coming “reconstruction” of postwar Iraq is really just a mass
transfer of the country’s assets to U.S. corporations
April 6, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz spelled it
out: There will be no role for the United Nations in setting
up an interim government in Iraq. The U.S.-run regime will
last at least six months, “probably . . . longer than that.”
And by the time the Iraqi people have a say in choosing a
government, the key economic decisions about their country’s
future will have been made by their occupiers. “There has
got to be an effective administration from day one,” Wolfowitz
said. “People need water and food and medicine, and the sewers
have to work, the electricity has to work. And that’s a responsibility.”
The process of getting the infrastructure to work is usually
called “reconstruction.” But American plans for Iraq’s future
economy go well beyond that. Rather, the country is being
treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington
neoliberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized,
foreign-owned and open for business.
Some highlights: The $4.8 million management contract for
the port in Umm Qasr has already gone to a U.S. company, Stevedoring
Services of America, and the airports are on the auction block.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has invited
U.S. multinationals to bid on everything from rebuilding roads
and bridges to printing textbooks. Most of these contracts
are for about a year, but some have options that extend up
to four. How long before they meld into long-term contracts
for privatized water services, transit systems, roads, schools
and phones? When does reconstruction turn into privatization
U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) has introduced a bill that
would require the Defense Department to build a CDMA cell-phone
system in postwar Iraq in order to benefit “U.S. patent holders.”
As Farhad Manjoo noted in Salon, CDMA is the system
used in the United States, not Europe, and was developed by
Qualcomm, one of Issa’s most generous donors.
And then there’s oil. The Bush administration knows it can’t
talk openly about selling off Iraq’s oil resources to Exxon
Mobil and Shell. It leaves that to Fadhil Chalabi, a former
Iraq petroleum ministry official. “We need to have a huge
amount of money coming into the country,” Chalabi says. “The
only way is to partially privatize the industry.” He is part
of a group of Iraqi exiles who have been advising the State
Department on how to implement that privatization in such
a way that it isn’t seen to be coming from the United States.
Helpfully, the group held a conference April 4 and 5 in London,
where it called on Iraq to open itself up to oil multinationals
after the war.
The administration has shown its gratitude by promising there
will be plenty of posts for Iraqi exiles in the interim government.
Some argue that it’s too simplistic to say this war is about
oil. They’re right. It’s about oil, water, roads, trains,
phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn’t halted,
“free Iraq” will be the most sold country on earth.
It’s no surprise that so many multinationals are lunging for
Iraq’s untapped market. It’s not just that the reconstruction
will be worth as much as $100 billion; it’s also that “free
trade” by less violent means hasn’t been going that well lately.
More and more developing countries are rejecting privatization,
while the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Bush’s top trade
priority, is wildly unpopular across Latin America. World
Trade Organization talks on intellectual property, agriculture
and services have all bogged down amid accusations that America
and Europe have yet to make good on past promises. What is
a recessionary, growth-addicted superpower to do? How about
upgrading Free Trade Lite, which wrestles market access through
backroom bullying, to Free Trade Supercharged, which seizes
new markets on the battlefields of preemptive wars? After
all, negotiations with sovereign nations can be hard. Far
easier to just tear up the country, occupy it, then rebuild
it the way you want.
Bush hasn’t abandoned free trade, as some have claimed. He
just has a new doctrine: “Bomb before you buy.” It goes further
than one unlucky country. Investors are openly predicting
that once privatization of Iraq takes root, Iran, Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait will be forced to compete by privatizing their
oil. “In Iran, it would just catch like wildfire,” S. Rob
Sobhani, an energy consultant, told The Wall Street Journal.
Soon, America may have bombed its way into a whole new free-trade
So far, the press debate over the reconstruction of Iraq has
focused on fair play: It is “exceptionally maladroit,” in
the words of the European Union’s commissioner for external
relations, Chris Patten, for the United States to keep all
the juicy contracts for itself. It has to learn to share:
ExxonMobil should invite France’s TotalFinaElf to the most
lucrative oilfields; Bechtel should give Britain’s Thames
Water a shot at the sewer contracts.
