Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Inheriting Halliburton’s Army

February 19, 2009

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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Tariq Ali: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (VIDEO)

September 17, 2008

Watch this two-part Tom Dispatch VIDEO by Pakistani-born journalist and writer Tariq Ali and you will better understand the US-Pakistani relationship and its consequences in Afghanistan:

Part 1: The Tangled U.S.-Pakistani relationship on the edge of war
Part 2: Barack Obama’s disastrous plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan


Tomgram: Tariq Ali, Has the U.S. Invasion of Pakistan Begun?

September 17, 2008

As Andrew Bacevich tells us in the latest issue of the Atlantic, there’s now a vigorous debate going on in the military about the nature of the “next” American wars and how to prepare for them. However, while military officers argue, that “next war” may already be creeping up on us.

Having, with much hoopla, launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, each disastrous in its own way, the Bush administration in its waning months seems intent on a slo-mo launching of a third war in the border regions of Pakistan. Almost every day now news trickles out of intensified American strikes — by Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones, or even commando raids from helicopters — in the Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghan border; and there is a drumbeat of threats of more to come. All of this, in turn, is reportedly only “phase one” of a three-phase Bush administration plan in which the American military “gloves” would “come off.” Think of this as the green-lighting of a new version of that old Vietnam-era tactic of “hot pursuit” across national borders, or think of it simply as the latest war.

The Duel

The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

By Tariq Ali

Already Pakistan’s sovereignty has functionally been declared of no significance by our President, and so, without a word from Congress, the American war that already stretches from Iraq to Afghanistan is threatening to widen in ways that are potentially incendiary in the extreme. While Pakistani sources report that no significant Taliban or al-Qaeda figures have been killed in the recent series of attacks, anger in Pakistan over the abrogation of national sovereignty and, as in Afghanistan, over civilian casualties is growing.

In Iraq, 146,000 American soldiers seem not to be going anywhere anytime soon, while in Afghanistan another 33,000 embattled American troops (and tens of thousands of NATO troops), suffering their highest casualties since the Taliban fell in 2001, are fighting a spreading insurgency backed by growing anger over foreign occupation. The disintegration seems to be proceeding apace in that country as the Taliban begins to throttle the supply routes leading into the Afghan capital of Kabul, while the governor of a province just died in an IED blast. “President” Hamid Karzai was long ago nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul.” Today, that tag seems ever more appropriate as the influence of his corrupt government steadily weakens.

In the meantime, in Pakistan, a new war, no less unpredictable and unpalatable than the last two, develops, as American strikes fan the flames of Pakistani nationalism. Already the Pakistani military may have fired its first warning shots at American troops. Part of the horror here is that much of the present nightmare in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be traced to the sorry U.S. relationship with Pakistan’s military and its intelligence services back in the early 1980s. At that time, in its anti-Soviet jihad, the Reagan administration was, in conjunction with the Pakistanis, actively nurturing the forces that the Bush administration is now so intent on fighting. No one knows this story, this record, better than the Pakistani-born journalist and writer Tariq Ali.

As we head into our “next war,” most Americans know almost nothing about Pakistan, the sixth most populous country on the planet with 200 million people, and the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons. As the Bush administration commits to playing with fire in that desperately poor land, it’s time to learn. Ali, who posts below on the next U.S. war, has just written a new book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power — published today — that traces the U.S.-Pakistani relationship from the 1950s to late last night. I can tell you that it’s both riveting and needed. Check it out. And while you’re at it, check Ali out in a two-part video, released by TomDispatch, in which he discusses the history of the tangled U.S.-Pakistani relationship and Barack Obama’s Afghan and Pakistani plans. Tom

The American War Moves to Pakistan

Bush’s War Widens Dangerously

By Tariq Ali

The decision to make public a presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration. Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Senator John McCain and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official U.S. policy.

