Friday, December 12, 2003

Bush-style diplomacy

Small-minded, petty and vindictive. These are words that best desribe Bush’s attitude towards our allies and helps explain why we are becoming increasingly isolated in our efforts to pull ourselves out of the quagmire in Iraq.

Bush’s decision to keep the spoils of war for himself and his friends is really not surprising considering his background. It sounds sensible enough in a simplistic way and it fits with Bush’s overall “My way or the highway” style of diplomacy. But these kinds of juvenile schoolyard antics may excite Bush’s right-wing supporters, but they don’t fare as well on the international stage. I’m afraid the end result will be that U.S. troops and U.S. taxpayers will continue to shoulder the brunt of the workload in Iraq for the forseeable future.

We are essentially punishing allies like France, Germany, Russia and Canada because they were right in their initial assessment that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat. Their doubts about his supposed arsenal of WMDs have proven to be prescient. And in a brilliant stroke of diplomacy by Bush Co., we are beating them over the head with this rebuke at the exact same time that we are going to them on bended knee with hat in hand to beg for more money to support the reconstruction efforts. The Wall Street Journal has a good story about this today on page A5:

“Former Secrestary of State James Baker did President Bush a favor by agreeing to lobby U.S. allies to write off $120 billion in Iraqi debts. But Mr. Bush did his old family friend no favor at all by angering Iraq’s major foreign creditors just before he sent Mr. Baker overseas to plead for their generosity...
“It looks terribly clumsy, poorly timed and it looks vindictive,” said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, which has long experience in developing world debt negotiations.”

In the meantime, we find out today that Dick Cheney’s Halliburton has been gouging U.S. taxpayers with overpriced gas and other services. That’s good to know now that Bush has cleared much of the competition away for the remaining contracts. Halliburton can continue to bilk U.S. taxpayers for the forseeable future because they have ‘friends in high places.’


I said the Iraqi contracts decision was small-minded, petty and vindictive. But William Kristol at the conservative Weekly Standard goes one step further and calls it ‘dumb.’

“A truly wise American administration would have opened the bidding to all comers, regardless of their opposition to the war -- as a way of buying those countries into the Iraq effort, building a little goodwill for the future, and demonstrating to the world a little magnanimity.
But instead of being smart, clever, or magnanimous, the Bush Administration has done a dumb thing. The announcement of a policy of discriminating against French, German, and Russian firms has made credible European charges of vindictive pettiness and general disregard for the opinion of even fellow liberal democracies. More important, it has made former Secretary of State James Baker's very important effort to get these countries, among others, to offer debt relief for the new government of Iraq almost impossible. This is to say nothing of other areas where we need to work with these governments.
This decision is a blunder. We trust it will be reversed.”

No, sorry Mr. Kristol. Bush is currently defending the decision, not reversing it. We are not talking about a wise administration here.

Josh Marshall knocks the argument that this decision will somehow encourage these governments to cooperate with us in the near future:

“Some folks seem to be under the misimpression that there's some clever bargaining going on here. There's not.
Think about it. The whole pot is about $20 billion. Let's imagine the French and the Germans both got fabulously lucky and their companies managed to land contracts for a billion a piece. Does anyone think that Germany or France are going to write off billions of dollars in Iraqi loans or invite a backlash from their anti-Iraq war publics by sending in some troops all for the privilege of having the French or German versions of Halliburton or Bechtel make a few million dollars?
Of course, not.”

Paul Krugman thinks the decision was a deliberate attempt to screw up efforts at reconciliation with our allies by hard-right elements of the Bush administration. Of course, my only question is which elements of Bush Co. are not hard-right?

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