Despite Bush’s ‘JR Ewing’ Image,
By William Finucane
All right, then, let’s start moving toward some kind of unity here. We’ve got Iraq wrestled to the ground now – sort of – and can start the infrastructure work immediately.
This is where we begin to show our humanity, our compassion, and our willingness to labor hard to include all parties in getting this poor country restarted. It’s got great people, far more educated than many other countries in the region, and with a history of secular social and government structure; Iraqi women, for example, enjoyed more options in dress and lifestyles even during the years of Saddam Hussein’s harshest rule. It would seem that reasonableness should carry the day here.
But there is one more thing that we as a nation – America – should do, and that is to demonstrate a desire to welcome all countries to help in the reconstruction; to that end we should welcome all interested nations to bid on the $18 billion in infrastructure work that we have already lined up.
First, though, we’ll put out this little memo: France, Germany, Russia, Canada and a few other nations need not apply.
This is not like excluding sworn enemies. This is not like excluding suspected spies. This has nothing to do with inferior goods. This is spite.
France, Germany, Russia and Canada did not follow along when George W. Bush rushed into Iraq, conquering a country with none of the thermonuclear capacity, chemical arms and little or no biological agents so prominently listed as the reasons for invasion.
As far as anyone can tell, there were no terrorists operating there then; now, of course, there are terrorists aplenty. In fact, now the fight against terrorism is happening in Iraq.
It would be happening in North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, Turkey, Northern Ireland or anywhere else had Bush made a similar move in one of those nations. It was his call. He chose Iraq.
And what Mr. Bush and his administration apparently saw in the tottering Iraq regime was an easy victory, which could combine a certain level of personal revenge against the head of state – Saddam Hussein – who was accused of attempting to assassinate the president’s father, George H.W. Bush, and at the same time provide further proof of U.S. retaliatory power against Islamic radicals, so powerfully represented by the eighteen middle-eastern men who hijacked Americans and their aircraft in order to create flying bombs that brought death to some 3,000 innocent people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Never mind that most of those terrorists were Saudi Arabian.
Never mind that Iraq was the country farthest from the terrorists in terms of religious zealotry.
Osama bin Laden, super-terrorist among super-terrorists, disliked Iraqi President Saddam Hussein because Iraq had a secular government. Saddam wanted and had all the power in Iraq, and he did not rely on religion to retain it. In fact, he viciously suppressed Islamic religious leaders.
Still, as soon as Saddam was out, bang, bin Laden’s followers entered. So Iraq is now a terrorist country. America’s first major import into the nation of Iraq was, therefore, terrorism. So in a terribly ironic manner, we are struggling to win a tangible victory that our success in Afghanistan denied us; that is, in Afghanistan we defeated and turned-out the closest approximation of an Islamic army that we’ve so far encountered, but we didn’t defeat an Islamic insurgency.
Now, in perhaps the 21st Century’s greatest irony so far, we created the testing ground. We put an end to Saddam Hussein’s armies, including his vaunted Republican Guard, in record time, but now we have a full-fledged insurgency to test our skills and resilience. And to compound the irony, an insurgency seems to be building in Afghanistan as well.
Now we’ve changed one country and brought another to its knees. But with Iraq, the primary asset, its carefully guarded national treasure, is still the one thing that remains ambiguous, outside of local laws, and so far it is unclear how the Bush Administration intends to handle this most sensitive commodity: Oil.
Now lots of other countries were afraid of all of this and perceived the probable result. Speaking out against the move into Iraq were France, Germany, Russia and Canada. And in terms of experience, the three European countries have fought wars centuries before the United States even existed. They have a personalized and a collective knowledge of what can take place as a result of aggressive military policies.
Germany, of course, after centuries of ‘honorable’ warfare, devolved into the pit of Nazi horrors. Russia left its often bloody imperial history to spend years under the most brutal totalitarianism possible, brought about through the doctrine of Stalinist Communism. And France, with its own long Imperial history, fought internally against monarchy and for freedom in some of the bloodiest civil wars in recorded history.
The bloody background of these nations reaches back beyond recorded history, literally. As nation-states, these are not wet-behind-the-ears children. They do not need graphs and charts and American experts to tell them what an explosive situation Iraq was going to be, and of course has now become. Those nations knew the horrors of war from experiences within their borders, let alone their knowledge of general warfare.
Unfortunately, in the current situation America has acted as if one set of terrorist acts suddenly made the world its exclusive war theater. Such a view of history as immediacy is both ingenuous and raw, making America seem like a belligerent adolescent among more mature nations. France, Russia and Germany have endured centuries of war and know its price. What these countries feared has partially happened.
Bush has made Iraq the ground zero of terror. Neither Saddam, nor bin Laden brought this about; Bush did.
From the rest of the world’s vista, Bush is nearly a caricature. He is a man with a ten-gallon hat and spurs who runs America the way the fictitious JR Ewing ran the family’s oil business: no scruples, just maximum profit; anyone in the way is simply pushed aside.
When the television show, "Dallas," had its heyday, most Americans thought it a little overdone; yet JR looks like a rank amateur next to Bush. What Bush is doing now is to press his "world leadership" label on the Iraq rebuilding effort. Anyone who was there from the beginning of the military enterprise will get to nose around the rich slop of reconstruction contracts. Anyone who, in the Bush vernacular, "chickened out," will go hungry. To conservatives, and to others with an uncomplicated view of the world, such a policy is only fair, only just. But is this approach the way to get Iraq on its feet?
Some people feel Bush should be striving to paper over the problems he had when he asked the United Nations to back his move into Iraq and the UN said ,"No." Some of the strongest voices in bringing about that rejection were Canada, Russia, Germany and France. They had genuine concerns, true worries regarding the end result.
Now, with Hussein overthrown, instead of asking every nation capable of doing so to step up and help Iraq, Bush has taken the Wild West tack. They can choke on America’s dirt if they weren’t supportive in the first place. And yet, the top officials in France, Germany and other nations have been asked to forgive huge pieces of debt owed to them by Iraq.
And what did they do when faced with this cheeky, if not arrogant, request? They showed cool understanding of the world’s ways: they agreed to swallow much of their debt to help the stricken Iraq. Iraq owes huge amounts.
This business of rubbing "old Europe’s" nose in the question of rebuilding Iraq, refusing to let them win a few contracts, actually did threaten the whole debt relief package. But luckily for the Bush Administration, the "old Europe" wisdom prevailed and much of Iraq’s debt has been forgiven.
Canada says its taxpayers have already sent more than $190 million to Iraq. Now the nation will have to think about contributing more, says Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley.
It is worthwhile to remember that the U.S. Pentagon controls the Iraq budget. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is the top dog in this scenario. And back in his civilian days he held jobs that put him in direct, eye-to-eye, mano-a-mano contact with Saddam Hussein. They were acting as businessmen then, working out deals. Rumsfeld apparently learned, there and elsewhere, how to deal with tough customers, but it’s too bad he doesn’t know how to deal with actual friends and allies who won’t simply tell him just what he demands to hear.
Mr. Bush needs to change the policy from exclusion to inclusion. He might also yank Don Rumsfeld at the same time, sinking two burdensome stones with one policy paper.