When Unilateralism Becomes Tough
by Kim Petersen
April 14, 2003
The US and UK pursued their aggression on Iraq against world opinion. The US claims a 45-nation so-called “coalition of the willing.” Such stalwart nations as Afghanistan, Albania, and Uzbekistan are listed among the willing coalition members as are the populous Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands. That leaves something like 145 nations as presumably unwilling members.
Without UN imprimatur, the US-UK coalition with a smattering of Australians, the 42 others willingly approving from afar, aggressed the much smaller, disarmed Iraq. Schoolboy scenes of the bigger, older classroom bullies ganging up on the bookish pupil pop to mind. But this image sanitizes the killing too much. US Brigadier-General John Kelly made crystal clear the callous regard for Iraqi life:
They stand, they fight, sometimes they run when we engage them. But often they run into our machine guns and we shoot them down like the morons they are. They appear willing to die. We are trying our best to help them out in that endeavour. (1)
For his bullying crusade President Bush wheedled 75 billion dollars out of the Congress with a few billion for other Congressional pork barrel items thrown in. The US has already granted some non-tender contracts to US companies and plans are underfoot to divvy up further contracts to US firms. Further down the road is the suspected opening of Iraqi oil to US corporate interests.
The US and UK are legally responsible for the restoration of Iraq. Legal responsibility is not the US forte admittedly. It even vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution in 1986 calling on all nations to uphold international law. With such a track record it was hardly surprising when it thumbed its nose at the international community and hypocritically heaped opprobrium on an “irrelevant” UN.
Yet the US and UK have the gall to come cap in hand to the UN to bail them out of their misadventures in Iraq now that they are faced with the daunting costs of Iraq’s reconstruction. The “irrelevant” UN has a lot of leverage now. The US has called on the IMF and World Bank to "play their normal role in rebuilding and developing Iraq." (2) The IMF and World Bank, however, require UN approbation as long as Iraq is under occupation.
At their Belfast meeting President Bush and Prime Minister Blair promised a “vital role” for the UN in Iraq. There was also the promise from Mr. Blair, not occupy Iraq "a day longer than necessary." (3) The UN now has some wherewithal to ensure that it can play its rightful role in Iraq. In fact it should play the lead role. The thought of a Zionist sympathizer ruling an interim government or a wanted criminal, as a representative Iraqi face in government, would be further rubbing salt in the wounds of the Iraqi people.
On top of this the US has seemingly made the generous gesture to have Iraq’s external debts forgiven. How magnanimous when others are required to forgive the bulk of the debts. The Iraqi debt and liabilities could run up to $383 billion. The debt minus the accrued interest is reported to be approximately $80 billion. Of this amount $47 billion is owed to the Gulf States and Kuwait and $12 million to Russia. (4) Russia is somewhat miffed at the suggestion of debt cancellation when it suffers under the burden of a heavy external debt itself. Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said, "We are acting on the basis of the same rules here: we are doing what is being done to us." (5) Germany and France were tepid to the US proposal. While the Iraqi debt to Germany ($2.25 billion) is roughly equivalent to the debt owed to the US ($2.2 billion) and a little more than that owed to France ($1.7 billion), (6) proportionally the US is owed far less money than these countries. It looks like the US is trying to offload reconstruction costs on the backs of other countries.
Here is where things get caught up in a conundrum or responsibility. The US is attempting to shirk its responsibility for the costs incumbent upon an invading and occupying force. The US proposal for doing this is in bald-faced contradiction to longstanding US recalcitrance toward debt forgiveness.
Noam Chomsky points out that the impoverished people of a country are not responsible for money borrowed by dictators like Saddam Hussein, who greedily use the money for selfish purposes. The debt in fact belongs to Mr. Hussein and his cronies. This debt responsibility has been thwarted by “capitalist principle,” whereby the moneylenders accept ruling oligarchs squandering IMF and WB money, refusing to repay, and shifting the burden of repayment onto the poor masses. This risk, however, is unacceptable to the moneylenders and is shifted to western taxpayers and finally again onto the third world peasants. Mr. Chomsky said, “The argument that ‘their country’ borrowed the money so that they are responsible surpasses cynicism, and need not be considered. In fact, it doesn’t even stand up under international law.” Mr. Chomsky considered that First World responsibility for the debt crisis as “huge” and Third World government culpability also as “huge” but noted that these governments were western clients. Mr. Chomsky made clear where the responsibility for the debt lay:
First world responsibility is enormous, so much so that if honesty were conceivable, those who supported folks like Suharto in Indonesia, drove the lending-borrowing craze (then bailing out the banks), and sharply increased interest rates as part of the further shift of power to the rich and privileged in the US (and that’s not all), should he paying the debt themselves. (7)
The US is to be commended for its reversal on debt forgiveness to the Third World. Nonetheless the hypocrisy of the new US twist on debt forgiveness is stark. NGO head Njoki Njoroge Njehu laments:
It seems that after the U.S. prosecutes a nearly unilateral war to take over a devastated, indebted country, it suddenly sees the logic of eliminating illegitimate debts. Millions in Africa have died while the U.S. and its friends at the I.M.F. and World Bank have denied that logic. (8)
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Lindsay Murdoch, "'We shoot them down like the morons they are':US general," Sydney Morning Herald, April 9, 2003: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/04/09/1049567715079.html
(2) Elisabeth Becker, “U.S. and Allies Seek U.N. Resolution to Promote Iraq Aid,” New York Times, 13 April 2003: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/13/international/worldspecial/13BANK.html?ex=1050811200&en=9c002733682cdab0&ei=5062&partner=GOOGLE
(3) Editorial, “UK, US Downplay Divide on UN Role in Post-war Iraq,” People’s Daily, 9 April 2003: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200304/09/eng20030409_114814.shtml
(4) AFP, “War over Iraq’s debt set to begin,” Taipei Times, 12 April 2003: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/worldbiz/archives/2003/04/12/201807
(5) Bond News, “FinMin Kudrin says Russia won't forgive Iraq debt,” Reuters, 12 April 2003: http://reuters.com/financeNewsArticle.jhtml?type=bondsNews&storyID=2554398
(6) Bond News & Jean Jolly, “UPDATE 1-Germany,France cool on Iraq debt write-off call, “Reuters, 11 April 2003: http://reuters.com/financeNewsArticle.jhtml?type=bondsNews&storyID=2551442
(7) Noam Chomsky, “Chomsky and Debt Forgiveness,” The Post, Spring 2002: http://www.ualberta.ca/~parkland/Post/Vol4_No2/Chomsky-debt.html
(8) Quoted in Becker, Ibid