Is Rand Paul right that Cheney invaded Iraq for Halliburton Profits?

(By Juan Cole)

David Corn at Mother Jones got the scoop: In 2009, Rand Paul gave a talk at Western Kentucky University in which he accused former vice president Dick Cheney of having gotten up the Iraq War to rescue his troubled oil services company, Halliburton, which– along with its subsidiaries– was awarded enormous no-bid contracts for work in post-invasion Iraq. Corn published the video at Mother Jones.

In it, Rand warned of the Military-Industrial Complex: “”We need to be fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy… When the Iraq War started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution. I mean, it shouldn’t be sloppy work; it shouldn’t be bad procurement process. But it really shouldn’t be that these people are so powerful that they direct even policy.”

He continued:

There’s a great YouTube of Dick Cheney in 1995 defending [President] Bush No. 1 [and the decision not to invade Baghdad in the first Gulf War], and he goes on for about five minutes. He’s being interviewed, I think, by the American Enterprise Institute, and he says it would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it’d be civil war, we would have no exit strategy. He goes on and on for five minutes. Dick Cheney saying it would be a bad idea. And that’s why the first Bush didn’t go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq.”

[The interview was actually on C-Span and was 1994.]

Paul continued:

The day after 9/11, [CIA chief] George Tenet is going in the [White] House and [Pentagon adviser] Richard Perle is coming out of the White House. And George Tenet should know more about intelligence than anybody in the world, and the first thing Richard Perle says to him on the way out is, “We’ve got it, now we can go into Iraq.” And George Tenet, who supposedly knows as much intelligence as anybody in the White House says, “Well, don’t we need to know that they have some connection to 9/11?” And, he [Perle] says, “It doesn’t matter.” It became an excuse. 9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.”

Many commentators have argued that Rand sounds like a leftist, and they have a point. I’m in fact confused by Paul’s argument here, which begins with an argument against companies getting too big.

Libertarians like Rand often hold that corporations are inherently good and efficient, but are corrupted by the state, which plays favorites and disrupts the market’s magic hand for the purposes of private power. In this philosophy, a corporation would never go to war, but governments routinely do so, and drag corporations into these conflicts with distorting effects. (This premise is patently false– look at the East India Company’s freebooting conquest of India in the late 18th and early 19th century, with which the British state took decades to catch up). Paul’s family has an unusual take on libertarianism, emphasizing states’ rights and limited but still fairly extensive Federal government, though with a relatively isolationist approach to foreign policy. (Rand Paul the father argues against the US defending Taiwan from Communist China, e.g.)

But Paul seemed to make the Marxist argument in this quote, saying that the problem was that Halliburton got too big. (It actually was a relatively small corporation and wouldn’t have been important if Cheney hadn’t become its CEO). He seems to say that Halliburton misused the government for its purposes rather than arguing that the government corrupted Halliburton.

The question is whether Paul having taken this stand puts him out of the running for the Republican presidential nomination. Can the party faithful really swallow his attribution of an entire GOP war to the naked greed of the former GOP vice president? 66% of Republicans still say that the Iraq War was not a mistake. As for Cheney, only 36 percent of Americans think favorably of him, but surely they are all Republicans and constitute the bulk of the GOP. The polls would suggest that Paul’s position, and certainly the clarity of his position, might be a drawback.

As for the issue at hand, my own argument, in Engaging the Muslim World, is that Cheney did want to open Iraq and Iran to petroleum development by firms like Halliburton. This is because in the late 1990s it was foreseeable that major new petroleum fields would be harder to find and competition for them from Asian firms would dramatically increase. Cheney initially tried to get Congress to lift AIPAC sanctions on the two countries, intended to protect Israel from strong governments in Baghdad and Tehran. At that time he spoke of diplomatically opening Iran, even if it took 10 years. When that effort to remove sanctions failed, I argue, Cheney decided that only regime change would satisfy Congress and also allow sanctions to be lifted, and he allied with the Neoconservatives in that cause.

