Billions More for Military Contractors and Permanent Bases

In Baghdad yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the U.S. has no "exit strategy" for the country – just a "victory strategy." That statement seems in line with the sentiment of most lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They’re posed to approve another $80 billion for American military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Included in the request is money to construct 14 "enduring" military bases in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

Ask any one senator what he or she thinks of building 14 new military bases in Iraq, and you’re likely to get an answer like this one from Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

"I think it’s very clear and very unfortunate that we are a long way from having stability in Iraq," she told me as she walked off the Senate floor. "Unfortunately, we’re going to be facing a lot of challenges in Iraq for a long time."

The new U.S. military bases in Iraq will likely be built in concert with Dick Cheney’s old company Halliburton. Congressional staffers told me that the company will like to receive 5 to 6 billion dollars more if the new monies are approved, and that number could rise.

Halliburton hasn’t been on-budget in the past.

"Excess cost, unaccounted-for lost equipment – really a whole variety of things" is how Charles Cray described the company’s practices over the last three years. Cray helps manage the Web site He notes data released by Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) this week that showed Halliburton has overcharged the U.S. government $212 million since the occupation began.

"This $82 billion supplemental [that Congress will be voting on], when it came from the White House, it had no provisions to increase oversight," he said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have blocked Democratic efforts to increase oversight.

Meantime, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that of the 20 water treatment and 24 sewage plants San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation had announced it fixed, none are currently working.

Still, Democratic senators say they have no choice but to join their Republican colleagues and approve $80 billion more for the wars.

"The overriding goal of supporting the troops is one I can’t argue with," Senator Barack Obama of Illinois told me. "I meet too many families back in Illinois whose children are over there – you visit Walter Reed [military hospital] and you see double amputees who are 18 years old, and you can’t hold them hostage despite some significant policy differences."

Some, however, see more support for the U.S. military in Iraq as continuing and worsening a cycle of violence. Sean Langan is a documentary filmmaker with the BBC who spent months reporting both embedded and unembedded in Fallujah. He told me that the more the U.S. cracks down on the insurgency, the more it grows. And, he says, that’s not good for the troops.

"Many of these guys back home would be the good guys," he said. "They would be the guys who would help out in the community, and yet finding themselves in a town like Fallujah where they are getting shot at every day, they ended up as the bad guys. The nice guys and good guys were then the same guys who would shout abuse at the Iraqi civilians and run cars off the road. Whatever kind of guy you are, you end up in a difficult, no-win situation."

Final approval of George Bush’s $80 billion war package is expected by early next week.