by Matt Taibbi
There is a growing number of people out there who believe the Reid-Pelosi Iraq war supplemental is a gigantic crock of shit, and who think the Democratic Party leadership should now officially be labeled conspirators in the war effort. I've even seen it suggested that Reid and Pelosi should now be sent official "certificates of war ownership," to formally put them in a club with Bush, Cheney, Richard Perle and the rest of the actual war authors.
The growing tension between the real antiwar movement and the Democratic Party was reflected in a long article over the weekend in the New York Times. "Antiwar Groups Use New Clout to Influence Democrats." The piece that described how an umbrella group of antiwar activists called Americans Against the Escalation in Iraq was ready to drop the public relations hammer on the Dems, should they cave too easily in their negotiations with the president.
The thinking goes something like this: the Democrats, who are mostly the same people who voted for the war in the first place, don't really want to end it. They do, however, want to take political advantage of antiwar sentiment. So they will appear to be against the conflict but set things up in such a way that their "efforts" to end the war will fall just slightly short, like a fourth-quarter pass thrown by a point-shaving quarterback.
I was squarely in that camp until recently, when it occurred to me to wonder; if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were to wake up one morning with innocent, uncorrupted brains and decide, really decide, to end the war in Iraq, how exactly would they do it? And the answer, I think we all have to admit, is: they would do it exactly the way they're doing it now.
Neither of these Democratic leaders, after all, are Huey Newton, or even Benjamin Spock. They are not going to get up on a table, shake a shoe in the direction of the White House, shout "Fuck you, pig!" and just turn off the money, consequences be damned. No, these are career bureaucrats, political herd animals who survive year after year by clinging for dear life to the concept of safety in numbers. They will watch the bushes with great big eyes to see what is rustling back there, and when exactly two-thirds of the herd decides to bolt, they all will -- not just the Democrats, but the Boehners and McConnells too, leaping over logs, tearing off big chunks of fur against the bark of trees, etc.
I can certainly see a scenario in which people like Reid and Pelosi would make a secret deal to compromise now and give Bush his money, in exchange for another bite at the apple later this year -- by which time a veto-overriding coalition of Democrats and "moderate" Republicans will have magically coalesced. The Republicans crossing the picket line later this summer will inevitably claim to have done so with heavy heart, out of principle and "concern for the safety of the troops," and yet at the same time there will mysteriously appear a new raft of appropriations calling for expensive dam and highway projects in certain districts. That tends to be the blueprint for how 67% of congress will catch up to 67% of the population on major issues like these.
So maybe Reid and Pelosi really are working the phones on this one, who knows. What I do know is this; there are elements of the Democratic-crafted Iraq supplemental that are not only severely regressive but would actually tend to encourage the continuation of the insurgency. Anyone who wants an example of why the areas in which the Democrats and Republicans are in agreement are more significant than the ones in which they differ need only look at the two parties nearly unanimous endorsement of the "Benchmarks" the Iraqi government must meet, according to the supplemental. The key passage reads as follows:
(2) whether the Government of Iraq is making substantial progress in meeting its commitment to pursue reconciliation initiatives, including a hydro-carbon law...
It is notable that the hydrocarbon law comes in first place in this clause, ahead of "legislation necessary for the conduct of provincial and local elections," reform of de-Baathification laws, amendments to the constitution and allocation of revenues for reconstruction projects. For whether or not it really was "all about oil" at the beginning of the war, the fate of the occupation really does hinge almost entirely upon oil initiatives now, as the continued presence of U.S. troops in the region may depend on whether or not the Iraqi government bites the bullet and decides to eat the proposed hydrocarbon law in question.
The law, endorsed here by the Democrats, is an unusually vicious piece of legislation, an open blueprint for colonial robbery of the Iraqi nation. It is worth pointing out that if you go back far enough in the history of this business, the law actually makes the U.S. an accomplice in the repression of Saddam Hussein, the very thing we claim to be rescuing the country from.
This has all been described at length by better reporters than myself, people like Michael Schwartz and Tom Engelhardt, but the genesis of the proposed law goes something like this:
During the Saddam years, the Iraqi government racked up massive debts as Hussein stole outright much of the country's oil revenues and built himself elaborate palaces packed with gold leafing and Balinese whores and whatever else assholes of that ilk use to furnish their garish pink mansions. Upon occupying the country, the United States agreed to forgive some of that debt in exchange for its acceptance of a "standard International Monetary Fund program," which among other things included an end to consumer price controls on food and fuel -- a move that, whatever one's feelings about government price controls may be, inarguably made it more difficult for a newly-impoverished, war-torn population to afford to eat.
Another condition was the liberalization of the economy, and the opening up of the oil industry to foreign interests. To recap: Saddam Hussein rips off Iraqi people, America "liberates" said people from Saddam, then bludgeons them with Saddam's debts until they hand over the keys to the oil industry. Nice deal, yes?
