Dallas, TX – To the victor go the spoils, of course. That's a practice that's permeated American politics at least since the age of Andrew Jackson. So companies that bet on George W. Bush and the Republican Party in the last two elections naturally are lining up to collect billions in contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq.
Some that expressed an interest in the bidding are Bechtel Group, Parsons Corp., Louis Berger Group and Fluor Corp. According to the Wall Street Journal and the Center for Responsive Politics, the latter three gave $2.8 million to political campaigns between 1999 and 2002. More than two-thirds of that went to Republicans. And Bechtel's contribution was the biggest of all - $1.3 million.
In spite of all that, it must be remembered that these are substantial companies that have done work for the government for years. They would be expected to play an important role in the reconstruction of Iraqi airports, roads, bridges and oil fields regardless of their politics. Other American firms, no doubt, will be called upon to rebuild medical facilities and schools and train the doctors and teachers who will staff them. Many will have given financial support over the years to the administration in power, no matter which party. That's not the immediate problem.
The immediate problem is that the administration appears to be cutting out and casting aside firms in friendly countries such as Britain, Jordan and Egypt and ignoring the non-governmental organizations that usually are called upon to carry a share of the burden. According to the New York Times, only CARE and Save the Children plus a few others will get any contracts at all.
The United Nations is being kept at a distance as well, though perhaps after the war its oil-for-food program might come into play. The U.N. is well equipped for humanitarian aid as well.
But what about the British? Surely they deserve thanks for their extraordinary effort on our behalf. Apparently some companies in the U.K. might act as subcontractors for American winners of the bidding process. That would help. Even so, as Chris Patten, head of external relations for the European Union has said, the way this thing has been handled so far has been "exceptionally maladroit."
Of the $1.8 billion requested from Congress this year for reconstruction in Iraq, some must be allocated to companies in countries whose help has been indispensable, including quiet friends in the Middle East. If that figure rises to $10 billion a year for three years, as the U.N. has predicted, there should be plenty of contracts to stoke the flames of foreign relations without depriving American political supporters of their rewards.
The war in Iraq is not being fought for money. It is not a commercial conflict. The issues at stake are far more grave than that. But lots of money will flow in the aftermath of war, and considered use should be made of those funds to say thank you where it's appropriate and to lubricate the resumption of friendship where the advantage to us is evident.
The administration must be commended for its bold and comprehensive plans for post-war Iraq. All that's needed now is a broader conception of the project and its players.
Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA.