Here are words to pin to the Bush years like a wilting corsage: "We don’t know what we paid for."
That’s a quote from Mary Ugone, the Defense Department’s deputy inspector general for auditing, concerning massive Pentagon payments made during the occupation and war in Iraq for which there is no existing (or grossly inadequate) documentation. In fact, according to the inspector general for the Defense Department, "the Pentagon cannot account for almost $15 billion worth of goods and services ranging from trucks, bottled water and mattresses to rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns that were bought from contractors in the Iraq reconstruction effort." An internal audit of $8 billion that the Pentagon paid out to US and Iraqi private contractors found that "nearly every transaction failed to comply with federal laws or regulations aimed at preventing fraud, in some cases lacking even basic invoices explaining how the money was spent."
This is, admittedly, chump change for the Pentagon in the age of Bush. And even when "reform" is attempted, the medicine is often worse than the disease. Congressional critics and others have, for instance, accused the Houston-based private contractor KBR, formerly a division of Halliburton, of "wasteful spending and mismanagement and of exploiting its political ties to Vice President Dick Cheney" in fulfilling enormous contracts to support US troops in Iraq. Now, the Pentagon is planning to make amends by dividing the latest contract for food, shelter, and basic services in Iraq between KBR and two other large contractors, Fluor Corporation and DynCorp International. According to the New York Times, "[T]he new three-company deal could actually result in higher costs for American taxpayers and weak oversight by the military."
These telling details rose last week from the subterranean depths of a bloated Bush-era Pentagon. As Frida Berrigan, arms expert for the New America Foundation, indicates in "Entrenched, Embedded, and Here to Stay" at Tomdispatch.com, the Pentagon’s massive expansion on just about every front during George W. Bush’s two terms in office may be the greatest story never told of our time. It might, in fact, be the most important American story of the new century and, while you can find many of its disparate parts in your daily papers, the mainstream media has yet to offer a significant overview of the Pentagon in our time. This suggests a great deal about what isn’t being dealt with in our world. How, for instance, is it possible to have a presidential election campaign that goes on for years in which the size of the Pentagon never comes up as an issue (unless the candidates are all plunking for an expansion of American troop strength)?
Berrigan outlines seven major fronts on which the Pentagon has expanded its power and its powers since George W. Bush took office — in Washington, nationally, and globally. These include: The Pentagon as budget buster, diplomat, arms dealer, intelligence analyst and spy, domestic disaster manager, humanitarian caregiver, and global viceroy as well as ruler of the heavens. It’s quite a list and, while some mainstream media attention has gone into the Pentagon’s budget busting capabilities these last years, its mission creep and leap when it comes to the State Department, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and local, state, and civilian authorities involved in dealing with natural or other disasters has yet to be fully reckoned with.
Berrigan concludes: "As the clock ticks down to November 4, 2008, a lot of people are investing hope (as well as money and time) in the possibility of change at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But when it comes to the Pentagon, don’t count too heavily on change, no matter who the new president may be. After all, seven years, four months, and a scattering of days into the Bush presidency, the Pentagon is deeply entrenched in Washington and still aggressively expanding. It has developed a taste for unrivaled power and unequaled access to the treasure of this country. It is an institution that has escaped the checks and balances of the nation."