Art Buchwald, The Iraq Occupation: False Profits, The Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2003

I was watching a talk show on television the other night when the subject of profiteering from the war came up.

The reason it came up was because a talking head pointed out that the Halliburton company charged $2.95 a gallon to transport oil into Iraq, while the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization charges 95 cents to do the same thing.

The first talking head, whom I call Big Mouth, said: "What's wrong with a company making a profit during a war? That's what the capitalistic system is all about."

The second talking head, whom I call Softball, said: "It's our money. If we're asking our boys to fight in Iraq, we shouldn't sock it to the taxpayer during the occupation."

"You're mixing oranges with applesauce," Big Mouth said. "Halliburton's first obligation is to its stockholders. When Halliburton signed a contract to rebuild the country, it was understood by the Pentagon that they would not do it on the cheap."

"There was no competitive bidding," Softball said. "If there had been, another company might have been able to do it for a lot less money."

Big Mouth said, "We will never know, will we?"

"Vice President Cheney was president of Halliburton. Did he have anything to do with the contract?"

Big Mouth said: "He certainly didn't. Cheney has never made a dime on his investments. He happens to be in a blind trust and that is why no one can find him."

"Why do we have to rebuild Iraq at such a high cost?"

"If you bomb a country, you have no choice but to rebuild it. There is a saying in the military industrial complex: 'There's no such thing as a free lunch.' "

"I think we found that out in the past," Softball said. "How much is it going to cost to rebuild Iraq?"

Big Mouth replied: "Including going over the budget and making a profit? Billions of dollars, but a lot of it will be coming back here in stock dividends. That's why the Halliburton deal makes so much sense. The more it charges for shipping oil, the more it can give back to its investors."

"Are all the companies making outrageous profits on rebuilding Iraq?" Softball asked.

"Not outrageous," Big Mouth said, "but reasonable profits that anyone would make if they were asked to save the infrastructure."

Then an announcer said: "We now pause for a commercial. When we come back we will ask the big question, 'How many American companies does it take to screw in an Iraqi light bulb? And how much will they charge?' "

When he returned to my TV screen, Big Mouth said, "I hate to say this, but if you don't support the idea of rebuilding Iraq, you could be considered an anti-Bushie."

"I am not anti-Bush. At the same time, I am not for the U.S. getting us into a war and making money on it," Softball said.

Big Mouth replied, "But even if it costs us, we are bringing democracy to the entire Middle East. What price can you put on that?"

Softball replied, "It's priceless if it's true."

"I think you should write a letter to Halliburton telling them that what is good for Halliburton is good for America."

Softball replied, "And I'll send a copy to Cheney."