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Thursday, September 22, 2005

LI hearts hindsight

Every once in a while, one should engage in the bitterest hindsight. Hindsight is always something that the powers that be disparage, since the critical analysis of the past lays bare the lineaments of present oppressions.

In the week that the President of Afghanistan, Karzai, called for radical American troop retrenchment, that Sheehan’s caravan is stopping in D.C. for an anti-war protest that the mainstream media will ignore and distort in various tired ways, that Basra is revealing the extent to which the “peacefully” occupied areas are peaceful in the sense that Afghanistan in 2000 was peaceful – it might be a good idea to ask about what alternative there was to this particular occupation.

This question is, of course, bound up with the question of the reasons for invasion itself, but there is only one strand of that question that will concern me here: the lack of any counter-force to the Americans in the invading “coalition.”

That lack was designed by the Department of War. It allowed unilateral American control. The Americans, of course, have turned out to be corrupt, on the one hand, and incapable of even achieving their minimal colonialist goals, on the other hand. There’s a nice editorial in Azzaman this week about the billion plus stolen under Allawi:

“As the authorities prepare to issue an arrest warrant against a former defense minister for the alleged theft of $1 billion, the parliament is reported to have been debating embezzlement issues that surpass that figure.

Instead of basking in prosperity, Iraqis are now sunk in an abyss of poverty, organized theft and crime under the banner of an ‘elected’ and ‘legitimate’ system of government.

The theft of public money on such unprecedented scale puts the onus for the suffering of Iraqi people in the shortages of electricity and other amenities squarely on government officials who instead of serving the impoverished country chose to plunder it.”

The writer, Fatih Abdulsalam, makes an important point about the timing of the recent revelations:

“Whenever conditions worsen in the country, those in power and authority report scandals that took place in eras other than their own.”

Money has an attractive quality for hindsight: tracing us give us a good sense of the past's secret patterns.

What did Iraq need after the invasion? Two things were necessary: to confront the political legacy of Saddam, and to confront the economic legacy of Saddam. The former task consisted in reconfiguring the country in such a way that the mechanisms of Ba’athist tyranny would be permanently disabled. The latter task consisted, quite simply, in gaining a moratorium on the debt Saddam had piled up.

The former task could only be achieved by the Iraqis themselves, not the Americans. The latter task did require American cooperation. The tasks were coupled: a legitimate political establishment in Iraq needed to be unencumbered by Saddam’s debt in order to borrow money on Iraq’s vast potential wealth. In essence, this task was no different than the task of any other Middle Eastern nation – for instance, Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War.

The tasks are such that the withdrawal of American troops should have been accomplished, max, by the end of 2003.

From the American anti-war perspective, that would have been unpleasant, since it would have generated the image of a successful intervention/invasion. But however unpleasant the invasion might have been as a precedent, there was, realistically, no need for the occupation and the American intervention in Iraq’s sovereign affairs whatsoever, beyond that minimal framework.

There are a lot of ironies here. Given the successful attainment of that framework, the Bush administration might well have gone on to their second goal, war with Iran. In this very unfunny sense, the occupation has had the funny effect of making that goal almost unimaginable. It was hard to see this in 2003, because it was hard to see that the Bush people were exactly the warmongering criminals the left made them out to be. Caricature has been vindicated by history. However, the Iraqis have borne the burden of averting the real disaster of a U.S.-Iran war. Lately, the media has decided to respond to the fact that the war is unpopular in this country (and will be extremely hard to finance, come the next supplemental) by posing the rhetorical question, don’t we have the moral responsibility to remain in Iraq? This is a sort of cruel joke question. It is as if Cortes were to justify the conquest of Mexico by saying, don’t we have a responsibility to the Aztecs to remain in Mexico? The answer to the media’s new concern with our moral obligation is that an occupying force that makes promiscuous use of air power on its occupied territory, razes cities Grozny style, and establishes interlocking groups with organized kleptocrats to pump money out of the occupied territory seems to have somehow misread the story of the Good Samaritan. I don’t know how much more American charity Iraq can take.

In hindsight, the most important thing was to give the Iraqi government back control over Iraq’s wealth. To do that required immediate elections, and the progressive withdrawal of American ‘supervision’ so that Iraq, in the summer of 2003, would essentially be in the same position of ownership it was pre-Saddam. Another irony is that if the Americans hadn’t been so greedy, they might actually have achieved one of their goals: Iraqi oil might be on the market today, sending oil prices down. As Michael Klare points out on Tomdispatch, the pooch is being screwed every day in the Iraqi oilfields as the Americans discover that the one reason that they are there requires more manpower than they will ever have. Klare points to the pre-war euphoria about Iraqi oil:

“This sense of optimism about Iraq's future oil output was palpable in Washington in the months leading up to the invasion. In its periodic reports on Iraqi petroleum, the Department of Energy (DoE), for example, confidently reported in late 2002 that, with sufficient outside investment, Iraq could quickly double its production from the then-daily level of 2.5 million barrels to 5 million barrels or more. At the State Department, the Future of Iraq Project set up a Working Group on Oil and Energy to plan the privatization of Iraqi oil assets and the rapid introduction of Western capital and expertise into the local industry. Meanwhile, Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi -- then the Pentagon's favored candidate to replace Saddam Hussein as suzerain of Iraq (and now Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister in charge of energy infrastructure) -- met with top executives of the major U.S. oil companies and promised them a significant role in developing Iraq's vast petroleum reserves. "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil," he insisted in September 2002.”

Klare runs down the stats. Presently, Iraq is generating about 1.9 billion barrels. Moreover, the oil infrastructure has taken some 250 attacks. And there is the pervasive kleptocracy, which is stealing billions of dollars from the infrastructure. No doubt there are American firms that are profiting hugely from these thefts. But more interesting is that the current American urge to pump oil in spite of these problems is nursing future problems:

“The corruption and mismanagement has had another serious consequence for Iraq's long-term oil potential: in order to maximize output now, and thereby keep the dollars rolling in, Iraqi oil executives are employing faulty pumping methods, thus risking permanent damage to underground reservoirs. For example, managers are continuing to pump oil from Iraq's main Rumailia oilfield, one of the world's largest, even though water injection systems (used to maintain underground pressure) have failed; in so doing, they are thought by experts to be causing irreversible damage to the field. "The problem is that [underground] pressure problems could lead to a permanent decline in production," observed one European buyer of Iraqi oil quoted in the Financial Times last June. Even if U.S. companies later were to gain access to Iraqi fields, therefore, they might find yields to be disappointing.”

Hindsight should tell us this: Iraq was able, two years ago, to stand on its own two feet. The American occupation has been aimed at preventing an independent Iraq, not at creating one. The idea of indefinite occupation, ie colonizing Iraq, depended, however, on two factors: that Iraq would eventually be a cash cow, and that the American population would go along with Bush’s plan. The first pillar of the Bush plan has collapsed. The second is collapsing. Iraq is in the hands of Iran’s allies. The cost of continuing the war is unsustainable. Moreover (although the Americans still don’t know this), American has become irrelevant to the ultimate outcome in Iraq. Under the shadow of the American shock troops, the real political fight has been happening, in which the American side is represented by a Kurdish faction – and even that faction is becoming impatient with their ally.

Give me more hindsight is the LI slogan. Let's shed as much light as possible on the the monsters who rule us.

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