But while Patten may find U.S. unilateralism galling and Tony
Blair may be calling for U.N. oversight, on this matter it’s
beside the point. Who cares which multinationals get the best
deals in Iraq’s post-Saddam, pre-democracy liquidation sale?
What does it matter if the privatizing is done unilaterally
by Washington or multilaterally by the United States, Europe,
Russia and China?
Entirely absent from this debate are the Iraqi people, who
might—who knows?—want to hold on to a few of their assets.
Iraq will be owed massive reparations after the bombing stops,
but without any real democratic process, what is being planned
is not reparations, construction or rehabilitation. It is
robbery: mass theft disguised as charity, privatization without
A people starved and sickened by sanctions, then pulverized
by war, are going to emerge from this trauma to find that
their country has been sold out from under them. They will
also discover that their newfound “freedom”—for which so many
of their loved ones perished—comes preshackled with irreversible
economic decisions that were made in boardrooms while the
bombs were still falling.
They will then be told to vote for their new leaders, and
welcomed to the wonderful world of democracy.
Klein is the author of No
Logo: Takng Aim at the Brand Bullies. She is a regular
contributor to The Nation, where this article first
You Call This Support?
soldiers face high risks, low pay and shrinking benefits
everyone loves the war, but everyone loves the troops. So
why, in the words of my pal Bill Maher, do we pay them like
During Vietnam, the military felt no pressure to pay a living
wage. A steady supply of draftees ensured that the Pentagon
would never run out of cannon fodder. Since top military officials
don’t want to bring back the draft, you might expect the government
would be willing to pay more for our all-volunteer army.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has completely dissed draftees.
So you might expect the United States would show the young
men and women who volunteer to lay down their lives to protect
us, some appreciation in the form of a big fat paycheck.
You’d be wrong.
Take a guy like Pat Tillman, a 25-year-old who until last
year worked as a safety for the Arizona Cardinals football
team. Tillman passed up a three-year, $3.6 million contract
offer from the NFL to serve in the U.S. Army. Private Tillman’s
starting pay was $13,000—a paltry buck and a dime over the
$5.15-per-hour minimum wage.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who understands the risks of military
service more than most, lauded Tillman. “I don’t think there
will be any doubts about [Private Tillman’s] capabilities
as a soldier, but also as a recruiting tool,” McCain said.
“He’ll motivate other young Americans to serve as well.” Thanks
to idealistic chaps like Tillman, in other words, America
can continue to pick up its warriors on the cheap.
George W. Bush did everything he could to avoid military service
during Vietnam. He used family connections to sleaze his way
into the Texas Air National Guard, from which he went AWOL
from 1972 to 1974. Perhaps this personal history explains
why Bush seizes every chance he gets to praise the hard-fighting
men and women of our armed forces. “All of America is grateful
for your sacrifice,” Bush told a gathering of Marines on April
3. A few days earlier, he choked up while meeting with widows
of the Iraq war. But troops shouldn’t look to Bush for support
more substantial than words and gestures.
Bush recently asked Congress to appropriate $75 billion to
pay for the invasion of Iraq. If that money were evenly divided
among the 1.4 million members of the armed forces on active
duty, each would receive $54,000. But even as Bush revs up
a propaganda campaign for new wars against Syria and Iran,
his 2003 budget proposes a piddling 2 percent raise for low-ranking
soldiers, hardly enough to keep up with inflation. More than
2,100 servicemen currently collect food stamps, and no one
expects that to change.
It’s true that soldiers receive PX privileges, health care
and, in some cases, small college tuition grants. But even
these modest fringe benefits are shrinking. “[Base housing
is] in poor condition,” Army General Robert L. Van Antwerp
testified before Congress. “Much of the housing is old and
built to standards that met lifestyles of 30 to 50 years ago.
On-base housing is still preferred by many soldiers, with
waiting times averaging 10 to 15 months.”
Soldiers sign away their lives on a pretty severe deal. The
pay sucks, the risk is infinite and the benefits of military
service are shrinking fast. At any time in the future, some
politician nobody has yet heard of can become president and
order them into combat against any adversary for any reason.
Then, when our troops come home—if they come home—they face
a lifetime of medical care in the overburdened, underfunded
VA hospital system.
