, the number two recipient of Pentagon contracts received
$17.3 billion worth of them. By 2006, the Pentagon had upped that figure to
$20.3 billion. According to the Chicago
Tribune, "Boeing's net income rose a better-than-expected 4 percent,
to $1.03 billion, or $1.36 per share" in the fourth quarter of 2007. The paper
went on to note that the company "expects to build on its strong results from
2007, when its net income jumped 84 percent to $4.07 billion on sales of $66.39
Northrop Grumman: The third largest recipient of Pentagon contracts
recorded a net profit of $454 million for the last quarter of 2007,
according to Reuters.
In 2003, the company took in $11.1 billion in Pentagon contracts. Three
years later, that figure had jumped nearly 50% to $16.6 billion.
General Dynamics: According to analysts, because the work of
General Dynamics is concentrated on Army systems, it has
reaped the most direct benefits of all the large weapons makers
from the Iraq war. "The combat-systems business... it's a cash cow for
them, it's a solid business," said Eric Hugel, an industry analyst for
Stephens Inc. The New York Times reported
that fourth-quarter 2007 earnings for General Dynamics were up 42%.
"For all of 2007, General Dynamics had net earnings of $2.1 billion,"
up 11% from $1.86 billion in 2006.
The Oil Majors: The oil majors have not actually entered Iraq
(yet) in any significant way, but they have profited enormously from
the havoc the Iraq War has unleashed in the Middle East as well as from
the fact that, in these years, less Iraqi oil has been heading to market
than in the worst years of the Saddam Hussein era. The Washington
for instance, that Exxon Mobil set new records for quarterly and annual
corporate profits in 2007, breaking its own 2006 record by making $40.6
billion. Chevron was next in line with an almost 30% increase in profits
from 2006 to 2007. The Post went on to note that profits from
the five biggest international oil companies have tripled since 2002.
Parsons: This Pasadena-based engineering and construction company
has been awarded more than $5 billion in contracts to rebuild the country's
health care and security facilities as well as its water and sewage
systems. With Worley Group of Australia, Parsons has also received $800
million in contracts to restore Iraq's northern oil infrastructure.
In negotiating its Iraq reconstruction contracts, Parsons built in an
additional bonus of up to 12% for good performance. Fortunately for
taxpayers, good performance has been in short
supply. Awarded a $75 million contract to build a police academy,
Parsons typically cut corners. In the "completed" project, the bathrooms
leaked waste water into student barracks to such an extent that one
room was dubbed
"the rainforest." The Pentagon terminated one contract when an audit
found that, after two years' work, only six of the 142 health clinics
Parsons had signed on to build were completed.
All in all, the Commander-in-Chef whipped up quite a meal back in 2003. As
late as March 2006, he was still trying to serve a version of it at a "strategy
for victory" event (though he was no longer accompanying it with a dessert
Ice Cream Cake).
Finally, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the invasion, the
war economy seems to have had its fill. Now, the rest of us are being
seated at a table with an oil-stained tablecloth, uncleared places,
dirty dishes, used silverware, and bones strewn everywhere. Of course,
it's for a multi-trillion dollar meal and, for us, it's a pay-as-you-go
affair. (Bring your home mortgage papers with you.) Oh, and when you
get your bill, note that the tip, a 150% gratuity, is already included.
(Another thing, skip the ice water in those dirty glasses. Cholera
is passing around Baghdad right now.) This time, however, the President
is offering us a new dish, a special anniversary recipe:
George W. Bush's Commander-in-Chef Losing Mulligatawny
At least 140,000
Tens of thousands of private security contractors
Nearly 4,000 dead Americans
Tens of thousands of wounded Americans
From several hundred thousand to a
million or more dead Iraqis
Iraqi refugees or internally displaced persons
4 million hungry
Assorted Shi'ite militias and death squads
Assorted Kurdish militias
U.S.-armed Sunni "concerned citizens" (militias)
least 24,000 Iraqi prisoners in American jails
Thousands of Sunni insurgents.
Hundreds (or thousands) of al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia militants
Hundreds of foreign
jihadis and suicide bombers.
Up to 10,000
Crude oil (where
Hundreds of IEDs (roadside bombs)
U.S. Army unmanned drones operating in Iraqi airspace
Hundreds of thousands
of pounds of explosives released by U.S. Air Force planes
Dough for accompanying Iraqi flatbread, now possibly
$3 trillion and rising.
Heat whatever crude oil is available in the largest kettle you can
find until smoking. Dump in all ingredients in whatever quantities
in any order you choose. (Warning: popping oil, shield eyes.) Add
polluted water. Bring to a roiling boil at highest heat. Cook for
as much or as little time as you want. Pour the soup, boiling
hot, across the table (no need for bowls) and dig in.
Bon appétit! Happy anniversary!
And keep in mind, for the next 11 months our Iron (Commander-in-)
Chef will still be in the kitchen cookin' up a storm and undoubtedly
"War! huh yeah
What is it good for?
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com,
is the co-founder of the
American Empire Project. His book, The
End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has
been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory
culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.
Frida Berrigan is Senior Program Associate with the Arms
and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. She is a
columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus
and a contributing editor at In
These Times magazine. She is the author of reports on the arms trade
and human rights, U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the domestic politics
of U.S. missile defense and space weapons policies. She can be reached
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt and Frida Berrigan