Book/Mark Quarterly – Review of The Bush Agenda

By Russel Branca, Bookmark
August 9th, 2006

The only thing I don’t like about this book is its title. It implies that a man who struggles to put together coherent complete
sentences could articulate a complex foreign policy agenda for the U.S.. The author of course knows this and she clearly demonstrates that the Bush agenda is really the agenda of corporate globalization known outside the U.S. as neo-liberalism. Its architects, the neoconservatives, come from the ranks of the ideological extreme right wing of the Republican party and now control the U.S. government.

That being said, kudos to Antonia Juhasz, she has written a superb book, a “must read” if you will. It is well organized, focused, well researched, and culls the essentials of highly technical economic analysis and renders them accessible to a more general readership, precisely what is needed today. Understanding the Bush agenda requires some definition of what it is, first as the neoconservatives themselves define it and then as Juhasz believes it to be in fact.

“The ideas of Pax Americana provide the theoretical justification for what would eventually emerge as the Bush agenda – simply put: overwhelming and expansive U.S. military and economic global dominance to ensure world peace.” (pg. 23)

But as Juhasz argues: “In reality this agenda is far less noble than it may initially appear. The Bush administration is certainly interested in military and economic dominance and in expanding its field of domination, but its goal is more accurately described as ensuring that it gets what it wants and has its interests met. Those interests, in turn, align more with key U.S. corporate players than with either the American public or world peace.” (pg. 23)

This book is not merely a critical analysis of globalization. Other books do that. What Juhasz has done is deepened our understanding of the war in Iraq in the context of that much broader critique and I have to say she has hit the bull’s-eye. The first five chapters serve as a preparation for what I think is the book’s truly great chapter and worth the price alone, chapter six, “The Economic Invasion Of Iraq.”

After presenting the fundamental contours of neoconservative foreign policy through their Project For A New American Century and other key documents that enunciate their thought, she begins a series of historic digressions that give us essential background and insight. First she goes back to July 1944 when FDR summoned the intellectual heavyweights of the day to convene at Bretton Woods New Hampshire to “remake” the post-war economic world. The result was the IMF and The World Bank and a surge of optimism.

But as Juhasz points out: “While born from genuine interest in creating a sustainable world economy after World War II, the formation of the World Bank and the IMF was dominated by a solid U.S. government and corporate agenda, an agenda that the institutions have increasingly come to serve. Developing countries sought alternatives from the outset at the United Nations but were unsuccessful. (pg. 52)

A concise summary of the course of the world economy follows, touching down on the more important events such as the oil crisis of the 1970s and the rise of Third World independence movements and how they affected the UN and U.S. policy. In chapter four entitled “The Corporations”, Juhasz uses historic historic digression again and recaps the origins of four corporations going back to the 19th century and the early part of the 20th.

“Understanding the Bush agenda requires understanding the corporations behind and within it. Bechtel, Chevron, Halliburton, and Lockheed Martin, are intimately entwined with the Bush Administration and its policies” (pg. 145)

It is particularly ironic to note that they all enjoyed government protection in the way of tariffs and contracts to get started, something they are ideologically committed to denying to developing countries today. In another historic digression, chapter five entitled “A Mutual Seduction” briefly summarizes Iraqi history in the 20th century and the evolution of the U.S. involvement there including the support it gave to the Baath party in engineering the coup of the young government of General Abdul Karim Qasim which had overthrown the British imposed monarchy in 1958 five years earlier. Oil was at the center of Qasim’s downfall as he had taken control of the oil industry and convened the founding meeting of OPEC. While the U.S. relationship with the Baath party began with favorable concessions given to U.S. oil companies, the relationship deteriorated through the 1960’s ending in a break over U.S. support for Israel in the 1967 war. Ties were not resumed until the 1980s under Reagan. Juhasz has now set the stage for chapter six “The Economic Invasion Of Iraq”.

