Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Inheriting Halliburton’s Army

February 19, 2009
Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Inheriting Halliburton’s Army

The name search took a year, while the company became persona non grata in Iraq, but now it’s a reality. The notorious Blackwater Worldwide has officially rebranded itself Xe. According to a company memo, “Xe will be a one-stop shopping source for world class services in the fields of security, stability, aviation, training and logistics.”

It’s pronounced “Zee,” by the way, and it’s also, oddly enough, the symbol for Xenon, a colorless, odorless noble gas found in trace amounts in the Earth’s atmosphere. If only Blackwater and its ilk in the hire-a-gun private security business were found, under whatever names, in mere trace amounts in American foreign and military policy. But no such luck.

In the last eight years, many of the tasks formerly associated with the U.S. military have been privatized and outsourced in a wholesale way — from guard duty for U.S. diplomats to peeling potatoes and delivering the mail, not to speak of building and maintaining the U.S. bases that now dot the Middle East and Afghanistan. Without its private crony corporations, the Pentagon might, in fact, be on something like life support.

Maybe, in the end, Blackwater, under pressure from the Iraqi government, can be separated from U.S. operations in Iraq, but — it’s a guarantee — some similarly outfitted private contractor will simply fill in. This is one of the more entrenched legacies Barack Obama has inherited from the Bush years. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about those security firms or KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary that does just about everything the U.S. military needs to survive but actually fight, separating them from the Pentagon would involve an almost inconceivable set of operations at this point.

No one has done more striking work on this question than the managing editor of the website Corpwatch, Pratap Chatterjee, who has traveled the world, visiting U.S. bases and spending time with KBR’s employees (who make up a hidden “U.S. Army” in Iraq and Afghanistan), just to see how the largest of these crony corporations actually functions. Now he’s written a remarkable new book, Halliburton’s Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, on just how it all works, up close and personal.

If only his book were history. Unfortunately, it’s evidently going to be our military future, as well as our past, as long as the American “mission” in the world isn’t downsized. So don’t miss either Chatterjee’s book or his report on KBR below, including “Welcome to McArmy!,” a special feature on the food KBR serves at one base in Iraq. It follows the main piece below. While you’re at it, catch a TomDispatch audio interview in which Chatterjee discusses KBR World by clicking here. Tom

The Military’s Expanding Waistline
What Will Obama Do With KBR?
By Pratap Chatterjee

President Obama will almost certainly touch down in Baghdad and Kabul in Air Force One sometime in the coming year to meet his counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he will just as certainly pay a visit to a U.S. military base or two. Should he stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight chow with the troops, he will no less certainly choose from a menu prepared by migrant Asian workers under contract to Houston-based KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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