I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Iraq: Terrarium of capitalism

By Nitpicker

An open letter from Nitpicker

Dear neocons:

I'm sure it was cute when you sent the little baby neocons to Iraq to test your grand theories on a brand new baby democracy. When your buddy's daughter wrote home that her pants were "perpetually dirty--splattered with mud" and her boots were "looking very rough indeed," but, you know, "war is hell," I'm sure there was a chorus of aaaaaaaaaawwws at the cuteness of it all in the halls of the American Enterprise Institute. Hell, I'll bet all of the wonderful moments in which ridiculously underqualified people were put in charge of large chunks of the Iraqi infrastructure sent blossoms of good-natured warmth through your hearts and/or groins.

You even finally got to test your flat-tax over there, which allowed some of your buddies to bring that crazy shit up over here again.

Kudos, my friends. Kudos.

But this puzzles me.

The idea to revive state-owned industries has come full circle. Iraq's economy under Saddam Hussein was state-controlled. When the first U.S. team arrived, its members looked to reenergize the industries as a key element in jump-starting the economy. But the subsequent Coalition Provisional Authority, run by L. Paul Bremer, opted to scrap the effort and emphasize a free-market economy, even though Iraq was ill equipped to make a dramatic conversion. The failure of a free market and the lack of both local and foreign investment has led the Defense Department to launch a massive reassessment. [Emphasis Nitpicker's]

Now, I'm no economist, but am I to understand that you guys thought that people would actually invest their money in a war zone? That people would take the portable wealth they'd stashed away--probably not Saddam-faced dinars--and start a nice little dress shop out in al Mansour or a tire store in Hurriya?

Look. It's lovely that you got your chance to test your conservative theories of capitalism on a brand-spanking-new democracy, but it would have been nice if you had actually thought the smallest part of it through.

You and your fellow war supporters love to compare this war to World War II, so it would have been nice if you'd actually read something about it. After WWII, the Japanese, suffering from what was known as the kyodatsu condition, did not spring into action as investors. Food was horribly scarce despite American efforts to overpay farmers and subvert the black (but capitalist!) market. As John W. Dower wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Embracing Defeat, this "enhanced the image of the U.S. as a generous benefactor" even though it didn't prevent some level of what became known as the "bamboo-shoot existence," the systematic stripping away of one's possessions to survive. Lord knows what would have become of the country if we'd simply pointed at empty storefronts and said, "Invest!"

I'm sure it seemed horribly distasteful to you to allow state-owned or -aided institutions to survive your time in the country, but even the most Darwinist capitalist should understand that people don't invest when they're scared. McDonald's ribbon-cuttings are rarely held on blood-stained streets. People with money leave.

It's almost like you're a bunch of semi-insane idiots who've spent way, way too much time sitting around in think tank offices saying the world would be a better place if only, if only, if only...It's almost like your every idea should have been ignored or ridiculed by people with half a brain. It's almost like you played games with the lives of millions of Iraqis, not to mention the American soldiers killed in your war and the citizens who believed that, by supporting it, they were keeping their families safe.

But that can't be the case, can it?

Can it?

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