Wolfowitz Beggars Belief and Country

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

It's not often someone writes a snotty five-page memo that ends up indirectly costing his nation upwards of $8.3 billion, but Paul Wolfowitz likely now has that distinction. The U.S. deputy defense secretary's edict to ban Russia, France, Canada and Germany from participating in U.S.-funded Iraqi reconstruction is a marvel of grasping small-mindedness.

"International support and cooperation are necessary for progress in Iraq," Wolfowitz writes -- and then three sentences later he asserts that all kinds of international support and cooperation from Russia, France, Canada or Germany would not only be unwelcome, but would jeopardize "the essential security interests of the United States."

Still two sentences later he asserts, "Every effort must be made to expand international cooperation in Iraq," and then three sentences later he concludes that "limiting competition for prime contracts [i.e., snubbing the Russians and the rest] will encourage the expansion of international cooperation in Iraq."

It's simple. We get more countries to cooperate by allowing fewer countries to cooperate.

This absurd position was endorsed by President George W. Bush, though we are told the White House is "fuming" at the "timing" of Wolfowitz's edict, which was published just as the administration has been asking Russia to forgive $8 billion in debts to Iraq. That's now not going to happen and Canada is also talking about taking its $300 million in proposed aid back off the table.

The Wolfowitz-baptized few are listed on page 5 of the memo and include Tonga, Micronesia, Eritrea, Angola and Afghanistan -- proud coalition supporters all -- along with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Uzbekistan.

My thought reading this list was: What, no Turkmenistan? It's an outrage: Turkmenistan's cruel and murderous dictator has been left off the invitation list. Uzbekistan is invited to sign up to receive a chunk of the $18.6 billion smorgasbord of Iraq reconstruction funds -- and Uzbekistan's cruel and murderous dictator doesn't even control any oil and gas. Surely this is simply an oversight. Seriously, though, we're getting yet another valuable glimpse into the thought processes of the men who dragged us into a land war-of-choice in the Middle East.

For one, we've another demonstration -- as if we needed it -- of how little these guys understand cause and effect. There's not been a single intentional or unintentional slight America has offered Russia in the past 30 odd years to which Russia has not immediately responded tit-for-tat. A child could have predicted the outcome of asking Russia to give up $8 billion of claims for the greater good, while simultaneously denying it a few billion of our own dollars because our "interests" come first.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's rebuttal -- that Iraq is not poor, and that no one ever offered to write off Russia's debts -- was the obvious reply.

For another, all this high-minded talk about building "a free Iraq" aside, the Bush team clearly sees the billions allocated to fix up Iraq as spoils of war. Wolfowitz states frankly that he sees tremendous chunks of the money being doled out as rewards for loyalty -- as money to benefit not Iraqis but "contractors," whether Micronesian, Uzbek or, most likely, Texan.

So Americans are borrowing billions of dollars to feed rapaciously overcharging corporations, and that is not some unhappy byproduct, but the actual plan, now formalized in the Wolfowitz memo.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes the Daily Outrage for The Nation magazine.