In the week that oil prices once again crested above $100 a barrel and more Americans than at any time since the Great Depression owed more 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 returned, unemployment 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 this.
“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, more 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 of default.
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 Victory Stew
3 tablespoons, Iraqi extra virgin oil [no olives]
A “sea” of crude oil (and the necessary no-bid contracts to protect it)
Misinformation 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, was promptly ousted from the kitchen.)
Flower petals (edible and in season)
In a heavy casserole, heat extra virgin Iraqi oil over a medium flame.
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 weeks.
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 investigation, 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 uncompleted.
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 billion.”
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 Post reported, 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 of Cakewalk 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 Soup
At least 140,000 American troops
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
4.5 million Iraqi refugees or internally displaced persons
4 million hungry Iraqis
Assorted Shi’ite militias and death squads
Assorted Kurdish militias
80,000 U.S.-armed Sunni “concerned citizens” (militias)
At 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 Turkish troops.
Numerous Iranian agents
Crude oil (where available)
Hundreds of IEDs (roadside bombs)
361 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 hummin’ to himself:
“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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt and Frida Berrigan