Flaming Hypocrisy 

Why Cheney shouldn't be building the case for an invasion of Iraq.

Excuse me: I don't want to be tacky or anything, but hasn't it occurred to anyone in Washington that sending Vice President Dick Cheney out to champion an invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is a "murderous dictator" is somewhere between bad taste and flaming hypocrisy?

When Dick Cheney was CEO of the oil-field supply firm Halliburton, the company did $23.8 million in business with Saddam Hussein, the evildoer "prepared to share his weapons of mass destruction with terrorists."

So if Saddam is "the world's worst leader," how come Cheney sold him the equipment to get his dilapidated oil fields up and running so he could afford to build weapons of mass destruction? As the former secretary of defense under Bush the Elder, Cheney was in a particularly vulnerable position on the hypocrisy of doing business with Iraq. (In 1991, after the Gulf War, Cheney told a group of oil-industry executives that he was emphatically against trying to topple Hussein.)

Using two subsidiaries, Dresser-Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser, Halliburton helped rebuild Saddam's war-damaged oil fields. The combined value of these contracts for parts and equipment was greater than that of any other American company doing business with Iraq -- companies including Schlumberger, Flowserve, Fisher-Rosemount, and General Electric. They acted through foreign subsidiaries or associated companies in France, Belgium, Germany, India, Switzerland, Bahrain, Egypt, and the Netherlands.

In several cases, it is clear the European companies did no more than loan their names to American firms for the purpose of dealing with Hussein. Iraq then became America's second-largest Middle Eastern oil supplier.

This story was initially reported by the Financial Times of London over two years ago and has since been more extensively reported in the European press. But as we have seen with the case of Harken Energy and many other stories, there is a difference between a story having been reported and having attention paid to it. Thus, the administration was able to dismiss the new information on shady dealings at Harken as "old news" because not much attention was ever paid when the old news was new.

When Cheney left Halliburton, he received a $34 million severance package despite the fact that the single biggest deal of his five-year career there, the acquisition of Dresser Industries, turned out to be a huge blunder, since the company came saddled with asbestos liability. (On the campaign trail, Cheney often claimed he had been "out in the private sector creating jobs." The first thing he did after the Dresser merger was lay off 10,000 people.)

Halliburton, America's biggest oil-services company, is the nation's fifth-largest military contractor and the biggest non-union employer in the United States. It employs more than 100,000 workers worldwide and does over $15 billion a year. Halliburton under Cheney dealt with several brutal dictatorships, including the despicable government of Burma. The company also played questionable roles in Algeria, Angola, Bosnia, Croatia, Haiti, Somalia, and Indonesia.

Halliburton also had dealings with Iran and Libya, both on the State Department's list of terrorist states. Halliburton's subsidiary Brown & Root, the old Texas construction firm that does much business with the U.S. military, was fined $3.8 million for reexporting goods to Libya in violation of U.S. sanctions.

If you want to know why the Democrats didn't jump all over this story and make a big deal out it, it's because -- as usual -- Democrats are involved in similar dealings. Former CIA director John Deutsch is on the board of Schlumberger, the second-largest oil-services firm, which is also doing business with Iraq through subsidiaries.

Americans have long been aware that corporate money has consistently corrupted domestic policy and that both parties are in thrall to huge corporate campaign donors. We are less accustomed to connecting the dots when it comes to foreign policy.

No one is ever going to argue that Saddam Hussein is a good guy, but Dick Cheney is not the right man to make the case against him.

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