Bush's Golden Vision

President Sees Election Cash in Rebuilding Iraq

On October 1, members of the Iraqi Governing Council confronted L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the man who had appointed them. They were protesting his decision to spend $1.2 billion training a new Iraqi police force—in Jordan. Bremer claimed that the facilities required did not exist in Iraq. The council demurred, insisting that their country not only had the facilities but could provide them more cheaply. "If we had voted, a majority would have rejected it," one council member said to The New York Times. "He told us what he did. He did not ask us."

The money for Jordan came out of a $60 billion funding package for Iraq, conjured by Congress in April at the president's request. In the next few weeks, they will probably approve another $87 billion, of which $70 billion is tabbed for Baghdad. That's the easy part. What's more complicated is how it will be spent, both at home and abroad. And as subcontracts awarded to Saudi conglomerates or Kuwaiti telecoms make clear, there will be a broad impact to these taxpayer billions suddenly flowing to the Persian Gulf.

Which was part of the idea all along. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other neoconservatives have long justified regime change in Iraq as the first step in a larger, longer, vastly more ambitious regional transformation. And while some critics have focused on the military dimension—Syria next, then Iran—right now it's about money. More soldiers may be a possibility, but contractors are inevitable.

So is a certain amount of campaign cash, cycled back from those who profit in the reconstruction. Against the backdrop of a treasury-draining scheme to remake the world, a few million dollars in corporate contributions to a sitting president may seem insignificant, but one can be sure they matter to Bush—and to his political opponents. For Democrats, the spectacle of a Republican administration larding out contracts to close allies is a political disaster.

"A hundred-fifty billion dollars is a large amount of money with no incumbent claimant," observed John Pike, of globalsecurity.org, a nonpartisan think tank for defense. "It's new money, up for grabs, and the campaign effects are a given. Such a large sum serves to consolidate the existing distribution of power in Washington, where one party is in control, and there's an uncompetitive electoral system in Congress. So this will further undermine the pretense that we live in a functional democracy—meaning, you can look forward to another round of redistricting after the next election!"

Toward that end, the administration is already putting its own people in place, gatekeepers who will manage that potentially lucrative union between American investment and Iraqi resources. Like Thomas Foley, an old business-school friend of the president's, and also one of his 2000 Connecticut campaign bosses. Foley will decide which of Iraq's roughly 200 state-owned enterprises are fit to survive.

Iraq is being set up for auction, and in Washington and Baghdad, the administration is lining up bidders. Lawyers and lobbyists, many with deep ties to the Republican electoral machine, are corralling investors ready to join in the enormous gamble. "If you go to the Four Seasons and shout out 'Who's working on a deal in Iraq?' everybody there will raise their hand," said Ed Rogers, one of the GOP's top lobbyists in Washington, according to The Hill. With non-American companies frozen out, and the UN withdrawing its mission, U.S. firms will be on their own, just the way the administration wants it.

Estimates vary on how long it will take to get Iraq up and running, but progress will be measured in oil production: Iraq is hovering around a million barrels a day now (the Coalition Provisional Authority claims 1.7); it was about 2.7 million under Saddam; 3.5 is Iraq's traditional OPEC quota, and 6 million barrels would make Iraq the rival of Russia or Saudi Arabia. At $25 to $30 a barrel, go figure. Oil experts say it will take at least five years. The administration says two.

Either way, it will depend on the army and the marines—and perhaps Bush's re-election—to stay the course.

For now, Iraqi reconstruction is dominated by military needs, and these will generate a new infrastructure. "The big-ticket items—telecommunications systems, satellite uplinks—are related to command-and-control functions," military analyst Chris Hellman explained. "But we're also going to upgrade port facilities, build access roads, fence lines, airfields, helipads . . . and anything related to military flow, either air or sealift, we'll leave behind."

Many have wondered whether the U.S. will, like an old colonial power, install garrisons in Iraq. Well, yes and no. Modern military technology is designed to accommodate early departures as well as lengthy occupations. "We're seeing some very permanent-looking temporary facilities," Hellman said. "And some of these bases will be used by the Iraqi army and police. But we're building to U.S. military specs, and that's what the Iraqis will be buying, or be given. Why? Because we've been there twice in a decade, and the military thinks it'll be nice to have them there if we need to come back."

The U.S. engagement is open-ended, in terms of time, money, and possible casualties. Its goals—establishing security, basic social services, and a functioning democracy—are vague, and vulnerable to endless sabotage. If things go badly, we can just turn Iraq over to an elected or appointed proxy (one State Department source called neocon favorite Ahmed Chalabi "our permanent exit strategy"). If things go well, the U.S. military could withdraw in a few years. But one thing is sure: We're spending money today as if there will be a tomorrow, and nobody believes in Iraq's tomorrows like this administration.

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