Click here to read more of this dispatch


Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon Legacy of the MBA President

September 15, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Part two of Frida Berrigan’s three-part series on the expansion of the Pentagon is just the sort of post — a major story of the Bush era — that you can only get at this site. The expansion and privatization of the Pentagon should, of course, be the subject of front-page pieces in newspapers across the country as the dark legacy of the Bush presidency begins to be considered. In the light of just this sort of work from TomDispatch, let me mention a new feature at the site. If you look to your right while at the main screen, you’ll see a clickable button (“Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch.”) that leads you to a secure page where, if you wish, you can give modest $$ to help this site fund projects like Berrigan’s and do outreach work of various kinds. I’ve always enjoyed the “freeness” of TomDispatch, but readers, from time to time, have sent in contributions anyway. Now, this added feature makes it easier, if you are so disposed, to do so and, believe me, I’ll be grateful. We’ll use whatever you send our way to improve the site. (Just make sure you never send in even a dollar that you need!) And, by the way, click over to Book TV on C-SPAN2, if you want to catch an appearance I made with Michael Schwartz for the new book, The World According to TomDispatch.]

Having laid out the staggering expansion of a budget-busting Pentagon — as diplomat, arms dealer, spy, intelligence analyst, domestic disaster manager, humanitarian caregiver, nation-builder, and global viceroy — in part one of her series on the Bush military legacy, Frida Berrigan, arms expert at the New America Foundation, turns to the issue of privatization. In these last seven years, the Pentagon’s key role as war fighter has increasingly become a privatized operation. In Iraq, for instance, a Congressional Budget Office report in August revealed that the U.S. has already spent at least $100 billion on private contractors. (Pentagon auditing has, however, been so bad that that’s considered a low-ball figure.)

Approximately one out of every five war dollars spent on the war went private. That’s not so surprising, as James Risen of the New York Times reported, since private contractors now outnumber the 146,000 U.S. troops in that country. At 180,000, they represent, as Risen writes, “a second, private army, larger than the United States military force, and one whose roles and missions and even casualties among its work force have largely been hidden from public view.”

Moreover, as modest drawdowns of U.S. troops occur, American taxpayer dollars going to private contractors in Iraq, especially private security contractors, are actually on the rise. Part of the charm of privatizing war, of course, is that you can also privatize information about it, so we really have little idea just how many armed, Blackwater-style mercenaries there are in that country (though the number may rise into the tens of thousands). No less curious, amid all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, you seldom see any serious discussion of those hired guns in the mainstream. When withdrawal does come, who withdraws them? Who decides that? Who knows?

In the meantime, let Frida Berrigan take you past the obvious Blackwater issues and into the deeper quagmire of the massive privatization of the American military. It’s an issue whose time should long ago have arrived, but don’t hold your breath till the media discussion and debate begins. Tom

Military Industrial Complex 2.0

Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Seven years into George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, the Pentagon is embroiled in two big wars, a potentially explosive war of words with Tehran, and numerous smaller conflicts – and it is leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by.

Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Afghanistan Transforms Canada

August 12, 2008

Afghanistan Transforms Canada

To play junior partner to empire, we’ve militarized our identity.
http://thetyee.ca/Views/2008/08/11/AfghanCan/

Some government policy decisions are so profound in their impact that they can actually change the nature of the country. Medicare was one such policy decision and so was the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

It could be argued that the decision to take on an explicitly war-fighting role in Afghanistan will turn out to be another watershed decision, this one at odds with Canadian values and Canadians’ convictions about the military’s role in the world and society.

It also is having the effect of transforming both our foreign policy and our foreign aid policy. Our role in the war is dominating our international reputation and integrating us into the U.S. and its imperial designs on Middle East oil. In order to justify this colonial occupation, Canada now spends so much of its (paltry) aid budget on Afghanistan (much of it finding its way into the pockets of corrupt officials) that there is barely any financing left over for other developing countries’ needs.

Meanwhile, the conflict and its “war on terror” rationale are being used to justify massive increases in military spending, completely distorting the role of government and the spending priorities of Canadians.

Lastly, the military’s role in Canadian politics and culture is being rapidly Americanized. Canadian military spokespersons now openly promote their war-fighting role and take part in cultural events, and the media (most notably the CBC) promotes this new expansive role.

Why we fight

Read more of Murray Dobbin’s viewpoint here. (The Tyee.ca)


Tomgram: Petraeus, Falling Upwards

May 15, 2008

Selling the President’s General

The Petraeus Story


By Tom Engelhardt

You simply can’t pile up enough adjectives when it comes to the general, who, at a relatively young age, was already a runner-up for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2007. His record is stellar. His tactical sense extraordinary. His strategic ability, when it comes to mounting a campaign, beyond compare.

