When George W. Bush says that he wants to spread freedom to every corner of the earth, he means it.
But of course the president that turned Soviet-era gulags into secret CIA prisons in order to do God-knows-what to God-knows-whom isn’t talking about individual freedom. He means corporate freedom — freedom for the great multinationals to extract everything they can from the world’s resources and labor without the hindrance of public interest laws, environmental regulations or worker protections.
Bush’s vision of a free world actually looks just like the corporate globalization agenda pushed by a succession of American presidents in institutions like the World Trade Organization.
But this administration yearns for freedom too much to leave it up to trade negotiators. Unlike his predecessors, Bush isn’t content to use carrots and sticks and a liberal dose of arm twisting to advance that agenda. His administration has made the neoliberal policies euphemistically referred to as “free-trade” a centerpiece of its national security policy.
Bush is willing to use the awesome force of the United States military to guarantee the freedom of the world’s largest multinationals.
In her new book, The Bush Agenda, Antonia Juhasz peels the veils away from Bush’s agenda — imperialism, militarism and corporate globalization — and exposes who drives it: a group of hawkish ideologues with an unprecedented relationship to major defense and energy companies.
Juhasz shows that the invasion of Iraq — an invasion that was as much economic as military — was the centerpiece of a larger project: the creation a New American Century in which the end-goal of American foreign policy is to enrich the corporate elites, and dissent at home will not be tolerated. Juhasz is a wonk — she got her start as a staffer for Rep. John Conyers — but the book is as readable as it is deeply researched.
I caught up with Juhasz last week at Washington’s Union Station, just blocks away from the White House, to chat about The Bush Agenda.
Joshua Holland: [19th century Prussian military philosopher Carl von] Clausewitz said that war is an extension of politics by other means. You suggest that for the Bush administration, war is an extension of corporate globalization by other means. Run down your basic premise.
Antonia Juhasz: The Bush administration has implemented a particularly radical model of corporate globalization by which it has teamed overt military might — full-scale invasion — with the advancement of its corporate globalization agenda. And this model is particularly imperial — that’s one of the things that makes it different from, for example, the Reagan or Bush Sr. regimes. As opposed to simply replacing the head of a regime that is no longer serving the interests of the administration, the Bush team has gone further — using a military invasion to fundamentally transform a country’s political and economic structure.
It is also using an occupation to maintain that altered structure, which is the definition of imperialism in my mind: spreading the empire by changing the very laws of foreign nations to service the empire’s needs. And, as Bush is repeatedly saying, “Iraq is only the beginning.” I detail the rest of the empire’s pursuits across the Middle East in the chapter on the U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area.
The fundamental purpose of the book was to determine how this model came to be, where its advocates hope it will go and who its advocates are so that we can better dismantle it.
JH: But Bush isn’t the first to use a full-scale invasion — unilaterally — in furtherance of those goals. I think of Reagan’s invasion of Grenada to knock off Maurice Bishop, a moderate socialist.
AJ: There was no occupation, and it wasn’t done the same way that the Bush administration — using its own tools, its own people, its own policies — to explicitly restructure the entire functioning of the country’s economy to serve its own ends. Reagan wanted a different leader, a leader that would meet his needs and that was enough. Bush has locked in an entirely new economic and political structure. I’m certainly not justifying the invasion of Grenada, but for me that was quantitatively different.
JH: What is Pax Americana — the “American Peace” — and what is it about the original Roman version, Pax Romana, that makes it a poor model to emulate?
AJ: I talk about Pax Americana because that’s what members of the administration talk about — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Khalilzad, Perle, Zoellick, Bolton. â€¦ In fact, there are 16 members of the Bush administration that were also participants in the Project for the New American Century, which was very clear that the U.S. not only has a Pax Americana but should seek to maintain it.
This is problematic because it seeks to achieve the Roman model, with an all-powerful emperor who ran his kingdom on 50 percent slave labor, who eliminated all guarantees of civil liberties and eliminated all civic participation, but maintained the fallacy of public institutions and participatory government to keep the elites at bay — to make elites feel like they had the presence and prestige of serving in government.
So there were senators and there were “representatives of the people,” but of course the emperor appointed those he wanted to sit in the senate, and he chose those who would serve his interests. And then he appointed regional overlords to oversee the rest of the empire. In addition, the idea that Rome generated peace — that it really was in fact a Pax Romana that guaranteed peace for the rest of the world — is false. To create the empire, there was an enormous amount of war and bloodshed, and also to maintain the empire there was continued fighting as nations and peoples were forced to acquiesce.
