Tuesday May 3, 2011
A look back on the Bush-Laden years
The economy in the Bush-Bin Laden decade, by Said Mekki
The “Bin Laden,” or “Bush-Laden,” years gave an incredible boost to military spending and strengthened the military-industrial complex. Contracting out the war also allowed private companies to make juicy deals. Here is a brief overview of a decade that wasn’t lost for everyone.
Osama Bin Laden’s death marks the end of a tour of duty of a man who, throughout the course of his adventurer life, helped those he claimed he was fighting. This rich Saudi was one of the key operatives of anti-Soviet jihadism in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was at the heart of the network recruiting anti-communist fighters and put his body on the line to defeat the Red Army, which was forced to retreat in September 1989. Western and Saudi aid to the Muslim Mujahideen – several billion dollars per year – and media prestige transformed the anti-communist rank and filers into ideologues of a crazed interpretation of Islam. Disappointed by the course of history in which, once they got what they wanted, the Americans and the Saudis simply dismissed the anti-Soviet “freedom fighters,” Bin Laden and his desperados regrouped under what is known as Al Qaeda and got involved in terrorist confrontation with the United States that culminated in the major attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. The apocalyptic spectacle struck world opinion with horror and provided the neoconservatives in power with a pretext to implement a warmongering policy of which the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan were the first victims.
Explosion of military spending
American military spending, already sharply rising since the second half of the 1990s, enjoyed an extraordinary boost. At 15% of public spending in 2001, the share of military spending increased to 21% by the end of the decade, rising from $329 billion in 2002 to $661 billion in 2009. From this perspective, Al Qaeda contributed directly to legitimizing spending financed by US public deficits, to strengthening the American military-industrial complex and enlarging its purview over security, in the most general sense of the term. It is enough to remember G.W. Bush’s speeches and their quasi-incantatory references to Al Qaeda to assess the services rendered to the neoconservatives in their military guardianship of the planet. Global Islamic terrorism served as a very convenient cover for economic wars. Bin Laden was connected, without evidence, to Saddam Hussein to justify the invasion of Iraq. And the true motives have been revealed, even by Republican allies of the neoconservatives. “It makes me sad that it is politically incorrect to acknowledge what everyone knows: the war in Iraq is largely a question of oil,” wrote Alan Greenspan, the head of the Federal Reserve under G.W. Bush, in his 2007 memoir The Age of Turbulences: Adventures in a new world.
Economic actors of a certain stripe
Neoconservative wars opened up new opportunities for a certain kind of economic actor. In Iraq and Afghanistan, outsourcing of the war became a very important source of revenue for companies like Blackwater, Executive Outcomes, Kroll, Control Risks, Olive Security and Wackenhut, who got lucrative contracts. The Bin Laden effect boosted this sector. A company like CACI, which employs nearly 10,000 people and has dozens of offices in the United States and Europe, had revenues of $840 million in 2003, of which two-thirds was from contracts with the Pentagon. For Titan, with a similar workforce, revenues were $1.8 billion in that same year. Kellog Brown and Root, who took care of US military logistics in the Balkans for $2 billion, provided the same services in Afghanistan and Iraq for about $4 billion. In 2004, private companies providing services to the Pentagon together earned the staggering sum of some $100 billion.
“The comparative advantage of a superior military”
The “eternal” war against terrorism has had very important economic spinoffs. The war has allowed the slowing American economy to use the country’s number one comparative advantage: overwhelming military superiority. But time, and the ensuing crises, robbed Bin Laden of his bogeyman role; he could no longer serve as a useful foil. The Arab revolutions have shown, if it was still necessary, that nihilistic discourse has no real political weight in the Arab-Muslim world. Instead of the apolitical desperation of the jihadists, people clearly opted for political struggle; the peoples’ spring has absolutely nothing to do with the delusions of visionaries manufactured by the Saudi secret service. The eternal war against terrorism no longer pays; expeditions of the military industry are now justified opportunistically by the right of intervention. Far from Tora Bora and the hard guerilla existence he was reputed to lead, Osama Bin Laden was nestled, seemingly for years, in a fortress in a neighbourhood favoured by reserve officers of the Pakistani Army. His retirement is over, Bin Laden did his time: the last service he could render was to disappear, forever.
Translation by Karen Wirsig.