A war profiteer is any person or organization that improperly profits from warfare or by selling weapons and other goods to parties at war. The term has strong negative connotations.
Opening Scene: A street in Haditha, Iraq. A Marine patrol rolls down the street. Marines sweat in heavy body armor as they nervously scan the area. People on the street eye the patrol suspiciously. 80 percent of Iraqis want the US to leave because they think that the occupation is making the security situation worse. Suddenly, a bomb in the road explodes. A passing humvee is disabled by the blast. One soldier lies dead. The Marines leap from their vehicles, guns at the ready. One spots a car nearby with “military age men”. Thinking they might be insurgents, he fires and kills 4 or 5 men. Local people later say they were students in a taxi, just trying to get home. Others storm into nearby houses, with grenades and guns blazing. If there had ever been insurgents there, they were gone now, leaving as many as 24 dead civilians; men, women and children. (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003053985_haditha11.html)
The scene shifts: The Chevron Board of Directors celebrates $18.7 billion in profits in 2007, up from $17.14 billion in 2006. Before she joined the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat at this table, in fact she even had a oil tanker named after her (it has since been renamed the Altair Voyager). The directors note that rival ExxonMobil is doing even better, with a record setting $40.6 billion profit for the year. (http://www.latimes.com/business/investing/la-fi-oil2feb02,1,5140747.story) Chevron CEO David O’Reilly has no complaints. Executive compensation is complicated but his 2006 salary of $1.6 million was just the beginning. He earned far more from stock options, incentives and other benefits, coming to about $30 million for the year. (http://www.reuters.com/article/governmentFilingsNews/idUSN1921329020070319)
Oil company profits have soared as worldwide oil prices have climbed. When the war in Iraq got underway in 2003 oil prices climbed sharply from $25 a barrel to over $100 today. (http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/AOMC/Overview.html) Gas prices in the US are now approaching a record $4 a gallon. Pundits may argue over whether the Iraq War was begun in order to seize control of the world’s third largest oil reserves for American companies, but the fact remains that they have been the big winners so far, as instability in the area has contributed to rising prices and profits. That is without the Iraqi Oil law, which would allow western oil companies to lock in very favorable terms for decades to come. Last I heard, the oil law has been stalled in the Iraqi parliament despite heavy pressure from the US to pass it as one of the “benchmarks” of progress. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/blood-and-oil-how-the-west-will-profit-from-iraqs-most-precious-commodity-431119.html) Although the law has been promoted in the United States as a means to share oil revenue between regions, and supported by most Democratic and Republican politicians, most Iraqis see it as a giveaway of Iraq’s wealth.
The scene shifts: A refugee camp in Syria. Thousands of people arrive everyday, hoping to find a respite from inescapable violence at home. They have narrowly escaped death or fled after death threats because they were Sunni, or Shiite, or worked with the Americans, or were in Saddam Hussein’s army, or they had enough money to be worthwhile kidnapping for ransom, or they are haunted by ethnic cleansing back home that will make it impossible for them to return to their homes, or friends and family have been killed. Conditions here are better than in Iraq, but there aren’t enough resources to take care of them. In some of the camps, people live in squalid, crowded conditions without clean water or electricity. (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/58769/?page=1)
2 million Iraqis have fled the country and 2.2 million more are refugees within Iraq, out of a total population of 25 million. (http://www.unhcr.org/iraq.html) Syria alone has over a million. Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and other countries account for the rest. Host countries receive little outside help and are stretched thin trying to help.
The scene shifts: Vice President Dick Cheney opens his Halliburton deferred compensation check. Although he claims to have severed his ties with the company, he holds Halliburton stock and stock options and receives deferred compensation dating to his days as CEO. When he was Defense Secretary under the first President Bush, he hired Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root to study the feasibility of outsourcing military support services to private corporations. When they recommended privatization, Cheney awarded them the contract. After he left government service, Cheney was named Halliburton’s CEO, serving there until he returned to government service as Vice President. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/26/politics/main575356.shtml) At the beginning of the Iraq War, Halliburton was awarded no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq’s oil industry and Kellogg Brown and Root provides support services for US bases there, despite scandals involving millions of dollars of overcharges and underperformance.
The scene shifts: Nissour Square in Baghdad. A convoy protected by private security contractor Blackwater drives into the square and opens fire. 17 civilians are killed. Eyewitnesses say that there was no provocation and that the gunfire was indiscriminate. (http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/12/14/blackwater/) Private security companies like Blackwater are not part of the military, are not bound by military rules of engagement and are not answerable to military discipline. They are not covered by US law because they operate outside the US. The thing is, they are also not subject to Iraqi law, thanks to an Order issued by Paul Bremer before turning over sovereignty to the Iraqi government in 2004. The 100 Orders he issued (http://www.cpa-iraq.org/regulations/#Orders) remain in effect as the basis of Iraqi law. They remake Iraq in the Neo-Cons image, as a free market haven for multi-national corporations. Bremer Order 17 exempts foreign contractors from Iraqi legal process. All in all there are 180,000 private contractors in Iraq, most of them doing work that used to be the responsibility of the military.
For providing security services worldwide in the State Department’s Worldwide Personal Protective Service (WPPS(is that pronounced whoops?)) program, the Bush Administration has paid Blackwater over $320 million in just two years. That’s not bad, especially considering that the original agreement was $230 million over 5 years. (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060828/scahill) Blackwater is a privately held company, so executive earnings are hard to come by, but over the years, Blackwater Chairman, Erik Prince, has given over $230,000 to Republican candidates, $5,000 to the Green Party and nothing to Democrats. (http://www.newsmeat.com/ceo_political_donations/Erik_Prince.php)
Vice President Cheney has always been upbeat about the war. He says that things are going great. Many in the anti-war movement put this down to propaganda and an unwillingness to admit error, but I wonder if he really is sincere in this belief. If you believe, as he seems to, that what’s good for giant corporations is good for America, then the suffering of Iraqi people, and US troops, is irrelevant, as long as the corporations are doing well. By that standard, the war is indeed a big success.
Closing scene: January 17, 1961: Outgoing President and former WWII 5 Star General Dwight D Eisenhower gives his farewell address:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”(http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/dwightdeisenhowerfarewell.html)
In my dreams: Angry citizenry rises up brandishing pitchforks. Profiteers are tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.