Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  

Pax (Latin) Americana
FDR is to David O. Selznick as George W. Bush is to _____?

The White House is absolutely spectacular at filling the seats. They promise amazing spectacle. Tax cuts: great for a bull market, even better for a bear market. Invasion of Iraq: regime change, freedom for Iraqis, abated risk from WMD and terrorism, and peace and democracy in the Middle East. Man, that’s a helluva trailer. Trouble is, the movie stinks. We were promised adoring crowds—we got the finger. We were promised cooperation and order—we got looting and revenge. Not that anyone expected it to go smoothly (well, no one outside the administration, anyway)—but man, is this ever a half-assed exercise, or what?

(The answer, for those playing at home, is of course Jerry Bruckheimer.)

So now that we’ve entered the “rebuilding” phase, we’ll be hearing a lot of platitudes. The message isn’t complete yet—the White House is still doing some audience testing. (Responding to concerns about the UN, the White House carefully crafted the “vital role” message, to much fanfare.) Rest assured, though: it will have the broad assurances and splashy bromides characteristic of a Bush trailer. None of which will be the actual goal—it’s just the sales pitch. Once he’s got the populace dewy-eyed and flag-draped, he’ll get down to the real task at hand.

And what is the task at hand? My guess: the Latin-Americanization of the Middle East.

There’s a reason Iraq was such a great country to invade—it’s unrulable, at least in the short term. Weighted down by hundreds of billions in foreign debt and confronting the burning rage of a divided population, Iraq is spoiling for years or decades of instability. From the US’s point of view, this means opportunity. It can support whatever government emerges, and in a pattern well-established in Latin America, slowly bind the country to the US through a kind of free-market colonialism.

This process is described by William Finnegan in the May Harper’s. He uses Bolivia as the example.

”Like many poor countries, Bolivia was subjected to what is blandly known as structural adjustment—a set of standardized, far-reaching austerity and ‘openness’ measures that typically include the removal of restrictions on foreign investment, the abolition of public subsidies and labor rights, reduced state spending, deregulation, lower tariffs, tighter credit, the encouragement of export-oriented industries, lower marginal tax rates, currency devaluation, and the sale of major public enterprises. In Bolivia’s case, the latter included the national railways, the national airlines, the telephone system, the country’s vast tin mines, and a long list of municipal utilities…. The country’s small, white, wealthy political class seemed to have come to a quiet understanding with the international bankers. The power of the workers and peasants, once organized and formidable, was clearly broken; all of the major parties were now business aligned. And so the parties began to trade the presidency around every election cycle, and their leaders found that they could collaborate profitably with the international corporations that came to run the phone company or pump the oil and gas.”

The process above, instituted through the IMF and World Bank, will play out very nearly the same, although likely under different auspices (the foreign debt-holders, say). Iraq’s weakness makes it ideal for puppet (though democratically-elected) leadership. That it has oil wells and an impressive infrastructure make it desirable to foreign corporations who will naturally take control, as in Bolivia’s case.

Ironically, this process would be far more difficult in a country less disposed to democratic rule. Other attempts to control non-democratic countries in the Middle East are well-documented failures (US dealings with Saddam Hussein a spectacular example). It is only under the guise of independent rule that the US has any hope of establishing control in the region, and it is only with a divided, weakened country like Iraq that there is hope for a controllable, Latin-America style democracy.

The process feeds on division. While foolish anti-war types like me were busy howling that this war would destablize the region, Rumsfeld was nodding sagely: that's the only way this model can spread. In countries like Iran, where the population is generally homogenous, the Bushies need to stir up a little trouble. As a new regime establishes itself in Iraq, there will inevitably be charges that it's a US puppet. The fall-out will lead to divided populations. The evidence that the US is after destablization abounds (and I don't know how I missed it): the war's not even over, and the US threatens Syria? An ally?

And so the US fiddles while Iraqis loot. Even the most nonpolitical Americans have a gut sense that this probably isn’t so hot for a healthy democracy in the long run. They wonder why the US didn’t foresee or try to prevent it. We’re left to conclude that a healthy democracy isn’t what the President’s after. He’s after an unhealthy one. And for that, looting and revenge are just what the free-market colonialist ordered.

posted by Jeff | 10:59 AM |
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