Anti-War: A conversation with Antonia Juhasz

On Aug. 4, local anti-war groups will begin a three-day regional gathering, “Stop Bechtel,” both to commemorate the anniversary of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and to protest the involvement of one company, Bechtel in the Iraq War today.

The Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin specializes in designing and building nuclear-powered warships. It is owned by the federal government operated by Bechtel, a 108-year-old company whose executives had a large hand in linking the U.S. to Iraq under Saddam Hussein and then urging us toward war. That role is documented in a new book, The Bush Agenda: Invading the world one economy at a time (ReganBooks), written by Antonia Juhasz. Juhasz is project director of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and will be speaking here on Aug. 5.

You list a number of Bechtel executivess appointed to important U.S. posts in the past, including a few in the Bush administration. Who is the most prominent Bechtel-Bush connection today?

It’s actually the triumvirate of Riley Bechtel, Ross Connelly and Daniel Chao. They cover the three key export funding and trade support functions in the U.S. government: the President’s Export Council, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Import-Export Bank. Through those positions, they have advised the Bush administration on directing U.S. resources … so that Bechtel can be subsidized abroad. Essentially the U.S. taxpayer underwrites the ability of Bechtel to make its living.

And there are other Bechtel officials who first urged America to help Saddam Hussein, and later to attack him.

George Schultz was president of the Bechtel company from 1974 through 1982, then Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State. He certainly worked very aggressively on behalf of increased economic ties between the U.S. and Saddam Hussein, particularly to build an oil pipeline from Iraq to Aqaba, Jordan. That pipeline failed, [which helped] in turning Saddam Hussein against the U.S. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, George Schultz was back on the board of directors of Bechtel. Discussions on the right turned to what was needed: a full invasion of Iraq … and beyond that a full re-making of Iraq’s economy. George Schultz became the chair, while still at Bechtel, of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. The Committee played a very large role in providing a lobbying arm for the voices of invasion. … Bechtel continues to profit from the reconstruction of Iraq … an objective at which it is obviously failing.

How so?

Bechtel has two contracts, worth $2.8 billion, and those contracts are for the most important rebuilding of Iraq … water, sewage and electricity, among other important areas. One of the biggest problems is that Bechtel spent a minimum of four months doing an assessment of the situation in Iraq [while] public opinion of Iraqis just turned drastically against the invasion. They created a lot of hostility, which made their facilities targets of insurgent attacks. And their facilities were too state-of-the-art for the Iraqis to run. … Bechtel received the first government contract without competition. They receive all of their costs plus a fixed fee. The federal government has since turned away from those contracts in Iraq because of the performance of companies like Bechtel. Water, electricity and sewage are still below pre-war levels, three years after the invasion.

 Local protestors label Bechtel as a war profiteer … is that label deserved?

Yes, they’re certainly a war profiteer, but that’s the failing of the Bush administration. What still makes more sense would be for no U.S. corporation to profit … that task should have gone to Iraqis. Bechtel has made clear that is interests in Iraq are to be in Iraq for the long-term … and that there’s a lot of money to be made in Iraq. I see Bechtel as taking advantage, at the least, of a war situation to make a profit, and to gain entry into a region where they’d like to do a lot of work.

The Bettis lab has been around for 50 years. Why protest there today?

We probably wouldn’t have commercial nuclear power if it weren’t for Bechtel, and Bechtel also played a huge role … in the development of non-commercial nuclear power. And the anniversary of Hiroshima is a good time for us to do that.

“Stop Bechtel,” Aug, 4-6, includes Juhasz speaking at the Squirrel Hill Barnes and Noble at 7 p.m. (Fri., Aug. 4). On Sat., Aug. 5 Juhasz will be at a teach-in, “Bechtel and the Military-Industrial Complex,” held at 1 p.m. at the Friends Meeting House, Oakland; civil-disobedience training will follow at 4 p.m. On Sun., Aug. 6, organizers plan a festival and march to the Bettis laboratory, starting 1 p.m. at West Miffin Park, Pavilion 4. For details, see