On Sunday’s Washington Post, Sens. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Chuck Hagel, the Republican chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on International Economic Policy, co-authored an op-ed on the reconstruction of postwar Iraq. They called for the United Nations and America’s “Atlantic allies” to play a major role in the effort, both materially and politically. Both men are well-known for their faith in multilateral organizations. Their arguments, however, are based upon two flawed assumptions about the nature of the postwar situation.
Their first argument, which was designed to have the most appeal to taxpayers and fiscal conservatives, is that rebuilding Iraq will cost a great deal and others should be invited to put up as much of the money as possible. Citing testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they put the price tag for security, humanitarian assistance, and reconstruction at $20-25 billion per year over ten years. “The United States should not bear this burden alone,” they wrote.
Yet, France and Russia have already expressed a strong desire to partake in the rebuilding effort. They do not see involvement in the new Iraq as a “burden” as much as an opportunity. Both countries were deeply involved in Iraq’s oil industry and want to protect their stakes. Paris has other business ties to Saddam’s regime as well. France is Baghdad’s largest European trading partner, accounting for over 22 percent of Iraq’s imports. France’s Alcatel telecom firm had also been negotiating to rebuild Iraq’s telephone system.
Iraq presents attractive long-term investment opportunities, and not just in oil. France and Russia worked for years to get economic sanctions lifted on Iraq, and then strenuously opposed U.S. military action to overthrow the regime with which they had been trading diplomatic support for commercial advantages.
In responding to European Union complaints that the United States will only award contracts for work in Iraq to American companies, Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, laid out the connection between reconstruction overseas and economic stimulus at home, “Some countries have complained that they were not invited to bid for these projects, which are funded by U.S. taxpayers,” he noted, replying, “foreign aid agencies in most countries try to award contracts to their own companies, supporting business at home while delivering assistance abroad — just as Americans want to see their tax dollars support jobs at home.”
The Germans have been the most open about what should happen: Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said that the United States should bear the financial responsibility for rebuilding Iraq because it waged the war that did the damage, but that Germany should be able to bid for a share of the contracts to do the work.
Paris, Berlin, and Moscow know that their only way back into Iraq is through the United Nations. Biden and Hagel would give them what they want. In their column, the two senators called for “a new U.N. resolution authorizing the necessary security, humanitarian, reconstruction and political missions in a post-conflict Iraq.” French prime minister Jacques Chirac has already declared that France will oppose any U.N. resolution that would give the U.S. and England a dominant position in Iraq. Thus, seeking a postwar resolution risks either another diplomatic debacle like the effort to get a second pre-war resolution, or a new “consensus” that opens the door for those who opposed the war to grab a large share of the benefits of the war.
This brings up a second problem with the Biden-Hagel argument, their claim that “if the United States alone selects and seats a new Iraqi government, even an interim one, that will call into question the government’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people” But what could cast more doubt on the future direction of the country than giving those who had supported Saddam Hussein and opposed his ouster a major presence in establishing the new government and determining its economic ties with the outside world? Might not such a presence serve as a base of support for the political revival of Saddamite remnants or the Baath party?
Governments and corporations who partner with brutal dictatorships should suffer the complete loss of their sordid investments. The Iraqi National Congress, the main organization of anti-Saddam dissidents, has intimated that contracts with those who helped sustain Saddam will be null and void after the liberation. This is why France, Germany, and Russia oppose the American plan of turning over authority to an Iraqi administration of former dissidents as soon as possible, rather than letting the U.N. run the country for an indefinite period. They rightfully fear that a new Iraqi government will be composed of leaders who see the U.S.-led coalition as natural allies.
The purpose of war is not destruction, but the creation of a better situation than what had existed before. How much of a “burden” nation-building will be to the United States depends on how much of the money put into Iraq comes back to America in the form of contracts, exports, and jobs — and what advantages U.S. firms are given against their foreign rivals. At the same time, trade and investment ties between the U.S. and Iraq will help both countries, and provide the economic foundation for a stable peace.
— William R. Hawkins is senior fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, in Washington, D.C.