Iraq, The Study Group, and Bush’s ‘Stay the Course’

By: Rowan Wolf of Uncommon Thought Journal

The Iraq Study Group released its report on December 6, 2006. It has generated tremendous commentary and response. Much has been made of the 79 recommendations made in the report. However, one must wonder if they have generated so much support because they present a plan (totally lacking from the Bush administration), or because they have an inherent value in themselves.

The ISG’s report has largely been rejected by Bush. It is not the first time he has turned away from a graceful change of policy on Iraq. He purportedly wants to “win” in Iraq, but neither Bush, nor the ISG, put forward what “winning” or even “success” actually means.

On the positive side of the report, it clearly describes a reality in Iraq that the Administration has denied: “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” It also clearly states that rather than the press focusing on the negatives in Iraq as Bush has claimed that the violence is underreported:

In addition, there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases.” (pg 94 of the report)

On the negative side, it attempts to throw the ball into the Iraqi government’s court. The Study Group argues that Iraq needs to step up and take action and responsibility. It presents an image of a government that is woefully (and perhaps willfully) not meeting its obligations. According to the ISG, “the government of Iraq is not demonstrating effective partnership“, and the U.S. should “rescind funding” of those projects where the government is not stepping up (pg 89). It seems to be that this misrepresents, or at least overstates, the power that the Iraqi government actually has.

The Iraq offensive has had errors from day one. Not the least was invading Iraq to overthrow Hussein in the first place. Hussein was painted as a significant threat to the United States. He was not. He was painted as supporting al Qaeda (which he did not) and it was insinuated that he was linked to the events of September 11, 2001 (which he was not). Based upon an incorrect (and possibly manufactured) claim that Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” (including a nuclear weapon that could be launched in 45 minutes) Bush authorized a preemptive invasion of Iraq.

In garnering support of Congress and the people of the United States, these fears were promulgated, while the costs (and time frame) of the invasion were minimized (Rumsfeld – six days, six weeks, I doubt six months), and cost neutral (Wolfowitz – Iraq oil would pay for the war).

It is here where we perhaps get to the heart of the issue regarding Iraq – oil and profit.

Iraq was viewed by the Bush administration (and by the Project for A New American Century) as a tremendous opportunity, and as a grand experiment. The opportunity was to extend direct control of the United States into the heart of the Middle East, and thereby control not only Iraq’s oil reserves, but the reserves of the region. It was also an experiment in that Iraq would be the proving ground for unfettered capitalism. This would requiring prying loose the government controls, and national ownership of both resources and industries. This experiment in unfettered capitalism was labeled as “democracy.”

The plan was to displace not only Hussein, but the entire governmental, administrative, and economic structure of Iraq. To that end, the U.S. not only displaced Hussein, but also depopulated government, critical services, and the military of the “Baathists.” All social structure and control collapsed. A power vacuum, as well as chaos, replaced it. I believe that the plan was to swiftly insert Chalabi as a pawn President and then transition over to a structure that met the visions of the PNAC dreamers. However, the Chalabi plan failed. There were not adequate “coalition” forces in Iraq to fill the gap left by the dismantling of all official social structures, nor to control the chaos that soon broke out.

Instead, the Coalition Provisional Authority was put in place. The job of the CPA did not seem to be to craft peace out of chaos, but to move along what we might call the “Iraqi experiment.” Namely, the shifting of all state control of resources and services into the hands of business – U.S. business. No-bid, cost plus contracts were handed out to major U.S. corporations raising the ire of France, Russia, Germany and others. More telling, and more direct, was the approval of PSA’s (Production Sharing Agreements) which shifted the control of Iraq’s natural resources from the government to private companies – namely U.S. corporations (Muttit, 11/2005 – pdf). As explained in the “Crude Designs” report:

The development model being promoted in Iraq, and supported by key figures in the Oil Ministry, is based on contracts known as production sharing agreements (PSAs), which have existed in the oil industry since the late 1960s. Oil experts agree that their purpose is largely political: technically they keep legal ownership of oil reserves in state hands3, while practically delivering oil companies the same results as the concession agreements they replaced.

Running to hundreds of pages of complex legal and financial language and generally subject to commercial confidentiality provisions, PSAs are effectively immune from public scrutiny and lock governments into economic terms that cannot be altered for decades.

The predicted consequences (also in the Muttit report)?

At an oil price of $40 per barrel, Iraq stands to lose between $74 billion and $194 billion over the lifetime of the proposed contracts2, from only the first 12 oil fields to be developed. These estimates, based on conservative assumptions, represent between two and seven times the current Iraqi government budget.

