Former Secretary of State George Shultz is on the board of directors of the Bechtel Group, the largest contractor in the U.S. and one of the finalists in the competition to land a fat contract to help in the rebuilding of Iraq.
He is also the chairman of the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a fiercely pro-war group with close ties to the White House. The committee, formed last year, made it clear from the beginning that it sought more than the ouster of Saddam's regime. It was committed, among other things, "to work beyond the liberation of Iraq to the reconstruction of its economy."
War is a tragedy for some and a boon for others. I asked Mr. Shultz if the fact that he was an advocate of the war while sitting on the board of a company that would benefit from it left him concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"I don't know that Bechtel would particularly benefit from it," he said. "But if there's work that's needed to be done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it. But nobody looks at it as something you benefit from."
Jack Sheehan, a retired Marine Corps general, is a senior vice president at Bechtel. He's also a member of the Defense Policy Board, a government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon on major defense issues. Its members are selected by the under secretary of defense for policy, currently Douglas Feith, and approved by the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
Most Americans have never heard of the Defense Policy Group. Its meetings are classified. The members disclose their business interests to the Pentagon, but that information is not available to the public.
The Center for Public Integrity, a private watchdog group in Washington, recently disclosed that of the 30 members of the board, at least 9 are linked to companies that have won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002.
Richard Perle was the chairman of the board until just a few weeks ago, when he resigned the chairmanship amid allegations of a conflict of interest. He is still on the board.
Another member is the former C.I.A. director, James Woolsey. He's also a principal in the Paladin Capital Group, a venture capital firm that, as the Center for Public Integrity noted, is soliciting investments for companies that specialize in domestic security. Mr. Woolsey is also a member of the Committee to Liberate Iraq and is reported to be in line to play a role in the postwar occupation.
The war against Iraq has become one of the clearest examples ever of the influence of the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned against so eloquently in his farewell address in 1961. This iron web of relationships among powerful individuals inside and outside the government operates with very little public scrutiny and is saturated with conflicts of interest.
Their goals may or may not coincide with the best interests of the American people. Think of the divergence of interests, for example, between the grunts who are actually fighting this war, who have been eating sand and spilling their blood in the desert, and the power brokers who fought like crazy to make the war happen and are profiting from it every step of the way.
There aren't a lot of rich kids in that desert. The U.S. military is largely working-class. The power brokers homing in on $100 billion worth of postwar reconstruction contracts are not.
The Pentagon and its allies are close to achieving what they wanted all along, control of the nation of Iraq and its bounty, which is the wealth and myriad forms of power that flow from control of the world's second-largest oil reserves.
The transitional government of Iraq is to be headed by a retired Army lieutenant general, Jay Garner. His career path was typical. He moved effortlessly from his military career to the presidency of SYColeman, a defense contractor that helped Israel develop its Arrow missile-defense system. The iron web.
Those who dreamt of a flowering of democracy in Iraq are advised to consider the skepticism of Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush. He asked: "What's going to happen the first time we hold an election in Iraq and it turns out the radicals win? What do you do? We're surely not going to let them take over."