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April 13, 2003

Making Iraq Safe for Capitalism

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ronald Dumsfeld says Iraqis are now free to do bad things. Lucky for them, they'll also retain their "freedom" to have bad things done to them. Right now, chaos appears to reign in Iraq, but that won't last long for the simple reason that there's a lot of money to be made there. In fact, the amount of money to be made is probably directly proportional to the completeness of Iraq's destruction, because the more the looters steal or destroy, the more "help" the country will need to rebuild. And that "help" will, conveniently, come from U.S. corporations being paid by U.S. tax dollars and Iraqi oil receipts. As Naomi Klein writes:

The process of getting all this 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 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.

So what does it mean to say the Iraqis are free? Under Saddam Hussein Iraqis were subject to abuse and exploitation; under a U.S.-installed "democracy" they'll continue to be subject to abuse and exploitation. But while Saddam ruled by physical force, the new regime envisioned by the U.S. will rule Iraq through the same economic and psychological force that controls the Western world. Henceforth, Iraqi citizens will be "free" to drink clean water, eat an adequate diet, get a quality education, and receive adequate health care—as long they can pay Western corporations for these basic human needs. Free markets only give those who own capital the "freedom" to make money. But of course, the looters know this, so they're busy accumulating as much capital as they can before their window of opportunity closes and Western corporations take over—under the complete protection of U.S., er, I mean, "coalition" military forces.

Oh yes, the Iraqis are now "free," but we all know that guns and money will win in the end. If capitalism is such a great system, why does it require such massive military force to succeed? The dream, I suppose, is that eventually the military won't be necessary. Perhaps someday all the world's people will become just like Americans who, as Matt Taibbi explains, are the best subjects in the world:

There’s almost nothing you can’t get away with doing to an American. Take away his health insurance and he’s likely to fall to his knees in gratitude. You can tell him to his face that you’re pulling funding for his kids’ schools in order to bail out some millionaire stockbroker in Connecticut who overbet the peso–and he not only won’t get mad, he’ll swell up with pride and burst out singing the "Star-Spangled Banner." You can even steal his pension and gamble it away in Vegas, and the most he’ll do is sulk a little.

Taibbi paints a cynical picture, but it's no less accurate for its vitriolic condescension. Taibbi's solution is to hit corporate America in the pocketbook with a massive boycott—"a self-defeating gesture, to be sure, but we didn’t get to drink the British tea, either." I wonder what Dumbsfeld would say to that. Oh yeah: "Send in the troops!"

Posted April 13, 2003 04:44 PM | general politics

How does the destruction of books and museum artifacts fit into this schema...?

Posted by: Zelda at April 15, 2003 10:10 PM

Not sure, really. I'd say that destruction falls somewhat outside of the interests of western corporatoins because the materials being destroyed have little exchange value (museum pieces can usually only be sold on black markets). If there were economic interests to be protected in the museums, you can bet U.S. troops would have protected them, just as they did with the oil fields.

Posted by: ambimb at April 16, 2003 12:06 PM

Wow. I just heard another explanation from the BBC: the U.S. destroyed (or allowed to be destroyed) museum artifacts and ancient books because the U.S. wants to erase Iraqi history to make way for the history the U.S. is going to construct for Iraq. Sounds a little too much like an overt conspiracy theory to me, but it's a thought. I still think the simple fact is there was no economic motivation to protect Iraq's cultural history, so it didn't get protected.

Posted by: ambimb at April 16, 2003 12:27 PM

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