[Marxism] Naomi Klein: US must pay for wrecking Iraq (and some points about plunder)

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Dec 29 08:32:14 MST 2004

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 Home  Issues  January 10, 2005 issue  You Break It, You Pay For It
Naomi Klein (I don't care who she voted for, she is pretty sharp) here
hones in  on a little bit of social-patriotic thinking that seeps into
the antiwar movement almost without conscious thought: The various
"Don't Spend on the War, Spend on Human Needs AT HOME" variety of
propaganda and slogans. Nice dissection of Colin Powell's claim that
breaking Iraq entitled him to rule it.
Fred Feldman

www.TheNation.com | Posted December 22, 2004

LOOKOUT by Naomi Klein
You Break It, You Pay For It 

So it turns out Pottery Barn doesn't even have a rule that says, "You
break it, you own it." According to a company spokesperson, "in the rare
instance that something is broken in the store, it's written off as a
loss." Yet the nonexistent policy of a store selling $80 corkscrews
continues to wield more influence in the United States than the Geneva
Conventions and the US Army's Law of Land Warfare combined. As Bob
Woodward has noted, Colin Powell invoked "the Pottery Barn rule" before
the invasion, while John Kerry pledged his allegiance to it during the
first presidential debate. And the imaginary rule is still the favored
blunt instrument with which to whack anyone who dares to suggest that
the time has come to withdraw troops from Iraq: Sure the war is a
disaster, the argument goes, but we can't stop now--you break it, you
own it. 

Though not invoking the chain store by name, Nicholas Kristof laid out
this argument in a recent New York Times column. "Our mistaken invasion
has left millions of Iraqis desperately vulnerable, and it would be
inhumane to abandon them now. If we stay in Iraq, there is still some
hope that Iraqis will come to enjoy security and better lives, but if we
pull out we will be condemning Iraqis to anarchy, terrorism and
starvation, costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over
the next decade." 

ADVERTISEMENT Let's start with the idea that the United States is
helping to provide security. On the contrary, the presence of US troops
is provoking violence on a daily basis. The truth is that as long as the
troops remain, the country's entire security apparatus--occupation
forces as well as Iraqi soldiers and police officers--will be
exclusively dedicated to fending off resistance attacks, leaving a
security vacuum when it comes to protecting regular Iraqis. If the
troops pulled out, Iraqis would still face insecurity, but they would be
able to devote their local security resources to regaining control over
their cities and neighborhoods. 

As for preventing "anarchy," the US plan to bring elections to Iraq
seems designed to spark a civil war--the civil war needed to justify an
ongoing presence for US troops no matter who wins the elections. It was
always clear that the Shiite majority, which has been calling for
immediate elections for more than a year, was never going to accept any
delay in the election timetable. And it was equally clear that by
destroying Falluja in the name of preparing the city for elections, much
of the Sunni leadership would be forced to call for an election boycott.

When Kristof asserts that US forces should stay in Iraq to save
"hundreds of thousands of children" from starvation, it's hard to
imagine what he has in mind. Hunger in Iraq is not merely the
humanitarian fallout of a war--it is the direct result of the US
decision to impose brutal "shock therapy" policies on a country that was
already sickened and weakened by twelve years of sanctions. Paul
Bremer's first act on the job was to lay off close to 500,000 Iraqis,
and his primary accomplishment--for which he was just awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom--was to oversee a "reconstruction" process
that systematically stole jobs from needy Iraqis and handed them to
foreign firms, sending the unemployment rate soaring to 67 percent. And
the worst of the shocks are yet to come. On November 21, the group of
industrialized countries known as the Paris Club finally unveiled its
plan for Iraq's unpayable debt. Rather than forgiving it outright, the
Paris Club laid out a three-year plan to write off 80 percent,
contingent on Iraq's future governments adhering to a strict
International Monetary Fund austerity program. According to early
drafts, that program includes "restructuring of state-owned enterprises"
(read: privatization), a plan that Iraq's Ministry of Industry predicts
will require laying off an additional 145,000 workers. In the name of
"free-market reforms," the IMF also wants to eliminate the program that
provides each Iraqi family with a basket of food--the only barrier to
starvation for millions of citizens. There is additional pressure to
eliminate the food rations coming from the World Trade Organization,
which, at Washington's urging, is considering accepting Iraq as a
member--provided it adopts certain "reforms." 

So let's be absolutely clear: The United States, having broken Iraq, is
not in the process of fixing it. It is merely continuing to break the
country and its people by other means, using not only F-16s and
Bradleys, but now the less flashy weaponry of WTO and IMF conditions,
followed by elections designed to transfer as little power to Iraqis as
possible. This is what famed Argentine writer Rodolfo Walsh, writing
before his 1977 assassination by the military junta, described as
"planned misery." And the longer the United States stays in Iraq, the
more misery it will plan. 

But if staying in Iraq is not the solution, neither are easy
bumper-sticker calls to pull the troops out and spend the money on
schools and hospitals at home. Yes, the troops must leave, but that can
be only one plank of a credible and moral antiwar platform. What of the
schools and hospitals in Iraq--the ones that were supposed to be fixed
by Bechtel but never were? Too often, antiwar forces have shied away
from speaking about what Americans owe Iraq. Rarely is the word
"compensation" spoken, let alone the more loaded "reparations." 

Antiwar forces have also failed to offer concrete support for the
political demands coming out of Iraq. For instance, when the Iraqi
National Assembly forcefully condemned the Paris Club deal for forcing
the Iraqi people to pay Saddam's "odious" debts and robbing them of
their economic sovereignty, the antiwar movement was virtually silent,
save the dogged but undersupported Jubilee Iraq. And while US soldiers
aren't protecting Iraqis from starvation, the food rations certainly
are--so why isn't safeguarding this desperately needed program one of
our central demands? 

The failure to develop a credible platform beyond "troops out" may be
one reason the antiwar movement remains stalled, even as opposition to
the war deepens. Because the Pottery Barn rulers do have a point:
Breaking a country should have consequences for the breakers. Owning the
broken country should not be one of them, but how about paying for the

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