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June 14-20, 2006

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The Byrne Report

The Agenda

By Peter Byrne


Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Antonia Juhasz, author of a new book, The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. Juhasz, 35, is an analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies based in Washington, D.C., and has just returned to her home in San Francisco from a month-long publicity tour. Her book is lucid, fact-filled and nonrhetorical.

It begins by delineating the neoconservative economic program that was laid out in public years ago by the very same people who became the Bush administration: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Cheney, Paul Bremer, Zalmay Khalilzad and others. She shows how Bechtel, Chevron, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and similar corporations have worked with our government to methodically wage a war on Iraq (while also targeting Iran).

With these corporations, the administration is implementing an economic agenda using military force to remake Iraq. This is a sorry example of what will happen to other Third World nations that do not bow down to the political and economic dictates of the so-called Washington Consensus contained in such institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

Juhasz documents how the Coalition Provisional Authority's "100 Orders"--rules laid down during Bremer's tenure in Iraq as head of the CPA--illegally replaced that country's constitution and largely succeeded in implementing the Bush agenda. The Orders are illegal, since occupiers are forbidden by international law from changing the internal laws of a conquered nation.

The Orders enabled what may very well be the largest public works boondoggle in history. Under cover of "reconstructing" Iraq, American corporations are siphoning off $63 billion in congressional appropriations and Iraqi funds, while further ruining the country's distressed infrastructures. Although oversight of this $63 billion has been minimal, there are a few audits and studies that tell a hair-raising tale.

Putting Juhasz's book aside for a moment, let's look at the April 2006 report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), a government agency created by Congress to oversee the 63 big ones. The SIGIR has 26 auditors sitting in Baghdad, most of them so petrified of the situation there that they only leave the Green Zone with bodyguards. Rather than tip-toeing out, they spy on reconstruction sites around Iraq using the federal equivalent of Google Earth. Really.

Trying to follow the paper trail of Iraq reconstruction contracts has been problematic for auditors, because there is not much of a paper trail. The SIGIR remarks, "No single government information system currently captures comprehensive project, contract and financial information about Iraq reconstruction." Also, $8.8 billion is missing in action.

Last year, the SIGIR observed "detailed systemic management failures, lax or nonexistent oversight and apparent fraud and embezzlement on the part of U.S. officials charged with administering the rebuilding efforts." No wonder that an array of U.S. government agencies operating in Iraq denied SIGIR auditors access to their files and stonewalled their inquiries.

Nonetheless, the auditors determined that a score of American engineering and financial firms are benefiting from no-bid contracts that contain few, if any, specifications about what they are being paid tens of billions of dollars to do. Among the largest of these general contractors are Halliburton, Fluor, Parsons, Washington International Group, Perini, URS and Bechtel. Two firms that specialize in privatization of state-owned resources, Louis Berger Group and Bearing Point, are being paid hundreds of millions of dollars to plan and oversee the reconstruction of the Iraqi economy and legal system. They intend that a demoralized Iraqi labor force will fit into the free trade model of exploitation promoted by the neoconservative White House.

The reconstruction is not supposed to succeed. It is supposed to fail. Bush has zero interest in restoring Iraqi industry and self-sufficiency. That is why the SIGIR found that the water, sewage and energy infrastructures remain a shambles, while the contractors responsible for fixing them are lavishly rewarded for failure. Not even oil extraction is up to pre-Iraq War levels, never mind matching the heyday of the 1980s when Iraq was a modern, secular state with guaranteed free education, free healthcare, equality for women, protection from foreign investors and oodles of jobs. In defiance of international law, those guarantees have largely been stripped out of Iraqi law by the U.S. invaders.

Adding insult, the SIGIR reports that, in March 2004, Parsons Delaware Inc. was awarded an open-ended contract to build and equip 150 public health centers throughout Iraq. Inevitably, Parsons careened over budget, thereby increasing its profit margin, and earning $186 million for building six tiny centers; the 144 others went by the wayside. After auditors fainted, U.S. officials terminated the contract. But not before Parsons bought 131 sets of medical equipment to furnish the centers it did not build. Guess who got stuck with that bill?

In April, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), based in Washington, D.C., released a damning report on Iraqi reconstruction. The nonpartisan experts determined, "The U.S. aid effort in Iraq has not accomplished most of its sectoral goals, and more importantly, has not effectively initiated the reconstruction of the country's economy. . . . [E]ven if there was not an endemic insurgency in Iraq, the reconstruction would still be ineffective" [emphasis added].

The CSIS analysis states that Bush never had "a comprehensive development plan"; asserts that many American bureaucrats in Iraq are incompetent and corrupt; that Iraqis were excluded from obtaining reconstruction contracts and jobs (thus fueling the insurgency); and that a tight network of contractors and bureaucrats is destroying what is left of Iraq. Case in point: Several billions spent on "reconstructing" the war-damaged oil industry were used only to extract oil for export to America. Meanwhile, the Iraqis are forced to import gasoline because of lack of refining capacity. Worsening the energy deficit, the Army Corps of Engineers gave Bechtel and other American firms $3 billion to obtain 3.7 hours of daily power in Baghdad, far below prewar levels.

The CSIS reports that, in June 2004, Bremer airlifted $1.4 billion in cash to Kurdish politicians in Erbil, "in an attempt to win the silence of Kurdish leaders after Bremer had squandered the rest of the money [due to them]."

The outrageous facts contained in these reports, and several government-funded studies done by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and financial consulting firm KPMG Bahrain, do not seem to register as problems to most people in Congress, or at the editorial boards of the mainstream media. That may be because these groups consider the reports to be proof of the success of the Washington Consensus in Iraq.

Back to Juhasz: Transcending the recursive terms of the phony debate about how to escape what is repeatedly referred to in the mainstream press as a "quagmire," she explains that since 2003 the United States has cajoled and enticed a dozen Middle Eastern countries into the economic embrace of the World Trade Organization. She reports on the unequal free trade agreements that the United States signed with Morocco, Bahrain and Oman after the invasion of Iraq.

Juhasz points out that new Iraqi laws that turn Iraq's oil industry over to American oil companies are a victory for Bush's agenda, which cares nothing for civilian death and harm. The United States is not preparing to leave Iraq any time soon. Quite the contrary. The energy companies and American corporations profiting off Iraqi reconstruction require American troops to protect their growing financial interests from Iraqi self-determination efforts.

The Bush agenda was never intended to make the world safe from terrorism, says Juhasz. "President Bush has expanded the policies of corporate globalization through the barrel of a gun."


Contact Peter Byrne or send a letter to the editor about this story.