The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Paul Begala - Anti-War Imagery and the Iconography of Hate

Anti-War Imagery and the Iconography of Hate

By Paul Begala

From: TPMCafe Special Guests
It seems to me the American people never really forgave the Democrats for being right about Vietnam.

The left was right, of course, about Vietnam. Even my CNN colleague Bob Novak, who was extraordinarily hawkish on Vietnam, now admits America should have pulled out years before we did.

And yet, despite being right, the left lost politically when America lost militarily. Why? And what can we who oppose President Bush's war in Iraq learn from that?

One of the grave sins of the anti-Vietnam War movement was, I think, a conflation of the conflict with the combatants. Instead of focusing their fire and their ire on the commander in chief, too many liberals wound up blaming the conscripts who so bravely fought Mr. Nixon's war. This was a tragic error. First, and most important, because decent, honorable men were smeared. Some were called "baby killer." Others were tainted by popular media that depicted them as unstable.

So one important lesson of Vietnam is, the first casualty of an unwise and unjust war are the American troops called on to fight it. Their service should be honored.

Second, what we political consultants call the "optics" matter. The popular memory of the anti-war movement calls to mind (even for those of us too young to clearly recall it) the indelible image of young Americans burning the American flag. Cops were called "pigs." Cherished American icons were trashed.

It seems to me the new anti-war movement has learned these lessons well. And it is the pro-war right that is repeating the mistakes of the past.

For me, one of the most incendiary moments of the entire Bush war in Iraq occurred when a right-wing thug ran his pickup truck over hundreds of crosses bearing the names of heroic Americans killed in Iraq. He also took out scores of American flags in the process. Police say the perp is Larry Chad Northern, a Waco real estate agent and gun nut. Mr. Northern is, of course, entitled to the presumption of innocence, despite the fact that the local sheriff's office says Ol' Larry was spotted at 9:30 Monday night changing a tire on his pickup truck. Citing sheriff's office reports, the Waco Tribune-Herald, reported that, "Small white crosses were found stuck in the truck's undercarriage."

Nice, Larry. Real Nice.

I don't think they taught Larry Chad to desecrate crosses at the Columbus Avenue Baptist Church. And I doubt his Army buddies from Vietnam are proud to see him running over American flags and disrespecting a memorial for the war dead.

So what could drive a true-blue - or should I say Bush red? - American patriot to commit such a heinous act

Such is the hatred of the far right at the dawn of the 21st Century. And my how the optical worm has turned. Today it is the left invoking faith, flag and family, while the right destroys crosses. Today it is the left that honors the war dead, raises up a Gold Star Mother and publicly prays for our troops, while the right viciously attacks a woman who gave her country everything. Today it is the left that patiently and peacefully respects the Office of the Presidency, while the right diminishes the office by claiming it's more important for the President to go bike-riding with a sports hero than comfort the mother of a war hero.

For the last two presidential elections it has been the Democratic Party whose nominee was a Vietnam War veteran, while the Republicans have sputtered out spurious defenses of their candidate's deceitful draft-dodging.

On Thursday, Dick Cheney, who said he had "other priorities" in the Vietnam era, and so helped himself to five draft deferments, will address the 73rd Convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. I do not think he will express remorse for the callousness with which he explained his cowardice. Nor do I expect him to apologize for the shocking, mocking Republicans who, at their New York Convention a year ago, sported Band-Aids with tiny purple hearts to mock the blood shed by John Kerry and so many other heroes in that misbegotten war.

No, Mr. Cheney, surrounded by body guards who would gladly give their life for him, will no doubt wrap himself in the flag. A flag Larry Chad Northern wrapped around his axle on Prairie Chapel Road.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Maureen Dowd - Biking Toward Nowhere - New York Times

Biking Toward Nowhere - New York Times
"The New York Times
August 17, 2005
Biking Toward Nowhere

How could President Bush be cavorting around on a long vacation with American troops struggling with a spiraling crisis in Iraq?

Wasn't he worried that his vacation activities might send a frivolous signal at a time when he had put so many young Americans in harm's way?

"I'm determined that life goes on," Mr. Bush said stubbornly.

That wasn't the son, believe it or not. It was the father - 15 years ago. I was in Kennebunkport then to cover the first President Bush's frenetic attempts to relax while reporters were pressing him about how he could be taking a month to play around when he had started sending American troops to the Persian Gulf only three days before.

On Saturday, the current President Bush was pressed about how he could be taking five weeks to ride bikes and nap and fish and clear brush even though his occupation of Iraq had become a fiasco. "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life," W. said, "to keep a balanced life."

Pressed about how he could ride his bike while refusing to see a grieving mom of a dead soldier who's camped outside his ranch, he added: "So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so."

Ah, the insensitivity of reporters who ask the President Bushes how they can expect to deal with Middle East fighting while they're off fishing.

The first President Bush told us that he kept a telephone in his golf cart and his cigarette boat so he could easily stay on top of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. But at least he seemed worried that he was sending the wrong signal, as his boating and golfing was juxtaposed on the news with footage of the frightened families of troops leaving for the Middle East.

"I just don't like taking questions on serious matters on my vacation," the usually good-natured Bush senior barked at reporters on the golf course. "So I hope you'll understand if I, when I'm recreating, will recreate." His hot-tempered oldest son, who was golfing with his father that day, was even more irritated. "Hey! Hey!" W. snapped at reporters asking questions on the first tee. "Can't you wait until we finish hitting, at least?"

Junior always had his priorities straight.

As W.'s neighbors get in scraps with the antiwar forces coalescing around the ranch; as the Pentagon tries to rustle up updated armor for our soldiers, who are still sitting ducks in the third year of the war; as the Iraqi police we train keep getting blown up by terrorists, who come right back every time U.S. troops beat them up; as Shiites working on the Iraqi constitution conspire with Iran about turning Iraq into an Islamic state that represses women; and as Iraq hurtles toward a possible civil war, W. seems far more oblivious than his father was with his Persian Gulf crisis.

This president is in a truly scary place in Iraq. Americans can't get out, or they risk turning the country into a terrorist haven that will make the old Afghanistan look like Cipriani's. Yet his war, which has not accomplished any of its purposes, swallows ever more American lives and inflames ever more Muslim hearts as W. reads a book about the history of salt and looks forward to his biking date with Lance Armstrong on Saturday.

The son wanted to go into Iraq to best his daddy in the history books, by finishing what Bush senior started. He swept aside the warnings of Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell and didn't bother to ask his father's advice. Now he is caught in the very trap his father said he feared: that America would get bogged down as "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," facing a possibly "barren" outcome.

It turns out that the people of Iraq have ethnic and religious identities, not a national identity. Shiites and Kurds want to suppress the Sunnis who once repressed them and break off into their own states, smashing the Bush model kitchen of democracy.

At long last, a senior Bush official admits that administration officials can no longer cling to their own version of reality. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning," the official told The Washington Post.

They had better start absorbing and shedding a lot faster, before many more American kids die to create a pawn of Iran. And they had better tell the Boy in the Bubble, who continues to dwell in delusion, hailing the fights and delays on the Iraqi constitution as "a tribute to democracy."

The president's pedaling as fast as he can, but he's going nowhere.

Susan G: Sheehan & the Exploitation Charge

"Sheehan & the Exploitation Charge
by SusanG
Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 19:14:03 PDT

[rightwing quote:]"The shameless opportunist exploiting Casey is his own mother, Cindy Sheehan."

One of the oddest accusations to come out of the Sheehan phenomenon is that this mother is "exploiting" her son's death and her own grief. I've thought about this for a couple of days, and the illogic of this argument is not settling down. In fact, it's becoming more crazy-making the more I think about it.

The logic (if you can call it that) in this "exploitation" argument is thus: If a tragedy befalls an individual and the individual decides to devote every action of her being to ensuring no other human being suffers this same tragedy, she's ... exploiting? Huh?

By this analysis, Christopher Reeves was "exploiting" his injury by advocating for cures for spinal injuries. MADD members are "exploiting" the deaths of their children by pushing for stronger punishments and deterrents of drunk drivers. The Susan G. Komen Foundation is "exploiting" a sister's death by raising money for breast cancer research through its highly successful Race for the Cure series. And so on. You get the drift.

Conversely, it's always represented to me the height of maturity and courage to be able to take a private grief and turn it into something public, something bigger, something more heroic and true than a personal, massive sorrow. I know that I simply will not be able to survive the death of one of my children in any sort of shape that will allow me to become a spokesperson for a cause, no matter how righteous that cause is. As it is, I have trouble sustaining discipline and energy for something as straightforward as blogging a couple of times a week. If one of my kids goes, I assure you that I will crawl into a corner of the universe and emotionally die. You will not hear from me again; I know this well because for 16 years I've had a child living on the edge of this life-death deal with a congenital heart defect and numerous (mostly unsuccessful) surgical interventions. Sorry, I've looked into my soul and I cower in the dark of night. You won't find me as a poster woman for the American Heart Association any time soon. Just breathing will be considered a victory.

How many of us, if faced with the death of a child, would be able to muster the courage, grace and energy to make public appearances on behalf of other people's children? And how many of us could do so while being demonized relentlessly and our private lives examined in detail? Sheehan's words and acts are never going to bring her son back. She knows that. This is by no means a silly woman.

But my God, she's a heroic one. As surely every thinking parent on this planet knows, deep in their hearts."

Mary Schmich - Support for war dwindles, one wave at a time

"Support for war dwindles, one wave at a time

Published August 17, 2005

Some distant day, when students curl up with their history books to learn about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, they will read about the moment when the tide of public opinion turned.

That's the cliche the history book will use: "The tide of public opinion turned."

And I'm guessing that the rest of the phrase will be "around August 2005."

It's hard to detect a turning tide, even a tide that laps at your shoes.

"Is the tide coming in or going out?" a friend said not long ago as we walked along an ocean.

We stood and watched the waves. He said out, I said in. I'm not sure which one of us was right. But that's the point. The moment a tide shifts direction is so subtle it's arguable--until all of a sudden it's clear, and closed to question.

Wars, unlike oceans, don't come with official tide tables. The tug of events on opinion, and then of opinion on events, is harder to document than the force of gravity on the sea, the angle of the sun and moon, the waterline on sand.

