By Jim Miles
Halliburton’s Army – How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. Pratap Chatterjee. Nation Books, New York, 2009.
This book airs out Halliburton/KBR dirty laundry: the bribes, kickbacks, the inefficient work, the near slave labour conditions of its subcontracted employees, the deaths from insurgent attacks and electrocution, massive overcharging on its invoices, poor record-keeping, and other serious allegations. Yet for all that, the huge corporate profits taken in by Halliburton/KBR seem to reduce this to the cost of doing business, a business that now extends well into the future with the widening of the war into destabilizing Pakistan and Iran.
Halliburton’s Army is a well-written record in three parts. The first covers the histories of Rumsfield and Cheney and their many interlocking pathways through politics, the White House, and big business, in particular in this case, Halliburton. The second part generally takes a historically sequenced run through the many complaints, allegations, and lawsuits that have accompanied Halliburton’s work through the Middle East and elsewhere (Nigeria, Bosnia). The final section turns more towards the people who acted as whistle-blowers and the efforts towards investigation and punishment.
While much of the detail I read is new information and much of it is surprising in its individual case description, none of it overwhelmed me or made me want to call out in protest. It somehow just seems so typically “American” that a large company should attempt to maximize its profits at the expense of the taxpayer by using the national government and its associated institutions to make a lot of money.
As for the investigation and punishment, there is obviously something lacking there, a real drive to change or correct behaviours that benefit some people at the expense of many. Many lawsuits have been taken or are in progress against Halliburton and while costly in terms of what the average person thinks of as large sums of money, they appear to be taken in stride by Halliburton as another part of business.
Congress does hold its investigations, but there is nothing here to indicate that they really want to change the course of events by taking on Halliburton and kicking them out of their huge contracts with the Pentagon. Certainly the Pentagon will keep them on as they could care less about the dollars spent as long as their system continues to operate – the Pentagon has never worried about the tax-payers dollar other than to keep it flowing through their offices to support their military mega-projects.
Advocacy and Context
Most of the lawsuits and criminal investigations appear to be ‘small fry’ in relation to the size and power of the corporation itself. Congress has not taken on the big chiefs, the Pentagon appears pleased with the status quo, and no individual lawsuit appears to have gone against the corporate bosses themselves – the latter demonstrating why corporations are set up in the first place as a means of legally obfuscating and dissimulating (obscuring and concealing) the personnel involved…and then continuing with business as usual as long as they can get away with it.
This is where Chatterjee reaches his limit. He is obviously against the machinations of Halliburton, and the book is a record of its many indiscretions. The personal stories of individuals ‘betrayed’ by the corporation are heart wrenching and perhaps that is the best place to leave the record. Yet at the same time I can’t help but wonder if there would be some way the book could serve as more of an advocate against what is happening.
I receive no sense that perhaps the war itself is wrong, or that Congress could be doing much more to investigate and stop the incredible tax payer rip off, or that the rules and regulations that affect corporate U.S.A. need to be changed. Halliburton exists within a wider context of corporate-military-political alliances. Halliburton’s Army takes a narrow perspective, focusing on the one company and the few individuals involved and does a good job of that. I would have liked to read more about Chatterjee’s concepts of the broader context, of the broader liaisons with the military and politicians.
Perhaps though, a record of Halliburton’s failings is sufficient at the moment, a record to be looked back on in another year or two in order to see if Obama has really changed the way the U.S. works or if, as it is becoming more apparent as time passes, that he is just another cog in the wheels of a government that prizes its corporate entanglements.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.