There WAS a Plan to Rebuild Iraq (but it didn't work...)
By Bob Maschi
February 5, 2009
Special to the Peace and Freedom Party
Neocons, neo-fascists and other neo-nut conservatives are desperately attempting to rewrite the history of the (latest) Iraq War. In mid December of 2008, a draft report of the 'official' history of the war began circulating. Its premise being that the war and the rebuilding of Iraq failed because of bureaucracy and poor planning by the Pentagon and Bush administration. But all this soul-searching is a smoke screen - fingers snapping in one hand to conceal the 'magic' taking place in the other. In reality, the Iraq War was not simply a failure of imperialism (in general) or the Bush administration (specifically) or of the Pentagon (even more specifically). It was a failure of free market capitalism.
For years, two versions of the Iraq War have dominated political discussion. One, held by many on the left, is that the war was a mistake in the first place and doomed to fail. The other is that the war was a brilliant success but the lack of a post-war plan for Iraq led to chaos - which the 'surge' largely corrected. Barack Obama, the new centrist president, carefully straddles these two versions by first claiming to have opposed the war from the beginning and then offering a "plan" to end the war (eventually) while continuing (indefinitely ) many aspects of the occupation.
Limiting the debate to these two versions is disingenuous and supported by the bastions of "free-enterprise" America: the media and the two major political parties (while the Democratic leadership may not have begun the war, they surely enabled it, and so they have as much to gain in the rewriting of its history as Republicans). This diversion is sinisterly Rovian in its use and brilliantly deceptive in its design, for there absolutely was a plan for post-invasion Iraq. And that plan proved to be a ridiculous fantasy of free-market thought.
Neoconism, an odd combination of militarism, imperialism, libertarianism and fascism swept into the White House alongside, if not in front of, George W. Bush. While Bush, himself, appears politically fickle, the neocon agenda's flag was carried by Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the state department's John Bolton and many others. With terms like globalization and privatization all the rage, they were euphoric over the opportunity to make their global economic theories a reality. To them, the world was increasingly becoming an oligarchy of the wealthy, bound together by the rules that businesses and the free market chose to set. Government, in their eyes, was an outdated, evil contraption that corrupted the natural workings of business. And it was on its way out.
Though, for them, government did have one real function left. It could afford the huge financial burden ("overhead") of military engagements while having citizens patriotic enough that they were willing to die for it (few workers would sacrifice so much for Wal-Mart or GM). In a world of sovereign nations forming a patchwork of ideologies, races, ethnicities, religions and leaders, the free market couldn't always be expected to work quite right. So, government's role would be to deploy a military to protect the advance of globalization - until the world was sufficiently globalized (tamed) that government's military role was no longer required.
Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense during the invasion and for much of its aftermath, was questioned about Iraqi looting in Baghdad once American troops had 'liberated' the city. His widely circulated quote was "Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." Rumsfeld has been mocked repeatedly for this - as though he misspoke (at best), didn't exactly have a lot of brains, or was just plain nuts. The words he spoke after the above quote, now nearly forgotten, were; "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."
Taken in context, Rumsfeld does not sound like he misspoke. Instead, he sounded like a man with a plan. And that plan was based on greed.
Greed, in this case, means the pursuit of profit and self-interest. The feeling was that the market's invisible hand, with an assist from the military, would rapidly calm the conquered country. Businesses would flood the area to take advantage of a newly-created corporate paradise. Some Iraqis, positioned to become a new oligarchy (perhaps through inheritance, perhaps through their freedom to loot) would invest and involve themselves in the rebuilding of their nation's economy. Iraqi citizens would glory in their new society by educating themselves, applying for steady employment and watching a lot of mind-numbing television commercials. In short, Iraq would turn into a consumer economy - one big shopping mall in the center of the Middle East.
Step one; invade. Step two; secure a variety of American military bases - not so much to control Iraq, but in order to intimidate Iraq's neighbors so that they could later be turned into libertarian bastions as well. Finally, sell off the state-owned land and industries and destroy the health care and educational systems so that the free market could take it all over.
L. Paul Bremer, named head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in the middle of 2003, nearly immediately issued a list of 100 orders - which very much sounds like a plan. Many of these measures dealt with destroying and then rebuilding the Iraqi economy and were so stunning in their implications that neocons and libertarians must have drooled. For example, he enacted a flat tax for corporations and citizens not to exceed 15%. Numerous other acts welcomed multinationals and banks into Iraq. He also sold or auctioned off, mainly to foreigners, hundreds of state-owned companies (the only ones to remain in government hands were the oil industries).
