On Wednesday, December 10th, the New York Times ran two side-by-side front page stories. One was Pentagon Bars Three Nations from Iraq Bids. My subtitle for that story would be “Vengeance is Mine Saith the Lord [Paul Wolfowitz].” The second was High Payments to Halliburton for Fuel in Iraq. More than merely contiguous on the page, these stories were deeply intertwined and commented interestingly on each other. See Halliburton: War Profiteer for my post on this article.
Douglas Jehl’s article covers the Wolfowitz official government finding that bars France, Germany and Russia from bidding on billions of dollars worth of Iraq reconstruction projects. The comments from various Administration officials on the Wolfowitz directive are both illuminating and woefully contradictory. For the latter, let’s begin with the following State Department respone:
Defense Department officials said that Mr. Wolfowitz had made his decision after discussions with representatives of other agencies, including the State Department. A State Department official said Tuesday night that “we are committed to putting the past behind us” in relations with countries that opposed the war.
But, the official added, “This is taxpayers’ money, and so we have got to go with those who have pitched in already.”
Does anyone in the Bush Administration in their right mind think that Wolfowitz’s vengeful rebuke of our three erstwhile allies will “put the past behind us?”
The most telling quotation from the Wolfowitz directive is:
“Every effort must be made to expand international cooperation in Iraq,” he wrote, adding: “Limiting competition for prime contracts will encourage the expansion of international cooperation in Iraq and in future efforts.
Again the Bush people are in hopeless denial if they believe they can “expand international cooperation in Iraq” by retaliating against those who opposed our earlier Iraq go-it-alone approach. Further, what does the strange locution “Limiting competition for prime contracts will encourage the expansion of international cooperation in Iraq” mean?
Paul Krugman, in a subsequent Times Op Ed piece, A Deliberate Debacle, explains that Wolfowitz is expressing in a somewhat opaque way that those who are with us now or in the future (when we take down Iran or North Korea??) will receive the benefit of limited competition for contracts, which in turn will make it hard for companies of allied nations to lose. A piece of smarmy, self-interested diplomatic/commercial bribery if ever I saw one.
The next day, the Times ran a story Bush Seeks Help of Allies Barred From Iraq Deals saying that the Bush White House was “fuming at the timing and tone” (but of course not the substance) of the Pentagon announcement, since President Bush planned to spend that day calling world leaders (France, Germany and Russia among them) asking for forgiveness of $100 billion or more in Iraqi debt. That sets up a nice predicament for him in asking for debt forgiveness after we’ve notified them their companies won’t earn a nickel from Iraq reconstruction (unless they’re subcontractors of companies from allied nations). Needless to say, representatives of those countries were fuming themselves. I dare say Mr. Wolfowitz did little to encourage the future participation of any of these nations in our future foreign policy endeavors (or should I say “adventures”?).
The article goes on to say:
[White House] officials apparently did not realize that the Wolfowitz memorandum would appear on a Defense Department Web site hours before Mr. Bush was scheduled to ask world leaders to receive James A. Baker III, the former treasury secretary and secretary of state, who is heading up the effort to wipe out Iraq’s debt.
Krugman provides a cogent explanation of the subterranean political manuvering within the Bush Adminstration:
Maybe I’m giving Paul Wolfowitz too much credit, but I don’t think this was mere incompetence. I think the administration’s hard-liners are deliberately sabotaging reconciliation.
Why torpedo a potential reconciliation between America and its allies? Perhaps because Mr. Wolfowitz’s faction doesn’t want such a reconciliation.
These are tough times for the architects of the “Bush doctrine” of unilateralism and preventive war. Cheney, Rumsfeld and their fellow [hawks] viewed Iraq as a pilot project, one that would validate their views and clear the way for further regime changes. (Hence Mr. Wolfowitz’s line about “future efforts.”)
Instead, the venture has turned sour — and many insiders see Mr. Baker’s mission as part of an effort by veterans of the first Bush administration to extricate George W. Bush from the hard-liners’ clutches. If the mission collapses amid acrimony over contracts, that’s a good thing from the hard-liners’ point of view.
This week’s diplomatic debacle probably reflects an internal power struggle, with hawks using the contracts issue as a way to prevent Republican grown-ups from regaining control of U.S. foreign policy. And initial indications are that the ploy is working — that the hawks have, once again, managed to tap into Mr. Bush’s fondness for moralistic, good-versus-evil formulations. “It’s very simple,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “Our people risk their lives. . . . Friendly coalition folks risk their lives. . . . The contracting is going to reflect that.”
And finally, Krugman leaves us with a telling summation of Bush policy and its ultimate effectiveness:
In the end the Bush doctrine — based on delusions of grandeur about America’s ability to dominate the world through force — will collapse. What we’ve just learned is how hard and dirty the doctrine’s proponents will fight against the inevitable.