Billions For Defense


Starz! sent me a screener of Iraq For Sale, a documentary about the extent to which the Iraq war effort has been subcontracted to private companies making billions, complete with plenty of questions about what all those billions were actually buying and who might be trampled in the scramble for all those dollars.

The stories aren’t new–defense contractors are always an easy mark–and the harshest criticisms in the show are the angry charges from families of employees of the contractors killed while moving fuel or guarding U.S. officials.

It seems to me that anyone going into Iraq had to have known they were putting their life in jeopardy in exchange for those big paydays. Hazard pay was obvoiusly part of all those six-figure salaries for jobs that would have paid a third of that back home. Still, Halliburton is a pretty fat target.

The show, which featured a segment on ill-trained translators rushed to the region, reminded me of an incident on the subway. 

My brother and I were coming back from a ball game and he got to talking with a guy in a nearby seat. Turns out he was a consultant recruiting for a contractor. When I told him my daughter was contemplating studying Arabic, he said she should hurry and that he had a job for her that paid $160,000. His company needed translators to send to Iraq, so long as they were not married or had children. I took a pass.

The fact that the show got me thinking on this almost Fourth of July is more than a lot of TV does these days.

One of the things I thought, and should have thought before, was that the War on Terror is like a "Warm War." That is to say, a warmer version of the Cold War.

The cold War was a sort of Eden for defense industries. At the time it appeared to be a conflict without end, with no casualties but huge demands for war stuff. In a hot war, tanks and planes and bombs have to be replaced because they get used up or blown up. In a Cold War, the old stuff just had to be declared obsolete in the face of new stuff we were sure the other side was developing. IT was obsolescence that could be planned without the messy uncertaintly of actual combat.

That kept the contractors chugging along.

The war on terror has casualties, of course, but its billions in spending are mostly on protecting ourselves from a constant threat that is ill-defined but real, as was the Cold War; without an end in sight–as the Cold War seemed; and with billions to be made with the blanket justification of that unending threat.

For those interested in thinking, the documentary, from Outfoxed’s Robert Greeenwald, debuts July 14.