Bremer's intention, dictated to him by the Bush administration, was to turn Iraq into a free market paradise where the state was subservient to businesses (usually run by non-Iraqis).
Neocon and libertarian belief in the free market is complete. Take, for example, neocon heartthrob Admiral John Poindexter's bizarre plan to predict terrorism in the Middle East. As one-time head (2002/2003) of the Pentagon's DARPA program (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), Poindexter proposed a "commodities" market where anonymous bidders could "bet" on future events in the region - assassinations, terrorist strikes, invasions. Those betting correctly would be rewarded with profit and this incentive was deemed enough to ensure accuracy. Shortly before the system was to go online, the defense department explained its philosophy and goals; "Research indicates that markets are extremely efficient, effective and timely aggregators of dispersed and even hidden information... Futures markets have proven themselves to be good at predicting such things as elections results; they are often better than expert opinions."
Once word of this reached the media, the Pentagon blushed and Poindexter became a laughing stock (resigning shortly after). The idea, as far as we know, was scrapped, saving taxpayers the millions of dollars that had been appropriated for it. Still, it is a great example of blind loyalty to the free market and indicative of the philosophy that guided the invasion.
Poindexter, and the many others like him, felt that the free market was far more than a distributor of goods, services and profit. It had taken on a near magical aura where Adam Smith's invisible hand was akin to the palm of god. There was no problem it couldn't solve. There was no task too large for it to calm.
THE MARIANA ISLANDS
There is an earlier example of a wide-scale attempt at liberating an area from the evils of government - the neocon/libertarian love affair with the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands. Located in the Pacific, near the island of Guam, the Marianas are an American protectorate. In short, this means that they enjoy many of the rights of Americans, but their government does not have to abide by labor and immigration laws. During the 1990's and into the 2000's, the area was considered a libertarian paradise. Jack Abramoff (now disgraced and behind bars) lobbied for the Marianas. Doug Bandow, once Senior Fellow at the libertarian think tank called the Cato Institute (later disgraced for secretly taking money from Abramoff), suggested that the islands were "proof that free-markets work." Former House Speaker Tom Delay (also disgraced for a long list of ethical lapses) said; "It is a perfect petri dish of capitalism."
Of course, the fact that the impoverished immigrants of Asian descent lived under slave-like conditions and suffered such employment-related indignities as rape and forced abortion (yes, brought to you by the party of the evangelicals), didn't register with the supporters of the Marianas. And they wanted to turn the world, beginning with Iraq, into a similar paradise.
The Bush team needed a simple explanation for what they were doing and, often, the words; freedom, liberty and democracy were used. Most Americans think of things like representative government, a free press and a plethora of individual rights when they hear these words. But for Bush, the neocons, and others, these terms are simply synonyms for 'free markets'. As Bush said in 2003, when speaking of Iraq before the US Chamber of Commerce, "Historians will note that in many nations, the advance of markets and free enterprise helped to create a middle class that was confident enough to demand their own rights."
Of course, Iraq had a middle class before the invasion. But it wasn't the 'right' middle class. This new Iraqi middle class, born from the American invasion, would "demand their own rights." The right to shop for goods. The right to eat fast food until their arteries clogged. And, surely, the right to maintain an uninterrupted flow of oil exports in order to be able to afford those goods.
Bush was not so interested in liberating Iraqis from Saddam as he was intent on opening up Iraq (and the Middle East) to corporations and globalization. It sometimes helps to understand what Bush and the neocons are actually saying when you replace their words like; democracy, freedom and liberty with 'free markets'.
This is where the Bush family and their compatriots owe their allegiance - to the rich, to corporations, and to the markets that make them wealthier at the expense of almost everyone else. They are truly international in nature, having moved far beyond loyalty to national borders and their fellow citizens. They believe, instead, in a world-wide corporate "democracy" where big businesses can wander the globe seeking ever lower wages from workers and ever higher profits from consumers.
SHOCK & AWE
Shock and awe was the strategic term the US military used for its war on Iraq. While it had little correlation to the neocon dream of economic liberation, it still fit nicely into the plan.
Shock and awe was similar to Nazi Germany's tactic of Blitzkrieg - fast movement of mobile troops who often bypassed population centers, supported by artillery and aircraft and whatever else could be thrown at the enemy from a distance. It was not only designed to destroy Saddam's army. It was designed to confuse communications, inhibit Iraqi military movements and decapitate the enemy's leadership.