The proposed Hydrocarbon Law is a result of pressure from the American government on the Iraqis to draft an oil policy that would adhere to the IMF guidelines. It allows foreign companies to take advantage of Iraqi oil fields by allowing regions to pair up with foreigners using what are known as "production-sharing agreements" or PSAs, which guarantee investing companies large shares of the profits for decades into the future. The law also makes it impossible for the Iraqi state to regulate levels of oil production (seriously undermining OPEC), allows oil companies to repatriate profits, and would also allow companies to hire foreign workers to man facilities. Add all the measures up and the Hydrocarbon law not only takes control of the oil industry away from the Iraqi state, but virtually guarantees that the state will profit very little from future oil exploitation.
Now, I live in America and have been known to drive a car occasionally and I also understand something else -- when mighty industrial countries need oil or anything else, they're going to take it. They're also unlikely to acquiesce forever to the whims of an organization like OPEC out of mere morality and decency, when military power can change the equation. Anyone who's going to be shocked, shocked by this kind of shit had better be prepared to live in a tent and eat twigs and berries instead of African cocoa or Central American sugar or any of the millions of other products we basically steal from hungry, dark-skinned people around the world on a daily basis.
But I'll tell you what I can do without. I can do without having to listen to American journalists, as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle, bitch and moan about how the Iraqi government better start "shaping up" and "taking responsibility" and "showing progress" if they want the continued blessing of American military power. Virtually every major newspaper in the country and every hack in Washington has lumped all the "benchmarks" together, painting them as concrete signs that, if met, would mean the Iraqi government is showing "progress" or "good faith."
"President Bush will not support a war spending bill that punishes the Iraqi government for failing to meet benchmarks for progress," was how the AP put it.
"Among the mile markers that should be used to measure Iraqi progress is a finalized revenue-sharing agreement on current and future oil reserves," was the formulation of the Savannah Daily News.
Still other papers, like the Baltimore Sun, cast the supplemental as a means of exercising "tough love" with the lazy and ungrateful Iraqis, who to date have failed to show interest in governing their own country. "The talk around Congress," wrote the Sun, "was of putting together a bill with (probably nonbinding) benchmarks, designed to hold the feet of the Iraqi government to the fire -- or at least near the fire."
The title of the Sun editorial, humorously, was "Small steps" -- as if such a radical decision about what may turn out to be a fourth of the world's oil reserves is a "small step."
Of course, among politicians, it was the same bullshit. "And we now have to see... a good-faith effort on the part of the Iraqi government," said Maine's Olympia Snowe, "that they're prepared to do what it's going to require to achieve a political consensus." The recently "antiwar" Chuck Hagel concurred: "We're seen the Iraqi government miss benchmark after benchmark," he said. "You have to connect consequences to those in some way."
Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, described the benchmarks as a means to "hold the Iraqi government accountable." As if their failure to pass the Oil law would make them "not accountable."
Moreover, let's just say this about the Democratic Party. They can wash their hands of this war as much as they want publicly, but their endorsement of this crude neocolonial exploitation plan makes them accomplices in the occupation, and further legitimizes the insurgency. It is hard to argue with the logic of armed resistance to U.S. forces in Iraq when both American parties, representing the vast majority of the American voting public, endorse the same draconian plan to rob the country's riches. This isn't a situation in which there's going to be a better deal down the road, after Bush gets thrown out of office. Looking at it from that point of view, peaceful cooperation with the Americans is therefore probably impossible for any patriotic Iraqi; the economic consequences are too severe.
(A side note: there's also an argument to be made that the smart play for the Iraqis is to cooperate now, and then tear up any agreement made with the Americans once they get their troops out. The instant our army leaves, any "laws" passed now under American pressure will be meaningless anyway. Yeah, sure, take all the oil you want... hey, do you want these bath towels, too? Oh, wait, you're leaving? You sure you can't stay? Etc.)
Moreover, this endorsement of these neoliberal "benchmarks" by the Democrats makes me believe a lot less in their "gradualist" approach to ending the war. If they viewed the war as much of the world did, as a murderous and profoundly immoral criminal enterprise, they would understand that morally, they really have no choice now but to refuse to send Bush even a dime more for this war. After all, it's impossible to justify on any level voting to give George Bush more money for more troops "in the short run" if you believe that the occupation is fundamentally evil and exploitative. But the Democrats clearly do not believe it is wrong. They don't even mind having a big hand in it. They just don't think it's going very well, and understand that in the long run, it's a non-starter politically.
And that, in the end, is about the best thing you can say about Democrats -- they are just barely smart enough to step out of a burning house. Well, maybe they are. Tune in next fall, for the next supplemental...
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