Tuesday, September 28

Baghdad Year Zero, by Naomi Klein

There is a long and comprehensive analysis of the "post war" Iraqi Rebuilding Activities, written by Naomi Klein for Harpers Magazine. She discusses in detail the battle between the pragmatists, and Neo-Con Fantasy Islanders (the pragmatists never had a chance).
The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush’s Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen.
The fact that the boom never came and Iraq continues to tremble under explosions of a very different sort should never be blamed on the absence of a plan. Rather, the blame rests with the plan itself, and the extraordinarily violent ideology upon which it is based.

I continue to be fascinated by the republican embrace of victimization, given that they are in charge of all branches of government, and have nothing to fear from the fourth estate, and benefit from two outright propaganda organs in FOX and Rush. And while I have no problems with the concept of or desire to build a utopian society, at this point all previous attempts have failed, but I guess if you have really big dreams, who knows you might get lucky (and wake up with crabs anyway) or something (the head of your utopian dream handed to you on a plate).
The theory is that if painful economic “adjustments” are brought in rapidly and in the aftermath of a seismic social disruption like a war, a coup, or a government collapse, the population will be so stunned, and so preoccupied with the daily pressures of survival, that it too will go into suspended animation, unable to resist.
That, in essence, was the working thesis in Iraq, and in keeping with the belief that private companies are more suited than governments for virtually every task, the White House decided to privatize the task of privatizing Iraq’s state-dominated economy.
Bremer unleashed his shock therapy, pushing through more wrenching changes in one sweltering summer than the International Monetary Fund has managed to enact over three decades in Latin America. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank, describes Bremer’s reforms as “an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world.”
Something familiar about this....ah yes, something about destroying the village to save it. Maybe I should ammend the part about supporting attempts of building utopia. I get the strange feeling that for wingers and Neo-cons, they have a utopian vision based on the guilded age, where capital trumps humanity, and those without the first might as well get on with their rat stew. " Please, please, kids, stop fighting.
Maybe Lisa is right about America being the land of opportunity, And Adil got a point about the machinery of capitalism being oiled by the blood of the workers." -- Homer Simpson
The tone of Bremer’s tenure was set with his first major act on the job: he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers. Next, he flung open the country’s borders to absolutely unrestricted imports: no tariffs, no duties, no inspections, no taxes. Iraq, Bremer declared two weeks after he arrived, was “open for business.”

In my opinion, this decision destroyed any possibility of a smooth transition, and almost certainly guarenteed the escalation of the insurgency. I was so shocked by the news, that I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about it. I was working in a bakery, listening to the news on the radio, and at the time standing over the 60 quart mixer waiting for a 30 loave batch of whole weat to finish mixing, I believe that the first words out of my mouth were along the lines of "WTF?" Did anyone tell bremer that most people were reluctent members of the Baath Party, that in most cases their employment depended on it, and in fact the majority of these people did not support Saddam? Did anyone tell bremer that firing the army en masse (composed as was the Baath party by many, who had no particular allegiance to Saddam) might be a stupid idea that might bight us in the ass? Apparently not.

I remember reading, during that summer of 2003, an interview with an Iraqi engineer about the cost of rebuilding a bridge, work that had been contracted to an american firm at a cost in excess of a million dollars. The Iraqi engineer claimed that the Iraqis could rebuild the bridge for a cost of around 300,000 dollars. I was going to let this fly, unsourced, but have discovered that the original story came from that organ of anti-american propaganda Baghdad Burning.

