Iraq: Corporate greed drives war and occupation

August 31, 2005

"War, what is it good for?", asked Edwin Starr in his 1970 hit single "War". The answer he gave was "absolutely nothin'!", a sentiment no doubt shared by most people. But for the owners of the euphemistically named "defence" industry, war — with all its attendant bloodshed and human suffering — is an opportunity to make megabucks. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has not proven an exception.

The lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction made by US President George Bush and the neoconservatives who are a driving force in his administration may have died an ugly public death, but the real reasons for the invasion of Iraq still remain obscured in the warmongers' flowery speeches. For example, in an August 20 radio address, Bush said: "We're fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, striking them in foreign lands before they can attack us here at home. And we're spreading the hope of freedom across the broader Middle East. By advancing the cause of liberty in a troubled region, we are bringing security to our own citizens and laying the foundations of peace for our children and grandchildren."

The reality is, of course, that Bush's "war on terror" has nothing to do with fighting terrorism or spreading the "hope of freedom" (much less actually spreading freedom).

"War is merely the continuation of policy by other means", said the Prussian 19th century general Karl von Clausewitz. In the 20th and 21st centuries this has translated to First World governments using their armed forces to protect the investments of their country's capitalists in Third World countries, and to defend the "right" of their country's corporate elite to exploit the raw materials, markets and labour of the poor countries. The "global war on terror", charmingly abbreviated as "the GWOT" by the Pentagon, is no different.

From the beginning of the GWOT, Iraq was in the White House's firing line by virtue of its abundant oil resources, which potentially spell a dollar bonanza for US energy corporations, and the strategic role that a pro-US regime in Baghdad could play in cementing Washington's domination of the oil-rich Middle East.

At a White House meeting the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued that the US should use the terrorist attacks to justify a war against Iraq, despite there being no connection between 9/11 attacks and Saddam Hussein's regime.

Present at the meeting, along with Bush and then secretary of state Colin Powell, was Richard Clarke, the US National Security Council's counter-terrorism adviser at the time. In his 2004 book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, Clarke wrote: "At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting al Qaeda. I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and [then US deputy secretary of defence Paul] Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq."

According to Clarke, Powell argued that Afghanistan had to be the first target of the "war on terror" because "public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible".

It had long been the view of the neocons that "regime change" in Iraq would help usher in a new era of unrestrained US global power in the post-Soviet era. In January 1998, a letter from the infamous neoconservative think-tank Project for a New American Century to then US president Bill Clinton urged "the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power". Almost as an aside the letter also noted that Iraq possessed a "significant portion of the world's supply of oil".

The letter's signatories included Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and a range of other neocons who later found jobs in Bush junior's administration, including Richard Armitage, Robert Zoellick and Zalmay Khalilzad (who is now US ambassador to Iraq). So when the neocons took over in Washington after the 2000 presidential election, it was no surprise that "taking out" Saddam Hussein's regime was put on the White House's agenda.

According to the US government's Energy Information Administration, Iraq's proven oil reserves amount to 115 billion barrels and there is a strong possibility of substantially more oil in unexplored areas. In addition, the country has natural gas reserves of at least 3.12 trillion cubic metres. For US oil corporations this represented a massive potential windfall if Saddam Hussein was ousted.

British investigative journalist Greg Palast claimed in March this year that he had uncovered evidence proving that plans for Iraq's oil had already begun to be drawn up shortly after Bush took office in 2001. According to Palast, whose claims were aired on BBC's Newsnight program on March 17, there were disagreements between the neocons and oil company executives about the most desirable way to carve up Iraq's natural resources — the neocons favoured hell-for-leather privatisation while the oil executives favoured the creation of a new Iraqi state-run oil company that would give "favourable" treatment to US corporations. Either way, it would be US corporations that reaped the oil profits from regime change.

That the Pentagon chiefs would sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and of thousands of US soldiers for the bottom-lines of the corporate rich is nothing new. As US Major-General Smedley Butler pointed out, war is a racket. In his 1935 book of that title, Butler explained: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps... And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscleman for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism...

"I helped make Mexico ... safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long."

Even the crisis-stricken occupation of Iraq, challenged by a predominantly indigenous resistance movement, is an opportunity for corporate gluttony (a "crisatunity", as Homer Simpson might put it). The Pentagon continues to rack up huge bills in its struggle to terrorise Iraqi's into submission to Washington's rule and the bulk of this money finds its way back into the bank accounts of US corporations — "corporate welfare" on a mammoth scale.

Linda Bilmes, a former assistant secretary at the US commerce department, argued in an August 20 New York Times op-ed that "if the American military presence in the [Middle East] lasts another five years, the total outlay for the war could stretch to more than $1.3 trillion...

"The cost goes well beyond the more than $250 billion already spent on military operations and reconstruction. Basic running costs of the current conflicts are $6 billion a month — a figure that reflects the Pentagon's unprecedented reliance on expensive private contractors."

In September 2004, the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity released a study showing that half of the Pentagon's annual budgeted expenditure went directly to private corporations. In the six years leading up to the study, the proportion remained unchanged. But, as the CPI study points out, as the US "defence" budget has grown ever more massive thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "so have the dollars going to contractors".

This massive transfer of public wealth to private corporations through war spending is far from unique to the US. In Australia, year after year, the federal and state governments tear public education and health funding to shreds. But the Australian military consistently gets a budget bonanza — in 2005 Australia's "defence" budget was A$17.5 billion. Like the famous graffiti slogan goes, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need, and the army has to hold a cake stall to buy a bomber".

But it is in the US that the amount of money wasted on the business of war reaches a truly obscene pinnacle. According to an April 27 report released by accountancy group PricewaterhouseCoopers, US military spending reached US$417.4 billion in 2003 — 47% of total world military spending. The report noted that "the US defence budget has increased by 60% in constant US$ over the last ten years".

As Butler's classic anti-war tract argued: "War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives...

"How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

"Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill."

And the bill, wrote Butler, "renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations." Any of that sound familiar?

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