Thursday, August 14, 2008

Charging the Victim: Who Should Pay to Rebuild Iraq?

Our Congressional Representative James Walsh (R-NY) recently “lashed out at Iraq.” Walsh, now in his tenth term, said Iraq should use its oil windfall sales to repay some of the $48 billion the United States has spent “rebuilding” there.

“We have delivered democracy for them….The least they could do is step up to the plate and help out,” Walsh opined.

Let’s not look too closely at that “democracy” we’ve “delivered.” Let’s not ask to what extent bombed-out medical facilities have been restored. Nor to what extent Iraqis, after five years of beneficent occupation, now have electricity and potable water. Nor how many Iraqi jobs any U.S. reconstruction has generated. Nor how much of that $48 billion lined the capacious pockets of Halliburton et al. Nor how much of the “re-building” fund goes to building permanent U.S. military bases.

Nor need we ask who’s going to pay to clean up Iraq’s soil, air and water after their protracted exposure to depleted uranium — the toxic and radioactive substance used in the U.S. shells rained down on that liberated land. And let’s not open that other can of worms: How will we compensate Iraqi families for the unnumbered kin we have killed?

Instead let’s take a more legalistic approach. Let’s look at precedent. In 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, no one thought to hold that victim responsible for the damage. Nor did anyone claim that, because it had oil assets, Kuwait owed Iraq money.

No one - especially the UN Security Council — questioned that it was Iraq that had to reimburse losses and finance the rebuilding. Indeed, since its Gulf War defeat, Iraq keeps paying billions in reparations. But those billions are only a fraction of what Kuwait and the corporations doing business there still keep demanding.

Fast forward to the new century. Now it’s Iraq that’s been (illegally) invaded; it’s Iraq that’s been laid low. In a classic case of “charging the victim,” Mr. Walsh and some of his Congressional colleagues,* both Democrat and Republican, argue that Iraq must help pay for its own rebuilding. Both common sense and common decency wince.

It is the invader, not the invaded, who is both morally and legally obligated to pay to restore a war-torn land. And note: those billions Iraq has been paying Kuwait go to Kuwaitis and not to any Iraqi war profiteer. Given adequate reparations, Iraq — a land of builders and engineers — is quite capable of repairing itself. It needs no assist from the invader’s avid corporations.

Those who perpetrated the U.S. invasion, besides being tried in a Nurnberg-like tribunal, should make financial amends. Their shills — much of the U.S. mainstream media — also share responsibility. But sorting out who should pay what would take the wisdom of Solomon.

In the case of Kuwait, a UN commission plays Solomon. The case seemed simple enough: only Iraq invaded; it was then vanquished. Ergo, the Iraqi people — via their oil reserves — must be perpetually taxed to repair Saddam Hussein’s folly. Never mind that it was his western allies who helped militarize Saddam’s regime.

Yes, some Iraqis also collaborated with Saddam. But most were Saddam’s victims. Saddam frowned on dissent. Many of his soldiers were conscripts. Thousands of these — slaughtered from the air as they fled homeward — remain interred in desert sands.

Now, the U.S./Iraq case isn’t quite parallel. All too many U.S. people and our Congressional representatives enthusiastically supported “Shock and Awe” and the ensuing occupation.

Does it let us off the hook — at least a little — that Cheney/Bush and their shills persistently lied to us? Many U.S. Americans believed that our “pre-emptive” war had nothing to do with certain corporations cornering the world’s oil supply. Nor did it even occur to us that Saddam’s move to switch from dollars to euros for oil payments helped trigger the wrath. Wasn’t the war about WMD and about somehow — never mind how — defending our borders against “terror”?

Should U.S. wage earners be forced to pay for a war many might not have supported had they known the truth? Should they then also pay for what that war wrought? Maybe yes, maybe no. One thing is certain: it was the Pentagon that maniacally demolished Iraq.

No, Mr. Walsh, it isn’t the Iraqi people who should devote their national wealth to rebuilding their desolated country. Nor should the U.S. people, also variously victims and dupes of this war, be further taxed. By all rights, the rebuilding fund should come out of our own oiligarchy’s windfall profits and out of the Pentagon’s obscenely bloated budget.

* “Iraq Told to Pick Up the Tab: Congress Wants to Cut Reconstruction Aid,” by Anne Flaherty, Associated Press in the Syracuse Post-Standard, 15 Apr. 2008.

The author spent five months in Iraq in 2003 with the human rights group, Voices in the Wilderness. Reach him at edkinane@verizon.net.

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