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Profiting From War

By Bob Herbert
New York Times

Monday 21 April 2003

Somewhere George Shultz is smiling.

Mr. Shultz, whose photo could appropriately appear next to any definition of the military-industrial complex, was secretary of state under Ronald Reagan and has been a perennial heavyweight with the powerful Bechtel Group of San Francisco, where he previously reigned as president and is now a board member and senior counselor.

Unlike the antiwar soul singer Edwin Starr — who, in an ironic bit of timing, went to his eternal reward early this month just as American ground forces were sweeping toward Baghdad — Mr. Shultz knows what war is good for.

And he wanted this war with Iraq. Oh, how he wanted this war. Mr. Shultz was chairman of the fiercely prowar Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which was committed to moving beyond the mere political liberation of the oil-rich country to the all-important and conveniently profitable "reconstruction of its economy."

Under the headline "Act Now; The Danger Is Immediate," Mr. Shultz, in an op-ed article in The Washington Post last September, wrote: "A strong foundation exists for immediate military action against Hussein and for a multilateral effort to rebuild Iraq after he is gone."

Gee, I wonder which company he thought might lead that effort.

Last week Mr. Shultz's Bechtel Group was able to demonstrate exactly what wars are good for. The Bush administration gave it the first big Iraqi reconstruction contract, a prized $680 million deal over 18 months that puts Bechtel in the driver's seat for the long-term reconstruction of the country, which could cost $100 billion or more.

Bechtel essentially was given a license to make money. And that license was granted in a closed-door process that was restricted to a handful of politically connected American companies.

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