The streets of Baghdad are a swamp of crime and uncollected garbage.
Battered local businesses are going bankrupt, unable to compete with
cheap imports. Unemployment is soaring and thousands of laid-off state
workers are protesting in the streets.
In other words, Iraq looks like every other country that has undergone
rapid-fire "structural adjustments" prescribed by Washington, from
Russia's infamous "shock therapy" in the early 1990s to Argentina's
disastrous "surgery without anesthetic." Except that Iraq's
"reconstruction" makes those wrenching reforms look like spa treatments.
Paul Bremer, the US-appointed governor of Iraq, has already proved
something of a flop in the democracy department in his few weeks there,
nixing plans for Iraqis to select their own interim government in favor
of his own handpicked team of advisers. But Bremer has proved to have
something of a gift when it comes to rolling out the red carpet for US
For a few weeks Bremer has been hacking away at Iraq's public sector
like former Sunbeam exec "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap in a flak jacket. On May
16 Bremer banned up to 30,000 senior Baath Party officials from
government jobs. A week later, he dissolved the army and the information
ministry, putting more than 400,000 Iraqis out of work without pensions
or re-employment programs.
Of course, if Saddam Hussein's henchmen and propagandists held on to
power in Iraq it would be a human rights disaster. "De-Baathification,"
as the purging of party officials has come to be called, may be the only
way to prevent a comeback by Saddam's crew--and the only silver lining
of George Bush's illegal war.
But Bremer has gone far beyond purging powerful Baath loyalists and
moved into a full-scale assault on the state itself. Doctors who joined
the party as children and have no love for Saddam face dismissal, while
low-level civil servants with no ties to the party have been fired en
masse. Nuha Najeeb, who ran a Baghdad printing house, told Reuters,
"I...had nothing to do with Saddam's media, so why am I sacked?"
As the Bush Administration becomes increasingly open about its plans to
privatize Iraq's state industries and parts of the government, Bremer's
de-Baathification takes on new meaning. Is he working only to get rid of
Baath Party members, or is he also working to shrink the public sector
as a whole so that hospitals, schools and even the army are primed for
privatization by US firms? Just as reconstruction is the guise for
privatization, de-Baathification looks a lot like disguised downsizing.
Similar questions arise from Bremer's chainsaw job on Iraqi companies,
already pummeled by almost thirteen years of sanctions and two months of
looting. Bremer didn't even wait to get the lights back on in Baghdad,
for the dinar to stabilize or for the spare parts to arrive for Iraq's
hobbled factories before he declared on May 26 that Iraq was "open for
business." Duty-free imported TVs and packaged food flooded across the
border, pushing many stressed Iraqi businesses, unable to compete, into
bankruptcy. This is how Iraq joined the global "free market": in the
Paul Bremer is, according to Bush, a "can-do" type of person. Indeed he
is. In less than a month he has readied large swaths of state activity
for corporate takeover, primed the Iraqi market for foreign importers to
make a killing by eliminating much of the local competition and made
sure there won't be any unpleasant Iraqi government interference--in
fact, he's made sure there will be no Iraqi government at all while key
economic decisions are made. Bremer is Iraq's one-man IMF.
Like so many Bush foreign policy players, Bremer sees war as a business
opportunity. On October 11, 2001, just one month after the terror
attacks in New York and Washington, Bremer, once Ronald Reagan's
Ambassador at Large for counterterrorism, launched a company designed to
capitalize on the new atmosphere of fear in US corporate boardrooms.
Crisis Consulting Practice, a division of insurance giant Marsh &
McLennan, specializes in helping multinationals come up with "integrated
and comprehensive crisis solutions" for everything from terror attacks
to accounting fraud. Thanks to a strategic alliance with Versar, which
specializes in biological and chemical threats, clients of the two
companies are treated to "total counterterrorism services."
To sell this sort of high-priced protection to US firms, Bremer had to
make the kinds of frank links between terrorism and the failing global
economy that activists are called lunatics for articulating. In a
November 2001 policy paper titled "New Risks in International Business,"
he explains that free-trade policies "require laying off workers. And
opening markets to foreign trade puts enormous pressure on traditional
retailers and trade monopolies." This leads to "growing income gaps and
social tensions," which in turn can lead to a range of attacks on US
firms, from terrorism to government attempts to reverse privatizations
or roll back trade incentives.
He could be describing the backlash his own policies are provoking in
Iraq. But then guys like Bremer always know how to play both sides. Like
a hacker who cripples corporate websites then sells himself as a network
security specialist, in a few months Bremer may well be selling
terrorism insurance to the very companies he welcomed into Iraq.
And why not? As Bremer told his clients back at Marsh, globalization may
have "immediate negative consequences for many," but it also leads to
"the creation of unprecedented wealth."
It has for Bremer and his cronies. On May 15, three days after he
arrived in Iraq, his former boss, MMC chairman Jeffrey Greenberg,
announced that 2002 "was a great year for Marsh; operating income was up
31 percent.... Marsh's expertise in analyzing risk and helping clients
develop risk management programs has been in great demand.... Our
prospects have never been better."
Many have pointed out that Bremer is no expert on Iraqi politics. But
that was never the point. He is an expert at profiting from the war on
terror and at helping US multinationals make money in far-off places
where they are unpopular and unwelcome. In other words, he's the perfect
man for the job.
Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (Picador).
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