Big business and the endless war

BARACK OBAMA’S election has once again intensified the hopes of Iraqi and U.S. citizens that the U.S. military will finally begin a genuine and lasting withdrawal from Iraq. Simultaneously, thanks to a lack of reporting in the U.S. media and what appears to the casual observer a concomitant feeling that it might never end, the war in Iraq has slowly receded from the popular U.S. consciousness. Despite this seeming lack of concern, if one talks with people at work or in school, one discovers that many Americans continue to be concerned about the U.S. presence there. They wonder why U.S. troops are still in Iraq and when they will come home. A complementary query is why were they sent there in the first place.

Michael Schwartz’s recently published book, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, answers both these questions with the same answer. He discards the parade of excuses used by Washington to first invade and then occupy that nation—and states simply that the reason the United States went into and remains in Iraq is to establish a neoliberal state that can serve as a base of operations in the Middle East. In addition, Washington intends to establish control of the resources there. If one accepts this explanation, then every action of the United States in Iraq can be understood.

Forget about WMD (weapons of mass destruction), establishing democracy or preventing civil war; Washington is in Iraq because it needs a client state in that region of the world with a government that is not only beholden to Washington for its continued existence but literally cannot function without the equipment and facilities that U.S. corporations have installed. Furthermore, Schwartz explains, the corporations that Washington hired to create the Iraqi neoliberal state conspired with Washington to destroy Iraq and steal from the U.S. public treasury in the name of reconstruction.

Schwartz details the actions of the occupiers: shock and awe, turning a deaf ear to looters, the dismantling of the military and Iraqi bureaucracy, and the insistence that all reconstruction be done by private U.S.-owned firms with their own proprietary equipment and technicians. The final result is the intentional impoverishment and dependence of the Iraqis on those companies and their U.S. military protectors. According to Schwartz, even the mistakes made by the occupiers and their commercial clients ended up benefiting U.S. corporations.

He cites several examples of this, but none illustrates it better than what occurred in the town of Hilla. Bechtel Corporation was contracted to repair the infrastructure needed to provide potable water to the town and the surrounding area. Instead of repairing the existing system that was destroyed by the United States, Bechtel insisted on installing its own equipment, which failed to interact with the existing equipment and often became unworkable. Despite Iraqi complaints, Bechtel refused to adapt their system to the existing system, and, in a further affront to the Iraqi technicians who ran the previous system, refused to train those technicians to run the new system.

Eventually, the Bechtel employees left the country, even though the system they installed was delivering less potable water than the damaged system that they were supposed to repair and replace. As a reward for this failure to repair the water system, Bechtel collected the entire amount of money they had originally contracted for. This scenario was replayed throughout Iraq by U.S. companies contracted to repair water systems, hospitals, and a myriad of other public utilities.

War Without End describes a similar process regarding the Iraqi political system. Paul Bremer’s disbanding of the Iraqi military and government bureaucracy was intended to destroy every trace of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Even though this action sent many of the Iraqis who had worked in that government into the resistance, the action was undertaken so that Washington could design a government composed of Iraqis beholden to the United States. Members of the U.S.-created organizations of Iraqi exiles were foremost among these individuals. Like the new equipment and parts installed by Bechtel in the Iraqi water system, it was Washington’s intention to install these men (and a few women) into a new Iraqi government that Washington had designed to move at Washington’s beckoning.

Much to Washington’s chagrin, however, the Iraqi people protested. First, the protest was relatively peaceful. As any reader knows, it soon became armed.

The fact of the resistance forced Washington to modify its plans regarding the nature of the Iraqi government. In addition, the resistance forced that government itself to oppose some of the more obvious aspects of its dependence on U.S. forces. Nonetheless, Washington continues to try to figure out new ways to manipulate the U.S.-installed political elements in the hope that a compliant Iraqi government will result. This continuing effort has yet to reveal exactly what Iraq’s political future will be, but the current attempts to hammer out a Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and its client government seem to indicate that any government in Baghdad’s future will continue to be beholden to the corporate interests that have sought to profit from their support of the invasion and occupation up to now.

War Without End is the best book on the U.S. war in Iraq published in English to date. It is comprehensive in its breadth, revealing in its detail, and relentlessly radical in its critique. Michael Schwartz explains not only what the U.S. has done to that country and its people, but why it is still there. Furthermore, it explains why there is a good chance that U.S. troops will be there forever unless massive public protests are mounted against that presence.

Issue #73

September 2010

From Reform to Rebellion

Image and reality in the Bolivia of Evo Morales
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