Editorial: Measuring idealism

When the Chicago Tribune reported Oct. 9 that the U.S. military’s contract with Halliburton subsidiary KBR was bringing in foreign workers to work in the reconstruction of Iraq, the story gave yet another reason to raise the eyebrows of suspicion toward the U.S. effort and operations in Iraq.

The Tribune tracked workers from Nepal who were illegally smuggled into Iraq, even though the Nepalese government refused to grant permission for such workers to travel to the dangerous post-war environment. The story doesn’t end there either, as the wages may be less than workers believed they would be and other subcontractors have taken away workers’ passports.

In the past, the United States has been quick to condemn nations that allow the practice of human trade to proliferate and even have laws placing sanctions on those countries. Now, it appears as if the United States government has seen fit to turn a blind eye to these regulations within its own operations. While many may be quick to denounce the actions of these subcontractors and the methods they use to find labor for a nation that requires rebuilding, perspective is needed to put the situation of these workers into context.

Critics of the war have vocally opposed the staggering dollar amounts spent in the ongoing Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it would be easy to now say the money being used to reform a nation in the shadow of a democracy is undermining the principles it attempts to promote. But, it must be considered that the U.S. military hired these contractors to perform a task, and the natural and logical conclusion for any business is to find ways to increase profits with minimal costs. Unfortunately, this means finding cheap labor from foreign nations to meet the demand requested by U.S. forces in the region. If the complaint is about wages, it could be worse in terms of money spent on a human labor force.

It must be realized that many companies that produce goods – which nearly every U.S. citizen uses and consumes on a daily basis – come from abroad, made by people who continue to exist to feed a cycle of poverty. To be outraged at the practices of subcontractors in Iraq, and not be similarly disgusted at the actions of many companies who have practiced this loophole for decades that we all exploit in our daily acceptance of capitalism, comes as a trite argument to an already apathetic citizenry.

Another overlooked apology for the practices of KBR is the security and safety of our U.S. troops. While Iraqi nationals could be hired to perform the tasks performed by foreign workers, the dangers are obvious to those worried about terrorist insurgents infiltrating U.S. bases. With our troops already facing adversaries throughout the region, bringing the unknown variable into military camps doesn’t make for a brilliant idea. Hiring third-party workers who have no vested interest outside of making a wage is the smart solution for the continued protection of U.S. troops.

Ultimately, it appears that the U.S. government has decided to set aside its own rhetoric and principles to accomplish the task at hand in Iraq. The answer of whether or not we accept these practices should only come after we’ve weighed the consequences of the alternatives.