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Vested interests in Iraq

Those of us who are plowing through the 9/11 Commission Report on al
Qaeda's terrorist attacks may be tempted to take solace from a document
that indicts U.S. political, military and intelligence leadership across
the board for its 9/11 non-performance. The so-tempting solace is that 9/11
was, after all, a sneak attack. A new kind of sneak attack at that, carried
out by a handful of kamikaze hijackers. If there had been any reason to
suspect the attack, our guys would've had it all over them; and since we
now have reason to expect the next attack, the government we count on to
protect us at great price will get it right next time.

I hope so too. But it somewhat eclipses a dawning sense of solace to know
that the government can't protect its own even though it knows when and
where the bullets are about to fly.

In the July Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter described the Pentagon's shortage
of Interceptor vests, state-of-the-art body armor that can stop a round
from an AK-47 rifle ... the kind our soldiers face most often in Iraq. As
Carter tells it, you'd think a fledgling, barely functioning Continental
Congress was supplying half-starved farmers at Valley Forge. But when it's
the wealthiest nation on earth, with more than 200 years of post-Valley
Forge prosperity and national budgeting behind it ... when this is the
government that can't quite get itself together well enough to provide a
basic life-saving item to its troops ... well, you have to wonder if a
different set of vested interests would have prevailed.

Halliburton, the oil giant with mightily denied connections to Vice
President Richard Cheney, is very busy in Iraq - taking its haul from the
dispossession of Arabs as it once did from the dispossession of Indians.
Under a special contractual arrangement designed to outfox regulation, the
Halliburton subsidiary and defense contractors like it have laid hands on
$1.9 billion of the appropriations Congress sent to Iraq. As always, if
you're reading the headlines coming out of Iraq, Halliburton and its
subsidiaries deny all wrongdoing. At least in Indian country, a First
Nations Development Institute study of oil leasing documents proves that
Halliburton was quick to dispossess Indians of oil-rich lands.

Cheney's role in all this demands more than a look. No, he is not connected
now, not directly anyway, with Halliburton. But as secretary of defense
during the first Bush presidency, he pioneered the privatization of
military provisioning by private sector defense contractors. When George
H.W. Bush lost his bid for a second term as president, Cheney hired on at
one of those defense contractors - Halliburton - and helped it turn
phenomenal profits by bidding on contracts from the military to provide
civilian-type services, something the military had done for itself before
Cheney's tenure as secretary of defense. As vice president, of course,
Cheney is not, really not steering still more handsome profits to
Halliburton during the occupation of Iraq.

Despite the howling denials we hear, this is crony capitalism in action. It
is making all the right people rich all over again by rebuilding a nation
once they've destroyed it for no good reason. Shades of the reservation
system.

So how come an extra $200,000 for vests wasn't found right fast in a
defense budget that has gone off the charts? Instead, only on July 22, in a
$417.5 billion defense appropriation, did Congress find money for body
armor. This is long after the war officially ended, mind you.

Just as it took a handful of American citizens on a hurtling jet to defend
their country on 9/11, so the parents among us are protecting their young
men and women in Iraq.

Indian parents who may have known the feeling will appreciate a story
offered by Carter, so I quote it below at length:

"In wars past, parents of soldiers sent their kids chocolates, cookies,
photos, and other mementos of home. In the wake of the Iraq invasion,
parents of American soldiers scoured the Internet looking for Interceptor
vests (about $1,500 retail) they could send overseas.

"One such mother was Suzanne Werfelman, an elementary school teacher in
Sciota, Pennsylvania, whose son, army specialist Richard Murphy, is a
reservist spending 20 months in Iraq. As Jonathan Turley, a George
Washington University law professor, recounted the story in the Los Angeles
Times, Murphy and his unit had been given the old flak jackets - like most
reserve units. Murphy's group was eventually given some Interceptor vests
when they arrived in Iraq, but even then the new vests were missing the
essential ceramic plates. That is when Werfelman went out and bought some
plates for $650 - more than her weekly salary - and sent them to her son so
he'd have some basic protection. Workers at one armor company she called
said that they had been deluged with calls from parents trying to buy vests
and plates for their sons and daughters overseas."

As a testimonial to all we're doing for the troops, that trumps all the
devotions coming out of Congress and the White House. Come November, let's
not forget that American parents still have something to teach our elites
about vested interests in Iraq.

Rebecca Adamson is the president of First Nations Development Institute and
a columnist for Indian Country Today.