week, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, I noted
that the Bush Administration, and its echoes in Europe,
in their glorious zeal to prosecute Saddam's crimes
against humanity, were being more than a little hypocritical
-- given that they continue to actively resist efforts
to prosecute dictators and war criminals the various
US Administrations have favoured in the past. From
Pinochet to Rios
Montt in Guatemala, they reside in luxurious retirement
in certain gated communities in South Florida, living
off their spoils. Theyre certainly far removed
from any spider holes or worries of execution. And,
of course, their American handlers are not only safe
from prosecution -- many such handlers used their
past crimes as Curriculum Vitae builders for their
current high-level Bush Administration positions.
strategy is present in virtually every facet of U.S.
foreign policy. It has even developed its own name:
Do as we say, not as we do.
week, we saw it applied to the fate of tyrants captured
long after they commit mass murder. Now, we're seeing
the economic corollary.
occasion is the fallout from former Secretary of State
James Baker's trip through the financial capitals
of Europe, asking the creditors of Britain and France,
Germany and Russia to forgive Iraq its massive
$120 billion foreign debt incurred under the reign
of Saddam Hussein. The Bush Administration's rationale
is seductive in its sensibility: the money went for
the private use of Saddam's circles to enrich themselves
and strengthen their grip on power. The money wasn't
spent on or by the Iraqi people or their legitimately
selected government. Therefore, a genuinely legitimate
government shouldn't have to be responsible for the
astonishingly, our EU partners seems to be buying
it. Literally. Both France and Germany have already
agreed to let go part of their shares of the debt,
with more likely to come, and Russia may well follow
suit. In terms of the Bush Administration's fiscal
management of Iraq, this is far better news than it
had a right to hope for, especially given that it
had just told many of these same countries that their
firms would be shut out of Iraq's U.S. taxpayer-funded
reconstruction gold rush.
a precedent, this is wonderful news, and not just
because of the idea that a klepto-cracy's thefts should
not be charged to its more legitimate successors.
Set aside the reality that the U.S. helped put Saddam
into power in the first place, or that its current
administration of Iraq is even less legitimate than
Saddam's ascension was in the eyes of international
law. In fact, the last time a country other than the
U.S. simply invaded a foreign country and took over
its government, it was -- Saddam, actually, in Kuwait.
Who says conservatives hate moral relativism?
the matter of debt retirement and U.S. exceptionalism
runs far, far deeper than America's history with Saddam.
By virtue of its wealth, the U.S. calls most of the
shots for international lending and credit, particularly
through its voting control of the boards of the World
Bank and International Monetary Fund.
IMF, World Bank, and a bipartisan succession of U.S.
administrations have long insisted on honouring the
past debts of illegitimate governments the U.S. helped
keep in power. These debts, especially the ones originally
incurred in the '60s and '70s, were often originally
of astonishing sums of money at high interest rates
for dubious purposes. Three and four decades later,
any number of countries in the global South now pay
up to or even more than half of their national budgets
servicing the interest -- not even the principle
-- on these debts.
include countries like Argentina, which has on several
occasions teetered on the brink of default and whose
IMF-assisted economy is, as a result, in ruins; its
original debts were incurred, with American encouragement,
by Argentine generals financing their "dirty
war" of the mid-late '70s and up through their
ill-fated invasion of the Malvinas in 1982. Over that
period, at least 30,000 Argentinians were "disappeared"
while the generals bought expensive war toys and enriched
themselves. America still insists the debt be paid.
the Philippines, where ordinary Filipinos are still
paying the interest on money that went into prisons,
purges, Ferdinand Marcos' Swiss bank accounts, and
Imelda Marcos shoes. Remember the massive security
apparatus -- including the illegal nuclear (WMD) programme
-- of apartheid South Africa? Or the kleptocracies
of any number of post-colonial dictatorships; the
generals in Brazil, Noriega in Panama, Suharto in
Indonesia, the whole bloody lot of them in Pakistan,
including Musharraf. In every case, banks in New York
and London and Paris and Tokyo and bureaucrats in
Washington now effectively control national economies
of countries they probably can't find on a map. And
in each case, America doesn't want the debt forgiven.
is not a minor issue. For a generation, foreign debt
has been the primary lever by which wealthy creditors
have forced social programmes to be gutted, public
services to be de-nationalised, i.e privatised, natural
resources to be plundered, national wealth to be shipped
ever northward, the poor to get much poorer, and the
rich to get much much richer. Thirty years ago, economists
and politicians talked of "developing" poorer
countries to bring them up to the living standards
of wealthier countries. Nobody talks about that any
longer. Were back to Andre
Gunder Frank, Samir
Amin and underdevelopment.
all the closed-bid contracts and Halliburton price
gouging, it's barely been noticed that in Iraq, this
sort of economic looting has already taken place over
the past eight months. The Bush Administration has
privatised Iraq's state resources to an extent never
before seen in any poor country. Bush can safely offer
Iraq the prospect of "self-rule" next summer
not only because the participating Iraqis will all
be hand-picked by Washington, but because all the
important policy decisions and most of the wealth
has already been safely removed to the offices of
Halliburton, Bechtel, big oil, and the like.
common thread here is not a new U.S. ideological commitment
to the forgiveness of the debts of dictators; it's
a commitment, as ever, to enriching the Bush White
problem is that the war crimes of Saddam and the economic
crimes of his, or any, dictatorship are linked by
more than the commonality of American exceptionalism.
In country after country, as you read this, HIV-infected
people die for lack of a public health care system;
starvation and disease stalk economies with pandemic
joblessness; and, of course, the small arms bought
with all that debt wind up in the hands of militaries,
paramilitaries, and death squads that are all too
happy to use them on whomever.
kills, as surely as Saddam or his ilk ever have. The
death toll, in fact, is far higher -- tens of millions
in Africa alone.
United States cannot, with any credibility, call for
the trial of Saddam Hussein while it still protects
people like Montt or Pinochet. Similarly, America
cannot, with any credibility, seek retirement of Saddam's
debts while U.S. banks are still cashing, every month,
desperate payments on the debts of dozens of other
past national thieves.
both cases, Bush Administration officials would love
to present their Iraq policies as moral, enlightened,
and compassionate. In both cases, they'll have to
keep washing their hands a lot more to get all the
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