Shopping In Iraq Informed Observer

Shopping in Iraq

An informed observer writes:

” The thrust of the Farnaz Fassihi email, now, if not before, in the mainstream, and Dexter Filkins’ addendum in the NY Times today, was apparent before, but not in confirmed and undeniable detail. Among other things, those two reports render the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz complaints about the press beyond the absurd (surely any idiot knows that if DOD cannot protect the reporters, it is not their fault that they do not render “fair and balanced” reports; but then, too, any idiot knows that that is not what Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz had in mind, among other things, but, in any event, it is highly unlikely that even they, with all their assumed intelligence input, have a “fair and balanced picture” of what is in fact happening in Iraq).

A vital element in the democratic “beacon light” program, if that is what Iraq is intended by current US policy to be, is publicity, which in turn raises the question, whose news matters. There is substance and Public Relations, and whose news reports (Reuters/AP/ and the English speakers v al-Jazeera, et al in Arabic) matter, most especially because few Iraqis and few others in the Region read the NY Times or Washington Post.

Yet, there are things that can be covered in English and have reverberations throughout the global business and financial communities, which, even under the circumstances, should be deemed as important, one would have thought, as the bombings and the occasional speech or press conferences by Allawi et al.

In addition, a main “center-piece” of any such program must be economic development.

Exhibit A is a piece in the Guardian by Rory McCarthy. Forget the Guardian bias and all the rest, if all we Americans have been able to give one clearly not unimportant company manager is $500,000 – no restructuring plan, no marketing plan, no ideas about immediately available efficiencies, no technology and no other apparent assistance, except to tell him that his employees’ salaries have now been doubled – and he is surely one of hundreds, if not thousands, the unreported story of the day would seem to be how abysmally far from prosperity Iraq is in fact and what little is being done about it.

Put bluntly: did anyone say, ok, let’s see what you can be produce, where can it be sold and if we can support your new payroll and salary levels with expanding sales, and, if it all depends on reconstruction projects, we’ll get you in touch with x and y? And, of course, you need all new machinery and equipment, and we will see that you get it, but let’s see what we can do for the moment. Bremer had no idea how to do that, nor did Foley, nor any of the rest of the President-loyal hacks who were sent over there. We have all kinds of people in America, some literally standing by, who could help in real-world ways, but would not touch Iraq at the moment with a barge-pole as things stand now, not entirely because of security conditions, but also because they do not know what the rules of the game are and are going to be. We proclaim that we are the guardians of the rule of law, not men, but company lawyers worldwide are tasked with minimizing economic risk and relied upon for their legal opinions to the effect that any risks are not legal or political, but commercial. Even if, miraculously, Iraq were a weaponless nirvana tomorrow, there would be little non-government guaranteed investment in Iraq, because of the legal mess the Bush administration has made.

What we have said to the Iraqis loud and clear, among other things, in the case of gasoline, cement and wheat (and all the consumer goods now in the shops), no problem, the imports are on the way. The obvious and elementary point is that, in a situation like Iraq, you cannot simply pass 100 laws, of dubious legality, and open the borders to “free competition,” and leave it at that, which is what, in the main, we have done to Iraq from the standpoint of economics and “prosperity.” Indeed, such a policy is a predictable prescription for Iraq to become an irrevocably poor country, with a rentier class at the top.

There is inevitably (given the Election Law, based upon the Perelli recommendation) going to be an “establishment” coalition “party list” in the January elections, if held. But a pseudo-parliamentary, in all events, again, temporary and provisional government, establishing policy for and supervising a cabinet of ministers, who administer somewhere north of 60-70% of the entire Iraqi economy, without an announced or even cabinet-wide coherent economic program or party discipline is a prescription for, at a minimum, gross inefficiency.

The Bush “beacon light” policy appears to be based, at least in significant part, upon the quintessential notion that “terrorism” can be defeated by freedom, democracy and prosperity in at least one country in the Middle East, if it spreads from there to the rest of the Arab/Muslim world. (Note that that should be deemed an affront to Egypt, but we Americans seem to have written Egypt off once they signed you know what, although $billions in compensation payments disappear there.)

Prosperity derives from production, not consumption (because anything consumed must be produced), notwithstanding the phony emphasis placed upon GDP, which now reflects only consumption. Unless one has inherited wealth, is in retirement, with a cash or equivalent bundle, or has won a lottery, there is little consumption unaccompanied by at least some production.

In short, the elections are only notionally half the story, and, I would argue, the lesser half. There was a “privatize, privatize, privatize” mindset in DOD and the CPA. But who would “own” that which was privatized, and who would at least attempt to get some things done to deal with the prosperity portion of the ostensible US policy, until that happened?

No one should forget that among President Bush’s first “leadership” acts after September 11 was to tell us all to go out and shop. ”