No one who wishes to seriously participate in the debate over when to bring the troops home, so distorted by rhetorical catch phrases like “cut and run”, “stay the course”, “timetable”, “civil war” “sectarian violence” etc., can do so unless they understand the contents of this chapter. In it, Juhasz lays out what L. Paul Bremer did during his fourteen months as “dictator” of Iraq. It is a tour de force that presents in clear point-by-point detail the economic restructuring of the “new” Iraq. Here is the key to understanding why the Bush administration invaded Iraq, what they see as being at stake, and when, if ever, they will agree to leave. Sure, oil was an important part of this, but it is only part of the real prize which is the radical transformation of Iraq’s political economic and legal institutions into a paradise for foreign and in particular U.S. investment. A 250 million dollar contract was handed to a company called Bearing Point to draw up the blueprint.

“The extent to which the Bearing Point contract sets out to transform the Iraqi economy is astonishing. The company specifies changes in every sector of the economy- from trade rules to banking and financial services, to public services, agriculture, housing, media, elections, and the structure of government itself. It even specifies propaganda tools to sell these policies to the Iraqi public.” (Pg. 194)

Paul Bremer arrived in Baghdad on May 16, 2003 and left on June 28, 2004. During that period as Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority he had absolute dictatorial powers to issue Regulations and Orders which no Iraqi could challenge. His 100 Orders are breathtaking in their audacity and in their emasculation of any notion of national sovereignty. Foreign companies can invest in Iraq without any conditions. They can take a one hundred percent profit with no obligation to give back even a portion for reinvestment in Iraq. Oil companies cannot be sued for anything and have no obligation to answer to any Iraqi laws. There are no corporate taxes, no environmental laws, no consumer protection and most Iraqi labor unions were abolished. In addition they completely dismantled many government support structures in areas such as health, education and agriculture and began the process of near total privatization of the public sector. Using the rationale of prohibiting the incitement of violence, Bremer also issued restrictions on the media that virtually made criticism of the CPA impossible. Critics and political parties critical of the occupation could not participate in the elections. This singular fixation on “opening” the Iraqi economy so dominated the Bremer administration that the fundamental exigencies that the Iraqi people were clamoring for; clean drinking water, electricity, sewer treatment, and an end to looting went neglected or were mired in the corruption of the American companies given the task of dealing with them. That’s what lost the occupation and fueled the insurgency.

What complicates matters even more as we consider the situation today is that for the most part Bremer’s restructuring agenda and neglect of basic needs were all in violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907, which outline the responsibilities and restrictions of an occupying force in a number of provisions.

“The legal interpretation of these and related provisions is that an occupier is required to ensure that the lights are on, the water is flowing, the streets are safe, and the basic necessities of life are provided. However the occupier is not permitted to make changes beyond those necessary to meet these obligations.” (pg. 188)

Thus any law in force in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion had to be respected and could not be altered. Despite the elections and the ratification of a new constitution, Iraq can hardly be called a sovereign country let alone a democracy. The overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people have never read their own constitution or the Bremer orders which, with few exceptions, were retained in it. It is difficult to imagine a sovereign country giving up basic control over its own economy but that’s what this agenda amounts to and it is precisely what U.S. troops are there to guarantee. It is a formula for an intractable conflict. The hypocrisy of the Bush administration’s rhetoric about freedom and democracy is belied by the fact that the freer the Iraqi people become to really determine their own future, the more the real Bush agenda is put in jeopardy. There may be reasonable arguments against the various mechanisms of protectionism, but no sovereign country will ever relinquish its right to employ them when it sees it in its national interest. There is no example in history of a capitalist economy that developed without using protectionist measures at one time or another.

Appropriately, Juhasz tries to end the book in a constructive tone giving an upbeat assessment about the many forces
which have grown up in the past few years opposing corporate globalization and the Bush Agenda. People all over the world are energetically exploring many alternatives to the myriad of problems facing not just Iraq but the world in general. She offers many positive suggestions and sound proposals to inspire activists and potential activists.

A solid piece of academic scholarship, informed by a keen sense of what is essential and driven by a grand passion for justice, The Bush Agenda concludes with a marvelous little fable that I’ll let the reader have the pleasure to discover.

This review appears in the late August issue of Book/Mark Quarterly Review.