To add insult to injury, even job security is now part of
military history. Congress has closed 97 bases since 1988,
leading to de facto layoffs, with some soldiers denied an
option to reenlist. As a society, we apparently care less
about our soldiers than we do about burger flippers. Starting
wages at Burger King “run $6 to $8 an hour, although employees
who stick around can eventually earn more than $12 an hour,”
according to the The Wall Street Journal. That’s twice
as much as Private Tillman gets. And burger flippers generally
don’t have to duck bullets.
Rall is the author of Gas
War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan.
mayor makes good: Dennis Kucinich aims for the White House.
congressman Dennis Kucinich aims to bring progressive ideas
into the Democratic Party—and into the White House
Kucinich is clearly holding down the left end of the bench
of Democratic presidential contenders for 2004. The co-chair
of the Progressive Caucus in Congress, an advocate of nonviolence
who has proposed that the U.S. government create a Department
of Peace, a vegan because he believes in “the sacredness of
all species,” and a pro-labor environmentalist who marched
in the streets of Seattle and Washington, D.C., Kucinich is,
without a doubt, the progressive candidate.
The argument for his candidacy, unlikely though it may be,
is that it represents a point of view the Democrats should
be forced to deal with. The former “boy mayor” of Cleveland,
now 56, is the most vocal opponent of war with Iraq in the
House of Representatives. A year ago, he began making impassioned
speeches on the subject, and lately he’s showing up on the
talk show circuit as a lonely voice for peace. Meet the
Press, Crossfire, Hardball and The NewsHour
With Jim Lehrer, among others, have had him on to debate
the Bush administration’s Iraq policy—though the Washington
establishment is not taking his presidential bid seriously.
(The New York Times ranks him somewhere below Al Sharpton
as a “viable candidate,” and his February announcement in
Iowa that he was running was greeted with a resounding shrug
by most of the mainstream media.)
Kucinich thinks the pundits are in for a surprise. “They try
to make it appear that the positions I’m taking are way out,
but they’re not,” he told me on the phone recently. “As the
war effort continues, I think you’ll see that more and more
people will join in and want to be involved with the campaign.”
Steve Cobble agrees. A longtime progressive political strategist
who worked for Jesse Jackson, Cobble compares Kucinich to
Jackson in 1988. He thinks he could do much better than expected,
thanks to the support of people the politicos in Washington
people who are dismissing Kucinich out of hand are the same
people who are shocked by this big antiwar movement that has
had such growth in so short a time,” says Cobble, who is an
adviser to the candidate. Like the late Sen. Paul Wellstone,
Kucinich is long on big ideas and short on glitz. He is neither
tall nor telegenic, neither wealthy nor well-connected. And,
of course, there’s his minimal national name recognition.
But no one voted Ralph Nader “Mr. Charisma” five years ago,
Cobble points out, and Nader became a pop star on college
campuses during the 2000 campaign. “Young people responded
to Nader in 2000,” says Cobble. “It was the ideas and the
sense of integrity, not blowing in the wind. Dennis is going
to give the same vibes.”
That’s where the comparison to Nader ends, however. “I have
no interest in a third-party candidacy. None,” says Kucinich.
“I want to do it the other way—bring third-party candidates
into the [Democratic] Party and get support in the primaries.”
Taking much of Nader’s message into the Democratic Party may
be a worthy goal. But how far will it get Kucinich?
If a lot of progressives have a hangover from the last presidential
election and are feeling down, Kucinich and his campaign staff
are energized by the massive antiwar and antiglobalization
demonstrations around the world and by the feeling that a
newly active grassroots movement is rising up and making itself
heard. Kucinich, who opposes NAFTA, is the only candidate
proudly giving voice to the fair-trade movement. And his opposition
to weapons in space and civil violations under the P.a.t.r.i.o.t.
Act are welcome among a Democratic base eager for a strong
opposition to Bush.
everyone else says, ‘Gee, I’d have used a different airplane,
or maybe we should use this missile instead of that one,’
he’ll be a clarion call for peace,” says progressive Wisconsin
Democrat and labor lawyer Ed Garvey. Now a supporter of Kucinich,
Garvey was moved by the experience of hearing him speak out
early against the Iraq war. “The passion and intellectual
depth of his speech was really impressive.”