Related videos:

The Young Turks: “Rand Paul Says Cheney Pushed Iraq War For Halliburton Profit”

The C-Span video referred to by Rand is here

49 Responses

  1. Convinces me. I mean, I cannot think of a single instance in recorded history in which a man has changed his opinion except for venal reasons.

    Jesus, that man Paul is an absolute buffoon. (Which is not to say that he’s necessarily wrong — stopped clock and all — but from what’s presented here, it’s the worst form of post/propter reasoning imaginable.)

    • There are many problems with Rand Paul, but given the putative candidates for president in 2016 a case can be made that he is probably the least of all the evils we will have to choose from. He does seem to take the Constitution seriously which appears to be more than can be said for the others; however, that may not hold up if a shot at the presidency seduces him to change.

      • There’s such a smorgasbord of fun stuff about Rand Paul out there, it’s hard to pick sensible representative context for him.. Would be all things to all people, so you can pick and choose from a myriad of “inconsistent,” often idiotic pronouncements on a whole range of topics that are important to having a future for the species. that he may be “least bad” ain’t a criterion I would favor for putting him atop the Kleptocracy. As a low-paid nurse with an interest in the cynical, I would offer this little slightly aged snippet, from a guy who would do away with Medicare and other non-self-reliant selfishness, but is happy to bill Medicare in his practice, like namesake Ayn’s “distasteful acceptance” of Social Security.

        My offering: “Dr. Paul: Not Board Certified, But Self-Certified.” link to But there’s this wistful cloud of neediness floating around among us ordinary people, wishing for a “real leader” to come and Make Healthy Change, only lacking an appropriate public-relations poly-angulation creation designed to seem like he/she sort of generally seems to fit with the contours of what enough of us think is Right and Honorable and Honest and Wise to get past the electoral hump and into the Imperial Oval.

        Is He The One?

  2. Maybe not the sole reason, but definitely one of the main reasons. If you follow the money, you will find out who made out like a bandit, out of this unnecessary war, based on lies, deception, and greed. Instead of going after North Korea, the rogue nation with nuclear weapons, they went after a toothless tiger, a tinpot dictator, because of the oil. The Iraqi Ministry for Oil, was one of the first establishments they secured, even the Iraqi Museum was open, and absolutely not secured, and many priceless artifacts looted. That shows just how much the neocon warmongers had oil in their minds.

  3. I will vote for Paul if he runs. He is the only likely candidate that would rein in the national security state.

    Can you imagine what we’ll get if Amazon Hillary Clinton became president? She’ll make chicken-hawks like Obama, Bush and husband Bill look tame and controlled.

    • That’s how I feel about Hillary. If Paul wins the Republican nomination, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Darth Cheney will cross over and vote for her.

      They’ll be waiting for Hillary’s 3am wake up call.

  4. Perhaps that was the reason, or part of it.

    I still wonder what was said at that secretive meeting Cheney held with oil execs in the summer of 2001. At that time, oil prices were quite low, and the oil for food program with Saddam was benefiting mostly Russian and French companies.

    The invasion of Iraq changed all that. The instability made crude oil prices double, and American companies benefited once Iraq started selling oil again.

    • I think Cheney wanted to invade Iraq to flood the market with oil, collapse the price and break up OPEC. Controlling the oil market meant more than a price spike. To me, crude prices doubling was evidence that the plan wasn’t working.

  5. Didn’t Paul receive the largest share of the military vote in the run-up to the election? My fear is that if he manages to run as a Republican and get the rest of his platform a bit ‘under control’ but continues to oppose our military involvement in everything and everywhere he would probably win!

  6. Anna Knish

    And no one seems to care that the company moved to the Mideast so it is no longer headquartered (or paying taxes) in the US.