Listen to this little anecdote. One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who’ll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000 !!
Yes, shenanigans like these certainly contributed to the possibility that Americans were not interested in liberation, but well, to put it bluntly, looting. And 13 months later, I am supposed to believe that terrorists traded in their airling tickets to America, for tickets to Amman. Surely you jest. Back to Klien and Bremernomics.
At first, the shock-therapy theory seemed to hold: Iraqis, reeling from violence both military and economic, were far too busy staying alive to mount a political response to Bremer’s campaign. Worrying about the privatization of the sewage system was an unimaginable luxury with half the population lacking access to clean drinking water; the debate over the flat tax would have to wait until the lights were back on.
Some people were paying attention, of course. That autumn was awash in “rebuilding Iraq” trade shows, in Washington, London, Madrid, and Amman. The Economist described Iraq under Bremer as “a capitalist dream,” and a flurry of new consulting firms were launched promising to help companies get access to the Iraqi market, their boards of directors stacked with well-connected Republicans. The most prominent was New Bridge Strategies, started by Joe Allbaugh, former Bush-Cheney campaign manager. “Getting the rights to distribute Procter & Gamble products can be a gold mine,” one of the company’s partners enthused. “One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out thirty Iraqi stores; a Wal-Mart could take over the country.
Who thinks this is good for the Iraqi's? I forgot, this is about what's good for the Americans, or more importantly the Shareholders of Southland and Wal-Mart. We don't need no stinkin' hearts and minds, or respect for a culture that is thousands of years old.
As the British historian Dilip Hiro has shown, in Secrets and Lies: Operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’ and After, the Iraqi exiles pushing for the invasion were divided, broadly, into two camps. On one side were “the pragmatists,” who favored getting rid of Saddam and his immediate entourage, securing access to oil, and slowly introducing free-market reforms. Many of these exiles were part of the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project, which generated a thirteen-volume report on how to restore basic services and transition to democracy after the war. On the other side was the “Year Zero” camp, those who believed that Iraq was so contaminated that it needed to be rubbed out and remade from scratch. The prime advocate of the pragmatic approach was Iyad Allawi, a former high-level Baathist who fell out with Saddam and started working for the CIA. The prime advocate of the Year Zero approach was Ahmad Chalabi, whose hatred of the Iraqi state for expropriating his family’s assets during the 1958 revolution ran so deep he longed to see the entire country burned to the ground—everything, that is, but the Oil Ministry, which would be the nucleus of the new Iraq, the cluster of cells from which an entire nation would grow. He called this process “de-Baathification.”

A parallel battle between pragmatists and true believers was being waged within the Bush Administration. The pragmatists were men like Secretary of State Colin Powell and General Jay Garner, the first U.S. envoy to postwar Iraq
On the other side was the usual cast of neoconservatives: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who lauded Bremer’s “sweeping reforms” as “some of the most enlightened and inviting tax and investment laws in the free world”), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and, perhaps most centrally, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith.
What a dreamy investment opportunity Iraq was going to become, a new Gold rush, if you will
The Iraqi Year Zeroists made natural allies for the White House neoconservatives: Chalabi’s seething hatred of the Baathist state fit nicely with the neocons’ hatred of the state in general, and the two agendas effortlessly merged. Together, they came to imagine the invasion of Iraq as a kind of Rapture: where the rest of the world saw death, they saw birth—a country redeemed through violence, cleansed by fire. Iraq wasn’t being destroyed by cruise missiles, cluster bombs, chaos, and looting; it was being born again. April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell, was Day One of Year Zero.
A Reagan-era diplomat turned entrepreneur, Bremer had recently proven his ability to transform rubble into gold by waiting exactly one month after the September 11 attacks to launch Crisis Consulting Practice, a security company selling “terrorism risk insurance” to multinationals. Bremer had two lieutenants on the economic front: Thomas Foley and Michael Fleischer, the heads of “private sector development” for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Foley is a Greenwich, Connecticut, multimillionaire, a longtime friend of the Bush family and a Bush-Cheney campaign “pioneer” who has described Iraq as a modern California “gold rush.” Fleischer, a venture capitalist, is the brother of former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
If you really want to know why the American presence in Iraq is currently a "screwed pooch walking" read the rest of the article. As soon as Bremer was installed Iraq was lost. As soon as the Iraqi's (possessing a long and prosperous history in all manner of trade) caught a wiff of our real intentions, the game was up, insurgency mounted and the vicious cycle was started. It was only a matter of time before political pressure would lead to demands to put down the uprising, leading to roundups, leading to torture, leading to "screwed pooch walking" and all the while Presnident Fantasy Land and his minions are trying to sell the lie that everything is just dandy.