I’m speaking, of course, of General David Petraeus, the President’s surge commander in Iraq and, as of last week, the newly nominated head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) for all of the Middle East and beyond — “King David” to those of his peers who haven’t exactly taken a shine to his reportedly “high self-regard.” And the campaign I have in mind has been his years’ long wooing and winning of the American media, in the process of which he sold himself as a true American hero, a Caesar of celebrity.

As far as can be told, there’s never been a seat in his helicopter that couldn’t be filled by a friendly (or adoring) reporter. This, after all, is the man who, in the summer of 2004, as a mere three-star general being sent back to Baghdad to train the Iraqi army, made Newsweek’s cover under the caption, “Can This Man Save Iraq?” (The article’s subtitle — with the “yes” practically etched into it — read: “Mission Impossible? David Petraeus Is Tasked with Rebuilding Iraq’s Security Forces. An Up-close Look at the Only Real Exit Plan the United States Has — the Man Himself”).

And, oh yes, as for his actual generalship on the battlefield of Iraq… Well, the verdict may still officially be out, but the record, the tactics, and the strategic ability look like they will not stand the test of time. But by then, if all goes well, he’ll once again be out of town and someone else will take the blame, while he continues to fall upwards. David Petraeus is the President’s anointed general, Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.

Launching Brand Petraeus

Recently, in an almost 8,000 word report in the New York Times, David Barstow offered an unparalleled look inside a sophisticated Pentagon campaign, spearheaded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in which at least 75 retired generals and other high military officers, almost all closely tied to Pentagon contractors, were recruited as “surrogates.” They were to take Pentagon “talking points” (aka “themes and messages”) about the President’s War on Terror and war in Iraq into every part of the media — cable news, the television and radio networks, the major newspapers — as their own expert “opinions.” These “analysts” made “tens of thousands of media appearances” and also wrote copiously for op-ed pages (often with the aid of the Pentagon) as part of an unparalleled, five-plus year covert propaganda onslaught on the! American people that lasted from 2002 until, essentially, late last night. Think of it, like a pod of whales or a gaggle of geese, as the Pentagon’s equivalent of a surge of generals.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


U.S. Army Shipping Contaminated Kuwait Sand to Idaho Landfill

May 8, 2008

This news should definitely be of concern to Idaho residents:

http://www.newwest.net/city/article/army_shipping_contaminated_kuwait_sand_to_idaho_landfill1/C108/L108/

By Jill Kuraitis, 4-30-08

The U.S. Army is shipping 6,700 tons of contaminated sand to Idaho from Kuwait. It will arrive at American Ecology in Grandview, Idaho, sometime in May.

Grandview, population 470, is 42 miles south of Boise in Owyhee County.

The sand is from Camp Doha in Kuwait, a former Army warehouse complex used by Army Forces Central Command. The sand absorbed depleted uranium when some spent ammunition was caught in a fire.

It’s also contaminated with hazardous levels of lead, according to the two military guys who told me the story, whose branch and names won’t be used for obvious reasons. However, it’s no secret, since the story had already been written by Erik Olson in the Longview, Washington Daily News.

Chad Hyslop, spokesperson for American Ecology, did not return New West’s phone calls, but he told Olson that all the sand will be at the disposal site in Grandview sometime in May.

It will take 76 rail cars to run half the sand to Idaho, and then a second trip will be required for the rest. 152 of the smallest size rail cars would build a four-story structure about the size of half a football field.

Andrea Shipley, the executive director of the Snake River Alliance, an Idaho-based grassroots group with a mission to watchdog the energy industry and energy-related government departments, doesn’t like the idea of the sand coming to Idaho. She told New West that “this is a major concern. Depleted uranium is both a toxic heavy metal and a radioactive substance creating health risks that may be far more varied than is recognized in federal regulations today. Safe and responsible clean-up is critical to safeguard the health of Idahoans and our environment.”

The lead contamination, which the Army discovered before the ship carrying the sand to the Port of Longview arrived there, was nearly four times higher than the EPA standard for designating it “hazardous.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, even very low levels of exposure to lead in children can cause learning disabilities, and may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, strokes or heart attacks. Lead is also associated with impaired visual and motor function, growth abnormality, neurological and organ damage, hearing loss, hypertension and reproductive complications.

Whether or not humans might be exposed to the contaminated sand, either during transport, unloading, or processing at American Ecology’s Grandview landfill is not clear. No Army official returned calls. Follow-ups to this story will be posted.