The Truth is Out There: Review of The Bush Agenda
September 1st, 2006
“The Truth is Out There” was the catchphrase of the popular TV show The X-Files, in which FBI agents exposed the secrets of a shadowy government conspiracy. With the web of deception the Bush administration has constructed around the invasion and occupation of Iraq – from the WMD wild goose chase to unauthorized government wiretaps and scandals at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib – one might feel we need a pair of near-psychic detectives to uncover the many agendas of the Bush administration.
Fortunately we have Antonia Juhasz who, in her exhaustively researched, well-detailed and eminently readable book The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time, shows us the truth that is out there. In The Bush Agenda, Juhasz clearly and concisely plots the players, connections, motives, winners and losers in the Bush administration’s military and economic policy. Juhasz also takes great care to place what is glibly called the “Bush Agenda,” but is more importantly the culmination of decades of neo-conservative planning and maneuvering, in historic context.
The invasion and reconstruction of Iraq follows a clear formula written by and benefiting top members and allies of the Bush administration, and swathed in a mass of rhetoric about “democracy,” “freedom,” and “security.” Their agenda is an imperial one, combining military supremacy with economic dominance and based on uncontested U.S. power in both realms. Juhasz’ timely book exposes how this agenda has instead led to increased insecurity and inequality for Iraqis and Americans alike and made a mockery of the democratic process, through enforcing the same set of policies that institutions like the World Bank have been pushing on countries around the world for decades.
In the Beginning: Pax Americana
Juhasz traces the ideological lineage of the invasion, occupation and reconstruction of Iraq to the idea of Pax Americana (a reference to Pax Romana), the notion that world peace could be brought about by the hegemonic rule of a militarily and economically dominant empire. Pax Americana was conceived of by various authors, with many in the Bush administration including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Deputy Defense Secretary and current World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Lewis “Scooter” Libby whose paths have crossed in the State Department, the Department of Defense, and various think tanks over the past three decades.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the authors of Pax Americana supported the continuation of the war economy, envisioning, in their own words, “a world order backed by the U.S.” such that, “other nations are discouraged from ever challenging the established political and economic order.”
The Bush Agenda and Pax Americana are unique in that the administration has explicitly tied economic policy to military expansion in the context of “The War on Terror”. After September 11th, former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick under George W. Bush even went so far as to say that the U.S. would be “countering terror with trade.” For Juhasz, the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq is the ultimate realization of Pax Americana – the complete economic transformation of a country at gunpoint, and the reassertion of U.S. hegemony in the region.
The Economic Agenda: Winners & Losers
The reconstruction of Iraq under U.S. direction has led to a drastic, unilateral, and undemocratic rewriting of Iraqi law, reflecting the most extreme adherence to neo-liberal economic policy. As with the military side of the Bush agenda, the economic components are hardly news. In The Bush Agenda Juhasz explains that U.S.- directed economic reforms in Iraq are the continuation of a long history of disastrous economic policies dictated to impoverished countries by the World Bank, IMF, and the WTO – policies which have depressed growth and increased global poverty and inequality. Through Paul Bremer’s dictatorial Orders the U.S. rewrote the Iraqi constitution to including some of the most extreme and controversial provisions on foreign investment, privatization and foreign ownership (Order 39), tax structure (Order 37) and intellectual property rights (Order 80) ever instituted to make Iraq in the words of the Financial Times, “one of the most liberalized economies in the developing world.”
Time and time again, the real winners of neo-liberal economics are corporations who are given unprecedented flexibility with virtually no accountability for their actions. In the case of Iraq, Juhasz exposes close ties between the authors of the Bush agenda and a handful of corporations with long histories in Iraq including Bechtel, Chevron, Halliburton and Lockheed Martin. American corporations – and those four in particular – have been the recipients of huge sums of money to rebuild Iraq, but their efforts have largely been a failure and Bush has neither held them accountable nor demanded the money back.
Before the first Gulf War the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 90% of Iraqis had abundant safe drinking water, but in May 2004 the UN estimated 80% of families used unsafe water. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that, a year and a half after Bechtel entered Iraq, “(w) ater meant for consumption is pumped through a system largely untreated while raw waste flows untreated directly into city streets, rivers and marshes.” In December 2005 electricity output nationally was only 60% of the level the U.S. had promised for July 2004. Infuriatingly, though 93% of U.S. funds have been distributed, as many as 30% of electricity projects and 60% of water and sewage projects will not be completed. Finally, while the U.S. has appropriated $30 billion for Iraqi reconstruction by U.S. corporations, Juhasz argues using the Iraqi companies and local expertise reconstruction could be run more efficiently and at 90% less cost!
Uprooting Terror or Sowing Its Seeds?
Not only is the Bush agenda enriching close friends and allies of the Bush administration at the expense of Iraqi and American citizens, but it is also exacerbating those conditions that breed terrorist acts such as those that occurred on September 11, 2001. In The Bush Agenda, Juhasz cites the CIA, which in 2000 predicted a rise in insecurity as a result of increased economic inequality.
“The rising tide of the global economy will create many economic winners but it will not lift all boats… [It will] spawn conflicts at home and abroad, ensuring an even wider gap between regional winners and losers than exists today… Regions, countries and groups feeling left behind will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability and cultural alienation… They will foster political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism.”
In 2005 the CIA again predicted a “more pervasive sense of insecurity, including terrorism… the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ will widen… The key factors which spawn terrorism show no signs of abating over the next fifteen years.” U.S.-imposed economic reforms in Iraq continue despite these dire warnings from the government’s own intelligence agency.
In addition, the failure of Iraqi reconstruction has created more instability in the region. Juhasz notes that 80% of Iraqis believe insurgents fight because they think the U.S. is stealing Iraq’s wealth. Bremer’s orders have led to increased unemployment in Iraq and preferences foreign contractors to Iraqi businesses, leading both to the failure of many projects and to a recognition of the “reconstruction” as an occupation. The Bush administration is not following a security agenda but an economic one.
Uncovering a Conspiracy or Pointing Out the Obvious?
The U.S. Department of Defense concluded in 2004 that Muslims don’t hate freedom or democracy, but rather are opposed to U.S. foreign policy which seems to be motivated by “ulterior motives.” If there was any doubt remaining as to ulterior motives for the War on Iraq, Antonia Juhasz has dispelled it by laying out the facts of the case revealing the covert political and economic agenda behind U.S. foreign policy.
The greatest strength of Juhasz’s book is that it points out what should be obvious to everyone. With an administration so closely tied to the U.S. corporations being handed contracts in Iraq there is more than a little conflict of interest. Juhasz also provides a clear agenda on what should be done to fix the situation: we should be doing what we promised – financing reconstruction – but ceding control of the reconstruction and its benefits to the Iraqis. We should be supporting Iraqi businesses and workers, rather than undermining their national development, auctioning off assistance and prime sectors to bidders closest to the Bush administration.
In Juhasz’s expert hands, the Bush agenda is clear; her book cuts through the rhetoric of “freedom” and “free trade” and the Iraq invasion is exposed as part of an imperial endeavor and the perfect marriage of military and economic extortion. Juhasz has given us a blueprint of the Bush administration, complete with details of its inspiration, its adherents and its intertwined assemblage of government and corporate actors. This book is required reading for all who want a peek into the future of U.S. imperialism and the facts and analysis to stand up in defense of human rights around the world.