But in the matter of Iraq, the opinion tide has backed away from support for this war/conflict/struggle/invasion/your-preferred-term here.

I've been saying this for a couple of weeks, as one of those idle, ordinary-citizen's observations, based not on facts or my own politics, but on some wisp of something in the air.

It's just a feeling. Just a feeling like the chilly nip that in late August in Chicago flutters in on a warm breeze and leaves you wondering, "Did I imagine that?"

On Sunday, the Tribune ran a piece that gave a little muscle to the feeling. The story included interviews with increasingly war-wary Americans who fleshed out the opinion polls. Fifty-four percent of Americans now say it was a mistake to invade Iraq. In March, only 46 percent said so.

August 2005. The minority has become a majority. The tide has turned.

Polls, of course, can mislead. Ask John Kerry. But there's something more than polls in the air. You can feel it--the accumulation of weariness and wariness that has turned some supporters into doubters and some doubters into full objectors.

Ask around. You'll hear it.

You've certainly heard the death count: More than 1,800 American military men and women killed. In addition, according to the Iraq Body Count project, at least 23,589 civilians, mostly Iraqis, dead.

As wartime body counts go, the U.S. number is small. But these numbers come with faces, names. There may never have been a war in which individual deaths were so publicly detailed.

On Tuesday, the Tribune's front page ran a small headline: "Army lieutenant from Waukegan killed in Iraq." Inside was a photo of David L. Giaimo. He had wide-set eyes, a full smile, dark, cropped hair. He was handsome, and 23.

Names and faces like his have helped to turn the tide.

August is typically a lazy month, so it may be hard to register that out there in the ether of public opinion, something big is going on. This is our semi-official nothing-happens month. Even the president is on vacation.

And he is on vacation with an angry woman named Cindy Sheehan camped outside his Texas ranch. She's the mother of a dead soldier. Casey, age 24. Another face and name, another tug at the tide.

A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from a friend I've thought supported the war. Under his neutral comment, "Interesting observation," he forwarded someone else's e-mail, which began:

"Henry Kissinger quoted Mao as observing, `The established authority loses if it does not win; the insurgent wins if he does not lose.' In Iraq the insurgency won't prevail; we won't let it. But it won't lose."

This e-mailer, identified by name and as a Republican-leaning businessman, went on: "The conclusion, to me, is inescapable--We've already lost. Time to come home."

Is a forwarded e-mail proof of anything? No. But it's another glimmer of a subtle shift that will eventually be as obvious as a beached whale.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Current Republicans on War (While Clinton Was President)


Quotes from when Clinton committed troops to Bosnia:

"You can support the troops but not the president."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."
--Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"
--Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy."
--Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy."
--Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W Bush

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."
--Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
--Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

Funny thing is, we won that war without a single killed in action.

A Message to the Crawford Memorial Vandal

A Message to the Crawford Memorial Vandal

On Monday night, a vandal in a pickup truck ran over hundreds of small white crosses that had been installed in Crawford, Texas as a simple memorial to the Troops killed in Iraq. The vandal, who police say is Waco resident Larry Northern, was soon arrested, and OpTruth's Perry Jefferies managed to find his e-mail address. Here's what he had to say:

Mr. Northern:

I am a Veteran of the Iraq war, having served with the 4th Infantry Division on the initial invasion with Force Package One.

While I was in Iraq,a very good friend of mine, Christopher Cutchall,was killed in an unarmoredHMMWV outside of Baghdad. He was a cavalry scout serving with the 3d ID.Once he had declined the award of a medal because Soldiers assigned to him did not receive similar awards that he had recommended. He left two sons and awonderful wife. On Monday night, August 16, you ran down the memorial cross erected for him by Arlington West.

One of my Soldiers in Iraq was Roger Turner. We gave him a hard time because he always wore all of his protective equipment, including three pairs of glasses or goggles. He did this because he wanted to make sure that he returned home to his family. He rode a bicycle to work every day to make sure that he was able to save enough money on his Army salary to send his son to college. At Camp Anaconda, where the squadron briefly stayed, a rocket landed inside a tent, sending a piece of debris or fragment into him and killed him. On Monday night, August 16, you ran down the memorial cross erected for him by Arlington West.

One of my Soldiers was Henry Bacon. He was one of the finest men I ever met. He was in perfect shape for a man over forty, working hard at night. He told me that he did that because he didn't have much money to buy nice things for his wife, who he loved so much, so he had to be in good shape for her. He was like a father to many young men in his section of maintenance mechanics. They fixed our vehicles with almost no support and fabricated parts and made repairs that kept our squadron rolling on the longest, fastest armor advance ever made under fire. He was so very proud of his son-in-law that married the beautiful daughter so well raised by Henry. His son-in-law was a helicopter pilot with the 1st Cavalry Division, who died last year. Henry stopped to rescue a vehicle belonging to another unit on what was to be his last day in Iraq. He could have kept rolling - he was headed to Kuwait after a year's tour. But he stopped. He could have sent others to do the work, but he was on the ground, leading by example, when he was killed. On Monday night, August 16, you took it upon yourself to go out in the country, where a peaceful group was exercising their constitutional rights, and harming no one, and you ran down the memorial cross erected for Henry and for his son-in-law by Arlington West.

Mr. Northern - I know little about Cindy Sheehan except that she is a grieving mother, a gentle soul, and wants to bring harm to no one. I know little about you except that you found your way to Crawford on Monday night in August with chains and a pipe attached to your truck for the sole purpose of dishonoring a memorial erected for my friends and lost Soldiers and hundreds of others that served this nation when they were called. I find it disheartening that good men like these have died so that people like you can threaten a mother who lost a child with your actions. I hope that you are ashamed of yourself.

Perry Jefferies, First Sergeant, USA (retired) News | Smearing Cindy Sheehan
Smearing Cindy Sheehan
Conservatives are attacking her as a dupe of the left who’s exploiting her dead son. Some relatives have piled on too. But the grieving mother says her well-timed Crawford visit is "my idea, my mission, my vision."

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Farhad Manjoo

Aug. 13, 2005 | August was supposed to have been a quiet month for George W. Bush. Last year, the president cut short his customary weekslong vacation in order to campaign for reelection, so this year, unencumbered, he'd planned to spend more than a month in the sweltering heat of his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Then, last week, Cindy Sheehan, a grieving Northern California woman whose son was killed in Baghdad, Iraq in April 2004, showed up on Bush's vacation doorstep. She refuses to leave until Bush meets her in person. Nothing's been quiet in Crawford ever since.

It wouldn't be quite right to say that Sheehan's stand has vaulted the war back to the forefront of the national consciousness. Fresh horrors in Iraq daily are enough for that. But Sheehan is clearly forcing Bush to personally and publicly confront the consequences of his choices. And she's forcing reporters to pay attention, too. On Thursday, Bush was asked to respond to Sheehan's protest. "I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan," Bush said. "She feels strongly about her position. She has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America." But Bush also said that he disagrees with those Americans, like Sheehan, who want U.S. troops to pull out from Iraq. And he didn't suggest he'd be meeting with Sheehan anytime soon, either.

Sheehan insists that she's prepared to wait until Bush changes his mind. Sheehan, a founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, an antiwar group composed of families of troops killed in Iraq, has always been vocal in her opposition to the war. She participated in many rallies during the election last year, and even starred in an anti-Bush ad for She says that her late son Casey, a 24-year-old Army specialist who was killed in a rocket attack just two weeks after getting to the battlefield, felt the same way. And just as Casey went to Iraq to do his duty, Cindy Sheehan says she's got to take a stand in Crawford to do hers.

As a matter of politics, Sheehan's stand is brilliant. Bush's chief political asset is his embrace of the troops and their families; the longer he refuses to meet with Sheehan, the more unconcerned -- and even callous -- Bush risks looking to the public. And by providing a genuine news event in the hot, sleepy confines of Crawford, she's gotten far more media attention than she garnered as the star of a MoveOn ad. She's been profiled in dozens of papers and hailed in a New York Times editorial. Consequently, she's also been smeared by the right. Pundits have pointed out Sheehan's apparent inconsistencies -- in the past, she said that she believed Bush cares about the troops who've died, and she spoke warmly of a brief visit with the president after Casey's death that she now recalls as insincere and impersonal. All this week Matt Drudge has hammered on Sheehan, publicizing criticism by some of her family members, who say they support Bush and the war. On the Tuesday edition of his show, Fox host Bill O'Reilly said Sheehan's behavior "borders on treasonous."

Conservatives have assailed Sheehan for her association with Michael Moore (she has been blogging on Moore's Web site) and the antiwar group Code Pink. Some depict her as the left's dupe, but Sheehan insists she came up with the idea for the Crawford visit on her own. In a telephone conversation with Salon on Friday afternoon, Sheehan explained her inconsistencies and defended her association with Moore and others on the left. Just before the call, Bush's motorcade sped by "Camp Casey," which is what Sheehan calls the protest stand she's erected in her son's memory. The cars didn't even slow down.

So the president just drove by you a few minutes ago?

Well, I think he did, but I didn't see him. A bunch of trucks drove by really fast and there were people in them. I didn't see if any of them was the president, though. Chances are he was in the motorcade.

But needless to say he didn't make any signal, meet with you or anything like that?

No. They sped by really fast. And I don't want him to get out and shake my hand and just say, you know, whatever whatever. That's not the kind of meeting I want.

What kind of meeting do you want?

I want the kind of meeting that holds him accountable for the words he's actually said.

Well, do you want to debate with him? What do you mean by that?

What I want to ask is, "What noble cause did my son die for?" And if he says that it was to get rid of Saddam or liberate the Iraqi people, I'm not going to buy it. I want him to know that 62 million Americans oppose the war in Iraq. [During the interview, Sheehan used the number 62 million as well as 62 percent to refer to the strength of the opposition to the war. Recent polls show that majorities of Americans -- in some surveys more than 60 percent -- disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation in Iraq.]

Yesterday at a press conference the president acknowledged that many people want us to pull the troops from Iraq, and he specifically referred to you. What's your response to what he said?

Why didn't he say what Casey died for? And I've also asked them to quit using my son's name in vain, to stop saying that we have to continue the mission in Iraq to honor the sacrifice of the fallen heroes.

