No rest for the wicked at Goat Rope Farm...The following op-ed of El Cabrero's on the privatization of war appeared in today's Charleston WV Sunday Gazette-Mail. Also, check out Gazette writer Paul Nyden's excellent coverage of yesterday's public forum on Iraq.
In this rush to privatize government, what losses
In Joseph Heller’s classic novel Catch-22, the hyper-capitalist Milo Minderbinder says, “Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”
What was once a laugh line is becoming a reality, due to the Bush administration’s ideological mania for privatization, or outsourcing government functions to business.
I’m not a fan of the Iraq war, but this drive to “run war like a business” made a bad situation even worse for U.S. troops, Iraqi civilians and the American people.
Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld planned the privatization of many defense functions. The day before the attacks, he described the Pentagon bureaucracy itself as “an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America.”
For Rumsfeld, President Bush, crony capitalists and worshippers of the market god, the answer to most questions was to farm out as many government functions as possible, from warfare to Social Security, to private corporations.
Privatization of traditional military functions to corporations such as Halliburton and security firms such as Blackwater has been a major component of the war in Iraq. While this has been a bonanza for the corporations involved, the well-being of U.S. troops has arguably suffered.
Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich point out a chilling example of this in their 2005 book The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy. In December 2004, 22 people were killed when insurgents in Mosul, Iraq, blew up a mess hall which had previously come under attack.
In an interview on “The News Hour” with Jim Lehrer, retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters noted that the traditional military rule for dispersing during meals in a combat zone to reduce the risk of mass casualties was ignored. “And what’s clearly happened in Iraq is that we violated our own rules about troop dispersion in wartime. I suspect it has to do with outsourcing. This mess hall, mess facility, chow hall, was run by a contractor. ... Instead of security, what we saw was convenience and efficiency.”
That’s a clear case of the pursuit of profit trumping the protection of people.
One underreported aspect of the Walter Reed scandal was the roll that privatization played in reducing the quality of services provided to injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
The Army Times and other sources have carried reports of an internal memo which said that privatization of services at Walter Reed put services for veterans “at risk of mission failure” as skilled federal workers left in droves in anticipation of losing their jobs.
Last month, CNN reported that “needed repairs went undone as the non-medical staff shrank from almost 300 to less than 50 in the last year and hospital officials were unable to find enough skilled replacements.”
Jim Hightower reports in the April Hightower Lowdown that in 2006, IAP Worldwide Services, a corporation “run by two former senior Halliburton officials,” was awarded a $120 million contract to run the facilities. He notes that the same company “botched the delivery of ice to New Orleans in the wake of the Katrina fiasco.”
Another example of privatization in action in Iraq was the shipment of 12 billion dollars with no strings attached — 363 tons of cash to be exact — to Iraq when Paul Bremer was in charge of the Civilian Provisional Authority, as National Public Radio reported in February. The Emerald City, as the Green Zone has been called, was a living laboratory of neocon utopianism.
As Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, wrote in the Washington Post, jobs with the Civilian Provisional Authority were dispensed on the basis of political loyalty to the administration and its ideas.
He writes that instead of rebuilding that country’s infrastructure and promoting security-steps that might have undercut the insurgency and stopped the civil war before it started, “many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States.”
Other priorities included reopening the Iraqi stock exchange and putting an end to free health care.
Is anyone surprised that the cash disappeared? Or that the situation deteriorated? God knows what was bought and by whom with the money, although it’s a safe bet some of it exploded.
True believers in the cult of the market god accept as an article of faith the idea that privatization always promotes more efficient outcomes and that profit-seeking corporations always outperform public institutions in promoting the common good, but clearly that is not the case, either in war or peace.
In the real world, business has a very important role, but is no substitute for democratic institutions and a vigilant public. A good society is one based on systems of countervailing power, where government institutions, businesses, labor, non-governmental organizations, other institutions and citizens (not necessarily in that order) provide checks and balances against the excesses of others.
Some things are more important than the corporate bottom line.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: SELF-EXPLANATORY