  7. Probably are a lot of instances in human history when a man has said something altogether different, when his personal priorities and income situation have changed, from what he said a couple of years earlier when he was nominally advising on grave matters of state and had no immediate chance of making a whole lot of money off his advice and pronouncements. Particularly a man who does not give a rip for the opinion of others and has zero respect for honesty.

    Rand Paul is just a different kind of self-interested evil soulless obnoxious fool, maybe one of the 24 kinds of Libertarians illustrated here: link to Interesting how people of that sort tend to rise in the ranks and realms of power and wealth… “Stupid bandits” are the worst kind of Stupid Human: link to . All of which is discussed in geopolitical terms by Barbara Tuchman in “The March of Folly,” which is not perfect but is nicely illustrative… link to

    • 2 requirements for the job:
      male; and

      don’t even have to be an ordained priest, technically.

  8. Papa Bush was the last president who came from the so-called “Greatest Generation.” ( I put that phrase in quotation marks for a reason. How could the “Greatest Generation” imprison 110,000 of our fellow citizens in concentration camps, confiscate their property and then go overseas to incinerate hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Japan with a massive firebombing campaign and then cap that wonderful and glaring war crime off with by dropping two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Orwellian interpretation of history to the nth degree. Way to go, Tom Brokaw. )

    But as least Papa Bush really believed in the principle of political consensus, as most of his generation did and still do. But they endured the Great Depression and then the Second World War through their consensus, a real existential threat to our national security and survival as a nation. America was still operating as a community of fellow citizens, had a sense of shared sacrifice and the phrase, citizen/soldier, actually had genuine validity in the society. Papa Bush knew he was only authorized by the UN and our Congress in recapturing Kuwait. He honored the political consensus of his limited mandate as Commander-in-Chief. Typical behavior for his generation.

    But Junior, the Boy Emperor, is from the baby boomer generation, and like most boomers, he rejects any political consensus, if it violates his need for instant gratification with whatever lame idea that suddenly comes into his cranium. So after the shock of the 9/11 attacks, running around in the White House like Henny Penny ( “I’m a war president!” )’ to quote that phrase Rummy did from Errol Morris’ great documentary, The Unknown Known, and being all over the geopolitical map with blinders in his surreal game of pin the tail on the donkey, he finally decided to prosecute his war in Iraq. So the mantra for boomers could be: Hey, it’s all about me! Typical boomer.

    And Junior, who safely hid out in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, had zany Uncle Dick, who just happened to have “other priorities” also at the time. Cheney was the family retainer as Vice President and Enabler-in-Chief, for the military misadventure in Iraq. Of course, Uncle Dick saw a great chance to make some big bucks off this illegal war and went along with all the other neocons, who were also boomers, to commit the worst foreign policy debacle in our nation’s history since…well…since the Vietnam War. Talk about a bum trip when it comes to déjà vu.

    Only Secretary of State Colin Powell, who actually served as a grunt in Vietnam, who actually saw the beast up close and personal during his tour of duty, had deep reservations about this war for imperial plunder. But unfortunately he played the role of “the good soldier” like Senators John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and my personal favorite, John McCain, for cheap entertainment, in this dysfunctional, twisted family drama that reminds me of the satire Arrested Development by way of the theater of the absurd.

    And Senator Rand Paul is just another boomer, though a late one ( he just made it just under the wire having been born on January 7, 1963) so he can bend his political convictions into a pretzel to justify all position he wants to take on any given issue at any given moment. Again typical boomer.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say in my usual convoluted and eccentric take on politics during discussion here is that the personages Professor Cole alluded to and discussed in this article are by and large prominent and the powerful baby boomers inside the beltway bubble. Their historical legacy seems to be how they all have really screwed up this country. And all these labels along the political spectrum – neoconservative, liberal, libertarian, etc – have lost their meaning when it comes to the boomers, because they have subverted the language in the marketplace of ideas.

    All they really believe in like typical boomers is: It’s all about me!

