Recently, the Boston Globe reported that the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) had set up an offshore company to hire close to half of the men and women working for KBR in Iraq as contractors. According to the report, this enables KBR to avoid paying social security, unemployment insurance and other taxes. When workers complained, they were essentially told that they had already signed a contract with the offshore company and therefore had no recourse. On the other hand, at another time KBR argued that some of its workers that sued the company after being exposed to dangerous chemicals in Iraq were KBR employees and, because of laws granting contractors doing military work overseas, the company was not legally responsible. Like the lawyer for the nine men suing KBR said, “When it benefits them, KBR takes the position that these men really are employees. You don’t get to take both positions.”
Of course, this is exactly what KBR wants to do. After all, this corporation and most other companies involved in what is euphemistically called contracting in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and “homeland security” are much more interested in making money than they are in being fair or even patriotic. The bounty provided by what London and DC term the “war on terror” has moved the money grubbing of these corporations to an even higher level of greed. The executives of these companies are not interested in seeing this war end. If it did, then they would lose the gravy train it has become.
This is what Solomon Hughes makes quite clear in his new book War on Terror, Inc. Corporate Profiteering From the Politics of Fear just released by Verso. Hughes is an investigative reporter that does that title proud. His work has appeared in British newspapers and the journal Private Eye. What he does in this book is nothing less than rip the mask of false patriotism and concern for the world’s well-being from the faces of the corporations that constitute a major part of the today’s war industry. In the process, he exposes the shallow greed and willing corruption of the politicians and government bureaucrats who hand over their nation’s coffers to those companies, despite their public ineptitude and chicanery—not to mention the lies the whole shell game is based on. Meanwhile, people die for no reason.
A topic of conversation amongst some Boston Red Sox baseball fans a few years ago was the revelation that a member of one of the ownership groups was a man named Philip Morse. It seems that Morse owned at least one plane that was leased to the CIA for rendition flights. This revelation didn’t cause any Red Sox fans that I know to end their support for their team — given the irrational nature of sports fandom to do so would make too much sense — but it did serve to illustrate just how connected the dots are between corporate American and US intelligence. Furthermore, it showed that money is more important to those businesses involved in the military-industrial complex than morality or even legality.
Hughes’ book takes these connections even further, suggesting that the corporations’ drive for profits is what might very well drive the US government to attack a certain country, even if the government believes there might be other methods it could use. Now, when I was younger a teacher once explained to me the difference between Soviet-style communism and fascism like this: under the former the state is the corporation and under the latter the state serves the corporations. The litany of corporate involvement in war and preparing for war described in War On Terror makes it clear that the US and UK are certainly headed towards the latter. Furthermore, Hughes suggests (and documents with a long list of supporting facts) that once the US is in a country, its policies are driven as much if not more by private contracting companies’ desire for profits than by a government policy that might actually make Washington’s intervention less bloody and shorter in duration. An example of this scenario, suggests Hughes, can be found in the policy of separating societies along ethnic, religious and tribal lines. This was done in the former Yugoslavia and continues in the case of the occupation of Iraq. If one accepts this theory, what becomes even clearer is that the sectarianism now apparently rampant in Iraq is more the result of the US/UK intervention and its complementary use of mercenaries than it is from any intent by Iraqis to foment a civil war. Whether or not this widening of the sectarian divide was Washington’s intention or not it no longer matters because it has created a situation Washington seems to prefer–a country divided amongst itself.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Hughes’ work is that one can see his thesis played out in the daily news. Walls dividing neighborhoods in Iraqi cities. Airbus gaining contracts to build refueling planes and being challenged by Boeing on the grounds of unfair business practices and a false patriotism. Airplane charter services lending their services to Homeland Security to fly prisoners being held in private prisons by private contractors out of the country so they can be tortured in prisons overseas by private interrogators. Just recently, a story crossed the wires about a $30 million dollar wall being built in Iraq to protect an oil pipeline from insurgent attacks. This occurred despite several Iraqis (and others) stating that the work of guarding the pipeline could have been done much cheaper just by hiring local tribesmen to guard it. Of course, the latter choice would not have put several millions into the coffers of whatever western corporation is building the wall.
War On Terror, Inc. works on at least two levels. Hughes challenges the legality and morality of the roles played by these firms and, as mentioned above, he also exposes their sheer ineptitude and gross corruption. The collaboration of western politicians in this conspiracy is something that should be front page news and provoke the outrage of every citizen of these countries. The fact that it doesn’t is witness to the effectiveness of the neoliberal myth that privatization is better than anything any government could do. The narrative in War on Terror, Inc. is proof that that myth is a brazen lie.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org