“How best to govern the state? First rectify the language.”
Last week we learned that the Bush Administration lied about the extent of Halliburton Corporation’s involvement in the “reconstruction” of Iraq. Bush officials initially claimed that Halliburton–the oil and defense services conglomerate once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, who still receives an estimated $1 million annually from the company in “deferred compensation”–had been awarded a relatively small contract to repair Iraqi oilfields.
But in fact, as the Washington Post reports, Halliburton is now pumping and distributing Iraq’s vast oil reserves–a privilege potentially worth billions of dollars. The Bush camp freely admits that this was part of Halliburton’s no-bid, open-ended contract all along; they deliberately “failed to mention it” in their first official notices. It was not publicly disclosed until a congressman read the fine print of the contract and began making enquires.
To recap: a firm which pays the Vice President of the United States a million dollars a year has now taken over operation of Iraq’s oil wealth. There have been times in American history when such an arrangement would have been called by its true name: “corruption.” But these are not such times.
Similar pranks are being played by members of the Defense Policy Board, a highly influential group of outside “experts” handpicked by Pentagon boss Donald Rumsfeld to proffer “strategic advice” on military matters. They function largely as an echo chamber for the aggressive views of Rumsfeld and his acolytes in government, consistently pressing for the most extreme measures, including the relentless expansion of the “war on terrorism” at home and abroad.
Last week, the Center for Public Integrity revealed that nine of the board’s members are “embedded,” as we now say, with arms merchants and military contractors. These DPB-connected firms have been awarded more than $76 billion in government contracts over the last two years. DFB members such as Richard Perle and ex-CIA director James Woolsey have openly parlayed their Pentagon service–which includes classified briefings from top government officials–into lucrative investments in new “security” and “defense” enterprises whose profits depend directly on the continuation of the present cycle of war and terrorism.
This activity–now known as “entrepreneurship”–was also once called by a different name: “war profiteering.” In ages past, this was considered a heinous crime, worthy of punishment by death and eternal damnation thereafter. But these are not such times.
Indeed, the Bush Administration revealed last week that it intends to “embed” such activity throughout American life. Gordon England, deputy secretary of Homeland Security, told the nation’s top business leaders that “security measures will, over time, likely become embedded in the fabric of our society,” the conservative National Journal reports, approvingly. This suffusion of surveillance, secrecy and control into every aspect of existence “will make some businesses more desirable than others in terms of investors and employees and insurance,” England said. The government, he says, will impose little or no regulation on these for-profit curtailments of liberty, while providing taxpayer-backed “economic incentives” to make the nascent security industries more appealing.
This policy dovetails nicely with DPB players such as Woolsey, whose private equity firm, Paladin Capital, set up shop a few weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Woolsey and Paladin told investors that the instantaneous murder of 3,000 innocent people on American soil was a “business opportunity” which “offers substantial promise for homeland security investment,” the Guardian reports. Paladin has raised almost $300 million in speculative capital for its security and defense ventures so far.
In another time, in another America, such “business opportunities” would’ve been given a more accurate name: “blood money.”
But this is not such a time, and such an America no longer exists. Today, in the new America, leaders are paid millions by corporations who are then given the fruits of aggressive wars launched by those same leaders. In the new America, a feckless multimillionaire takes control of a democracy despite losing the popular vote and proclaims, without shame or subterfuge, that he has the right not only to arrest and detain indefinitely any citizen of that democracy–indeed, any citizen of the world–without any legal charges, but also to have them murdered by his secret services, on his sole authority, outside all judicial review or restraint. Men have already been killed by this order, as the president himself boasted in a national address last January; men–and children–have already been imprisoned (or “disappeared,” as they say in other tinhorn military dictatorships) under this dread edict. Yet this arouses no concern among the public–whose lives and liberty are now forfeit to the ruler’s whim–no outcry in the media, no resistance from the opposition party. It’s as if no one knows how to describe this extraordinary situation–although in ages past, its name would be glaringly clear: “tyranny.”
Examples like these are now legion; they metastasize like an aggressive cancer of the blood, sending outcroppings of pestilent mutation to the farthest reaches of the body. But it seems we have no words left to convey the full measure of the extremist agenda now engulfing America. We can no longer call things by their right names. Our shopworn language, clappped out by the virulent cliches of advertising, propaganda, professional jargon and, yes, journalism, has become too degraded to describe our political reality–a reality which has itself become degraded, even hallucinatory, to an almost unfathomable, almost unbearable degree.
CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. He can be reached at: email@example.com