March 31, 2006

What REALLY Went Wrong In Iraq?

It's the Fascism, stupid. Michael Schwartz challenges a few media stereotypes:
We do not remember much of this now, but just after Saddam was toppled the American victors announced that a sweeping reform of Iraqi society would take place. The only part of this still much mentioned today -- the now widely regretted dismantling of the Iraqi military -- was but one aspect of a far larger effort to dismantle the entire Baathist state apparatus, most notably the government-owned factories and other enterprises that constituted just about 40% of the Iraqi economy. This process of dismantling included attempts, still ongoing, to remove various food, product, and fuel subsidies that guaranteed low-income Iraqis basic staples, even when they had no gainful employment.

Without going into the tortured details (forcefully described at the time by Naomi Klein in an indispensable Harpers article), this neo-liberal "shock treatment" was adapted from programs undertaken by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank all around the globe in the 1990s, including those that immiserated Russia after the USSR collapsed and that helped to bankrupt Argentina. Because the privatizers of the Bush administration were, however, in control of a largely prostrate and conquered country, the Iraqi reforms were enacted more swiftly and in a far more draconian manner than anywhere else on the planet. Within six months, for example, the American occupation government, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), had promulgated all manner of laws designed to privatize everything in Iraq except established oil reserves. (New oil discoveries, however, were to be privatized.) All restrictions were also taken off foreign corporations intent on buying full control of Iraqi enterprises; nor were demands to be made of those companies to reinvest any of their profits in Iraq.

At the same time, state-owned enterprises were to be demobilized and sidelined. They were to be prevented from participating either in repairing facilities damaged during the invasion (or degraded by the decade of sanctions that preceded it) or in any of the initially ambitious reconstruction projects the U.S. commissioned. This policy was so strict that even state-owned enterprises with specific expertise in Iraqi electrical, sanitation, and water purification systems -- not to speak of Iraq's massive cement industry -- were forbidden from obtaining subcontracts from the multinational corporations placed in charge of rejuvenating the country's infrastructure...
Schwarz says the flood of cheap goods from multinational companies (which was touted by many as a symbol of progress) led to the collapse of local businesses and an immediate unemployment crisis. This economic hardship, coupled with a lack of functional government, created depressed neighborhoods which became "incubators for ferocious criminal gangs". The first wave of protests were peaceful...
It is now lost to history, but the run-up to the ferocious first battle of Falluja in April, 2004 -- triggered by the mutilation of four private security contractors -- actually began a full year earlier when American troops fired on a peaceful protest organized around a host of local issues, killing 13 Iraqi civilians...

In fact, in 2003, the occupation response to protests was forceful, almost gleeful, repression... Protests were met with arrests, beatings, and -- in any circumstances deemed dangerous to U.S. troops -- overwhelming, often lethal military force...

In such circumstances, each act of repression added the provocation of brutality, false arrest, torture, and murder to the economic crimes that triggered the protests to begin with. And each act of repression convinced more Iraqis that peaceful protest would not work; that, if they were going to save their lives and those of their families, a more aggressive, belligerent approach would be necessary.
Schwarz concludes that the US media have failed to appreciate the corrosive effect of "an American administration wedded at home and abroad to a fierce, unbending, and alien set of economic ideas".
They ignore -- and cause the American public to ignore -- the fact that there was little resistance just after the fall of Baghdad and that it expanded as the economy declined and repression set in. They ignore the eternal verity that the willingness to fight and die is regularly animated by the conviction that otherwise things will only get worse.
And that last important point is exactly what I was trying to address yesterday.


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