However, there was a period of about 200 years where there was relatively less struggle within Rome over who would rule. But one key reason Rome was able to maintain that internal peace was all the money that the empire poured into public services — building aqueducts, providing services, supporting intellectual thought and — as I say in the book — creating the Western Canon.
The Bush administration has chosen all the worst elements of the Roman Empire: the lack of civil liberties and the movement towards a nonrepresentative government run by a dictator. Even the most conservative Republican columnist will admit that Bush has consolidated more and more power in the executive branch than any president in modern history. And he’s increased the proportion of people in the United States in the lower income sphere, people who have to work day in and day out in order to meet basic needs like health care, and who often aren’t able to meet those needs. I argue that that is a modern form of slavery.
And while the administration is explicitly imperial — it is trying to annex other nations through its military and its economic policy — its not putting any of that attention to public education, public resources and public services. So we are getting the worst of the worst. And just as it was a myth that the Pax Romana created world peace, the Pax Americana clearly generates more global insecurity. Acts of deadly terror have increased every year of the Bush administration; they increased more than three-fold between 2003 and 2004.
JH: So he’s not just the worst president ever, he’s also the worst â€¦
AJ: â€¦ Yes, he’s also the worst emperor ever.
JH: You’re blunt about calling Iraq an economic invasion. Most analyses are geopolitical, but you put it together with the long-standing wish list of the corporate globalists. Can you tell me about Bremer’s100 rules and what Bearing Point is?
AJ: If you look at the corporations that have profited most from the invasion — Bechtel, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and Chevron — these are all corporations that have decades of operations and activities trying to increase their economic engagement in Iraq — lobbying the U.S. government to increase their access to Iraq. And they’ve done so successfully — first with Saddam Hussein and later with the coalition authorities and now with the new government of Iraq. They have participated with or guided — you can choose the word you want — the Bush administration in its invasion. Through their executives, they played key roles in advocating for war. George Shultz is the perfect example and one I focus on in the book.
I emphasize that it’s an absolute fallacy that there was no post-war plan. The plan was written two months before the invasion of Iraq by a company, Bearing Point Inc., which is based in Virginia — it was KPMG Consulting until it changed its name in the wake of the Arthur Anderson-Enron corruption scandals. The company is not well-known. It works behind the scenes for every branch of government, and it provides all kinds of consulting services.
Bearing point received a $250 million contract from USAID to write a remodeled structure for the Iraqi economy. It was to transition Iraq from a state-controlled economy to a market economy, but I argue that the new model was more a state-controlled economy that is controlled on behalf of multinational corporations, and heavily regulated in fact on behalf of multinational corporations. It just no longer serves the public interest.
Bearing point’s plan was implemented to a T by L. Paul Bremer, the administrator of Iraq’s coalition government. The U.N.’s special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, called him the “Dictator of Iraq,” and he was. He ruled Iraq for 14 months, and he implemented Bearing Point’s plan; he rewrote Iraq’s entire economic and political structure by implementing his 100 orders. The orders had the force of law, and any Iraqi laws that contradicted the orders were overridden.
The 100 orders put into place a standard set of corporate globalization policies. Instead of having to wait for Iraq to become a member of the World Trade Organization, for example, or to fulfill requirements of the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, or worrying about whether the policies they most wanted would be accepted, the administration was able to simply invade, occupy and impose those provisions itself. And many of those provisions have been long opposed at institutions like the WTO — for example the investments provisions — but they were implemented overnight in Iraq with a stroke of the pen by Paul Bremer.
Probably the most important order in terms of what happened with the occupation was the very first order. Bremer fired 120,000 key bureaucrats in every government ministry in Iraq. That meant that ministries that had been functioning very well for decades lost their bureaucracies almost overnight. The excuse that was given was that they were Ba’ath Party members, but nobody could hold those positions unless they belonged to the Ba’ath Party, so it wasn’t an indication that they were a party to Saddam Hussein’s crimes. They were fired because they could have stood in the way of the economic transformation.
Then there was the firing of the entire Iraqi military, and I think that problem is well-known. Less well-known is how that played out in relation to the rest of the orders. Order number 39 was the foreign investment order. There were several provisions which I detail in the book, but the most important may be national treatment, which meant that Iraqis could not preference Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers in the reconstruction.
