In light of the American military’s increasing dependence on corporate entities, Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War questions our government’s ability to oversee massively profitable armed forces contracts. The author, who lives in Oakland, California, is the managing editor of the investigative Web site CorpWatch; his previous book, Iraq, Inc: A Profitable Occupation, was published in 2004.
What first attracted you to Halliburton as a book-worthy topic? Halliburton is the largest contractor to the U.S. military, taking in as much as half of the money provided to contractors in places like Iraq. This alone made it an interesting topic, particularly given all the allegations of corruption and political favoritism [that have been made against the company]. Once I visited U.S. military bases, I realized Halliburton is about transforming the way the U.S. goes to war in the twenty-first century. Halliburton’s job is to make soldiers as comfortable as possible by doing all the dirty work—erecting tents, cooking food, cleaning toilets—so that they go to war without the hardship that previous soldiers faced. Today a soldier is more likely to put on weight than to return looking gaunt and famished.
Is this Halliburton-serviced military an improvement on the traditional model? In many ways, yes. In the book, I quote Major Tim Horton [at Camp Anaconda, in Iraq]. He points out that if the average soldier gets $100,000 worth of training, then the military has to spend another $100,000 to train every replacement soldier. “What if we spend an extra six thousand dollars to get them to stay and save the loss of talent?” he says. “There are some creature comforts in this Wal-Mart and McDonald’s society we live in that soldiers have come to expect. They expect to play an Xbox, to keep in touch by e-mail. They expect to eat a variety of foods. . . . Our soldiers need to feel and believe that we care about them, or they will leave.” What are the downsides to this model? Well, there is the obvious corruption when contractors figure out how to [steal from the system]. But there is a bigger downside: Halliburton has created a bubble from which the U.S. military can play war games at will, rather like at a video arcade. But you will eventually run out of quarters to play your game—we see that already with the current economic crisis—and asymmetrical warfare by Iraqis can defeat a comfortable military elephant that wants its slice of pizza and double helping of ice cream.
Your publisher calls the book “a devastating bestiary of corporate malfeasance and political cronyism.” Is that PR hyperbole or is Halliburton’s history truly that odious? Every one of Halliburton’s senior managers is ex-government, often from the very department that they are now providing outside contractor services to. Halliburton’s Army shows this political cronyism in detail. Was there malfeasance in Afghanistan and Iraq? Absolutely! What else would you call a litany of worker abuses, a complete failure to fix the oil fields, as well as a widespread waste of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary luxuries?
What projects are next for Pratap Chatterjee? I continue to look at military contracting, notably in the intelligence sector. I have also just returned from Afghanistan, where I expect to focus on contractors that may get more money if Obama expands the war there. I’ll also focus on contractors and corruption in the Obama administration, as I expect there to be a lot more scandals with the large government handouts that have been promised. Perseus Books, $26.95 Read the full interview.