Targets during the initial invasion of Iraq included infrastructure - roads, bridges, power plants and airports that could be related to military use. While the Bush Administration and Pentagon deny this, and it is true that attempts were made to alleviate the initial burden on the civilian population, a nation cannot expect to send an innumerable amount of projectiles, armored vehicles and boots-on-the-ground without exacting a major toll against the infrastructure. This is why Iraq is costing US taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild.
It did not matter that Saddam Hussein's military was very weak even before the invasion. Immediately after the first allied attack on Iraq in the early 1990's, the country became subject to severe military, and other, sanctions. They could not buy new war materiel or even parts for existing military materiel (materiel that hadn't been destroyed during Desert Storm or the countless air strikes afterward). When George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, Saddam's military was no more than a facade and many within the Iraqi military leadership were committed to only a token resistance against American troops.
This was no secret. Before the invasion, arch-neocon Richard Perle, often considered the architect for the war in Iraq, proposed that "Saddam is much weaker than we think he is. He's weaker militarily. We know he's got about a third of what he had in 1991. But it's a house of cards. He rules by fear because he knows there is no underlying support. Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder."
So, why was our military so shocking and so awing?
Certainly, Shock and Awe was meant to restrict American casualties to a level acceptable to the American people. But the additional effect was to devastate a society and its economy, providing a blank slate for the free markets to rebuild.
While it could be argued, forcefully, that there was no need for a massive land war to force Hussein from power, the Bush team and their fans had a grudge. Saddam's government had strict control over the economy and, for many of its citizens, provided an economic safety net. Even after the first Iraq War (in the early 1990's) when their economy was devastated by war and sanctions, the Oil for Food program provided 60% of Iraqis with their main source of nourishment. To neocon and libertarian ears, this certainly sounded like a handout. Government providing people with food, medical care, and other human necessities is anathema to the core of their free market philosophies.
As a casualty of war, much of Iraq would be blasted into rubble and rebuilt into a neocon haven - even better than the Marianas. The Iraqi army was quickly disbanded - even though most of it had either turned against Saddam or ignored him. The governmental bureaucracy, run by members of the Saddam's Baath Party, was removed and replaced with, well, nothing. This is a sharp contrast to America's (somewhat successful) behavior during the occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II. Then, civil servants who may have only pledged loyalty to a particular party or philosophy in order to gain employment were often allowed to continue in those positions. Even the Emperor of Japan, who was about as responsible for that nation's aggression during World War II as Bush is responsible for the current US aggression in Iraq, was allowed to keep his throne.
Disbanding the Iraqi army was an even more peculiar move. While Saddam's elite military groups fought ferociously, the regular army did not. American propaganda had convinced them that they would be treated honorably if they surrendered. And many of these soldiers didn't even wait to surrender, they just went home.
In hindsight, most pundits (even on the right) now recognize that disbanding these military forces was a huge mistake for they could have more rapidly stabilized the nation and secured its borders than our own foreign (to them) troops. Yet the move was critical to the neocon dream.
Since the 1930's, Iraqi governments had occasionally fallen to military coups. With this history, it was felt that generals who were not under the control of the United States, could threaten the free markets of globalization if they became too power hungry. Bush and the neocons couldn't risk that some medal-chested guy in a uniform would disrupt their plans with loyal troops. So the Iraqi army, as complacent as it had become, was disbanded. No matter how many American troops, and deaths, it would take to replace them.
But, then, how best to spur a free market economy and revitalize a wrecked society?
Businesses pursue profit. In that pursuit, they measure potential gains against risk. At the beginning of the occupation of Iraq, the potential for profit was great, but so was the potential risk. Why should any business choose to invest in Iraq when armed Saddam loyalists were many, religious and ethnic divisions threatened civil war, and foreign terrorists were driving rental trucks across the border?
Only by increasing the profit could the United States tempt enough businesses, and large enough businesses, to go about rebuilding Iraq. Someone with common sense might actually point out that this is a form of 'government interference' in an economy and, thus, anathema to free market notions. But neocons and libertarians rarely allow little facts like this to sway their opinions.
So, in order to make enterprises in Iraq profitable, the US offered a variety of non-competitive bids and outright give-aways to companies like Halliburton (who received many billions in non-competitive bids). While not much of a secret, Americans largely thought that these expensive, corporate gifts were rewards from one group of wealthy to another. While that cynicism is commendable, the truth was that doing business in Iraq was so dangerous and the possibility of failure so large that our government had to bribe corporations (with guaranteed profits) to accept the risk.
THE EXPERIMENT ON AMERICAN SOIL
Initially, at least, the Bush administration pursued a similar plan in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. With New Orleans wiped out and the surrounding area severely damaged, Bush stood before the nation with warped grin and wide eyes. To most Americans who followed the tragedy he appeared weak, confused and clueless.
