IVINS: Axis of Avarice

LOS ANGELES -- Well! I am certainly glad to see that we are telling off the French, Germans and Russians. I couldn't agree more with the Bush administration that those treacherous, undependable countries should be punished for their past cooperation with Saddam by being shut out of the $18.6 billion in Iraqi reconstruction contracts. No contracts for quislings! Someone's got to uphold standards of morality and purity, and who better than us? As the president so often reminds us, this is a fight between good and evil.

I was particularly pleased when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz took that sharp little dig at all three countries when he said a prime consideration for who gets the contracts was "protection of the essential security interests of the United States." And was there ever anything more inimical to our security than all those tons and tons of weapons of mass destruction we have found in Iraq? That'll teach those vodka-swilling Rooskies to think our security is not their affair. Way to go, Wolfie.

Of course, it was a little awkward that Wolfowitz gave the three Saddam-dealing nations that body slam just as former Secretary of State James Baker was setting out to ask them for money. That did sort of bring up Casey Stengel's plaintive question, "Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?" But the beauty of our position is its moral clarity. Surely the French, Germans and Russians won't mind being cut out and dissed just when we're asking them for money -- it would be so petty of them.

I was especially entranced to read about the moral case for stiffing these nations on the op-ed page of The New York Times in an article by Claudia Rosett, senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. It says on its website that the foundation is against terrorism, thus distinguishing it from all the foundations in favor of terrorism.

Rosett calls the three delinquent countries "the Axis of Avarice." Isn't that cute? In all fairness, the senior fellow reminds us: "Remember, plenty of money flowed through Saddam Hussein's Iraq ... many countries took part in that frenzy of lending, including Japan as the No. 1 sovereign lender. Then came Russia, France and Germany and, yes, the United States as No. 5." But surely you see the immense moral difference between being No. 5, as opposed to being 2, 3 or 4? All the difference in the world.

Rosett continues: "But in the 1990s, as the Iraqi dictator's depravities became increasingly evident to the rest of the world, that list narrowed." (Actually, his depravities had been evident to many of us as far back as the days when the Reagan administration was sending Saddam arms.)

The senior fellow continues: "Under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, the despot got to tap his preferred business partners. ... What began as a relief program for Iraqis suffering under sanctions turned into a multibillion dollar contracting business flowing through the shrouded books of the United Nations. By the end, the Russians were selling the Baathist elite luxury cars, the French were providing broadcasting equipment for the Information Ministry, and the Germans and Chinese worked on the phone system. ... Old Europe's indignation over the (U.S.) list is a marvel of hypocrisy."

Speaking of marvels of hypocrisy, the U.N.'s books on who dealt with Iraq are not all that shrouded. For example, one of the disgusting companies actually making profits from dealing with the despicable dictator in the 1990s -- long after his depravities had become evident to even the less attentive sectors of the world -- was, well, golly, look at this, Halliburton. Between 1997 and 2000, while Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, the company sold $73 million worth of oilfield equipment and services to Saddam Hussein.

At least Halliburton was not selling luxury cars to the Baathist elite. Halliburton, the oilfield equipment company, merely kept Saddam Hussein's oil fields pumping, the only thing that allowed the s.o.b. to stay in power. Halliburton cleverly ran its business with Saddam through two of its subsidiaries, Dresser Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser, in order to avoid the sanctions.

Unlike the Germans, the French and the Russians, Halliburton was not punished by the Bush administration for dealing with the dictator. Instead, it got the largest reconstruction contract given by this administration, with an estimated value between $5 billion and $15 billion. And the company got the contract without competitive bidding.

Halliburton has amply repaid the administration's faith. The Pentagon is now investigating the company for at least $120 million in overcharges, including $60 million for importing gasoline into Iraq and $67 million on a food services contract. Among the allegations are that Halliburton had blood in its food service refrigerators and is serving our soldiers rotten meat.

I think the French will particularly enjoy being lectured on their hypocrisy, preferably by Cheney himself. It's the kind of thing sophisticated people especially appreciate.

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