advisor Richard Perle recently called for Iraq's debt to be cancelled
as a way of teaching banks about the "moral hazard of ...
lend[ing] to a vicious dictatorship."
Fair enough. Other
countries with "odious debt" incurred under nasty regimes
may be granted debt forgiveness. Why not Iraq?
Why not indeed. A
war profiteer like Perle lecturing on morality is doubtful enough,
but who in today's occupied Iraq will really profit from debt
forgiveness, the Iraqi people or companies like Halliburton?
At stake is more
than $184 billion of pending contracts and debts against Iraq, many
of which transpired before the 1991 invasion of Kuwait. In other
words, even deals inked when Saddam Hussein was considered a US ally
could now be considered odious debt.
coincidence that the countries slated to lose most from an Iraqi
write-off include Russia, France and Germany: Bush's axis-of-just-as-evil
for opposing the recent invasion of Iraq.
But taking Perle's
moral high ground for argument's sake, consider that Chile's
Pinochet, Indonesia's Suharto, South Korea's Park Chung Hee, and yes,
Iraq's Hussein were all former recipients of White House largesse. So
much for the US government steering clear of vicious dictators.
And of course,
today's "war on terror" has become a gold mine for brutal
regimes of strategic US interest.
Take Uzbekistan. Despite an abysmal human rights
record and corrupt government, the country received
$500 million in US funding last year - $79 million
specifically earmarked for police and intelligence
services which use "torture as a routine investigative technique." Its proximity to Afghanistan and expanding US military presence guarantee ever more funding to back the savage Uzbek government, step up repression and no doubt create the kind of Islamic fundamentalism the US should be fighting in the first place.
And then there's
Pakistan. General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup,
stifling opposition and rewriting the constitution to shore up his
dubious power base - not exactly a model of democratic leadership.
Regardless, Pentagon ally Musharraf just left Camp David with $3
billion in fresh US grants, for things like upping the nuclear war
ante with India.
How ironic that
dictatorships like Uzbekistan and Pakistan can cash in on the
"war on terror," while fledgling democracies defying
Washington's unilateral excesses are punished. The Bush
administration's recent rampage against the International Criminal
Court (ICC) is a case in point: 64 countries receiving US military
aid were forced
to sign bilateral agreements exempting US troops from
prosecution, or else risk losing the aid. The Bahamas, for instance,
was warned funds would be withheld for paving and lighting an airport
runway, and Caribbean states were told they could lose hurricane
relief and rural dentistry benefits if they didn't support
Washington's attack on the ICC.
In other words,
the US government provides funding for "torture as a routine
investigative technique" but not necessarily for hurricane
relief. No wonder they hate us.
The White House is
quick to point out that some countries have demonstrated loyalty to
the Bush administration by sending peacekeeping troops to Iraq:
Poland, Ukraine, Nicaragua, and El Salvador among others. Rarely
mentioned, however, is the fact that US taxpayers will be funding
this "coalition of the billing" to the tune of $250 million
this year alone.
But who really
benefits from massive cash infusions to Iraq, estimated to be costing
US taxpayers $3.9 billion every month? And who would benefit from a
hasty write-off of Iraq's past debt?
There's no doubt
the country's in chaos and needs help. Twelve years of debilitating
sanctions have left the population and infrastructure ravaged, while
the recent invasion and aftermath have left thousands dead and
millions unemployed. Meanwhile, attacks against US service members
grow more frequent and bloody every week.
everybody's hurting. Halliburton, the Texan oil company tied to US
vice president Dick Cheney, is making a killing on subsidiary
contracts to Iraq, doing everything from repairing oil wells to
providing housing for US troops. Corporate cronies will also benefit
from Bush administration plans to privatize Iraq's 100 state-owned
firms, probably at fire sale prices.
No doubt the lack
of financial transparency in today's Iraq creates unprecedented
opportunities. Some US firms have already been charged with bilking
millions of dollars in bogus rebuilding contracts, while the
integrity of the US-UK controlled fund slated to recover foreign
Iraqi assets has been called into question.
more cash into this mess makes no sense. How long can US taxpayers
shoulder the unilateral burden? What new dictators will be propped
up? What assets and national resources will be privatized away from
the Iraqi people without their consent? How long before they negate
today's agreements as odious?
Bottom line, until
a stable government is in place, truly representative of the Iraqi
people, there should be no debt cancellations - reschedulings or
delayed payment allowances perhaps, but no write-offs. Same goes for
privatizations. The Bush administration's secretive, unilateral and
unaccountable approach to finances is among our biggest moral hazards
Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer. She can be
reached via www.heatherwokusch.com