Under the likely terms of the contracts, oil company rates of return from investing in Iraq would range from 42% to 162%, far in excess of usual industry minimum target of around 12% return on investment. (page 4)

Hence we see two lies revealed at once. First the lie that Iraqi oil would “pay for” the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq as put forward by Wolfowitz and the administration. Second, the lie put forward by the Iraq Study Group regarding the power the Iraqi government has to fund its own projects that aren’t “performing” to U.S. expectations. Iraq’s oil is firmly in the control of transnational corporations, as is most of the rebuilding of its infrastructure. Therefore, in threatening to defund projects, the U.S. remains firmly in control of Iraq (and Iraq’s government) whether there are “troops on the ground” or not.

The report also calls for the government to shut down the militias. However, the militia of Sadr (the Sadr Brigade) is perhaps the only Iraqi controlled military of any size in Iraq. It is also officially represented in the Iraqi government. Further – the Sadr group was elected (democratically) just as was Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. The ISG is effectively calling for the removal of a democratically elected part of the Iraqi government, and argues that this will lead to stability. It seems more likely that the ousting of Sadr, his forces, and his support, will likely doom Iraq to more time without an official government. Maliki is virtually dependent of Sadr’s support (and the power of his militia) to stay in power at all.

All of this brings us back to Bush’s refusal to change strategy. I have no doubt that he is a pugnacious and stubborn man – he has adequately demonstrated that. However, there is a lot on the line for Bush (his desire to show up his father not being the least of them). Under the mess that the administration has created, withdrawal of U.S. troops, or U.S. budgetary funding, strands all of those no bid contractors and beneficiaries of PSA’s in the cold. The billions in pure profit would be lost, and the real Bush backers would be tremendously damaged. On a more intellectual level, the “Iraq experiment” would have dramatically failed. Unfettered capitalism fronting as “democracy” would be lost. The long term plan of control (and profit), and “protecting” of “U.S. interests” might be permanently damaged.

The changes in support for the U.S. occupation of Iraq are stunning. They go beyond the lack of support of the American public. The recent polls show that 71% of the public disagrees with Bush on Iraq. However, even more stunning is that Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon has come out staunchly against Bush on Iraq calling it “absurd” or “even criminal.” Below is part of his speech as covered on CNN and posted at YouTube.

(You may see the entire 23 minute statement via Google video)

Before the invasion of Iraq, Colin Powell cautioned “if you break it you own it.” Well we have truly broken Iraq and the costs are high all around – particularly for the Iraqi people themselves, but more broadly the entire region. However, it is not only Bush who refuses to see reality in Iraq. The press continues to report the U.S. “victories.” One recent example was the reporting that an air strike on Thar Thar (north of Baghdad) had killed 20 al Qaeda. Unfortunately, the seventeen people who died were civilians – including five women and six children. To make matters worse, photographs confirmed the civilian deaths.

George Bush Sr. has made a career of cleaning up after his namesake. The Iraq Study Group might be yet another attempt to do so. Perhaps it is not surprising that Bush Sr. broke into sobs while praising his son Jeb upon Jeb’s exit from the Florida governorship. It was Jeb who was supposed to sit in the White House – not George. It was Jeb who was to carry on the Bush legacy. Now, the scale of George junior’s failings are beyond repair, and George senior’s dreams lies in tatters. The consequences of George W.s’ actions are leaving a bloody and destructive trail. The “misjudgements” are devastating for Iraqi’s, for the region, for the U.S. and coalition forces, and for the United States as a whole. Can Humpty Dumpty, now lying in shards, be put back together? One hopes that is possible, but it seems highly unlikely that George W. Bush will be the one who does it.

Other Articles of Interest
Heather Wokusch. 12/03/05. CommonDreams. Mission Accomplished: Big Oil’s Occupation of Iraq

Gilbert Achar. 2/2002. Monthly Review (V 11 N 55). U.S. Imperial Strategy in the Middle East

Ed Harriman. 11/21/06. London Review of Books. The Least Accountable Regime in the Middle East

Paul Harris & Peter Beaumont. 12/10/06. Guardian. After Baker, what next for the war in Iraq?

Walter Pincus. 12/10/06. Wa. Post. Training Iraqis May Pose Risks For U.S.

John Broder & Robin Toner. 12/10/06. NY Times. Report on Iraq Exposes Divide Within G.O.P.

Published in: on 12/10/2006 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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