1825 K Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006
202-955-5665 (tel) | 202-955-5606 (fax) | www.ourfuture.org
Iraq is the signature conservative disaster. Since the U.S. invasion, worldwide incidents of terrorism have increased, oil prices have risen, and Iraq has plunged into a bloody civil war. More than 3,800 U.S. troops have been killed and 28,000 have been wounded.
“We don’t do nation building.”
President George W. Bush
“[Occupying Iraq] will be the most daunting and complex task the U.S. and the international community will have undertaken since the end of World War II.”
Conservatives can’t build a government because they don’t respect government. When George Bush campaigned in 2000, he mocked Clinton for involving U.S. forces in nation building. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and then national security advisor Condoleezza Rice made it clear that the U.S. military fought wars, it didn’t build schools or police streets.
That scorn for nation building contributed to the inexplicable failures to plan for the occupation. Under Rumsfeld’s misguided leadership, the Pentagon elbowed out the State Department’s experts from the occupation effort, took control over it and then failed to plan for it. The Pentagon’s leaders assumed that the military would be out of Iraq in a matter of weeks. They left U.S. soldiers stranded in an occupation for which they lacked sufficient forces, training and guidance.
When it became clear that the U.S. was going to be responsible for reconstructing an Iraq devastated by years of dictatorship, sanctions, war and looting, once again conservative ideological preconceptions undermined the mission. The architects disbanded the Iraqi public sector and laid off Iraqi public officials. Rather than developing public works reconstruction plans that would put Iraqis to work, they turned to the American private sector, launching an ideological experiment in privatization that left Iraqis largely out in the heat.
Conservatives have a strange definition of the free market. They mean "giveaways to business," regardless of whether that generosity increases freedom, and whether it's actually of a competitive market process.
Iraqis stewed as foreign corporations imported foreign workers to build projects to foreign specifications. During what experts call the “golden hour” after the fall of the old regime and before new forces take shape, the U.S. government was asleep at the wheel and private actors drove around with the meter ticking.
Behind many of these problems lies a failed ideology. Conservatives with a naïve view of freedom seemed to believe that organized civil society would spontaneously arise when the tyrant’s boot was lifted. In the days following the invasion, when vandals and looters pillaged the streets of Baghdad and all former order had been destroyed, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised freedom to the petrified residents, “[F]reedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”
Led by relentless conservative faith in the private sector, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have been privatized to a degree unprecedented in U.S. military history. Private contractors have been hired to perform specialized civilian functions—like build hospitals or reconstruct oil fields—but also functions that have historically been done by troops. Private firms are hired to supply security for VIPs, feed the troops, interrogate prisoners, transport equipment, guard buildings, and construct military bases. U.S. contractors are the second biggest military force in Iraq, outnumbered only by the U.S. armed forces (but outnumbering the British or other coalition partners).
Yet basic principles of private contracting were disregarded, starting with competitive bidding—the bedrock of free market competition. Instead, contracts were often awarded on the basis of personal connections and political loyalty. The most notorious case is Halliburton, the giant company associated with Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney became CEO of Halliburton after leaving Congress, and he presided over a spectacular growth in Halliburton’s government contracts. He left Halliburton to run for Vice President, but left his loyalty unclear.
Another basic building block of private contracting is the requirement to perform and account for results. These, too, were absent in Iraq. Three years passed and roughly $16 billion was spent before there was any inspector general or oversight authority. As soon as oversight started, problems started to emerge.
Nearly $12 billion in U.S. cash—including more than 107 million $100 bills, with a combined weight of 363 tons—were distributed in Iraq. With no accounting and no controls, it is unknown and virtually unknowable who got the money or what for.
Halliburton billed the government for 42,000 meals a day for our troops, but only served 14,000 meals a day. Halliburton charged the government $45 for cases of locally produced soda and $100 to wash bags of laundry. Halliburton paid local citizens 50 cents an hour for laundry work. Examination of seven fully paid Halliburton LOGCAP task orders with a combined value of $4.33 billion identified unsupported costs totaling $1.82 billion. Nearly half of every dollar spent (42 cents) could not be justified.
The children’s hospital that Bechtel was contracted to build in Basra was supposed to cost $40 million, but it went up to $270 million before the U.S. decided to stop the project. In some cases the lack of control and poor performance cost lives as well as money. Halliburton was paid to run convoys by the trip, and they were paid even if the truck ran empty. With this incentive, Halliburton repeatedly dispatched convoys of empty trucks through the desert, putting drivers and security personnel at risk. Americans who went to Iraq to earn a living and rebuild a country died in those convoys.
Contracting in the Iraq war is rife with conflicts of interest. The most notorious case is Halliburton, the giant company associated with Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney became CEO of Halliburton after leaving Congress, where he presided over a spectacular growth in Halliburton’s government contracts.
Then he left Halliburton to run for Vice President.
Cheney still owns Halliburton stock options.
Halliburton Corp. received over $16 billion from the Pentagon for work in Iraq between the March 2003 invasion and July 2006.
Halliburton give 89 percent of its political contributions to Republicans.
But the problems go beyond Halliburton. Blackwater USA, for example, gained public attention when four of its employees were captured, burned and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. Americans soon learned that:
The contract required armored vehicles. The men were sent out in unarmored vehicles.
The contract required three persons in each vehicle — a driver, a navigator and a rear gunner. This team lacked both rear gunners and the gun.
The contract required risk assessment and navigational briefing before each trip. Before this trip there was no risk assessment and no navigational briefing. The men didn’t even have a map.
Not only has Blackwater not been held accountable for its failures; it has continued to score more contracts. But Blackwater, too, is personally connected to people in power.
Blackwater’s lawyer, Fred Fielding, became White House Counsel after Harriet Miers stepped down following her failed nomination to the Supreme Court.
The former Inspector General for the Pentagon, Joseph Schmitz, became Blackwater’s general counsel.
Ken Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor who led the impeachment charge against President Clinton, is now Blackwater's counsel of record. He is leading the opposition, including briefs filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, against holding Blackwater legally liable for wrongful deaths in Iraq.
The head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center on September 11th, Cofer Black, became a Blackwater vice president.
How Conservatism Created This Failure...
Private contractors in Iraq are simply not held to the same standards as military personnel—and the pathologies of that sad state of affairs are becoming more evident every day. read more » 
In the conservative mind it's always better when a business does it than when the government does it—even if the markets aren't competitive, as with Halliburton's no-bid contracts. read more » 
Conservatives meant Iraq to be a showcase for conservative ideology. Using a war to prove a political point is the cruelest means-justify-the-ends exercise imaginable. read more » 
Sometimes the Iraq War has looked more like an exercise in beefing up the bottom line of Halliburton and Blackwater than making America safer. read more » 
What did Joe Allbaugh, Bush’s former campaign manager, do after he left his position as FEMA director? He started a consulting company to help businesses get contracts in war-torn Iraq. read more » 
Want to see who gets funneled the lucrative no-bid contracts in Iraq? Follow the money. read more