Atelier 15, article 4

© The Nation :
(August 21/28, 2000)

"Tricky Dick"
by Doug Ireland(*)

When Dubya picked Dick Cheney as his running mate, the little screen was awash in flatulent flatteries from the chattering classes: "a grown-up," "presidential," "all steak and no sizzle" were some of the most-repeated encomiums sprayed in Cheney's direction. But after Gore surrogates fanned out across the blabshows armed with talking points about Cheney's reactionary voting record in Congress--against Head Start, school lunches, the liberation from prison of Nelson Mandela, the toxic-waste-cleanup Superfund and the like--Jay Leno cracked to his late-night audience that Bush/Cheney was "the Wizard of Oz ticket: One has no brain, the other has no heart."

When that equal-opportunity war criminal Colin Powell (the man who helped cover up the My Lai massacre) delivered his prime-time benediction of Cheney to the Philadelphia Republicans, among those chuckling at the enormous hypocrisy of Powell's effusive blessing was Leon Sigal, a former member of the New York Times editorial board. Sigal's forthcoming book, Hang Separately: Cooperative Security Between the United States and Russia, 1985-1994, details how Cheney, as Defense Secretary, remained a hard-line cold warrior even after the fall of the Berlin wall and fought Powell's proposed cuts in military spending and US troops abroad. "Cheney was very skeptical of Gorbachev and kept up his cold war attitude long after Powell and [President] Bush had changed," Sigal told me. "Powell thought nukes were useless. In 1990, Powell wanted to pull all the nukes off surface ships and out of Europe and Korea, but Cheney opposed it. Bush was about to do it in August of '90 when Kuwait was invaded. A year later, Powell pushed the proposal again, and Cheney again opposed it." The pullback was finally announced in September 1991. Cheney's ostrichlike refusal to admit that the world had changed meant "keeping the defense budget higher than the substantial cuts Powell wanted," says Sigal, "and keeping conventional forces in Europe at a higher level.... Cheney was very conservative in the sense he didn't want to move--Powell says this in his memoirs. President Bush, in the book he wrote with Brent Scowcroft [A World Transformed], also says Cheney resisted deeper cuts."

To take just one example, on page 452 of his memoirs Powell describes his battle against the "foolish" attempt to produce an improved nuclear artillery shell. "I was becoming more and more convinced that tactical nuclear weapons had no place on a battlefield," Powell writes. "At a time when we were dismantling huge intermediate-range nuclear missiles, why should we be putting money into refining small tactical nukes of questionable value? My argument ran into a stone wall.... Hard-line Pentagon civilian policymakers opposed me, including Dick Cheney."

The national press has been telling us what a "great manager" Cheney was at DoD. But for whom? Cheney showed a particular indulgence for military- industrial-complex contractors headed by political cronies. Under his predecessor, Reagan Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, the Pentagon had developed an advance procurement system--stretching forward two decades--with no-bid contracts awarded for a raft of weapons and intelligence systems. On leaving government, Carlucci joined the Carlyle Group, a prime military contractor, bringing with him knowledge of which firms would get those contracts. Carlyle then began buying them up, and made a bundle when the Pentagon bucks began flowing their way, later selling many of them at a huge profit.

Says a high-ranking military officer (now retired) who has an intimate knowledge of those deals but would only speak with a guarantee of anonymity, "These contracts were let with no normal safeguards or protections to insure that the government got what it paid for," on Cheney's watch. "We have been paying through the nose for a long time for those contracts," for everything from arms-control-treaty hardware and software systems to the J-STARS system, which monitors on-the-ground movement of vehicles and personnel and was extensively used in Desert Storm and Kosovo. Cheney, he says, could have reviewed or canceled these contracts at any time but refused to do so. "Why," he asks, "are we letting contracts for multiyear procurement framed in a way that all the risk is being taken by the government and not by the people who got these wonderful contracts? Even if we had to pay a contractual penalty on some of them, don't you think it would have made sense to at least review them? It would take some real forensic accounting to figure out how much more these deals cost the taxpayers than they should have. And this was not just Carlyle exclusively--the joy was spread around. It's a damned odd way of doing business."

