Global Policy Forum

Operation Renounce War Booty


By Michael Renner

Global Policy Forum
*Opinion Forum
December 23, 2003

People around the world reacted indignantly to Washington's recent policy announcement about reconstruction contracts in Iraq. The Defense Department web site had posted the news that countries opposing the US invasion would be excluded from contract bidding. One European commentator likened the announcement to "politics at the kindergarten level." The high-handed decision, supposedly taken to protect "the essential security interests of the United States," could hardly have come as a surprise. After all, there had been broad hints of the ban for months and it captures perfectly the administration's crude "you're either with us or you're against us" mindset.

Still, the reaction in Paris, Berlin, and Moscow disappoints. After defying Washington in dramatic fashion by refusing to ratify the planned war in the U.N. Security Council, it's now back to business as usual. The millions of European citizens who demonstrated vociferously against the war at the beginning of 2003 might be forgiven for hoping that their governments were prepared to stick with a pro-peace policy instead of lamenting their exclusion from the Iraqi trough.

A principled policy would be to repudiate any profiteering from the ill-gotten gains of an illegal war. That would signal a clean break with the odious habit of victors throughout the ages of claiming the spoils.

For what is happening in Iraq is not really "reconstruction," notwithstanding the Bush administration's lofty rhetoric about creating a prosperous Iraq. It is racketeering. Consider the wholesale privatization of Iraq's economy aimed at subjecting it to the whims of U.S.-style capitalism. Recall the sweetheart deals for the likes of Halliburton, Bechtel, and other well-connected corporations. (Initially, Iraqi oil was supposed to fund work repairing the damage done by U.S. and British bombs; but since the revenues are falling short of expectations, the contracts are actually being funded by the 90-plus percent of U.S. taxpayers who are already paying through the nose for Bush's tax cuts and Medicare giveaways to insurance giants.)

Instead of clamoring for a better position at the trough, both the war party in America and its opponents in the "old Europe" should be making amends for past profiteering in Iraq. When Saddam Hussein was at his most murderous, Russia (i.e., the Soviet Union), France, Germany, Britain, and the United States showered Iraq with conventional arms, precursor materials needed for chemical and biological weapons production, generous credits, battlefield intelligence against Iran, and political support.

Shedding crocodile tears over Saddam's acts of mass murder now is a convenient move by the embattled occupation regime to distract from the lies that led to the war, just as turning a blind eye to those atrocities while they took place was expedient then. While business with the tyrant was good, the lives of Kurds gassed in Halabja didn't count for much; and when Saddam did the West a favor by assaulting revolutionary Iran, the sanctity of borders and international law meant nothing.

France, Russia, Germany, and others should erase Iraqi debts NOT to please George Bush and James Baker, but because Iraqis should not have to shoulder debts that were incurred by a ruthless regime to finance wars and repression.

This is a matter of concern far beyond Iraq. In the lucrative arms sales business, profits and geopolitics routinely trump peace and human rights. Three quarters of the $144 billion worth of arms that were transferred to the 10 leading developing country recipients in 1995-2002 went to countries that are not democratically governed, are major human rights violators, or are occupying territories that do not belong to them. Among them are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Israel, China, and Pakistan. The leading suppliers by far, and this comes as little surprise, are the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, France and Russia.

Arms supplies to undemocratic regimes are helping authoritarian rulers stay in power. And they add insult to injury by pushing the recipient countries deeper into debt, and by absorbing money more wisely spent on social, economic, and environmental programs.

Though perhaps the most odious in nature, the merchants of death are far from the only war profiteers. Consumer societies are importing and using raw materials irrespective of where they originate and under what conditions they are being produced. A good share of internationally traded oil, diamonds, timber, and various minerals are derived from the world's war zones, where they help finance arms purchases and perpetuate gruesome violence on the part of governments, rebels, and warlords.

Rich nations have long benefited from cheap commodity supplies while paying no attention to the enormous destruction at their source. And those involved in the plunder -- oil, mining and logging firms, financiers and traders -- are seldom held accountable. For example, the U.N. Security Council and national governments have failed to take action in response to reports by a U.N. Panel of Experts that documented how a range of companies, including many from Western Europe, had profited from the resource looting in war zones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As welcome as the opposition of "old Europe" to Bush's war was, it sprang from a variety of motives, including political opportunism, when Chancellor Schrí¶der pandered to a pro-peace public in order to win re-election in late 2002. Schrí¶der may well have calculated that, following the elections, he would be able to back-peddle and patch up relations with Washington. But strongly-felt public opinion kept him on course. And therein lies a larger lesson. Governments will only pursue a true and consistent peace policy if the public is well-informed and if pressure from below is strong and persistent.

More Pieces from the Opinion Forum
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