- The last time the United States went to war against Iraq,
Dick Cheney did very nicely from it.
- Having served as Defence 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
- 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 the job.
- Nobody could justifiably accuse the Bush administration
of wanting to wage war on Iraq solely as a favour 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 one.
- Mr Cheney, who has gone from warmonger to dealmaker and
back to warmonger, is just one example. Donald Rumsfeld, the current Defence
Secretary, has repeatedly raised the spectre 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 cosy ties between the government
and the defence industry. Mr Rumsfeld's oldest friend, Frank Carlucci,
a former defence 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 programme 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 Defence's controversial recent decision to declare Carlyle
the "preferred bidder" for a stake in its scientific research
- 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 Iraq.
- Reprinted from The London Independent: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/story.jsp?story=333400