Crony Capitalists Invade Baghdad

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Bush-Cheney crony capitalists are swarming over Baghdad. They are everywhere. Everyone wants a piece of the action.

The proposed $20 billion "reconstruction" budget for Iraq, to be funded by U.S. taxpayers, is an influence peddler’s paradise.

Law firms lead the new Baghdad invasion. The Washington, DC lobbying powerhouse of Patton Boggs reportedly has a representative seeking special favors for a client. According to Newsday, the former law partner of Douglas Feith, one of Bush’s strongest pro-war advocates, has opened a law office with the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi.

Joe Allbaugh, former campaign manager for President Bush, has also opened a "consulting" practice, New Bridge Strategies, with a focus on Iraqi reconstruction, touting its "necessary skills and experience."

The hapless, overwhelmed Paul Bremer has declared Iraq a financial
free-fire zone. Influence peddlers are storming in like U.S. Marines seizing a beachhead.

Each level of involvement brings a need for more private services. The mushrooming business community has demanded "safety" and "security," and, obviously distrusting the very people they claim to have liberated, is importing Nepalese Gurkhas to protect themselves. On and on it goes. A financial free-for-all financed by the working people of America.

Because this invasion force needs to be entertained, hotels and other private operations are now providing entertainment and social exchanges. "Mixers" give American-infested Baghdad the flavor of an after hours college campus.

The use of no-bid contracts was a scandal from the beginning. But even where competition is allowed, influence pays. Or sells. Many of the proposed reconstruction projects have been tailored to the capabilities of American contractors. For example, the two "high security" prisons which are proposed would not even be built before the U.S. is supposedly scheduled to depart, but a contract already in place would create continuing cash flow for a company skilled in building such "max" facilities.

On and on it goes: a literal gravy train, as private contractors gear up to provide food service for troops and civilian employees.

Some people sense a reprise of Viet-Nam. Today’s KBR (Kellogg Brown Root) was known in Viet-Nam as RMK-BRJ, a forerunner of the same firm today. But conditions in Iraq do not resemble Viet-Nam in 1967; they are more like China in 1900.

While Colin Powell mistakenly speaks about "regime remnants" and Saddam loyalists, in reality America faces the beginnings of a modern day Boxer Rebellion. Just as simple Chinese rebelled against foreign domination at the turn of the last century, eventually the "locals" will want their country back, and be prepared to fight for that goal.

Yet the crony capitalists are unfazed. I watch them with amazement. They are brazen and completely open about their self-interest. "Rebuilding a wealthy country, the first time in history that has been attempted," one says, will draw commercial solders of fortune weighted down with laptops and spread sheets instead of ammunition clips.

The only problem with this bonanza is that no one seems to have asked the Iraqis whether they prefer freedom to occupation, or self-improvement to trickle down Republican redevelopment economics.

Where will it all end? Ironically the very excesses of the storm troopers of capitalism are likely to hasten their demise, in so far as American reconstruction is concerned. As more and more people set up shop, the capitalist battle field will becomes too crowded to support such a financial force, all while beneficiaries of the bonanza begin to rebel.

Security demands of the capitalists will also stretch and strain available safe facilities. While U.S. forces will never run out of concrete barriers to erect, Iraqis will become tired of being walled off from their own country, and being walled off from a decision making process which is centered in Washington and northern Virginia, where many opportunistic crony capitalist firms are headquartered. Of course, there is a simpler solution.

Since international law requires the occupier to rebuild an occupied territory and to maintain essential services, why not simply patch up, paint up, shore up and leave Iraq to the Iraqis? We would probably save ten to fifteen billion dollars in the process, and retain some measure of good will. End the occupation. Transfer sovereignty. Leave a small residual reaction fore to assist in the transition.

Things are going much better in the south of Iraq because the British came in with a softer approach, and it worked. Britain’s less confrontational tactics, less rifle-pointing and a general attitude of encouraging cooperation instead of condescension has worked better than the U.S. approach in central Iraq.

If current trends continue, America will waste billions, Iraqis will grow increasingly restive, and chaos will eventually explode, with the crony capitalists beating a hasty retreat to safer precincts.

The suicide bombings which are becoming a daily feature of Baghdad existence are only the precursors of more to come.

Bush should have quit while he was ahead, in April, and dumped the entire mess on the United Nations, which could have then been blamed for any further disorder. Bush seems intent on rebuilding Iraq, and destroying his chances for reelection. But there’s still time to repent and reconsider. Does anyone have Kofi Annan’s phone number?

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