So as far as you're concerned he didn't address your concerns yesterday, and you're still looking for a meeting with him? Will you stay out there until he meets with you?

Yes. I'm going to be out here for the whole month of August unless he meets with me. I think I've said that a billion times.

But, realistically, do you think he's going to meet with you?

Well, I'd say that nothing is impossible. But, you know, probably not.

Tell me what it's like out there.

It's really, really hot, but there's so many people here and our spirits are so high. We know we're doing a good thing. We have four Methodist ministers, and Bob Edgar [the general secretary of the National Council of Churches]. They came out and did a prayer service after the president drove by. And there's people with bright yellow hair, and there's people from all walks of life. It's really cool.

One of the things that your critics have said -- critics on the right -- is that you're making this into a media spectacle. And I've even heard people say that by being out there you're dishonoring the memory of your son and other people who died in the war. How do you respond to that?

Well, I believe I'm honoring my son and people who died in the war by using their sacrifices for peace and love, not for war and hatred. I can't speak for the other people whose children have died, but I can speak for my family and the other members of Gold Star Families for Peace. We believe we're honoring our children by working for peace.

And it has turned into a media circus. But that's not my fault. You know, I just came out here to confront the president and stop this war.

The media attention -- obviously, though, that's been helpful to your cause.

I believe it's very helpful to the cause. You know what, the war has gone off the front pages. It's gone off the mainstream media, and this has put it back on where it belongs, even if there has to be a grieving mother sitting outside Crawford, you know? I'm only really doing the media's job for them.

What do you think your efforts are doing for the larger antiwar movement?

I believe it's galvanizing the peace movement -- I like to call it "peace movement" because that has more of a positive connotation than "antiwar." I know that 62 percent of the American public believe the war was a mistake and we should bring our troops home. I think it's giving those people a voice. People are dropping everything and coming from everywhere around the country to be here in Crawford, Texas.

It's getting them off the fence to do something. Someone said that the opposite of good is not evil but apathy. This has really given people something to do.

You've always been against the war in Iraq, is that right?


And I also want to ask about your son, his feelings about the war.

Casey disagreed with the war. He didn't feel George Bush was using the troops in an effective way. Or in a good way. And I begged him not to go because he knew it was wrong. But he said, "You know what, Mom, I have to go. It's my duty. And my buddies are going."

Last year you met with the president. Tell me how that came about, and tell me what happened during that meeting.

We were invited by the protocol office at Ft. Lewis, Wash. They said the president wanted to have a sit-down with us. And we decided we wouldn't use that time to debate the war with him. We wanted him to look at Casey, we wanted him to know about Casey, we wanted him to know what an indispensable part of humanity he was.

Tell me what the president was like during that meeting.

Well, he walked in and he said, "So who are we honorin' here?" He didn't know our name. He totally was disrespectful. He called me "Mom" the whole time. And he said some disrespectful things to us.

There's been an account of you saying that you did think he was respectful during that meeting. [In June 2004, Sheehan told the Reporter, a newspaper in her home of Vacaville, Calif., that she believed Bush was "sorry" and felt "some pain for our loss."]

Because at the end of the meeting, I said, "What are we doing here, Mr. President? We didn't vote for you in 2000, we're not going to vote for you this time. We're lifelong Democrats."

And he said, "It's not about politics." So we said, OK, we wouldn't use it about politics and we tried to put a positive spin on it. But if you read the whole article you'll see we already had misgivings about what was going on. A lot has been taken out of context.

Well, you said, "I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis ... I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss." Do you still think he feels some pain for your loss?

No, no, I don't think he does at all. Because it was all about politics. When he talks about how he meets with the families and they say, "Mr. President, we pray for you" -- you know what, that's not true. He used it for politics, because he doesn't go to funerals and stuff like that. That's what it was all about.

I'm just trying to get a sense, though, when you said that he feels some pain for your loss -- you didn't really mean that then, or at least you don't think that now?

I don't even know what I meant back in June of 2004. I was in shock, I was in grief. I'm still in a deep state of grief but I'm not in shock anymore. When he said it was not about politics I believed him. But he made it all about politics and that's when I stopped believing him.

Yesterday there was a report -- I'm not sure how accurate it is -- but it was apparently a statement from other members of your family that said they disagree with what you're doing.

I think it's accurate. I think my husband's family did write that. But I don't really give -- I don't care what they wrote. Because, No. 1, it's their opinion and they're entitled to it. But No. 2, they called him something like "our dear Casey." You know they're hypocrites. They didn't even know Casey. They didn't spend any time with him in his life, and now they're using his death for political reasons, I think.

Casey's my hero because of the way he lived, not because of the way he died. For these people who never ever went out of their way to spend any time with him to actually dare speak for him, I think it's hypocritical. Casey lived a great life and he was an honorable man and he died in a dishonorable war.

What about other members of your family -- are there people in your family who do agree with you?

My immediate family, Casey's dad and my three children and my sister, we're all on the same page. And I really think that some of my husband's siblings are with us too.

And I want to say something else, too. They said they support the troops. You know what? I support the troops. How's anything I'm doing showing that I don't support the troops?

What about parents of other soldiers who've been killed?

I would say the majority would agree with what I'm doing, because the majority of Americans think that this war is based on lies and deceptions and they think it was a mistake and they want the troops to come home.

Do you hear from many others?

I hear from them all the time, I do. We had a lot of military families speak out here. We have a lot here whose kids are still in harm's way, and whose kids have died.

One thing I want to ask you is about the other groups that are supporting you. Some people on the right have been saying that you're being "used" -- that's the quote I've heard. You're being used by extreme left-wing groups. How do you respond to that?

I respond that this was my idea. This was my mission. This was my vision. And what we're all doing is we're working for peace. And all these groups together are working for peace. And they're helping me with my vision. You know they're not using me, and maybe I'm using them because they're helping me out tremendously in this action.

But what about the pragmatics of it -- if you associate with someone like Michael Moore do you risk losing the mainstream?

I think Michael Moore is an amazing man, an amazing, brave man. And I think people are probably going to start saying don't associate with Cindy Sheehan. People who speak truth to power somehow are marginalized in this country.

I know you're going to be out there for the month of August. How long do you think the media's going to pay attention to you? Do you worry about that?

I don't really care. I didn't come out here to do this for the media. I came out here to do this to end the war. If the mainstream media's not here we've got blogs, we've got the Internet. It'll still keep going. Smart America will know what's going on. They're the ones who are going to put pressure on the elected officials to effect any change.

Justin Raimondo - In Defense of Cindy Sheehan

In Defense of Cindy Sheehan
Drink-soaked Trotskyite popinjay slimes antiwar Mom
by Justin Raimondo

All the usual suspects are lining up to slime Cindy Sheehan: Mr. Smarm, AKA James Taranto; the pretentious twits over at Powerline blog; and of course Matt Drudge, who ought to make his role as a sounding board for the Republican National Committee official. Yet none of these worthies were really up to the task. Drudge took Sheehan's statement after her first meeting with Bush out of context and was contradicted by his own source. Taranto mocks Sheehan's grief at the combat death of her son, Casey Sheehan, by titling a link to her account of her job loss over repeated absences "the sorrow and the pity." Taranto feel pity for anybody except, perhaps, a "settler" in Gaza, or maybe Ahmed Chalabi? Forget about it!

Sheehan, according to Taranto-la, is the adherent of "a grotesque ideology" because she believes "the mainstream media is a propaganda tool for the government." You know, the same MSM that printed Judy Miller's fantasies of WMD on the front page of "the newspaper of record" – the same folks who never challenged the fusillade of lies being fired at the American public by the Pentagon. How could anybody believe that this very same "mainstream media" could possibly be a tool of the government – why, it's "grotesque," doncha think? John Bolton is visiting Judy Miller in prison not because they're playing on the same team, you understand, but because Bolton wants to make international prison reform the centerpiece of his tenure as UN ambassador.

Taranto is a nasty piece of work whose scribblings are of little consequence, but the truly vile stuff – the heavy lifting – is done by his counterparts in the "blogosphere," the self-important little "warbloggers" whose natterings are dutifully recorded by Slate interns and the right-wing radio screamers: Powerline takes up the theme that maybe, just maybe Sheehan's crusade against this war constitutes a "hate crime":

"Cindy Sheehan: is she a poor, benighted woman unhinged and rendered irrational by grief, or is she a calculating, vicious anti-Semite and anti-American like the extremists with whom she associates? I don't know, and I'm not sure there is any way to know. But either way, is there any reason why she should be glorified by virtually every American media outlet?"

The Powerline cowards don't want to take a definite stand one way or the other, you see, but it's clear what they would like you to believe.

It's amazing that a blogger who cites David Horowitz's "FrontPage" dares breathe a single word about "extremism." Horowitz, for his part, gets the Over the Top Award for this headline:

"COINCIDENCE OR PLANNING? Cindy Sheehan's Planned Protest Will Coincide with Expected Terror Attacks in Iraq"

Is there anyone on the Right loonier than Horowitz? If so, I'd sure like to know who it is. At least Ann Coulter has a sense of humor, and some sense of irony. Horowitz, who likes to imagine that the antiwar movement is being personally directed by Osama bin Laden, is just plain bonkers in the dourest, dreariest way imaginable.

Leave it to Horowitz's buddy Christopher Hitchens, however, to synthesize all these varieties of the same poison, while adding his own distinctively astringent (some would say bitter) flavor to the brew. Hitchens is furious over this statement by Sheehan:

"Am I emotional? Yes, my first born was murdered. Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the army to protect America, not Israel. Am I stupid? No, I know full well that my son, my family, this nation and this world were betrayed by George Bush who was influenced by the neo-con PNAC agendas after 9/11. We were told that we were attacked on 9/11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms and democracy … not for the real reason, because the Arab Muslims who attacked us hate our middle-eastern foreign policy."

He leaves off the final sentence of that paragraph, however:

"That hasn't changed since America invaded and occupied Iraq … in fact it has gotten worse."

I don't wonder about that omission, since it explains the enormous appeal of Sheehan and her lone crusade against the Powers That Be: Americans are thoroughly sick of this filthy war, and are likewise riled up at those who lied and hectored us into it. What Hitchens and his fellow neocons hate is that Sheehan, no intellectual but an ordinary housewife and mother, names them for the evil swine they are: her accusing finger pointed in their direction rightly terrifies them. After so many years of operating in the dark, it is shocking to be pulled, suddenly, into the spotlight – and there are at least two prosecutors looking to shine yet more light on their subterranean activities. Until now, this has all been inside baseball for the delectation of the Beltway pundits, but these days ordinary Americans are beginning to realize who and what the "neocons" represent – and that can't be good for the War Party. No sirree!

Hitchens is livid:

"I think one must deny to anyone the right to ventriloquize the dead. Casey Sheehan joined up as a responsible adult volunteer. Are we so sure that he would have wanted to see his mother acquiring 'a knack for P.R.' and announcing that he was killed in a war for a Jewish cabal? (a claim that has brought David Duke flying to Ms. Sheehan's side.) This is just as objectionable, on logical as well as moral grounds, as the old pro-war argument that the dead 'must not have died in vain.' I distrust anyone who claims to speak for the fallen, and I distrust even more the hysterical noncombatants who exploit the grief of those who have to bury them."

David Duke defends Cindy Sheehan. What more does anyone need to know? If Duke were to point out the rather bluish color of the sky, anyone who followed suit, in Hitchens' book, ought to be charged with a "hate crime." Yet, it is fair to ask, just who is flying to the defense of the war Hitchens tirelessly agitated for? None other than Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and the millions of Bible-thumping, snake-handling, trailer-trash fundamentalists whom "The Hitch" purports to despise. Well, what of it? No doubt some prominent Satanists support the war – not that there's anything wrong with that – such as Peter H. Gilmore, high priest of the Church of Satan. Asked "which side is the Church [sic!] rooting for?", His Evilness answers:

"Most Church of Satan members would support victory for the United States, since its secular form of government, as well as its culture, promotes individualism and freedom. This secularism is seen as 'Satanic' by fanatical Muslims and rightly so – from their perspective. The architects of the U.S. Government were Freemasons and they held many Satanic values, so we feel that Americans should embrace the role they give to us as 'The Great Satan.'"

The "Great Satan" – oh, that's too funny. Top that, Hitchens, you moron!

The point is that Hitchens' invocation of Duke tells us nothing about Sheehan – and speaks volumes about Hitchens, whose viciousness is surpassed only by his intellectual dishonesty.

That this drink-soaked Trotskyite popinjay, as George Galloway incisively dubbed him, has the utter gall to bring up "ventriloquizing the dead" has got to be the most appalling act of hypocrisy since anti-vice crusader and noted "war on drugs" hardliner Rush Limbaugh pleaded for "understanding" (and a reduced sentence) for his drug habit. Wasn't it Hitchens and his fellow "idealists" whose rationale for war with Iraq was revenge for Saddam Hussein's many victims? The murdered Kurds, Hitchens tirelessly reminded us, cried out for "vengeance," as did the heroic Marsh Arabs.

What is particularly loathsome about Hitchens is that his "argument" consists entirely of epithets: to speak of "neocons," he avers, is to speak of a "Jewish cabal." But why is that? Most American Jews are vastly unsympathetic to George W. Bush, his party, and his war. Aside from that, however, is neoconservatism suddenly and inexplicably disappeared, even as one of its leading exponents triumphantly brays that the "neoconservative movement" has succeeded? Sheehan never once used the word "Jew" to describe anyone or anything for the simple reason that "neocon" is not a synonym for a person of the Jewish faith. Hitchens himself is a living example of why this is true. There are others: Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Michael Novak, Victor Davis Hanson, and Bill Bennett, not to mention former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, indicted spy for Israel and devout Catholic.

You don't have to be Jewish to put Israel first, even over and above your own country, as the Christian fundamentalists of the Darbyite persuasion have made all too painfully plain. Franklin spied for Israel and handed over [.pdf] top-secret information to his Israeli handlers, trying to push American foreign policy in an even more Israel-centric direction and avidly enlisting AIPAC to manipulate the U.S. into a confrontation with Iran.

AIPAC's machinations replicated the methods utilized by the War Party in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Sheehan is on target in naming Israel – not "the Jews" – as a major reason why the U.S. went to war against a country that represented no threat to us. In saying this, she is simply echoing the opinion of a great many Americans, including Michael Kinsley, General Anthony Zinni, intelligence expert James Bamford, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, and a host of others who plainly see the geopolitical implications of an American war to "democratize" the Middle East while leaving much of the region in ruins.

The ugliness of the War Party's rhetoric is often its own undoing, and this is surely the case when Hitchens tries to prove that Sheehan has no particular moral authority on the subject of the Iraq war. Fresh from his polemics against Mother Teresa, Hitchens cruelly disdains a mother's tears:

"What dreary sentimental nonsense this all is, and how much space has been wasted on it."

Those poor sentimental Americans, always going on about their emotions! Why don't they just stiffen and button their upper lips, and forget all this tripe about the sacredness of human life and the love of a mother for her son? Don't they know there's a war on?

Hitchens just wants us to get on with it. How dare a mother protest the death of her son – unless, of course, it's an Iraqi whose son was killed by Saddam's thugs. Then it's okay, the more sentimental nonsense the better. We are supposed to be all bent out of shape about the fate of the Marsh Arabs, but God help us if we mourn the death of our own children – and try to stop their slaughter in the name of a perverted "idealism." It is an "internationalism" of the heartless, the leftist origins of which are not hard to discern. Hitchens could care less how many Casey Sheehans have to die, as long as his cruel war against religion – and against anything else that conflicts with his arid, militaristic neo-Trotskyite ideology – is carried through to the end.

The War Party hates Cindy Sheehan for the simple reason that she speaks the truth – a truth that the overwhelming majority of Americans are now waking up to.

The neocons did bring us this war: they manufactured the lies, they promoted the phony "intelligence," they went on television predicting that the Iraqis would shower us with flowers and hosannas. They aren't scapegoats: they're the culprits, and they deserve what's coming to them – although not nearly enough are going to be called upon to account for their actions.

These neocons are, all of them, militant advocates for Israel, and that, as the Marxists used to say, is no accident. The blueprint for targeting Iraq – and "democratizing" the Middle East – as a strategy to take the pressure off Israel was originally laid out in "A Clean Break," a policy paper prepared for then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997 by several neoconservative policymakers – including Douglas Feith and Richard Perle – who have held high positions in the Bush administration and are now implicated in the trail of ersatz "intelligence" that lured us into the Iraq trap. This policy paper targeted Syria as the main danger to Israel, and averred that the road to Damascus had to run through Baghdad. Before a single American soldier had set foot on Iraqi soil, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was already issuing his postwar marching orders. Speaking of Syria, Iran, and other recalcitrant Muslim nations, he brayed to a visiting delegation of U.S. congressmen:

"These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons [of] mass destruction, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve."

Naomi Klein - Baghdad Year Zero (

Given the revelations of the massive cash airlift to Iraq and the $8.8 billion missing, it's time to revisit this chesnut:

Baghdad Year Zero
Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004. Originally from Harper's Magazine, September 2004. By Naomi Klein.

It was only after I had been in Baghdad for a month that I found what I was looking for. I had traveled to Iraq a year after the war began, at the height of what should have been a construction boom, but after weeks of searching I had not seen a single piece of heavy machinery apart from tanks and humvees. Then I saw it: a construction crane. It was big and yellow and impressive, and when I caught a glimpse of it around a corner in a busy shopping district I thought that I was finally about to witness some of the reconstruction I had heard so much about. But as I got closer I noticed that the crane was not actually rebuilding anything—not one of the bombed-out government buildings that still lay in rubble all over the city, nor one of the many power lines that remained in twisted heaps even as the heat of summer was starting to bear down. No, the crane was hoisting a giant billboard to the top of a three-story building. SUNBULAH: HONEY 100% NATURAL, made in Saudi Arabia.

Seeing the sign, I couldn’t help but think about something Senator John McCain had said back in October. Iraq, he said, is “a huge pot of honey that’s attracting a lot of flies.” The flies McCain was referring to were the Halliburtons and Bechtels, as well as the venture capitalists who flocked to Iraq in the path cleared by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and laser-guided bombs. The honey that drew them was not just no-bid contracts and Iraq’s famed oil wealth but the myriad investment opportunities offered by a country that had just been cracked wide open after decades of being sealed off, first by the nationalist economic policies of Saddam Hussein, then by asphyxiating United Nations sanctions.

Looking at the honey billboard, I was also reminded of the most common explanation for what has gone wrong in Iraq, a complaint echoed by everyone from John Kerry to Pat Buchanan: Iraq is mired in blood and deprivation because George W. Bush didn’t have “a postwar plan.” The only problem with this theory is that it isn’t true. The Bush Administration did have a plan for what it would do after the war; put simply, it was to lay out as much honey as possible, then sit back and wait for the flies.

* * *

The honey theory of Iraqi reconstruction stems from the most cherished belief of the war’s ideological architects: that greed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush’s Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

The fact that the boom never came and Iraq continues to tremble under explosions of a very different sort should never be blamed on the absence of a plan. Rather, the blame rests with the plan itself, and the extraordinarily violent ideology upon which it is based.

* * *

Torturers believe that when electrical shocks are applied to various parts of the body simultaneously subjects are rendered so confused about where the pain is coming from that they become incapable of resistance. A declassified CIA “Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual from 1963 describes how a trauma inflicted on prisoners opens up “an interval—which may be extremely brief—of suspended animation, a kind of psychological shock or paralysis. . . . [A]t this moment the source is far more open to suggestion, far likelier to comply.” A similar theory applies to economic shock therapy, or “shock treatment,” the ugly term used to describe the rapid implementation of free-market reforms imposed on Chile in the wake of General Augusto Pinochet’s coup. The theory is that if painful economic “adjustments” are brought in rapidly and in the aftermath of a seismic social disruption like a war, a coup, or a government collapse, the population will be so stunned, and so preoccupied with the daily pressures of survival, that it too will go into suspended animation, unable to resist. As Pinochet’s finance minister, Admiral Lorenzo Gotuzzo, declared, “The dog’s tail must be cut off in one chop.”

That, in essence, was the working thesis in Iraq, and in keeping with the belief that private companies are more suited than governments for virtually every task, the White House decided to privatize the task of privatizing Iraq’s state-dominated economy. Two months before the war began, USAID began drafting a work order, to be handed out to a private company, to oversee Iraq’s “transition to a sustainable market-driven economic system.” The document states that the winning company (which turned out to be the KPMG offshoot Bearing Point) will take “appropriate advantage of the unique opportunity for rapid progress in this area presented by the current configuration of political circumstances.” Which is precisely what happened.

L. Paul Bremer, who led the U.S. occupation of Iraq from May 2, 2003, until he caught an early flight out of Baghdad on June 28, admits that when he arrived, “Baghdad was on fire, literally, as I drove in from the airport.” But before the fires from the “shock and awe” military onslaught were even extinguished, Bremer unleashed his shock therapy, pushing through more wrenching changes in one sweltering summer than the International Monetary Fund has managed to enact over three decades in Latin America. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank, describes Bremer’s reforms as “an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world.”

The tone of Bremer’s tenure was set with his first major act on the job: he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers. Next, he flung open the country’s borders to absolutely unrestricted imports: no tariffs, no duties, no inspections, no taxes. Iraq, Bremer declared two weeks after he arrived, was “open for business.”

One month later, Bremer unveiled the centerpiece of his reforms. Before the invasion, Iraq’s non-oil-related economy had been dominated by 200 state-owned companies, which produced everything from cement to paper to washing machines. In June, Bremer flew to an economic summit in Jordan and announced that these firms would be privatized immediately. “Getting inefficient state enterprises into private hands,” he said, “is essential for Iraq’s economic recovery.” It would be the largest state liquidation sale since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Bremer’s economic engineering had only just begun. In September, to entice foreign investors to come to Iraq, he enacted a radical set of laws unprecedented in their generosity to multinational corporations. There was Order 37, which lowered Iraq’s corporate tax rate from roughly 40 percent to a flat 15 percent. There was Order 39, which allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets outside of the natural-resource sector. Even better, investors could take 100 percent of the profits they made in Iraq out of the country; they would not be required to reinvest and they would not be taxed. Under Order 39, they could sign leases and contracts that would last for forty years. Order 40 welcomed foreign banks to Iraq under the same favorable terms. All that remained of Saddam Hussein’s economic policies was a law restricting trade unions and collective bargaining.

If these policies sound familiar, it’s because they are the same ones multinationals around the world lobby for from national governments and in international trade agreements. But while these reforms are only ever enacted in part, or in fits and starts, Bremer delivered them all, all at once. Overnight, Iraq went from being the most isolated country in the world to being, on paper, its widest-open market.

* * *

At first, the shock-therapy theory seemed to hold: Iraqis, reeling from violence both military and economic, were far too busy staying alive to mount a political response to Bremer’s campaign. Worrying about the privatization of the sewage system was an unimaginable luxury with half the population lacking access to clean drinking water; the debate over the flat tax would have to wait until the lights were back on. Even in the international press, Bremer’s new laws, though radical, were easily upstaged by more dramatic news of political chaos and rising crime.

Some people were paying attention, of course. That autumn was awash in “rebuilding Iraq” trade shows, in Washington, London, Madrid, and Amman. The Economist described Iraq under Bremer as “a capitalist dream,” and a flurry of new consulting firms were launched promising to help companies get access to the Iraqi market, their boards of directors stacked with well-connected Republicans. The most prominent was New Bridge Strategies, started by Joe Allbaugh, former Bush-Cheney campaign manager. “Getting the rights to distribute Procter & Gamble products can be a gold mine,” one of the company’s partners enthused. “One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out thirty Iraqi stores; a Wal-Mart could take over the country.”

Soon there were rumors that a McDonald’s would be opening up in downtown Baghdad, funding was almost in place for a Starwood luxury hotel, and General Motors was planning to build an auto plant. On the financial side, HSBC would have branches all over the country, Citigroup was preparing to offer substantial loans guaranteed against future sales of Iraqi oil, and the bell was going to ring on a New York‒style stock exchange in Baghdad any day.

In only a few months, the postwar plan to turn Iraq into a laboratory for the neocons had been realized. Leo Strauss may have provided the intellectual framework for invading Iraq preemptively, but it was that other University of Chicago professor, Milton Friedman, author of the anti-government manifesto Capitalism and Freedom, who supplied the manual for what to do once the country was safely in America’s hands. This represented an enormous victory for the most ideological wing of the Bush Administration. But it was also something more: the culmination of two interlinked power struggles, one among Iraqi exiles advising the White House on its postwar strategy, the other within the White House itself.

* * *

As the British historian Dilip Hiro has shown, in Secrets and Lies: Operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’ and After, the Iraqi exiles pushing for the invasion were divided, broadly, into two camps. On one side were “the pragmatists,” who favored getting rid of Saddam and his immediate entourage, securing access to oil, and slowly introducing free-market reforms. Many of these exiles were part of the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project, which generated a thirteen-volume report on how to restore basic services and transition to democracy after the war. On the other side was the “Year Zero” camp, those who believed that Iraq was so contaminated that it needed to be rubbed out and remade from scratch. The prime advocate of the pragmatic approach was Iyad Allawi, a former high-level Baathist who fell out with Saddam and started working for the CIA. The prime advocate of the Year Zero approach was Ahmad Chalabi, whose hatred of the Iraqi state for expropriating his family’s assets during the 1958 revolution ran so deep he longed to see the entire country burned to the ground—everything, that is, but the Oil Ministry, which would be the nucleus of the new Iraq, the cluster of cells from which an entire nation would grow. He called this process “de-Baathification.”

A parallel battle between pragmatists and true believers was being waged within the Bush Administration. The pragmatists were men like Secretary of State Colin Powell and General Jay Garner, the first U.S. envoy to postwar Iraq. General Garner’s plan was straightforward enough: fix the infrastructure, hold quick and dirty elections, leave the shock therapy to the International Monetary Fund, and concentrate on securing U.S. military bases on the model of the Philippines. “I think we should look right now at Iraq as our coaling station in the Middle East,” he told the BBC. He also paraphrased T. E. Lawrence, saying, “It’s better for them to do it imperfectly than for us to do it for them perfectly.” On the other side was the usual cast of neoconservatives: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who lauded Bremer’s “sweeping reforms” as “some of the most enlightened and inviting tax and investment laws in the free world”), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and, perhaps most centrally, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. Whereas the State Department had its Future of Iraq report, the neocons had USAID’s contract with Bearing Point to remake Iraq’s economy: in 108 pages, “privatization” was mentioned no fewer than fifty-one times. To the true believers in the White House, General Garner’s plans for postwar Iraq seemed hopelessly unambitious. Why settle for a mere coaling station when you can have a model free market? Why settle for the Philippines when you can have a beacon unto the world?

The Iraqi Year Zeroists made natural allies for the White House neoconservatives: Chalabi’s seething hatred of the Baathist state fit nicely with the neocons’ hatred of the state in general, and the two agendas effortlessly merged. Together, they came to imagine the invasion of Iraq as a kind of Rapture: where the rest of the world saw death, they saw birth—a country redeemed through violence, cleansed by fire. Iraq wasn’t being destroyed by cruise missiles, cluster bombs, chaos, and looting; it was being born again. April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell, was Day One of Year Zero.

While the war was being waged, it still wasn’t clear whether the pragmatists or the Year Zeroists would be handed control over occupied Iraq. But the speed with which the nation was conquered dramatically increased the neocons’ political capital, since they had been predicting a “cakewalk” all along. Eight days after George Bush landed on that aircraft carrier under a banner that said MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, the President publicly signed on to the neocons’ vision for Iraq to become a model corporate state that would open up the entire region. On May 9, Bush proposed the “establishment of a U.S.-Middle East free trade area within a decade”; three days later, Bush sent Paul Bremer to Baghdad to replace Jay Garner, who had been on the job for only three weeks. The message was unequivocal: the pragmatists had lost; Iraq would belong to the believers.

A Reagan-era diplomat turned entrepreneur, Bremer had recently proven his ability to transform rubble into gold by waiting exactly one month after the September 11 attacks to launch Crisis Consulting Practice, a security company selling “terrorism risk insurance” to multinationals. Bremer had two lieutenants on the economic front: Thomas Foley and Michael Fleischer, the heads of “private sector development” for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Foley is a Greenwich, Connecticut, multimillionaire, a longtime friend of the Bush family and a Bush-Cheney campaign “pioneer” who has described Iraq as a modern California “gold rush.” Fleischer, a venture capitalist, is the brother of former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Neither man had any high-level diplomatic experience and both use the term corporate “turnaround” specialist to describe what they do. According to Foley, this uniquely qualified them to manage Iraq’s economy because it was “the mother of all turnarounds.”

Many of the other CPA postings were equally ideological. The Green Zone, the city within a city that houses the occupation headquarters in Saddam’s former palace, was filled with Young Republicans straight out of the Heritage Foundation, all of them given responsibility they could never have dreamed of receiving at home. Jay Hallen, a twenty-four-year-old who had applied for a job at the White House, was put in charge of launching Baghdad’s new stock exchange. Scott Erwin, a twenty-one-year-old former intern to Dick Cheney, reported in an email home that “I am assisting Iraqis in the management of finances and budgeting for the domestic security forces.” The college senior’s favorite job before this one? “My time as an ice-cream truck driver.” In those early days, the Green Zone felt a bit like the Peace Corps, for people who think the Peace Corps is a communist plot. It was a chance to sleep on cots, wear army boots, and cry “incoming”—all while being guarded around the clock by real soldiers.

The teams of KPMG accountants, investment bankers, think-tank lifers, and Young Republicans that populate the Green Zone have much in common with the IMF missions that rearrange the economies of developing countries from the presidential suites of Sheraton hotels the world over. Except for one rather significant difference: in Iraq they were not negotiating with the government to accept their “structural adjustments” in exchange for a loan; they were the government.

Some small steps were taken, however, to bring Iraq’s U.S.-appointed politicians inside. Yegor Gaidar, the mastermind of Russia’s mid-nineties privatization auction that gave away the country’s assets to the reigning oligarchs, was invited to share his wisdom at a conference in Baghdad. Marek Belka, who as finance minister oversaw the same process in Poland, was brought in as well. The Iraqis who proved most gifted at mouthing the neocon lines were selected to act as what USAID calls local “policy champions”—men like Ahmad al Mukhtar, who told me of his countrymen, “They are lazy. The Iraqis by nature, they are very dependent. . . . They will have to depend on themselves, it is the only way to survive in the world today.” Although he has no economics background and his last job was reading the English-language news on television, al Mukhtar was appointed director of foreign relations in the Ministry of Trade and is leading the charge for Iraq to join the World Trade Organization.

* * *

I had been following the economic front of the war for almost a year before I decided to go to Iraq. I attended the “Rebuilding Iraq” trade shows, studied Bremer’s tax and investment laws, met with contractors at their home offices in the United States, interviewed the government officials in Washington who are making the policies. But as I prepared to travel to Iraq in March to see this experiment in free-market utopianism up close, it was becoming increasingly clear that all was not going according to plan. Bremer had been working on the theory that if you build a corporate utopia the corporations will come—but where were they? American multinationals were happy to accept U.S. taxpayer dollars to reconstruct the phone or electricity systems, but they weren’t sinking their own money into Iraq. There was, as yet, no McDonald’s or Wal-Mart in Baghdad, and even the sales of state factories, announced so confidently nine months earlier, had not materialized.

Some of the holdup had to do with the physical risks of doing business in Iraq. But there were other more significant risks as well. When Paul Bremer shredded Iraq’s Baathist constitution and replaced it with what The Economist greeted approvingly as “the wish list of foreign investors,” there was one small detail he failed to mention: It was all completely illegal. The CPA derived its legal authority from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, passed in May 2003, which recognized the United States and Britain as Iraq’s legitimate occupiers. It was this resolution that empowered Bremer to unilaterally make laws in Iraq. But the resolution also stated that the U.S. and Britain must “comply fully with their obligations under international law including in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907.” Both conventions were born as an attempt to curtail the unfortunate historical tendency among occupying powers to rewrite the rules so that they can economically strip the nations they control. With this in mind, the conventions stipulate that an occupier must abide by a country’s existing laws unless “absolutely prevented” from doing so. They also state that an occupier does not own the “public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural assets” of the country it is occupying but is rather their “administrator” and custodian, keeping them secure until sovereignty is reestablished. This was the true threat to the Year Zero plan: since America didn’t own Iraq’s assets, it could not legally sell them, which meant that after the occupation ended, an Iraqi government could come to power and decide that it wanted to keep the state companies in public hands, or, as is the norm in the Gulf region, to bar foreign firms from owning 100 percent of national assets. If that happened, investments made under Bremer’s rules could be expropriated, leaving firms with no recourse because their investments had violated international law from the outset.

By November, trade lawyers started to advise their corporate clients not to go into Iraq just yet, that it would be better to wait until after the transition. Insurance companies were so spooked that not a single one of the big firms would insure investors for “political risk,” that high-stakes area of insurance law that protects companies against foreign governments turning nationalist or socialist and expropriating their investments.

Even the U.S.-appointed Iraqi politicians, up to now so obedient, were getting nervous about their own political futures if they went along with the privatization plans. Communications Minister Haider al-Abadi told me about his first meeting with Bremer. “I said, ‘Look, we don’t have the mandate to sell any of this. Privatization is a big thing. We have to wait until there is an Iraqi government.’” Minister of Industry Mohamad Tofiq was even more direct: “I am not going to do something that is not legal, so that’s it.”

Both al-Abadi and Tofiq told me about a meeting—never reported in the press—that took place in late October 2003. At that gathering the twenty-five members of Iraq’s Governing Council as well as the twenty-five interim ministers decided unanimously that they would not participate in the privatization of Iraq’s state-owned companies or of its publicly owned infrastructure.

But Bremer didn’t give up. International law prohibits occupiers from selling state assets themselves, but it doesn’t say anything about the puppet governments they appoint. Originally, Bremer had pledged to hand over power to a directly elected Iraqi government, but in early November he went to Washington for a private meeting with President Bush and came back with a Plan B. On June 30 the occupation would officially end—but not really. It would be replaced by an appointed government, chosen by Washington. This government would not be bound by the international laws preventing occupiers from selling off state assets, but it would be bound by an “interim constitution,” a document that would protect Bremer’s investment and privatization laws.

The plan was risky. Bremer’s June 30 deadline was awfully close, and it was chosen for a less than ideal reason: so that President Bush could trumpet the end of Iraq’s occupation on the campaign trail. If everything went according to plan, Bremer would succeed in forcing a “sovereign” Iraqi government to carry out his illegal reforms. But if something went wrong, he would have to go ahead with the June 30 handover anyway because by then Karl Rove, and not Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, would be calling the shots. And if it came down to a choice between ideology in Iraq and the electability of George W. Bush, everyone knew which would win.

* * *

At first, Plan B seemed to be right on track. Bremer persuaded the Iraqi Governing Council to agree to everything: the new timetable, the interim government, and the interim constitution. He even managed to slip into the constitution a completely overlooked clause, Article 26. It stated that for the duration of the interim government, “The laws, regulations, orders and directives issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority . . . shall remain in force” and could only be changed after general elections are held.

Bremer had found his legal loophole: There would be a window—seven months—when the occupation was officially over but before general elections were scheduled to take place. Within this window, the Hague and Geneva Conventions’ bans on privatization would no longer apply, but Bremer’s own laws, thanks to Article 26, would stand. During these seven months, foreign investors could come to Iraq and sign forty-year contracts to buy up Iraqi assets. If a future elected Iraqi government decided to change the rules, investors could sue for compensation.

But Bremer had a formidable opponent: Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq. al Sistani tried to block Bremer’s plan at every turn, calling for immediate direct elections and for the constitution to be written after those elections, not before. Both demands, if met, would have closed Bremer’s privatization window. Then, on March 2, with the Shia members of the Governing Council refusing to sign the interim constitution, five bombs exploded in front of mosques in Karbala and Baghdad, killing close to 200 worshipers. General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, warned that the country was on the verge of civil war. Frightened by this prospect, al Sistani backed down and the Shia politicians signed the interim constitution. It was a familiar story: the shock of a violent attack paved the way for more shock therapy.

When I arrived in Iraq a week later, the economic project seemed to be back on track. All that remained for Bremer was to get his interim constitution ratified by a Security Council resolution, then the nervous lawyers and insurance brokers could relax and the sell-off of Iraq could finally begin. The CPA, meanwhile, had launched a major new P.R. offensive designed to reassure investors that Iraq was still a safe and exciting place to do business. The centerpiece of the campaign was Destination Baghdad Exposition, a massive trade show for potential investors to be held in early April at the Baghdad International Fairgrounds. It was the first such event inside Iraq, and the organizers had branded the trade fair “DBX,” as if it were some sort of Mountain Dew‒sponsored dirt-bike race. In keeping with the extreme-sports theme, Thomas Foley traveled to Washington to tell a gathering of executives that the risks in Iraq are akin “to skydiving or riding a motorcycle, which are, to many, very acceptable risks.”

But three hours after my arrival in Baghdad, I was finding these reassurances extremely hard to believe. I had not yet unpacked when my hotel room was filled with debris and the windows in the lobby were shattered. Down the street, the Mount Lebanon Hotel had just been bombed, at that point the largest attack of its kind since the official end of the war. The next day, another hotel was bombed in Basra, then two Finnish businessmen were murdered on their way to a meeting in Baghdad. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt finally admitted that there was a pattern at work: “the extremists have started shifting away from the hard targets . . . [and] are now going out of their way to specifically target softer targets.” The next day, the State Department updated its travel advisory: U.S. citizens were “strongly warned against travel to Iraq.”

The physical risks of doing business in Iraq seemed to be spiraling out of control. This, once again, was not part of the original plan. When Bremer first arrived in Baghdad, the armed resistance was so low that he was able to walk the streets with a minimal security entourage. During his first four months on the job, 109 U.S. soldiers were killed and 570 were wounded. In the following four months, when Bremer’s shock therapy had taken effect, the number of U.S. casualties almost doubled, with 195 soldiers killed and 1,633 wounded. There are many in Iraq who argue that these events are connected—that Bremer’s reforms were the single largest factor leading to the rise of armed resistance.

Take, for instance, Bremer’s first casualties. The soldiers and workers he laid off without pensions or severance pay didn’t all disappear quietly. Many of them went straight into the mujahedeen, forming the backbone of the armed resistance. “Half a million people are now worse off, and there you have the water tap that keeps the insurgency going. It’s alternative employment,” says Hussain Kubba, head of the prominent Iraqi business group Kubba Consulting. Some of Bremer’s other economic casualties also have failed to go quietly. It turns out that many of the businessmen whose companies are threatened by Bremer’s investment laws have decided to make investments of their own—in the resistance. It is partly their money that keeps fighters in Kalashnikovs and RPGs.

These developments present a challenge to the basic logic of shock therapy: the neocons were convinced that if they brought in their reforms quickly and ruthlessly, Iraqis would be too stunned to resist. But the shock appears to have had the opposite effect; rather than the predicted paralysis, it jolted many Iraqis into action, much of it extreme. Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s minister of communication, puts it this way: “We know that there are terrorists in the country, but previously they were not successful, they were isolated. Now because the whole country is unhappy, and a lot of people don’t have jobs . . . these terrorists are finding listening ears.”

Bremer was now at odds not only with the Iraqis who opposed his plans but with U.S military commanders charged with putting down the insurgency his policies were feeding. Heretical questions began to be raised: instead of laying people off, what if the CPA actually created jobs for Iraqis? And instead of rushing to sell off Iraq’s 200 state-owned firms, how about putting them back to work?

* * *

From the start, the neocons running Iraq had shown nothing but disdain for Iraq’s state-owned companies. In keeping with their Year Zero‒apocalyptic glee, when looters descended on the factories during the war, U.S. forces did nothing. Sabah Asaad, managing director of a refrigerator factory outside Baghdad, told me that while the looting was going on, he went to a nearby U.S. Army base and begged for help. “I asked one of the officers to send two soldiers and a vehicle to help me kick out the looters. I was crying. The officer said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything, we need an order from President Bush.’” Back in Washington, Donald Rumsfeld shrugged. “Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

To see the remains of Asaad’s football-field-size warehouse is to understand why Frank Gehry had an artistic crisis after September 11 and was briefly unable to design structures resembling the rubble of modern buildings. Asaad’s looted and burned factory looks remarkably like a heavy-metal version of Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, with waves of steel, buckled by fire, lying in terrifyingly beautiful golden heaps. Yet all was not lost. “The looters were good-hearted,” one of Asaad’s painters told me, explaining that they left the tools and machines behind, “so we could work again.” Because the machines are still there, many factory managers in Iraq say that it would take little for them to return to full production. They need emergency generators to cope with daily blackouts, and they need capital for parts and raw materials. If that happened, it would have tremendous implications for Iraq’s stalled reconstruction, because it would mean that many of the key materials needed to rebuild—cement and steel, bricks and furniture—could be produced inside the country.

But it hasn’t happened. Immediately after the nominal end of the war, Congress appropriated $2.5 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq, followed by an additional $18.4 billion in October. Yet as of July 2004, Iraq’s state-owned factories had been pointedly excluded from the reconstruction contracts. Instead, the billions have all gone to Western companies, with most of the materials for the reconstruction imported at great expense from abroad.

With unemployment as high as 67 percent, the imported products and foreign workers flooding across the borders have become a source of tremendous resentment in Iraq and yet another open tap fueling the insurgency. And Iraqis don’t have to look far for reminders of this injustice; it’s on display in the most ubiquitous symbol of the occupation: the blast wall. The ten-foot-high slabs of reinforced concrete are everywhere in Iraq, separating the protected—the people in upscale hotels, luxury homes, military bases, and, of course, the Green Zone—from the unprotected and exposed. If that wasn’t injury enough, all the blast walls are imported, from Kurdistan, Turkey, or even farther afield, this despite the fact that Iraq was once a major manufacturer of cement, and could easily be again. There are seventeen state-owned cement factories across the country, but most are idle or working at only half capacity. According to the Ministry of Industry, not one of these factories has received a single contract to help with the reconstruction, even though they could produce the walls and meet other needs for cement at a greatly reduced cost. The CPA pays up to $1,000 per imported blast wall; local manufacturers say they could make them for $100. Minister Tofiq says there is a simple reason why the Americans refuse to help get Iraq’s cement factories running again: among those making the decisions, “no one believes in the public sector.”[1]

This kind of ideological blindness has turned Iraq’s occupiers into prisoners of their own policies, hiding behind walls that, by their very existence, fuel the rage at the U.S. presence, thereby feeding the need for more walls. In Baghdad the concrete barriers have been given a popular nickname: Bremer Walls.

As the insurgency grew, it soon became clear that if Bremer went ahead with his plans to sell off the state companies, it could worsen the violence. There was no question that privatization would require layoffs: the Ministry of Industry estimates that roughly 145,000 workers would have to be fired to make the firms desirable to investors, with each of those workers supporting, on average, five family members. For Iraq’s besieged occupiers the question was: Would these shock-therapy casualties accept their fate or would they rebel?

* * *

The answer arrived, in rather dramatic fashion, at one of the largest state-owned companies, the General Company for Vegetable Oils. The complex of six factories in a Baghdad industrial zone produces cooking oil, hand soap, laundry detergent, shaving cream, and shampoo. At least that is what I was told by a receptionist who gave me glossy brochures and calendars boasting of “modern instruments” and “the latest and most up to date developments in the field of industry.” But when I approached the soap factory, I discovered a group of workers sleeping outside a darkened building. Our guide rushed ahead, shouting something to a woman in a white lab coat, and suddenly the factory scrambled into activity: lights switched on, motors revved up, and workers—still blinking off sleep—began filling two-liter plastic bottles with pale blue Zahi brand dishwashing liquid.

I asked Nada Ahmed, the woman in the white coat, why the factory wasn’t working a few minutes before. She explained that they have only enough electricity and materials to run the machines for a couple of hours a day, but when guests arrive—would-be investors, ministry officials, journalists—they get them going. “For show,” she explained. Behind us, a dozen bulky machines sat idle, covered in sheets of dusty plastic and secured with duct tape.

In one dark corner of the plant, we came across an old man hunched over a sack filled with white plastic caps. With a thin metal blade lodged in a wedge of wax, he carefully whittled down the edges of each cap, leaving a pile of shavings at his feet. “We don’t have the spare part for the proper mold, so we have to cut them by hand,” his supervisor explained apologetically. “We haven’t received any parts from Germany since the sanctions began.” I noticed that even on the assembly lines that were nominally working there was almost no mechanization: bottles were held under spouts by hand because conveyor belts don’t convey, lids once snapped on by machines were being hammered in place with wooden mallets. Even the water for the factory was drawn from an outdoor well, hoisted by hand, and carried inside.

The solution proposed by the U.S. occupiers was not to fix the plant but to sell it, and so when Bremer announced the privatization auction back in June 2003 this was among the first companies mentioned. Yet when I visited the factory in March, nobody wanted to talk about the privatization plan; the mere mention of the word inside the plant inspired awkward silences and meaningful glances. This seemed an unnatural amount of subtext for a soap factory, and I tried to get to the bottom of it when I interviewed the assistant manager. But the interview itself was equally odd: I had spent half a week setting it up, submitting written questions for approval, getting a signed letter of permission from the minister of industry, being questioned and searched several times. But when I finally began the interview, the assistant manager refused to tell me his name or let me record the conversation. “Any manager mentioned in the press is attacked afterwards,” he said. And when I asked whether the company was being sold, he gave this oblique response: “If the decision was up to the workers, they are against privatization; but if it’s up to the high-ranking officials and government, then privatization is an order and orders must be followed.”

I left the plant feeling that I knew less than when I’d arrived. But on the way out of the gates, a young security guard handed my translator a note. He wanted us to meet him after work at a nearby restaurant, “to find out what is really going on with privatization.” His name was Mahmud, and he was a twenty-five-year-old with a neat beard and big black eyes. (For his safety, I have omitted his last name.) His story began in July, a few weeks after Bremer’s privatization announcement. The company’s manager, on his way to work, was shot to death. Press reports speculated that the manager was murdered because he was in favor of privatizing the plant, but Mahmud was convinced that he was killed because he opposed the plan. “He would never have sold the factories like the Americans want. That’s why they killed him.”

The dead man was replaced by a new manager, Mudhfar Ja’far. Shortly after taking over, Ja’far called a meeting with ministry officials to discuss selling off the soap factory, which would involve laying off two thirds of its employees. Guarding that meeting were several security officers from the plant. They listened closely to Ja’far’s plans and promptly reported the alarming news to their coworkers. “We were shocked,” Mahmud recalled. “If the private sector buys our company, the first thing they would do is reduce the staff to make more money. And we will be forced into a very hard destiny, because the factory is our only way of living.”

Frightened by this prospect, a group of seventeen workers, including Mahmud, marched into Ja’far’s office to confront him on what they had heard. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t there, only the assistant manager, the one you met,” Mahmud told me. A fight broke out: one worker struck the assistant manager, and a bodyguard fired three shots at the workers. The crowd then attacked the bodyguard, took his gun, and, Mahmud said, “stabbed him with a knife in the back three times. He spent a month in the hospital.” In January there was even more violence. On their way to work, Ja’far, the manager, and his son were shot and badly injured. Mahmud told me he had no idea who was behind the attack, but I was starting to understand why factory managers in Iraq try to keep a low profile.

At the end of our meeting, I asked Mahmud what would happen if the plant was sold despite the workers’ objections. “There are two choices,” he said, looking me in the eye and smiling kindly. “Either we will set the factory on fire and let the flames devour it to the ground, or we will blow ourselves up inside of it. But it will not be privatized.”

If there ever was a moment when Iraqis were too disoriented to resist shock therapy, that moment has definitely passed. Labor relations, like everything else in Iraq, has become a blood sport. The violence on the streets howls at the gates of the factories, threatening to engulf them. Workers fear job loss as a death sentence, and managers, in turn, fear their workers, a fact that makes privatization distinctly more complicated than the neocons foresaw.[2]

* * *

As I left the meeting with Mahmud, I got word that there was a major demonstration outside the CPA headquarters. Supporters of the radical young cleric Moqtada al Sadr were protesting the closing of their newspaper, al Hawza, by military police. The CPA accused al Hawza of publishing “false articles” that could “pose the real threat of violence.” As an example, it cited an article that claimed Bremer “is pursuing a policy of starving the Iraqi people to make them preoccupied with procuring their daily bread so they do not have the chance to demand their political and individual freedoms.” To me it sounded less like hate literature than a concise summary of Milton Friedman’s recipe for shock therapy.

A few days before the newspaper was shut down, I had gone to Kufa during Friday prayers to listen to al Sadr at his mosque. He had launched into a tirade against Bremer’s newly signed interim constitution, calling it “an unjust, terrorist document.” The message of the sermon was clear: Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani may have backed down on the constitution, but al Sadr and his supporters were still determined to fight it—and if they succeeded they would sabotage the neocons’ careful plan to saddle Iraq’s next government with their “wish list” of laws. With the closing of the newspaper, Bremer was giving al Sadr his response: he wasn’t negotiating with this young upstart; he’d rather take him out with force.

When I arrived at the demonstration, the streets were filled with men dressed in black, the soon-to-be legendary Mahdi Army. It struck me that if Mahmud lost his security guard job at the soap factory, he could be one of them. That’s who al Sadr’s foot soldiers are: the young men who have been shut out of the neocons’ grand plans for Iraq, who see no possibilities for work, and whose neighborhoods have seen none of the promised reconstruction. Bremer has failed these young men, and everywhere that he has failed, Moqtada al Sadr has cannily set out to succeed. In Shia slums from Baghdad to Basra, a network of Sadr Centers coordinate a kind of shadow reconstruction. Funded through donations, the centers dispatch electricians to fix power and phone lines, organize local garbage collection, set up emergency generators, run blood drives, direct traffic where the streetlights don’t work. And yes, they organize militias too. Al Sadr took Bremer’s economic casualties, dressed them in black, and gave them rusty Kalashnikovs. His militiamen protected the mosques and the state factories when the occupation authorities did not, but in some areas they also went further, zealously enforcing Islamic law by torching liquor stores and terrorizing women without the veil. Indeed, the astronomical rise of the brand of religious fundamentalism that al Sadr represents is another kind of blowback from Bremer’s shock therapy: if the reconstruction had provided jobs, security, and services to Iraqis, al Sadr would have been deprived of both his mission and many of his newfound followers.

At the same time as al Sadr’s followers were shouting “Down with America” outside the Green Zone, something was happening in another part of the country that would change everything. Four American mercenary soldiers were killed in Fallujah, their charred and dismembered bodies hung like trophies over the Euphrates. The attacks would prove a devastating blow for the neocons, one from which they would never recover. With these images, investing in Iraq suddenly didn’t look anything like a capitalist dream; it looked like a macabre nightmare made real.

The day I left Baghdad was the worst yet. Fallujah was under siege and Brig. Gen. Kimmitt was threatening to “destroy the al-Mahdi Army.” By the end, roughly 2,000 Iraqis were killed in these twin campaigns. I was dropped off at a security checkpoint several miles from the airport, then loaded onto a bus jammed with contractors lugging hastily packed bags. Although no one was calling it one, this was an evacuation: over the next week 1,500 contractors left Iraq, and some governments began airlifting their citizens out of the country. On the bus no one spoke; we all just listened to the mortar fire, craning our necks to see the red glow. A guy carrying a KPMG briefcase decided to lighten things up. “So is there business class on this flight?” he asked the silent bus. From the back, somebody called out, “Not yet.”

Indeed, it may be quite a while before business class truly arrives in Iraq. When we landed in Amman, we learned that we had gotten out just in time. That morning three Japanese civilians were kidnapped and their captors were threatening to burn them alive. Two days later Nicholas Berg went missing and was not seen again until the snuff film surfaced of his beheading, an even more terrifying message for U.S. contractors than the charred bodies in Fallujah. These were the start of a wave of kidnappings and killings of foreigners, most of them businesspeople, from a rainbow of nations: South Korea, Italy, China, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey. By the end of June more than ninety contractors were reported dead in Iraq. When seven Turkish contractors were kidnapped in June, their captors asked the “company to cancel all contracts and pull out employees from Iraq.” Many insurance companies stopped selling life insurance to contractors, and others began to charge premiums as high as $10,000 a week for a single Western executive—the same price some insurgents reportedly pay for a dead American.

For their part, the organizers of DBX, the historic Baghdad trade fair, decided to relocate to the lovely tourist city of Diyarbakir in Turkey, “just 250 km from the Iraqi border.” An Iraqi landscape, only without those frightening Iraqis. Three weeks later just fifteen people showed up for a Commerce Department conference in Lansing, Michigan, on investing in Iraq. Its host, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, tried to reassure his skeptical audience by saying that Iraq is “like a rough neighborhood anywhere in America.” The foreign investors, the ones who were offered every imaginable free-market enticement, are clearly not convinced; there is still no sign of them. Keith Crane, a senior economist at the Rand Corporation who has worked for the CPA, put it bluntly: “I don’t believe the board of a multinational company could approve a major investment in this environment. If people are shooting at each other, it’s just difficult to do business.” Hamid Jassim Khamis, the manager of the largest soft-drink bottling plant in the region, told me he can’t find any investors, even though he landed the exclusive rights to produce Pepsi in central Iraq. “A lot of people have approached us to invest in the factory, but people are really hesitating now.” Khamis said he couldn’t blame them; in five months he has survived an attempted assassination, a carjacking, two bombs planted at the entrance of his factory, and the kidnapping of his son.

Despite having been granted the first license for a foreign bank to operate in Iraq in forty years, HSBC still hasn’t opened any branches, a decision that may mean losing the coveted license altogether. Procter & Gamble has put its joint venture on hold, and so has General Motors. The U.S. financial backers of the Starwood luxury hotel and multiplex have gotten cold feet, and Siemens AG has pulled most staff from Iraq. The bell hasn’t rung yet at the Baghdad Stock Exchange—in fact you can’t even use credit cards in Iraq’s cash-only economy. New Bridge Strategies, the company that had gushed back in October about how “a Wal-Mart could take over the country,” is sounding distinctly humbled. “McDonald’s is not opening anytime soon,” company partner Ed Rogers told the Washington Post. Neither is Wal-Mart. The Financial Times has declared Iraq “the most dangerous place in the world in which to do business.” It’s quite an accomplishment: in trying to design the best place in the world to do business, the neocons have managed to create the worst, the most eloquent indictment yet of the guiding logic behind deregulated free markets.

The violence has not just kept investors out; it also forced Bremer, before he left, to abandon many of his central economic policies. Privatization of the state companies is off the table; instead, several of the state companies have been offered up for lease, but only if the investor agrees not to lay off a single employee. Thousands of the state workers that Bremer fired have been rehired, and significant raises have been handed out in the public sector as a whole. Plans to do away with the food-ration program have also been scrapped—it just doesn’t seem like a good time to deny millions of Iraqis the only nutrition on which they can depend.

* * *

The final blow to the neocon dream came in the weeks before the handover. The White House and the CPA were rushing to get the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution endorsing their handover plan. They had twisted arms to give the top job to former CIA agent Iyad Allawi, a move that will ensure that Iraq becomes, at the very least, the coaling station for U.S. troops that Jay Garner originally envisioned. But if major corporate investors were going to come to Iraq in the future, they would need a stronger guarantee that Bremer’s economic laws would stick. There was only one way of doing that: the Security Council resolution had to ratify the interim constitution, which locked in Bremer’s laws for the duration of the interim government. But al Sistani once again objected, this time unequivocally, saying that the constitution has been “rejected by the majority of the Iraqi people.” On June 8 the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that endorsed the handover plan but made absolutely no reference to the constitution. In the face of this far-reaching defeat, George W. Bush celebrated the resolution as a historic victory, one that came just in time for an election trail photo op at the G-8 Summit in Georgia.

With Bremer’s laws in limbo, Iraqi ministers are already talking openly about breaking contracts signed by the CPA. Citigroup’s loan scheme has been rejected as a misuse of Iraq’s oil revenues. Iraq’s communication minister is threatening to renegotiate contracts with the three communications firms providing the country with its disastrously poor cell phone service. And the Lebanese and U.S. companies hired to run the state television network have been informed that they could lose their licenses because they are not Iraqi. “We will see if we can change the contract,” Hamid al-Kifaey, spokesperson for the Governing Council, said in May. “They have no idea about Iraq.” For most investors, this complete lack of legal certainty simply makes Iraq too great a risk.

But while the Iraqi resistance has managed to scare off the first wave of corporate raiders, there’s little doubt that they will return. Whatever form the next Iraqi government takes—nationalist, Islamist, or free market—it will inherit a shattered nation with a crushing $120 billion debt. Then, as in all poor countries around the world, men in dark blue suits from the IMF will appear at the door, bearing loans and promises of economic boom, provided that certain structural adjustments are made, which will, of course, be rather painful at first but well worth the sacrifice in the end. In fact, the process has already begun: the IMF is poised to approve loans worth $2.5‒ $4.25 billion, pending agreement on the conditions. After an endless succession of courageous last stands and far too many lost lives, Iraq will become a poor nation like any other, with politicians determined to introduce policies rejected by the vast majority of the population, and all the imperfect compromises that will entail. The free market will no doubt come to Iraq, but the neoconservative dream of transforming the country into a free-market utopia has already died, a casualty of a greater dream—a second term for George W. Bush.

The great historical irony of the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq is that the shock-therapy reforms that were supposed to create an economic boom that would rebuild the country have instead fueled a resistance that ultimately made reconstruction impossible. Bremer’s reforms unleashed forces that the neocons neither predicted nor could hope to control, from armed insurrections inside factories to tens of thousands of unemployed young men arming themselves. These forces have transformed Year Zero in Iraq into the mirror opposite of what the neocons envisioned: not a corporate utopia but a ghoulish dystopia, where going to a simple business meeting can get you lynched, burned alive, or beheaded. These dangers are so great that in Iraq global capitalism has retreated, at least for now. For the neocons, this must be a shocking development: their ideological belief in greed turns out to be stronger than greed itself.

Iraq was to the neocons what Afghanistan was to the Taliban: the one place on Earth where they could force everyone to live by the most literal, unyielding interpretation of their sacred texts. One would think that the bloody results of this experiment would inspire a crisis of faith: in the country where they had absolute free reign, where there was no local government to blame, where economic reforms were introduced at their most shocking and most perfect, they created, instead of a model free market, a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch. And yet the Green Zone neocons and their masters in Washington are no more likely to reexamine their core beliefs than the Taliban mullahs were inclined to search their souls when their Islamic state slid into a debauched Hades of opium and sex slavery. When facts threaten true believers, they simply close their eyes and pray harder.

Which is precisely what Thomas Foley has been doing. The former head of “private sector development” has left Iraq, a country he had described as “the mother of all turnarounds,” and has accepted another turnaround job, as co-chair of George Bush’s reelection committee in Connecticut. On April 30 in Washington he addressed a crowd of entrepreneurs about business prospects in Baghdad. It was a tough day to be giving an upbeat speech: that morning the first photographs had appeared out of Abu Ghraib, including one of a hooded prisoner with electrical wires attached to his hands. This was another kind of shock therapy, far more literal than the one Foley had helped to administer, but not entirely unconnected. “Whatever you’re seeing, it’s not as bad as it appears,” Foley told the crowd. “You just need to accept that on faith.”
About the Author

Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo and writer/producer of The Take, a new documentary on Argentina’s occupied factories.

1. Tofiq did say that several U.S. companies had expressed strong interest in buying the state-owned cement factories. This supports a widely held belief in Iraq that there is a deliberate strategy to neglect the state firms so that they can be sold more cheaply--a practice known as "starve then sell." [Back]

2. It is in Basra where the connections between economic reforms and the rise of the resistance was put in starkest terms. In December the union representing oil workers was negotiating with the Oil Ministry for a salary increase. Getting nowhere, the workers offered the ministry a simple choice: increase their paltry salaries or they would all join the armed resistance. They received a substantial raise. [Back]

This is Baghdad Year Zero, a feature by Naomi Klein, originally from September 2004, published Friday, September 24, 2004. It is part of Features, which is part of