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Winning the peace overseas requires integrity at home

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Images of falling statues and the lack of true resistance by the armies of the despot, Saddam Hussein, are clear indications that: a. the firepower and logistical capacity of the United States Armed Forces overwhelms everything and everyone, and; b. the people of Iraq are quite glad to see Saddam and his Ba'ath Party demolished.

Even those virulently against the Iraq War early on conceded that the fighting and winning of this war would not long be an issue. Moreover, no one anywhere can possibly doubt the superb training and duty-bound tenacity of the American Armed Forces, 12,000 of whom are American Indians. Once again, we salute our brave soldiers. We only hope that their self-less sacrifice will be for a cause that is ultimately good and just.

We comment this way because the certainty of military victory has not reduced some growing doubts about ultimate outcomes and deeper motivations as America's war footing progresses. Recent news accounts and commentary point to a process of contracting for the reconstruction of Iraq that is making many people (and whole countries) question the Administration's objectivity and fair play.

With a vetting process for public bidding that has not been made clear to the public, the Bush Administration has been criticized for tendering exclusive contracts to a trail of corporations and services that tie in to officials high in government. These same public figures are charged with carrying out the people's business, which must be done without even the slightest appearance of self-serving elements to their decisions. Yet, by all too many appearances, across the board, friends of the vice-president, ex-employers of the Secretary of Defense and obviously substantial donors to the Republican Party are being aligned for a potential reconstruction windfall.

The stakes are high - financially, politically and morally. Experts predict that some $25 billion to $100 billion will eventually be spent on this post-war effort. This is the kind of big money - particularly in a politically chaotic situation - that can create objectionable methods. All contracts so far have been awarded to American companies, widening an already deep division with Europe. We have said before in these pages that while America is good a winning its wars, peace is too often left in a lurch. Reports from Afghanistan, for instance, are increasingly troublesome. Rule by territorial (and fundamentalist) warlords - perfect hotbed for terrorists - is again prominent.

Iraq is even more complicated. A good portion of the world - including several historical U.S. allies - opposed the idea of the new war. While victory has been substantially accomplished, the way of its peace - re-establishing government, rebuilding infrastructure - must be above reproach.

There are already examples, some more onerous than others, that have many people - even among supporters of the war - concerned. One exclusive no-bid contract with KBR, subsidiary of Texas-based Halliburton, has raised many eyebrows. Halliburton is getting a big piece of action - possibly worth as much as $7 billion. Vice-President Dick Cheney ran Halliburton until just prior to taking office. The Bechtel Group boasts two former Republican cabinet officers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acted as liaison between Bechtel and Saddam in the 1980s - precisely on the issue of building an oil pipeline.

DynCorp a military services firm with a revolving door relationship to the intelligence establishment and a controversial record, got the multi-million dollar contract to police Iraq. In its earlier similar role in Bosnia, however, as a British tribunal recently confirmed, DynCorp employees stand accused of running a child-prostitution ring. Kathy Bolkovac, an employee who tried to confront that situation, was sacked - improperly, according to a British tribunal that recently awarded her 110,000 pounds.

Also revealing is the resignation of Richard Perle as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. This is the group that advises the Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Perle resigned after revelations of his activities as managing partner in a venture-capital company, Trireme Partners L.P., which advises investors in companies that sell technology, goods and services on homeland security and defense. Other members of that same board are under scrutiny for similar connections. While Perle's involvements appear not to be illegal, they raised enough concern to cause his resignation.

Follow the money, says the old dictum, or, as many have cried in this case, follow the oil. Although we do not subscribe to the argument that the Iraq War was all about oil, the issue nonetheless bears continued scrutiny by the free press. After all, America consumes 20 million barrels a day, importing some 60 percent of it. Oil discoveries and exploitation have steadily decreased in the past three decades. Serious decline in oil production is predicted as of 2010.

The history is relevant: after World War I, the Western oil companies - Exxon (then Standard Oil), British Petroleum and Shell - carved up Iraq and its productive wells then by securing large shares of the Iraq Petroleum Company. In 1972, the Ba'ath blew off their deal when it "nationalized" Iraq's oil production. We now know that Saddam used his oil revenues to build a brutal regime and army that attacked his neighbors, purchased and stockpiled munitions including weapons of mass destruction, and enriched himself, his two depraved sons, and his cronies. The BBC recently commented, perhaps the war on Saddam gives these companies and their home governments, "a chance to get back in."

To be fair, haste is necessary under the conditions dictated by the destruction and emergencies of war (such as burning oil fields), but multi-year contracts are involved now and the need for an open bidding process increasingly obvious.

We know the might, the promise and the potential for good of this great American nation and we know the pitfalls and potential for ill that unbridled power in top echelons can bring. We know all-too-well how rationales for "civilizing" conquered peoples can usher in their rampant dispossession.

We want America to be the best, to truly lead the world to peace and prosperity. When American Indian people go to war, it is to uphold that which is most sacred in the American tradition - the freedom of sovereign peoples, free and prosperous trade, freedom of expression, the pursuit of peace and happiness for all. To not uphold these ideals is to besmirch the memory of those who fought and sacrificed for precisely that.