Bush's Golden Vision

President Sees Election Cash in Rebuilding Iraq

"Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater political participation, economic openness, and free trade," President Bush told the American Enterprise Institute last February. "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region."

It's a tall order. "We're only training about 40,000 troops, and so far there's been no mention of an Iraqi air force," Pike explained. "It's a rough neighborhood, so for some years to come, only the U.S. presence will deter Syria, Iran, or Turkey. But the real pacing factor affecting our presence there will be the extent to which the U.S. can install a security apparat capable of controlling the police, the army, the politicos, and other key institutions in Iraqi society." After 30 years of Saddam's dictatorship, that's an ominous thought. But it may help explain why the Iraqi Governing Council was so upset about that police training program in Jordan.

Given the continuing absence of weapons of mass destruction, the reasons for war remain a mystery. Similarly, post-war planning has always been a secret. In November 2002, as the UN sent weapons inspectors into Iraq, the army hired Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, to develop plans for running Iraq's oil fields. Vice President Cheney had been Halliburton's CEO until 2000, and on March 8, just 11 days before the war began, KBR got a long-term contract for the repair and maintenance of Iraq's oil fields.

Also in early March, as the UN debate unraveled, the Pentagon solicited private bids from half a dozen U.S. construction companies to repair Iraqi infrastructure. It was a closed process. Other potential bidders were not invited to compete, because of the pressing need for speed and the small number of companies with appropriate security clearances.

On March 25, less than a week into the conflict, President Bush asked Congress for $62 billion to pay for the war and begin reconstruction. A few weeks later, Bechtel, a firm strongly identified with the GOP, emerged as the clear winner in the contest to rebuild Iraq. Although Democrats on various oversight committees began to complain about the closed nature of the bidding process, the subtext of their concern was that the Pentagon was choosing companies with strong Republican ties. Given the money involved, it seemed an ominous precedent in an election year.

On September 17, Bush asked for the $87 billion supplemental provision. Staffers on congressional oversight committees, however, were shocked to discover that, for the $20 billion earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction costs, no one could tell them how the numbers were derived or who came up with them. The budget also allocates billions for classified purposes, which caused Democratic senator Edward Kennedy to accuse the Pentagon of administering a slush fund for bribing potential coalition allies. The bill also designates at least $5 billion as "transfer funds," which Secretary Rumsfeld can redirect as he deems fit. It's a mysterious document.

Ordinarily, the State Department, through its Agency for International Development (AID), would oversee reconstruction costs. But in a bitter and public turf war, Rumsfeld had wrested control from Powell, and AID money was to be administered by L. Paul Bremer, who reports only to the Pentagon, which reports only to the White House. Not only was the State Department frozen out—so was Congress. They had been asked to appropriate billions for reconstruction, only to see it disappear into a closed circuit running from the White House, which requested the money, through Donald Rumsfeld, to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, which oversees its spending.

Congress is responsible for the budget, but Republicans also owe a special fealty to President Bush, who is their party's star fundraiser, and can influence their own re-election prospects. So when it comes to voting on the president's budget, they have divided loyalties. This is not the case for Democrats, who are acutely aware that although the $150 billion is for Iraq, most of it will be spent in Washington. Beginning in the spring, and with growing momentum through the summer and fall, Washington's law and lobby firms started mobilizing around the new business opportunities popping up in Baghdad.

One of the most conspicuous is New Bridge Strategies, which was created for this purpose. Its vice chair is Ed Rogers, a founding partner in one of Washington's most powerful Republican lobby firms, Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR). His partner Haley Barbour ran the Republican National Committee in the mid '90s, and helped organize the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994. Another BGR principal, Jennifer Larkin, ran the House Conservative Action Team, now called the Republican Study Committee, which their website calls "the largest, most influential Republican member organization in Congress." Yet another BGR officer, Keith Schuette, helped start and run the International Republican Institute, which represents the party's interests overseas. "The bottom line on New Bridge is that it appears to be very closely linked to BGR, which has many overlapping ties to the highest levels of the Republican Party," said Thomas Ferguson, a campaign finance expert at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

New Bridge's chairman is Joe Allbaugh, who was often referred to as the third point, with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, in the president's "iron triangle." In the '90s, Allbaugh served as Governor Bush's chief of staff, and then as national campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000. Since then, he has trained for Iraq's reconstruction as head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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