    • The simple answer to your first question is that they didn’t. The “GG” was not the generation that ordered the internment or ruled in Korematsu, it was not the generation that made the decision to drop the bombs.

  9. Does Rand Paul agree with Nancy Pelosi and think Cheney was responsible for the CIA’s torture program?

    Senator Paul also objects to the NSA spying on U.S. citizens because it violates their fourth amendment rights. Senator Feinstein doesn’t think the Senate should be monitored but doesn’t have a problem when regular Americans have their constitutional rights violated. Objecting to NSA surveillance puts Rand Paul against most Republicans in Congress.

    Paul has also come out against Obama’s drone attacks.. Generally, the Republicans support our president on this one. I imagine Darth Cheney wishes Obama would do more in this area.

  10. When it comes to the Paul’s (father & son) I always need to stop and wonder what would happen if they were to become president. I mean George W Bush ran as a compassionate conservative …yeah right! Barrack Obama, well where should one start with him? What I am referring to, is how all these political candidates change there stands once they enter into the Oval Office. So, my question regarding Rand Paul is how much of his rhetoric would survive if he were elected president.

    There was a time that I was impressed with Dick Cheney. I mean, there was no one who could get things done so well, as Cheney. Then Dick went to the Dark Side, and never did he look back. Maybe Cheney was always dark, but then he went darker.

    I think history will not look kindly on the Cheney’s of our America. This whole era of Neocon will be judged poorly, as time goes by.

    • “What I am referring to, is how all these political candidates change there stands once they enter into the Oval Office.”

      If whoever gets into the Oval Office doesn’t toe one of the party lines and the dictates of Wall Street and the Israel Lobby then he will find the oligarchs of both parties undermining him, just as they did when Jimmy Carter was president.

  11. Lisa Pease

    @truthglow The truth is even worse. Not JUST for Halliburton, but as a beachhead from which to engage Iran. Glad Cheney’s out.

  12. Len

    @truthglow Of course. It was always about oil. Nothing else, just money and oil. Oh, and greed!

    • And the influence of AIPAC had nothing to do with Bush Jr attacking Iraq, eh? And neither did PNAC? Yeah, right.
      I suggest you read Walt & Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby, for starters.

      • But Mr. Shank, Cheney was one of the founders of PNAC, so of course it supported his interests as an oil exec. PNAC was practically a marriage of Cheney’s oligarch class with AIPAC Zionist demagogues, and the invasion was always the intended offspring. This is important because before 2001, oil execs wanted to keep the Arabs happy, not oil-less Israel. Cheney and his henchmen created a new paradigm to protect both oil and Israel so that the GOP elites could unite.

  13. The blame game, facts or fictions, all smoke and mirror. Senatorial shenanigans and imperial pugmark zigzagging the planet only benefits one country and it isn’t the US.

  14. Is he claiming that he did it for money or that Cheney was “captured” by the industries overall zeitgeist which lead him to abandon a sound policy for a prudent one?

  15. All wars are about resources.

    Any exceptions merely prove the rule.

    Everything else is an excuse put forth to garner “public support”.

    Corporations extract the resources and market them.

    Corporations (and the people who own/control corporations) own/control our government.

    Corporations used their control of our government to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to acquire access to, and control of, the oil resources of Iraq and the mineral resources of Afghanistan. (Afghanistan, along with China, has some of the world’s largest known reserves of several strategically vital minerals.)

    • There are other kinds of resources. Thatcher didn’t need the Falklands for oil, her own North Sea fields were coming on line (and unfairly making her look good). But she had to unite the country using a war so she could get away with her rape of the working class at home. That rape created billions for British capitalists. That’s a resource. Even a few points of approval rating is a resource. If nothing else elected politicians do can garner approval of both the rich and the poor, then they would be crazy not to use wars to stay in office.

      • There are also geographic choke-points for resources. Whatever it has given up, the UK has hung onto a number of the world’s most strategic points/islands, of which the Falklands are only one.

