Friday, September 24, 2004

Why we went to war: Making Iraq safe for multinationals? Naomi Klein of Harper's argues that was the underlying goal of the Iraqi invasion. ( I don't agree that greed drove the neocons; it's pretty clear that it was an ideological fantasy of remaking the Mideast into a democratic, pro-Israel region.) Still, in the article and in interviews, she makes a number of disturbing points: for instance, the reconstruction effort is managed in part by wide-eyed, inexperienced ideologues in their 20s who got their jobs through right-wing think tanks and Republican connections, which is one reason only $1 billion of $18 billion appropriated has actually been spent; the reconstruction effort has essentially been a pay-off to foreign allies and corporate insiders, costing local Iraqis jobs and a chance to participate in their own economy; and early plans under Paul Bremer during the occupation consisted primarily of ways to rewrite Iraqi tax and economic policies to allow for unfettered crony capitalism and the sell-off of state-owned industries. One of her disturbing examples is the 17 idle state-owned Iraqi concrete plants that could make cement barrier "blast walls" for $100 each (not to mention roads and buildings) but have been denied generators to start up again; instead the reconstruction leaders are importing the barriers for $1,000 a pop, she claims. Everybody benefits -- except Iraqis. Meanwhile, sewage systems remain unrepaired and hepatitis and other diseases are spreading.

The neocons' economic moves, she also contends, have led to Iraqi layoffs and unemployment that have fueled the insurgency -- and, ironically, deterred the foreign and American investment that originally motivated their laissez-faire plans.

She writes, "The Financial Times has declared Iraq `the most dangerous place in the world in which to do business.' It’s quite an accomplishment: in trying to design the best place in the world to do business, the neocons have managed to create the worst, the most eloquent indictment yet of the guiding logic behind deregulated free markets. The violence has not just kept investors out; it also forced Bremer, before he left, to abandon many of his central economic policies. Privatization of the state companies is off the table; instead, several of the state companies have been offered up for lease, but only if the investor agrees not to lay off a single employee. Thousands of the state workers that Bremer fired have been rehired, and significant raises have been handed out in the public sector as a whole. Plans to do away with the food-ration program have also been scrapped – it just doesn’t seem like a good time to deny millions of Iraqis the only nutrition on which they can depend. "

She offers, then, a more sophisticated take on Michael Moore-style conspiracy theories, while also giving some credit to the neocons' ideological frenzy. Baghdad Year Zero

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