Bush was faced with a major contradiction between his adopted philosophy and reality. Neocons and libertarians had convinced him that government was not only unnecessary, it was harmful. It was not a protector of those in need, it inhibited the world of business, postponing free market solutions to problems that too many Americans felt should be handled by government.
In response, Bush had gutted many federal agencies, including FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). He'd even placed a person with little or no experience (Mike Brown) in command of this agency that was charged with preventing and overseeing disasters on American soil. Worst of all, even when the incompetent Mike Brown warned the president that New Orleans was facing a massive disaster, he was ignored.
During the crisis, Bush spoke frequently about how the federal government would help New Orleans, its citizens and other Katrina victims. But in one speech, on August 31 and just days after the disaster, Bush said; "I've instructed them [FEMA] to work closely with state and local officials, as well as with the private sector, to ensure that we're helping, not hindering, recovery efforts."
These were the most honest words Bush spoke during that time. He'd come to believe that government interference risked 'hindering' recovery efforts. In that spirit, among his first moves in response to Katrina were attempts to relax federal environmental and labor laws in the devastated areas. Then, he began throwing money at businesses - many of them the same contractors as had been used in Iraq.
Over three years later and New Orleans has yet to recover. But that doesn't bother conservatives very much, if at all. In 2006, Republican Representative from Louisiana, Richard Baker, told lobbyists; "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
WHY THE SPIN?
The neocon plan of free market dominance failed in New Orleans and in the Marianas. It has also failed in Iraq. Some would say it is still in the process of failing. But they would be wrong. The original plan is dust. There is no magic to free markets and, in fact, oftentimes they simply do not work.
Businesses could not solve the problems in Iraq. Nor will they provide retirement funds for the elderly, decent health care, a clean environment or affordable and quality educations. In fact, big business is largely opposed to the very things that are most important to the average American (and average Iraqi).
And that is the secret. For some, (including the leadership of the Democratic Party) it is a secret worth protecting by allowing the continued bloodshed in Iraq with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, thousands of US troops killed, tens of thousands more maimed and an extraordinary amount of taxpayer money being wasted.
In 1998, Project for the New American Century - a distinctly neocon organization, issued a letter to President Clinton. This letter was signed by such notable neocons as; Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, William Kristol, and Paul Wolfowitz. It embodied a feverish call for a military attack against Iraq: "That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor... Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater."
This thinking was commonly accepted by neocons. Yet, late in 2006, a variety of neocons, all of them once proud and prodding supporters of invading Iraq, reexamined that decision.
In the November, 2006 issue of Vanity Fair, David Rose quoted several neocons generally saying two things. First, claiming that Iraq is failing because of a lack of planning. Second, blaming that lack of planning on someone else. (It seems, so often, that when those on the right speak of accepting responsibility for one's actions, they never mean that they, themselves, should be held to that high a standard).
Richard Perle was quoted as saying; "The decisions did not get made that should have been... At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible..."
In the same issue, Kenneth Adelman states; "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
Max Boot, neocon editorialist and Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) wrote in an opinion column that; "It was no accident that he [Rumsfeld] neglected the kind of post-invasion planning needed to implement the sweeping changes envisioned by his boss, George W. Bush, and his erstwhile deputy, Paul Wolfowitz."
Daniel Goure, neocon nuclear-warhawk, summed it up on the CFR website. "It is either an illegal, immoral, or mistaken enterprise foisted on the American public by a neo-con [servative] cabal or a legitimate, even noble, enterprise gone awry by the hubris of those at the White House and Pentagon. From the failures of intelligence and the lack of a plan for stability and reconstruction..."
The draft report, mentioned in the first paragraph above and with a preliminary title of; Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, states that, "... the US Government was not adequately prepared to carry out the reconstruction mission it took on..." - again ignoring the fact that this was not so much a failure of government as it was a disastrous failure of free market economics.
Thus is the state of the spin machines. If only the meticulous micro-manager Donald Rumsfeld or overly eager Pentagon bureaucrats or the sly President Bush had a plan for the post invasion, all would be well.
In fact, they all did have a plan and that plan was put into play exactly as intended.
But it was a really bad plan that has failed not only Iraq, but the United States as well. We cannot allow the right wing to rewrite history and resurrect themselves as the "efficient" masters of foreign interventions and imperialism. We cannot allow libertarians, neocons and the other proxies of multinational corporations to suggest that the idea of invading Iraq was fine - that it was only the implementation of that invasion that has been discredited.
Not when, in fact, it was their entire free market philosophy that failed - yet again.