  16. Rand is basically a neocon wanker but he’s right about this and does seen to take the Bill of Rights more seriously than any corporatist Dem does.

  17. Paul’s notion is not Marxist, but more of a vague populist-like border-line conspiracy theory congenial with extreme right-wing notions – sort of like saying WWI was a plot by the munitions manufacturers. As a commenter on MSNBC said, he’s getting his ideas from Charles Lindbergh. It’s like saying the Johnson escalated in Vietnam to make money for Brown & Root (a Texas-based construction company). Sure, in both cases the through a lot of lucrative contracts their way, but that was hardly the motivation..

    You are right, however, Juan, to point out that it’s odd of him to criticize corporations.

    • “Paul’s notion is not Marxist, but more of a vague populist-like border-line conspiracy theory congenial with extreme right-wing notions – sort of like saying WWI was a plot by the munitions manufacturers.”

      This. Entirely this.

    • Funny you should mention Houston-Based Burn & Loot. They were bought by Halliburton in 1962 and remained Halliburton-owned until 2007.

  18. interesting, reading thru the comments.

    Few posting here, including the site owner, seem to understand the differences between “conservative,” GOP, “right wing,” Tea Party, neo-con or libertarian.

    Me, I’m not smart enuf to pigeon-hole Senator Paul in one of these Kant boxes, but I can see what the authentic conservative take is on vanity wars — don’t start ’em.

    Here, Paul is talking conservative.
    Bashing Cheney is what conservatives would do in this context.
    Bashing Cheney in this way is not a particularly “progressive” or leftist or communist or socialist response; it is a human response.

    • I kind of disagree. Conservatives in our nation had no problem with wars to steal Indian land, or wars to punish Latin American debtors. The South is the stronghold of American conservatism and yet has supported all our wars since the war on Mexico.

      What conservatives used to have a problem about was wars so big that they would require expansion of central government power, mobilization of the working class, high inflation via labor shortages, etc. They want to whip countries that can’t fight back, have some parades, and then go back to the oligarchic small-town repression they’re comfortable with. The big wars where the US was on the “left” side, the Civil War and WW2, caused broad and radical changes in society, generally towards an expectation of more equality. This problem was solved by making war permanent, and then enlisting business as weapons suppliers and poor rural whites as a sort of Praetorian class that dominates the military. Now war has become welfare for white folks, and pointing that out is very risky in GOP primaries.

  19. Len and Austin and others who think that it’s “all about the corporations”: actually, in the era of post-industrial globalist capitalism, it’s “all about the banks,” which control and dictate to the corporations. My theory regarding why we went into Iraq has always been that it was to prevent Saddam Hussein from offering Iraq’s oil to the global market for a denomination of payment other than US dollars, which he actually threatened to do only a few months before he was attacked. The economy of the United States would not survive a world in which the reserve currency for fuels of all sort was something other than US dollars. The US is actually already a bankrupted empire, of the same sort that Spain was in the 17th century, but so long as resource-poor countries are constrained to purchase their energy in our currency, that “bankrupted empire” can go on limping into the future. It will end eventually, however, and the downfall of one of the most violent “empires” in man’s history will not be pretty.

    • Sorry, Bruce. That the US would go to war to stop oil from being denominated in Euros is not plausible. For one thing, when the Euro is higher than the dollar, oil is already largely denominated in Euros; oil traders aren’t stupid. The theory makes no sense.

  20. One definition of fascism is the merging of capitalist and government interests. So, if capitalist corporations are dictating policy to the government, which sure seems like the case, then the US is a fascist state.

    It reinforces my long held belief that unfettered capitalism leads inevitably to fascism.

      • Yes, and the fun thing about states like Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey is that you can check off the boxes in real time.

