Hezbollah vs. Halliburton

The New York Times and Washington Post this morning both contain remarkable reports on Hezbollah’s reconstruction efforts in Lebanon.

Suddenly, the guns are set aside, and Hezbollah members are surveying the wreckage, promising payment to victims and refugees, and sitting atop bulldozers pushing aside rubble.

Reports the Times:

While the Israelis began their withdrawal, hundreds of Hezbollah members spread over dozens of villages across southern Lebanon began cleaning, organizing and surveying damage. Men on bulldozers were busy cutting lanes through giant piles of rubble. Roads blocked with the remnants of buildings are now, just a day after a cease-fire began, fully passable. …

Hezbollah’s reputation as an efficient grass-roots social service network — as opposed to the Lebanese government, regarded by many here as sleek men in suits doing well — was in evidence everywhere. Young men with walkie-talkies and clipboards were in the battered Shiite neighborhoods on the southern edge of Bint Jbail, taking notes on the extent of the damage.

There are many things to be said about this, but a question: What does it say that Hezbollah can organize efficient reconstruction — commencing as soon a ceasefire was announced, but the U.S. contractors in Iraq have utterly botched reconstruction there?

Sure, security problems in Iraq have made the contractors’ work extra challenging — and by now, perhaps impossible in many cases — but that’s only part of the story. And it doesn’t explain the failure to successfully undertake reconstruction projects early in the occupation.

The real issue is that the U.S. contractors, on the whole, saw their mission as corruptly siphoning as much Iraqi and U.S. taxpayer monies as they could, rather than doing actual reconstruction. And their U.S. government overseers — to the extent even this function wasn’t privatized — didn’t care. In fact, they too were interested in facilitating the cronyism.

Harsh words, but you can’t speak harshly enough about what has happened.

A few reminders:

From the New York Times last month:

The United States is dropping Bechtel, the American construction giant, from a project to build a high-tech children’s hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Basra after the project fell nearly a year behind schedule and exceeded its expected cost by as much as 150 percent.

Called the Basra Children’s Hospital, the project has been consistently championed by the first lady, Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was designed to house sophisticated equipment for treating childhood cancer.

From a July report by Representative Henry Waxman, who has been the most dogged Congressional critic of Iraqi contractor corruption: “Noncompetitive contracts have soared over 700 percent in just three years, and the total value of the Department’s wasteful contracts exceeds $34 billion.”

The corruption surrounding Halliburton alone boggles the mind. See a summary of what happened last year, from Russell Mokhiber and my Multinational Monitor article on the 10 Worst Corporations of 2005. The full Halliburton story is tracked by Halliburton Watch.

Also, check materials compiled by the Center on Corporate Policy and the Project on Government Oversight.

It’s rather pathetic that the United States should be looking to Hezbollah as a model of how to do reconstruction, but that’s the case. For reforms to clean up the morass of U.S. crony contracting, see these proposals from the Center on Corporate Policy.

Yes, it’s a big news day with Bob Ney’s resignation, the BP pipeline closure and the Lamont-Lieberman primary.

But let’s not let this item on the cover of today’s Washington Post slip by:

“Army Ponders Amusement Venue, Hotel at Ft. Belvoir.”

The Post reports the army is giving serious consideration to a proposal for a theme park to accompany an already planned museum. The museum is slated to be built in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the distant exurbs of Washington, D.C.

According to a developer’s proposal, at the park, “You can command the latest M-1 tank, feel the rush of a paratrooper freefall, fly a Cobra Gunship or defend your B-17 as a waist gunner.”

This business of making military combat seem fun and a game — no small thing with dying and wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq, but assisted by the Bush administration’s efforts to block media coverage of the caskets — is no small thing.

Of course, the amusement park is unlikely to mention that one in six soldiers seeing combat in Iraq are coming home with serious mental health problems.

It’s not likely to play up the likelihood of getting injured or killed.

Nor is it likely to depict how military service — especially, but not only, in pursuit of unjust objectives — can be dehumanizing, and lead otherwise good people to commit atrocities. (About which, be sure not to miss Sunday’s Los Angeles Times extraordinary story on declassified Pentagon papers showing that U.S. atrocities went far beyond My Lai.)

And I guess it’s fair to assume the theme park wouldn’t plan to have booths from those who might convey an honest assessment of military service, like Citizen Soldier.

The amusement park, if it does get built, will instead help romanticize war. In our class-riven society, that’s a doubly dangerous thing.

Such romanticization fits right into the schemes of deception used by military recruiters as they target minority, working class and rural kids for military service.

For the war-making class, who by and large wouldn’t dream of letting their kids serve in the military, the romanticization makes it that much easier to send other people off to war. And, unfortunately, for their kids — who are likely to become the war-makers themselves in later years — the romanticization will make it easier for them to continue the cycle of careless and casual use of military force.

The only good news in the Washington Post piece is this: There is major local opposition to the amusement park proposal, largely because traffic in the area is already horrendous and the three million visitors that the theme park developer projects would create permanent gridlock.