The last time the United States went to war against Iraq, Dick Cheney did very
nicely from it.
Having served as Defense Secretary, and basked in the reflected glory of the
US military's surprisingly rapid advance across the desert sands to end the Iraqi
occupation of Kuwait, he then managed to reap benefits of a very different kind
once the war was over and he left government to become chief executive of Halliburton,
the Texas-based oil services company.
When the United Nations relaxed its sanctions regime in 1998 and permitted
Iraq to buy spare parts for its oil fields, it was Halliburton, under Mr Cheney's
leadership, that cleaned up on the contract to repair war damage and get Saddam
Hussein's oil pipes flowing at full capacity again. Two Halliburton subsidiaries
did business worth almost $24m (£15m) with the man whom these days Mr Cheney
calls a "murderous dictator" and "the world's worst leader".
Since taking over as George Bush's vice-president, Mr Cheney has severed all
formal ties with his former employer, notably when he cashed in $36m in stock
options and other benefits at the height of the market in August 2000. But Halliburton
currently struggling with a corporate accounting scandal that may or may
not implicate Mr Cheney could profit all over again if the much-threatened
new war against Iraq comes to pass.
We can certainly expect more air strikes against the oil fields, possibly combined
with a ground invasion. Then, when it is all over, someone is going to have to
mop up the damage once again. Halliburton, with its previous experience and unparalleled
political connections (not limited to Mr Cheney), would be in pole position for
Nobody could justifiably accuse the Bush administration of wanting to wage
war on Iraq solely as a favor to its friends in the oil business and the military-industrial
complex. But many of the companies that stand to gain most from a war enjoy remarkably
close ties to senior figures in the administration. And some of the President's
closest confidants have shown extraordinary elasticity down the years in their
attitudes to President Saddam, America's on-again, off-again public enemy number
Mr Cheney, who has gone from warmonger to dealmaker and back to warmonger,
is just one example. Donald Rumsfeld, the current Defense Secretary, has repeatedly
raised the specter of Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. But in 1983,
when Mr Rumsfeld was President Reagan's special envoy to Iraq, he turned a blind
eye to Iraqi use of nerve and mustard gas in its war with Iran, concentrating
instead on forging a personal relationship with the Iraqi leader, then considered
a valuable US ally.
Mr Rumsfeld was actually in Baghdad on the day the United Nations first reported
Iraqi use of chemical weapons, but chose to remain silent, as did the rest of
the US establishment. Five years later, he cited his ability to make friends with
Saddam Hussein as one of his qualifications for a possible run at the presidency.
This Bush administration has been much more upfront about the role of oil in
its deliberations on Iraq than the last Bush administration. That is partly a
matter of circumstance: since the 11 September attacks, the stability of Middle
Eastern oil states has been a big policy consideration. But it also reflects the
fact that much of the Bush inner circle, including the President himself, is made
up of former oilmen. The oil and gas industry has pumped about $50m to political
candidates since the 2000 election.
There are also uncomfortably cozy ties between the government and the Defense
industry. Mr Rumsfeld's oldest friend, Frank Carlucci, a former Defense secretary
himself, now heads the Carlyle Group, an investment consortium which has a big
interest in the contracting firm United Defense.
Carlyle's board includes George Bush Sr and James Baker, the former secretary
of state. One program alone the Crusader artillery system has earned
Carlyle more than $2bn in advance government contracts. Carlyle's European chairman
is John Major, who may have played a role in the Ministry of Defense's controversial
recent decision to declare Carlyle the "preferred bidder" for a stake in its scientific
None of these links is illegal, but that does not mean there is no conflict
of interest. Messrs Bush, Cheney and friends have either sold their stock holdings
or put them in a blind trust, meaning personal gain is off the agenda. But gain
for their friends and family may well be a by-product of the looming war against
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd