PARIS - As I walked along the elegant Quai d'Orsay, past France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Talleyrand's wonderfully cynical `bon mot' about Napoleon's murder of the Duc d'Enghien kept coming back to me: `Worse than a crime, it was a blunder.'
Talleyrand could just as well have been speaking of Iraq. In spite of the capture of Saddam Hussein, which was inevitable, the United States remains mired in a hugely costly mess in Iraq. In the good old days pre-1991 Saddam's Iraq was a helpful US-British ally. The Iraqi tyrant suppressed Iraq's Shia and battled Iran. Even under the post-1991 sanctions regime, Saddam was merely a nuisance. But now that the US has conquered Iraq, it must deal with all the many headaches that Saddam once handled.
Before the war, France repeatedly warned the Bush Administration against invading Iraq. DGSE, France's intelligence service, which had highly placed agents within Saddam Hussein's regime, informed the US Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat, and would, if invaded, turn into a second Lebanon or West Bank.
Warnings by France and other European powers were sneeringly dismissed by the war's principal architect, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose war strategy was based on disinformation from shady defectors and self-serving Israeli sources. Pro-war Americans hurled insults at France for impeding Washington's rush to war.
Totally wrong about Iraq, Wolfowitz and fellow neo-cons are now punishing those who were totally right. Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Greece, and China were just blacklisted from US $18.6 billion of `reconstruction' contracts in Iraq.
The laughable reason: `to protect the essential security interests of the United States.' Albania and Uzbekistan are approved vendors.
`Reconstruction' is a euphemism for repairing massive damage inflicted on Iraq, formerly the Arab World's most developed nation, by a decade of crushing US sanctions and bombing.
Diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay are asking, what ever happened to the State Department, which is supposed to make US0 foreign policy? Wolfowitz is clearly running foreign as well as defense policy.
Banning staunch allies like Canada, France, and Germany from Iraq business is not only foolishly vindictive and ham-handed, it was downright stupid, a condition now epidemic at the Pentagon's highest civilian echelons. America's affronted allies, facing domestic outrage over this insult, must now take overt or covert counter-action, worsening US-European relations. The spiteful ban undermines intense US efforts to draw Europe and Canada into the Iraq mess.
All this could have been done quietly. Instead, Wolfowitz created an unnecessary trans-Atlantic fracas that again shows the alarming diplomatic ineptitude and political crassness of the Bush Administration. Embarrassingly, Wolfowitz's black list was issued just as Bush was calling European leaders, trying to get them to forgive Iraq's huge debts. The president was left red faced. Many wondered who was really running the administration, and if Wolfowitz and his fellow neo-cons were not trying to further punish American allies viewed as insufficiently friendly to Israel.
The exclusion of America's oldest friends from Iraq underlines the fact that the US invasion was really motivated by big oil and big business rather than the faux war on terrorism or Baghdad's non-existent unconventional weapons.
Few people realize how important the occupation of oil-rich Iraq is to America's military-industrial-petroleum complex, a major financial backer for Bush and the Republican Party. Defense spending, spurred by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will reach US $3.1 trillion over the next two years the same amount, in constant dollars, the US spent on World War II!
A lot of this bonanza will go to traditional defense contractors. But a growing share will flow to US firms engaged in the privatized military and imperial functions. Halliburton, VP Dick Cheney's old firm, got a sweetheart contract to pump and export Iraqi oil, and is now patriotically selling oil to US forces in Iraq at something like twice the regular market price. Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, builds and runs US military bases in Iraq, and other nations, supplying food, cleaning, water, sewage and power. These Halliburton contracts now amount to $5 billion and could reach $15 billion in short order.
Other little-known firms with close links to the Bush Administration Vinnell Corp, MPRI, BDM, and DynCorp have 10,000-20,000 `civilian' (read ex-military) contractors in Iraq. They receive billions of dollars to train Iraq's new US-run police and army, create security forces, field mercenary units, and `protect' the US-installed figurehead in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. In fact, a third of this year's $87 billion allocated for Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia will be spent on US private military contractors.
For these members of the military-industrial complex, Iraq is a gold mine. Pentagon plans to create three major, permanent bases in Iraq and link them to new US bases in Central Asia what I call America's imperial oil route will guarantee decades of lucrative work and generous funding for the Republican Party.
The French, who have a long history of knocking off puppet African rulers who get out of line, have no great moral qualms about US military intervention in Iraq, but they view Iraq as a legitimate sphere of European economic influence. Paris is furious Washington is elbowing Europe out of this rich market and stirring up an Islamic hornet's nest against the west. There are at least 5 million impoverished Muslims in France living on the edge of society, 40% of them under 20 years old, fertile ground for unrest and violence.
Washington may eventually back down over the Iraq contract dispute. Yet each week, the Bush Administration seems to finds new ways to antagonize, alienate, and infuriate Europe and the entire Muslim World. As a French diplomat observed to me, `Monsieur bin Laden must be très content.'