Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bush Administration: Sheer Incompetence or Diverted Attention?

I have written a fair amount about Bush Administration "incompetence," but one way of looking at some of their supposedly "incompetent" actions is that the many important things which they have screw up have generally been things that simply haven't mattered to them. The Bush Administration's attention has been focused on achieving a different set of goals. One of the most shocking things about the US occupation of Iraq is the amount of attention that was devoted to making Iraq hospitable for US corporations. In the early days of the occupation certainly, this was a primary concern of the Bush Administration. But I had assumed that with the insurgency out of control, such concerns on the part of the Bush Administration would have gone by the wayside. But an article by Antonia Juhasz entitled Are US corporations going to win the war in Iraq? suggests otherwise.

First, Juhasz explains how the government's pandering to corporate interests came at the expense of local (more cost-effective) initiatives:
…U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, author of a U.S. government study on the likely effect that U.S. bombardment would have on Iraq’s power system, said, “frankly, if we had just given the Iraqis some baling wire and a little bit of space to keep things running, it would have been better. But instead we’ve let big U.S. companies go in with plans for major overhauls.”

In his position as U.S. administrator of the occupation of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer fired all of the senior administrators in every Iraqi ministry and passed a law allowing for preference to be given to U.S. — rather than Iraqi — companies and workers in the reconstruction. What followed was a U.S. corporate invasion of Iraq. Many companies had their sights set on privatization in Iraq, also made possible by Bremer, which helps explain their interest in “major overhauls” rather than getting the systems up and running…
Do you know what a PSA is? I didn't know what a "PSA" was until I read this article. Antonia Juhasz explains why they matter so much to big oil companies. It seems PSAs might explain the nature of the Bush Administration's commitment to Iraq:
Meeting four times between December 2002 and April 20
03, members of the U.S. State Department’s Oil and Energy Working Group agreed that Iraq “should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war” and that the best method for doing so was through Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs).

None of the top oil producers in the Middle East use PSAs because they favor private companies at the expense of the exporting governments. In fact, PSAs are only used in respect to about 12 percent of world oil reserves. PSAs are the favorite of international oil companies and the worst-case scenario for oil-rich states.

In August 2004, the U.S.-appointed interim Prime Minster of Iraq, Ayad Allawi (a former CIA operative), submitted guidelines for a new petroleum law recommending that the “Iraqi government disengage from running the oil sector” and that all undeveloped oil and gas fields in Iraq be turned over to private international oil companies using PSAs. Allawi’s proposal is the basis of the current proposed oil law and could potentially give foreign companies control over approximately 87 percent of Iraq’s oil.

…This past July, U.S. Energy Secretary Bodman announced in Baghdad that senior U.S. oil company executives told him they would not enter Iraq without passage of the new law.

This month, Petroleum Economist Magazine reported that U.S. oil companies put passage of the oil law before security concerns as the deciding factor over their entry into Iraq. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, reserves that are cheap to exploit and worth literally trillions of dollars. U.S. oil companies want in, but on their own terms. They are, quite simply, trying to get the best deal possible out of a war-ravaged and occupied nation. They are also holding U.S. troops hostage. Let’s face it, once they get their lucrative contracts, they will still demand protection to get to work. What better security force is there than 140,000 American troops?
There are many unanswered questions about the US Administration's goals in Iraq. The excution of the post-invasion US occupation of Iraq is frequently described as "incompetent." Why for example, did they refuse to send sufficient troops to win? One explination might be that the whole occupation was intended not as a measure to build a strong Iraq, but as a way to secure an Iraq just weak enough to accept PSAs. So perhaps the administration was leery of helping Iraq recover fully, and hoped to keep its government "just weak enough' to accept the terms of US multinationals. In any number of recent books about about the US invasion and its aftermath, the authors make the case that the Bush Administration had this second set of goals so much in mind in the initial stages that their eyes were taken off the ball with regards to the insurgency.

To what extent this is still happening, is rathter speculative, and I would attribute many current problems in Iraq to the sheer incompetence of the US Administration. But the mess in Iraq today is both so overwhelming and so much a product of the US decision-making process, that it is important to ask whether, even now, anyone in the administration really has their eyes are on the ball. That is, on the ball that matters to those of us who don't control multinational corporations.

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