      • A lot of folks have trouble defining fascism, due to it being an easy way to win name-calling contests. Too many look at the result, which in a country rent by anti-Communist hysteria indeed came to resemble what Mr. Stewart described. But that’s pretending that no one was sincere, that the fascist founders and early supporters had no genuine beliefs. Besides, most non-Communist countries have had pervasive control of government by rich families, yet we can’t say fascism existed before 1918.

        What makes fascism distinct is its origins in anti-Communist populism, starting with the Catholic falangist movements after WW1. What Catholic and German fascism had in common was nostalgia for feudalism, maybe some belief that the alienation of Anglo-style industrial capitalism could be moderated by having the capitalists behave like the noble families of old, and that they in turn should stand with the “patriots”, usually poor war veterans, in eliminating alien influences. So cities, bankers, Jews, Reds, gays, and class identity are targeted. Google the “Dupont plot” to see a very contrived attempt by rich men to carry out this process in the USA.

        • As a followup to my previous post, note that my definition does not require a big bureaucratic govt in principle. That’s a part of the usual definition of fascism that I think was planted by the US Right to shield themselves. Under Hitler, corporate execs had vast power within their factory gates, but were regulated in their actions in the market. This is not inconsistent with feudalism. “Corporatism” was actually a Catholic-right concept of dividing worker society between its different economic functions, smashing class unity, while of course these “vertical syndicates” were united at the top by marriage and inter-investment. Franco’s Spain sought to carry this out. Also consider Himmler’s fantasy to divide France into feudal fiefdoms ruled by SS nobles.

          If we view fascism as an attempt to revive feudalism, we can explain the “fascist” aspects of many 3rd World societies. They’re not fascist, they’re still feudalist. But the act of reviving feudalism requires violating much of the context of the original. Japan’s fascists were definitely nostalgic populists, but the society they created in the ’30s in no way resembles pre-Tokugawa Japan. The samurai myth they popularized did not reflect the values of actual medieval Japanese peasants. Karen Armstrong argued that religious fundamentalist movements are essentially “modern” in the way they try to bring back the past via calculation, mobilization, etc. Same thing here. It ends up as fake as Colonial Williamsburg.

  21. At least Rand is making it interesting.

    My contempt for libertarians here in Texas is beyond words. If Rand shares his father’s opposition to a woman’s right to an abortion, that tells me all I need to know about whose “freedom” they care about. But let’s stick to the military thing. It’s fair to expect ANY anti-war candidate to explain exactly how we will shut down our empire and how we will deal with the fallout, instead of pretending that it will be all roses and champagne. It’s also fair to expect them to explain how the budget savings will be routed to tax cuts vs social programs, or even how the resulting layoffs will affect communities – many in Paul’s “home” state. If he’s willing to just walk out of NATO, I’m all for it. But maybe many on his side view NATO as exactly what it has become, a way to keep “socialistic” western Europe from becoming a full-fledged rival to America and its militarized capitalism, and they feel this is all to the good. Now at least we get a chance to find out how these folks really feel.

    His acknowledgment of war as an economic tool is important. I think he’s living in a fantasy land if he really thinks that a weak government will be better able to resist corporate entreaties for profitable invasions – the US rolled over Latin America while it was at the height of its Gilded Age capitalism, with a very small govt and army, and everywhere did some corporation a favor according to Gen. Smedley Butler. It was big-govt Satan FDR who brought the troops home from that crusade. Setting the clock back to 1898, Rand, does not stop it from ticking when you’ve left it plugged into Big Money. What we should now hope for is a very ugly intra-Right debate over the role of the Empire in helping American capitalism. Can the Paulites get away with arguing that having bases in 130 countries has never given US companies leverage in dealing with their governments? That American corporations stripped of that leverage would have thrived overseas these last 60 years? That without our Cold War commitments, the oppressed workers of the world would not have chased Paul’s ilk, the Jeffrey Sachs and Milton Friedmans who have used laissez-faire austerity to crush them, back to a severely shrunken Wall Street?

    Since all this is going to happen anyway, we might as well have the debate now.

Comments are closed.