Certainly, Kucinich, who quotes long passages of poetry and
has a deeply thoughtful, almost starry-eyed quality, is not
your usual politician. So is Kucinich the peace-movement candidate,
as Eugene McCarthy was in 1968? “This movement precedes a
war. The 1968 movement happened years after war began,” Kucinich
says. His campaign takes on not only war but also a complex
array of domestic and international concerns.
Kucinich denounces the Bush administration’s whole political
philosophy of “projecting aggression into the world.” The
issues of his campaign are empire versus democracy; globalization
versus equality; war versus peace; a private health-insurance
system that leaves 75 million people intermittently uncovered
versus national health care; the P.a.t.r.i.o.t. Act versus
the Bill of Rights. Get him going, and he’ll blow your ears
back with a litany of calamitous news.
are fearful,” Kucinich says. “My candidacy steps forward and
says, ‘Hey, stop! Hold it!’ We’re losing what’s dear to our
country. We have a foreign policy that’s setting the stage
for new wars. We’re talking about first use of nuclear weapons.
We still have chemical and biological weapons, which disqualifies
us from the chemical and biological weapons treaty. The polar
ice caps are still melting. Islands in the Pacific are seeing
the water rising. Meteorological changes suggest that global
climate change is here to stay. The Kyoto climate-change treaty
is urgent. The U.S. has to recognize the interconnectedness,
interdependence, of the world. We’re not doing it. I’m looking
at the entire structure of our society and saying, how can
government be relevant?”
Whoa! That’s Kucinich. Passion and intellectual depth? Yes.
Glib pol? Not exactly.
Kucinich has one big problem with a grassroots, progressive
base: His position on abortion. Until last year, he maintained
a nearly perfect voting record according to National Right
to Life, and scored an absolute zero in the vote tally kept
by the National Abortion Rights Action League. Since then,
he says, his position has evolved, and he has broken ranks
with his former colleagues on anti-abortion legislation.
withheld my support on a number of bills in the last year,”
he says, adding that the aggressive Republican effort to overturn
Roe v. Wade persuaded him to help protect women’s fundamental
constitutional right to abortion. “I don’t believe in abortion,
but I do believe in choice,” he says.
How does that work? “I don’t believe Roe v. Wade should
be overturned,” he says. “I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable
with the way the choices are framed in the House of Representatives.”
He says the Republican assault on Roe v. Wade has become
an assault on the Constitution. He now sees the issue as “a
question of equality—whether a woman was going to be equal
in society and have constitutional protections. Women will
not be equal to men if that constitutionally protected right
is denied. Criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional.”
Kucinich says he wants to overcome the us-and-them nature
of the abortion debate by supporting a kind of nurturing environment
for women and children, including full employment, a living
wage, universal health care, and affordable, high-quality
child care. He wants abortion to be legal but rare. “It’s
not wrong to support life, and it’s not wrong to support a
woman’s right to choose,” he says. “We have to permit both
points of view to have expression. But there is a point at
which the Constitution cannot be undermined. I’ve never advocated
a constitutional amendment to repeal Roe v. Wade.”
Kucinich thinks he can radically change politics in America.
He cites his successes as the nation’s youngest mayor, standing
up to the privatization of Cleveland’s public utilities, as
well as coming to the aid of its steel industry and its hospitals
when they were about to be shut down. “We changed the outcome,”
he says. “Government presents opportunities for profound creativity.”
Cobble cites Barry Goldwater and George McGovern—dark horse
candidates who didn’t win the presidency but transformed politics.
“It’s worth taking this burgeoning peace movement into the
party, whether or not a candidate who voted for the war resolution
wins,” says Cobble. “We have a group of people in the White
House that overtly put empire, first strike, and the occupation
of other countries on the table,” he adds. “We need a widespread
discussion of this, and not many people are volunteering for
Even former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is running another
antiwar candidacy, is not taking on the big picture the way
Kucinich is. “We need someone like Dennis, who has the guts
to carry this case,” Cobble says. Says Kucinich: “If I’m able
to win some early primaries, I’ll be able to move these domestic
concerns right to the top of the campaign concerns for the
party. . . . FDR said in ’33 we have nothing to fear but fear
itself. We can create a new world. It’s possible.”
Conniff is the political editor of The