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Hezbollah vs. Halliburton

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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.