Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Public War for Private profit

Public war for Private Profit

The eight-year war in Afghanistan has had diffuse goals. It has not been clear what we were actually doing there. President Obama wants to clarify our objectives and then deploy the means necessary to reach them. No doubt that it is a laudable goal. But looking at the actual goings-on – the barefaced profiteering on the part of US firms in this war, it is clear that the objectives will always be split between making lots of money for private American consultancies, for private security firms, for private firms providing food and other necessities for our troops, on one hand, and the strategic goals of our country, on the other. These strategic goals will always be hard to reach as long as there is this second agenda of putting money into the pockets of well-connected American entrepreneurs.

At the present moment there are more private employees of private contractors in Afghanistan than US troops. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, the Department of Defense provides inadequate oversight over private contractors, money is often wasted--such a building a $30 million dining hall in Iraq a year before the troops are slated to leave. But that is a very polite way of talking about a situation described by The American Conservative in these words:
“There is such a lack of outrage for the way that private military contractors have pillaged and profiteered from our nearly-decade occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan that it leaves one speechless. Almost. Thanks to whistle-blowers — at the threat of their own security, professionally or otherwise — we have been informed of some of the basest, grossest behavior coming out of the contracting world on the taxpayers’ dime today. Whether it be soldiers electrocuted by cheap, poorly installed showers by KBR and Triple Canopy, the vodka-drug- fueled pimping frat boys from the Armor Group, or the gang rape of a female American contractor by her fellow KBR employees, there is seemingly no end to evidence that the proliferation of privatization has created a runaway Frankenstein of venality,”

The heavy fighting on the ground, is accompanied by an undignified scramble for public money by for-profit private American and foreign companies supported and encouraged by our government. American conservatives ordinarily are all for capitalism, pursuit of private profit, and the free market. But in Iraq and Afghanistan the pursuit of private profit apparently has gone so completely haywire that even conservatives are shocked and dismayed. The war now has two objectives: enrich private companies and fight terrorism. But we cannot do those two things at the same time. The war in Afghanistan will never weaken terrorists as long as less than half the personnel is under command of the military, the Secretary of Defense and the President, with advice of Congress, while slightly more than half all the personnel, representing the United States, are under the command of private companies, trying to make gigantic profits. We will not win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people as long as we are represented by the thugs of Blackwater and other private contractors.

Postscript: Do you think I am exaggerating? This morning's paper reports a federal indictment for a firm called “Agility” that has supplied billions of dollars worth of food to US troops in Kuwait and Iraq for “providing false invoices, . . . knowingly inflating prices. Manipulating packages to enable double billing . . .” The firm holds more than $ 8.5 billion in US government contracts.