That pack of scoundrels
Tumbling through the gate
Emerges as the order of the state.
Stanley Kunitz, The System
At first the reader recoiled in horror. Then, realizing that it was different in law but not in effect from what Halliburton had been doing some years earlier, the reader was reassured. The only question that then remained was why the Russians’ actions were even newsworthy.
On March 5, 2002, it was reported that a group of Russian engineers had helped out Saddam Hussein prior to his downfall. Among other things, they provided technical assistance for prohibited Iraq weapons projects in the years that preceded the U.S. led invasion in violation of U.N. sanctions. Halliburton mimicked the Russians without, however, violating the U.N. sanctions. It, too, took it upon itself to help out Saddam Hussein during the years preceding his downfall. Mr. Hussein was probably equally grateful to the Russians and to Halliburton. He didn’t much care about whether the help was legal or illegal or whether it violated U.N. sanctions or not. He just welcomed the help. The Russians and Halliburton were equally pleased to oblige since they both made money as a result of their respective efforts.
Russian engineers, it was disclosed, were in Baghdad as recently as 2001 and were helping that country in its attempt to produce long-range ballistic missiles. Some of those working on the project were believed to have formerly worked for one of Russia’s aerospace design centers. It is now believed that the missile program was continued by Iraq until shortly before the most recent war. A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington denied having knowledge of the engineers’ involvement and said it had been given no evidence of Russian government involvement by the U.S. government.
The Bush administration has had little to say about the recent disclosure since Mr. Bush does not want to upset his good friend, Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. He has had nothing to say about the assorted disclosures about Halliburton, both before the war and after its conclusion because he want to upset his good friend Dick Cheney.
Years before Mr. Cheney became vice-president, he worked for another George Bush as secretary of defense. In that capacity he helped devise a comprehensive economic embargo the purpose of which was to isolate Saddam Hussein’s government. He probably thought an economic embargo would eventually bring down the Hussein government. It didn’t happen on his watch. Instead, when he left that post he became chairman and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a company that like the Russian engineers, was helping Saddam Hussein. Mr. Cheney quickly forgot his goal of putting in place an economic embargo and instead started personally profiting from trading with Iraq. Under his stewardship Halliburton acquired Dresser Industries which entered a joint venture agreement with Ingersoll-Rand Co. Two subsidiaries of those companies sold water and sewage treatment pumps, spare parts for oil facilities and pipeline equipment to Baghdad using French affiliates. What Halliburton did was completely legal because it did it through joint ventures and subsidiaries and within the orbit of the “oil for food” program run by the United Nations.
United Nations records disclose that the subsidiaries of Halliburton and its joint venturer earned more than $73 million through their dealings with Iraq. In a report by the Washington Post report it was disclosed that two former senior executives of the subsidiaries said there was no company policy against doing business with Iraq and they heard no objections from any Halliburton executive, including Mr. Cheney, to doing business with the country. When running for vice-president and when interviewed on ABC’s “This Week” on July 30, 2000, Mr. Cheney contradicted the two executives. He said: “I had a firm policy that we wouldn’t do anything in Iraq, even arrangements that were supposedly legal. We’ve not done any business in Iraq since U.N. sanction were imposed . . . .” Three weeks later he contradicted himself and supported the two executives he’d contradicted earlier saying: “We inherited two joint ventures with Ingersoll-Rand that were selling some parts into Iraq, but we divested ourselves of those interests.” He neglected to point out that the divestiture did not occur until more than a year later during which time the companies signed close to $30 million in contracts. Mr. Cheney never bothered to explain why he got it wrong the first time.
By not criticizing the Russians’ for helping Saddam Hussein and by not criticizing Halliburton for doing the same thing, Mr. Bush has shown himself to be remarkably even handed. It’s comforting to his critics to learn that he has at least one trait that’s admirable. Would there were more.