So 150 United States corporations have received $50 billion for work in Iraq, $33 billion of which was exclusively for standard reconstruction — building bridges, repairing electricity and repairing water. But originally the plan was to use the soldiers — the Iraqi military — for the reconstruction. Instead of taking a half a million men and canceling their salaries and sending them home with guns, they were going to go to work and get money, and provide for their families and be part of the reconstruction.
Even worse is that those American companies failed. Miserably. And it’s not just because of the insurgency — the insurgency didn’t begin immediately. They failed because they went in to maximize their profit, to build the most expensive state-of-the-art systems they could and to get their feet firmly in Iraq so they would be able to profit long term. But what Iraq needed was just to get the systems up and running. It was summer in the desert.
JH: How long did it take for Iraq to get those systems up after the first invasion?
AJ: Three months. The Iraqi workers and companies rebuilt their systems in three months.
JH: OK, so Bremer imposed these rules under the Coalition Provisional Authority. Explain how rules set up by a provisional government ended up codified in Iraq’s new constitution?
AJ: Bremer appointed an interim government for Iraq when the occupation formally ended. The interim government, together with Bremer, threw out the existing Iraqi Constitution. And I think at the time there was this idea that it was a nation being molded out of the dirt — that it didn’t have a government, didn’t have a structure — and here was the United States helping them form a constitutional convention. But they had a government, they had a constitution — they’ve had a constitution since 1922. We didn’t have to create a constitutional government for them.
The first constitution that was written had all of Bremer’s orders, and it could only be changed by a very complicated process — it essentially locked the orders in. Then the new constitution for Iraq was supposed to be “of the people.” It was drafted by the interim government and put to a popular vote. But it was crafted so that it locked into place the occupation, the economic transformation, the constitutionality of the new oil law — which the United States had drafted — and all of the Bremer orders.
The only public discussion of the constitution was the few things people were gleaning from the press and what their religious leaders — who were themselves gleaning it from the press — told them. Five days before the constitution was to be voted on, the paper copies were released. They made 5 million copies for 15 million voters. And on that same day, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was meeting with influential Iraqi leaders to rewrite fundamental aspects of that very constitution. There was absolutely no way that the vast majority of the Iraqi people had any idea what was in the constitution. They were voting for hope, and they risked their lives to do so. But there’s no way they knew that they were voting to maintain the Bremer orders.
JH: What’s the Hague Convention of 1907?
AJ: Under international law an occupying government has one set of responsibilities, and they’re very clear. An occupying government must provide security and basic services. An occupying government explicitly cannot fundamentally rewrite the laws of the country they’re occupying. The United States did exactly the opposite; we rewrote the laws, and we didn’t provide basic services or security for the people.
JH: Did we ratify the Hague Conventions?
AJ: We certainly did.
JH: You focus on four firms that pushed the policy and have profited handsomely from the invasion: Bechtel, Chevron, Lockheed Martin and Halliburton. But there are many other multinational corporations that have both made a killing in Iraq and have close ties to both the administration and to the conservative movement more generally. Why those four and, playing devil’s advocate, is there a danger focusing on a small number of firms when the issues are militarism and corporate globalization more broadly?
AJ: These four companies have the longest relationship to Iraq. Through their executives, they lobbied on behalf of an invasion of Iraq, and they have profited more than almost all other companies from that invasion. And they have intimate interlocking relationships with this administration. They demonstrate very clearly how, in the Bush administration, there essentially is no distinction between corporate characters and government characters. They also are companies that because of their corporate behavior around the world have preexisting and longstanding movements — social movements — that are organized against their harmful actions, which readers of the book support and become a part of.
JH: That’s a great segue. In your final chapter, you discuss ways that people can oppose the Bush agenda, and you suggest that another agenda is possible. I think that’s very important because so many books bash Bush and then leave readers feeling dispirited. Name just one thing that needs to be done to reverse this agenda?
AJ: There are so many alternatives, and I give concrete examples of solutions — for how to end the economic invasion of Iraq. What I hoped to do in the last chapter was to present the movements and many of the ideas generating fundamental change already. I wanted to empower people — to show that the information in the book can be used as a tool for these movements and a tool for change.
So I give examples of not only different policies, but I also give examples of organizations and communities that have been successfully mobilizing against the full Bush agenda — that means corporate globalization, war and imperialism. To me that’s more important than any one of the alternatives that I present. The whole point of the chapter is that there are, thankfully, millions of alternatives to choose from. And we’re already seeing successful transformation — there are real movements that we can join and in which we can have an impact.