PARIS -- As I walked along the elegant Quai d'Orsay, past France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Talleyrand's wonderfully cynical bon mot about Napoleon's murder of the Duc d'Enghien kept coming back to me: "Worse than a crime, it was a blunder."
Napoleon's foreign minister could just as well have been speaking of Iraq.
France repeatedly warned the Bush administration against invading Iraq. DGSE, the French intelligence service, had highly placed agents within Saddam Hussein's regime and informed the U.S. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat and would, if invaded, turn into a second Lebanon or West Bank.
Warnings by France and other European powers were sneeringly dismissed by the war's principal architects, among them U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose strategy was based in large part on disinformation from shady defectors and self-serving sources.
Pro-invasion Americans hurled insults at France for impeding Washington's rush to war.
Totally wrong about Iraq, Wolfowitz and fellow neo-cons are now punishing those who were totally right.
France, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Greece, and China - and maybe or maybe not Canada - were blacklisted from $18.6 billion US of "reconstruction" contracts in Iraq.
The laughable reason: "To protect the essential security interests of the United States." Albania and Uzbekistan are approved vendors.
"Reconstruction" is a euphemism for repairing massive damage inflicted on Iraq, formerly the Arab world's most developed nation, by a decade of crushing American-led sanctions and bombing.
French diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay are asking whatever happened to Colin Powell, who is supposed to head U.S. foreign policy? Wolfowitz seems to be running foreign as well as Defense policy now. The hapless Powell has been demoted to messenger.
Banning staunch allies like France and Germany from rebuilding Iraq is not only foolishly vindictive and ham-handed, it is downright stupid, a condition now epidemic at the Pentagon's highest civilian echelons.
America's affronted allies, facing domestic outrage over this insult, must now take overt or covert counter-action, worsening U.S.-European relations.
Ironically, the spiteful ban undermines intense U.S. efforts to draw Europe into the Iraq mess.
All this could have been done quietly.
Instead, Wolfowitz created an unnecessary trans-Atlantic fracas that again shows the alarming diplomatic ineptitude and political crassness of the Bush administration. Embarrassingly, the American blacklist was issued just as Bush was calling European leaders, trying to get them to forgive Iraq's huge debts. The president was left red-faced. Many wondered who really was running the administration.
The exclusion of some of America's oldest friends from Iraq underlines the point that the U.S. invasion was really motivated by big oil and big business, rather than the faux war on terrorism or Baghdad's non-existent unconventional weapons.
Few people realize how important the occupation of oil-rich Iraq is to America's military-industrial-petroleum complex, a major financial backer of Bush and the Republican party. Defense spending, spurred by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will reach $3.1 trillion US over the next two years - the same amount, in constant dollars, the U.S. spent on World War II!
Much of this bonanza will go to traditional Defense contractors. But a growing share will flow to U.S. firms engaged in privatized military and imperial functions. Halliburton, VP Dick Cheney's old firm, got a sweetheart contract to pump and export Iraqi oil.
Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, builds and runs U.S. military bases in Iraq, and other nations, supplying food, cleaning, water, sewage and power.
Other little-known firms with close links to the Bush administration have over 10,000 "civilian" (read ex-military) contractors in Iraq. They receive billions of dollars to train Iraq's new U.S.-run police and army, create security forces, field mercenary units and "protect" the U.S.-installed figurehead in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. In fact, a third of this year's $87 billion allocated for Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia will be spent on U.S. private military contractors.
For these members of the military-industrial complex, Iraq is a gold mine. Pentagon plans to create three major, permanent bases in Iraq and link them to new U.S. bases in Central Asia - what I call America's imperial oil route - will guarantee decades of lucrative work and generous funding for the Republican party.
The French, who have a long history of knocking off puppet African rulers who get out of line, have no great moral qualms about U.S. military intervention in Iraq, but they view Iraq as a legitimate sphere of European economic influence. Paris is furious Washington is elbowing Europe out of this rich market and stirring up an Islamic hornet's nest against the West.
There are at least five million impoverished Muslims in France living on the edge of society, 40% of them under 20 years of age - fertile ground for unrest and violence.
Washington may eventually back down over the Iraq contract dispute. Yet each week, the Bush administration seems to finds new ways to antagonize, alienate, and infuriate Europe and the Muslim world.
As a French diplomat observed to me, "Monsieur bin Laden must be tres content."
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