Undoubtedly, one reason Cheney was so indulgent of folks like Carlucci who cashed in on their government service (James Baker and Dick Darman are now also on the Carlyle payroll) is that he planned to do the same thing himself. When Cheney became CEO of Halliburton in 1995, the energy conglomerate did only a third of its business abroad. Building on the relationships he knitted at Defense, particularly during the Gulf War, Cheney has aggressively expanded Halliburton's foreign operations to more than 70 percent of its $14.9 billion annual business, boosting the company's stock value more than 100 percent. Cheney nearly tripled Halliburton's spending on federal lobbying (not counting the millions it has ladled out to a host of conservative business and trade associations). No surprise, then, that with Cheney in charge Halliburton has doubled its government contracts, to $2.3 billion. The company's latest annual report lists its Brown & Root Services Division's "two largest customers" as the US Defense Department and the British Defense Ministry. Halliburton has also raked in $1.5 billion in US government loans from the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, up from $100 million in such loans before Cheney took over. That's a lot of "compassion" for these phony fiscal conservatives, and it explains why the Center for Public Integrity has branded Cheney's company a "corporate-welfare hog."

Cheney has made several fortunes from his helmsmanship at Halliburton: According to Reuters, he was paid nearly $2 million in compensation in 1999 (down from $4.4 million the previous year) and given stock options worth from $7.4 million to $18.8 million (depending on the stock's future performance). This is on top of the $45.5 million in stock that Cheney owns as the company's largest shareholder, plus another $12.5 million in exercisable stock options. Given this accumulated lucre, Cheney's recent wailings about the financial hardship he would endure as a mere Vice President should leave few of us weeping.

Cheney has not been chary about doing business with some of the world's most despotic oligarchies and corrupt dictatorships. Poppy helped him gin up clients: When Bush père went to Riyadh in March 1996 to receive a medal from Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, Cheney went along for the ride, and was included by the elder Bush in his meetings with the Saudi Defense Minister "to discuss issues of common interest," as a Saudi Embassy press release delicately put it. These tyrants include not only the Saudis and the gaudy Gulf emirs (one of Halliburton's five international offices is in Dubai) but also the sanguineous regimes in Syria, Turkmenistan, Burma and Algeria. With one notable exception--Larry Kaplan's dissection of Halliburton's dirty dealings with Heydar Aliyev's brutal Azerbaijani dictatorship in the August 8 New Republic--the press has largely ignored the Cheney-run company's squalid relations with these regimes, where bribery-to-do-business is the rule. Oil-industry sources say that one way oil-related giants like Halliburton get around the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is by giving sizable gifts to the private foundations run by these ruling elites, which makes the ultimate destination of this laundered money nearly impossible to trace.

In Nigeria, environmental groups have accused Halliburton under Cheney of murder. According to Oronto Douglas, a respected leader of an indigenous minority who heads Nigeria's Environmental Rights Action, an unarmed youth named Gidikumo Sule was killed by the Mobile Police in July 1997 in the course of a protest that involved the seizure of a Halliburton barge at Opuama, a village in the Niger delta. Halliburton is a major subcontractor of Chevron in Nigeria; their dumping of poisonous chemicals into the water during drilling operations has poisoned the water supply. The Opuama protesters were also denouncing Halliburton's failure to keep its promises to employ local youths. Says the ERA's Douglas, "The Mobile Police are paid for by the oil companies, both under the military dictatorship of General Abacha we had then and the civilian dictatorship we have now, and deploying them is always done at the oil companies' request. We call them the 'Kill and Go' squads, because they can kill and go away with no questions asked. At Opuama, the order to open fire was given by Halliburton officials. Their lives were not threatened--these protests always involve nothing more lethal than placards, song and chants." Douglas says he is also investigating more recent incidents, in which Halliburton officials ordered what he calls "brutal repression" of peaceful protesters near Warri and Gbaruamata; four people were seriously injured. (Halliburton did not respond to a request for comment.)

All of this suggests that Cheney's past is not yet a dry well.

(*)Doug Ireland, a former columnist for the Village Voice and New York Observer, writes frequently on politics for The Nation