BUSINESS AS USUAL

by RAY FLEMING

THE strong bonds between the government of the United States and the country's industrial and business communities are not weakened in war. Indeed they are strengthened. The $680 million contract which was awarded last week to the Bechtel Group of San Francisco for reconstruction work in Iraq proves the point perfectly. It was the outcome of a closed competition limited to a short list of American companies. No one would deny that Bechtel is a huge and highly competent organisation with vast experience of the kind of work that needs to be done in Iraq – repairing and recommissioning power stations, electricity grids, water and sewage facilities, airports and docks. But it is not the only company in the world, or among the US's “coalition” partners, capable of undertaking such tasks. Where Bechtel is different and why it scores in situations of this kind is to be found in its skill in cultivating Washington, especially a Republican Washington. It has made a speciality of employing former and future Washington office–holders. George Schultz, who was Secretary of State under President Reagan, came from and returned to Bechtel; the Group's chief executive serves on the President's Export Council. It is all too familiar and is unlikely to change in an administration whose Vice–President has close personal ties to the oil business. The Bechtel contract illustrates perfectly how insensitive and unconcerned President Bush and his administration are about how they and their country are perceived by much of the rest of the world.

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