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Parable of the Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone
Why We Fight
by WERTHER

"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."

General Smedley Butler (1935)

As is our habit, we are wont to read The Washington Post, bulletin board of the Beltway illuminati, in Pravda fashion, from back to front, concentrating on subject matter mentioned three quarters of the way through the article. Let us take the Wednesday, 27 December edition of the Meyer-Graham newsletter as an example.

We learn, surprisingly on the front page, that Ethiopia has stepped up attacks on Somalia. Only on the jump page, however, towards the end of the 1,100-word article, does one uncover the Hitchcockian McGuffin:

" . . . U.S. policy in Somalia has been widely criticized for having the opposite of its intended effect, often encouraging the expansion of the [Islamic] Courts movement. This year, the United States supported warlords who called themselves an "anti-terrorism" coalition. The warlords generally bribed [sic. This must be a misstatement intended to mean "sought extortion payments from"] and terrorized ordinary Somalis, who came to despise them. The Islamic Courts came to power as an alternative to the hated warlords, establishing order based on Islamic law village by village and earning widespread support from beleaguered Somalis tired of 15 years of near-anarchy."

So, as the war on terror[ism] spreads through the Horn of Africa with its attendant misery, it just so happens that the United States government helped to fuel it. In its broad outlines, this is just how a $3.5-billion covert operation in Afghanistan two decades ago helped bring us a hole in Lower Manhattan. Or how our covert assistance to a Mesopotamian up-and-comer named Saddam Hussein led, like some Sophoclean tragedy [2], to the current "grave and deteriorating" circumstances in Iraq.

How is it that so many wars have an act of U.S. complicity in their origin? Is it merely the law of unintended consequences, or is there another logic at work? Perhaps the crucial mechanism in Mogadishu, and Kabul, and Baghdad is best described by that hoary Pentagon slang phrase, "the self-licking ice cream cone." [3]

The axiom of the self-licking ice cream cone has many applications, not only in the ignition of wars, but in their conduct. Again, the Post provides a kind of Delphic clue about this mechanism. The 26 December edition has a fascinating piece buried on page 19: "Old Iraq Strategy Lives On in Weekly Progress Reports." [4] The writer, Glenn Kessler, pokes a bit of fun at a series of weekly reports promulgated by the State Department to measure alleged "progress" in Iraq; indeed, this is the gravamen of the piece: how upbeat the reports can be despite a manifestly failed policy.

But again, as with the Somalia story, the lede is buried. Well into the piece, Kessler informs us that the weekly Iraq reports are produced by the consulting firm BearingPoint. But that is not the end of the story:

"The BearingPoint employees, who work out of offices in the State Department, arrange the meetings, set the agendas, take notes and provide summaries of the discussions, the official said. They also maintain the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."

As any veteran of bureaucratic wars surely knows, whoever arranges meetings, sets agendas, and takes the official notes determines the policy, regardless of who is nominally in charge. But who is BearingPoint, and what interest do they have in Iraq? The media watchdog Sourcewatch.org provides the following:

In July of 2003, BearingPoint was awarded a contract by USAID worth $79.5 million to facilitate Iraq’s economic recovery with a two-year option worth a total of $240,162,688. Responsibilities in this contract include:

1. Creating Iraq’s budget.

2. Writing business law.

3. Setting up tax collection.

4. Laying out trade and customs rules.

5. Privatize state-owned enterprises by auctioning them off or issuing Iraqis shares in the enterprises.

6. Reopen banks and jump-start the private sector by making small loans of $100 to $10,000.

7. Wean Iraqis from the U.N. oil-for-food program, the main source of food for 60% of the population.

8. Issue a new currency and set exchange rates.

One is surprised that BearingPoint is not charged with rewriting Iraq’s national anthem and choosing the members of its Olympic team. But, again, who is BearingPoint? That is hardly a name that rolls off the tongue like Microsoft, or Morgan Guaranty Trust.

According to another watchdog, Publicintegrity.org, BearingPoint has an interesting history:

"BearingPoint traces its corporate lineage back over 100 years. In October 2002, KPMG Consulting Inc. changed its name to BearingPoint Inc. KPMG Consulting was formed in 1997 as the consulting division of accounting firm KPMG LLP. An initial public offering on Feb. 8, 2001, marked the official separation of KPMG Consulting from KPMG LLP. BearingPoint was the first of the Big Five consulting firms to separate from its audit and tax parent and become an independent, publicly traded company. The crisis that engulfed the accounting profession in the wake of the Enron/Arthur Andersen scandal later that year hastened the company’s decision to change its name in 2002. . . . BearingPoint underwent a dramatic expansion by acquiring most of Arthur Andersen’s worldwide consulting operations."

Bingo. The firm responsible for the corrupt accounting that papered over the Enron scandal, the greatest corporate failure in U.S. history, lives on, assimilated by BearingPoint. And it steers U.S. policy on Iraq as the government blindly lurches towards escalation, a policy ostensibly supported by only 11 percent of the U.S. population. [5]

One notes, however, that despite the manifest lack of popular support, the vast flügelhorn of the corporate media continues to sound the strains of the Escalation Waltz. Based on an informal and unscientific survey, we would estimate roughly 60-70 percent of the talking heads on the telescreen are in favor of, metaphorically speaking, feeding more cannon fodder into the Stalingrad pocket. More irritating still is the Zelig-like ubiquity of the truly scary John McCain.

And above it all, on his alabaster throne, sits the President, our Supreme Warlord. While even such a scalawag as Lyndon Johnson knew that an unpopular war is a losing hand for a politician to draw, President Bush seems unperturbed by it all. Many columnists have attributed his attitude to intellectual deficiencies, or irrational stubbornness, or megalomania. But if Bush possessed the IQ of Descartes and the wisdom of Aquinas, he could hardly act otherwise.

As a Texas plutocrat marinated in petroleum, Bush is merely acting out his destiny, and that of his class. Should the reader need reminding, one can always turn to the more iconoclastic foreign press. While the great American dailies are debating whether "we" need 20,000 additional troops or 40,000, or are limning the Napoleonic qualities of the new Iraq commander, General David Petraeus, the London Independent reveals the following:

"Iraq’s massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

"The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972." [6]

Was Auschwitz a German government-run death camp? Or was it just one of I.G. Farben’s synthetic rubber factories, subject to a high employee turnover? One may also ask whether Iraq is the central front of the war on terrorism, or merely a profit center for corporations like BearingPoint and Exxon-Mobil.

WERTHER is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.

Notes

[1] "Ethiopians Closing In On Capital of Somalia," The Washington Post, 27 Dec. 2006.

[2] This is no allusional flight of fancy. The saga of Poppy, Bar, and Dubya has always contained a heavy overlay of Oedipal melodrama. Saddam may usefully stand in as the Sphinx, a demon of destruction and bad luck, according to Hesiod.

[3] "Self-licking ice cream cone" is the descriptor for a self-fulfilling prophecy as described by the 20th century sociologist Robert K. Merton: "The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true."

[4] "Old Iraq Strategy Lives On In Weekly Progress Reports," The Washington Post, 26 Dec. 2006.

[5] The CNN poll which found this level of support, if accurate, is astounding. Eleven percent of a random sample can probably be found to be in favor of necromancy. Much higher percentages "believe in" flying saucers.

[6] "How the West will make a killing on Iraqi oil riches," Independent [UK], 7 Jan. 2007.