Buying our way out of Iraq
By Ahmed Amr
Any day now, the fabulous Baker boys will go public with yet another plan to handle the Mess on Potamia. You can bet your last dollar that the Iraq Study Group will produce a Band-Aid solution tailored to save Bush's face or - as they like to say in the Beltway - protect the president's legacy.
That's bad news - because there's nothing worth salvaging in the White House.
If getting out of Iraq were a business decision, a due diligence accountant would first consider the cost of America's failed venture in the Gulf - $250 million dollars each and every day.
Put aside the American death toll because Rupert Murdoch has determined that they are 'minute.' And when you live in a virtual Murdochracy ruled by the fourth estate, FOX has the final say in determining the value of life. So, American fatalities are unlikely to factor heavily in the Baker boys' decision of how and when to end this quagmire. Neither should we expect the barons of our media controlled republic to make a fuss about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have perished in this neo-con experiment. Real Americans don't do Arab body counts.
But what if we were to approach Iraq as a failed subsidiary of the United States - owned, operated and broken by inept imperial managers. What if the American government was a solvent major corporation instead of an entity plagued by nine trillion dollars of debt.
What if the imperial throne on Pennsylvania Avenue was not occupied by America's answer to Nero and Calligula? What if grown-ups were invited to participate in the debate on how to exit Iraq without leaving behind a failed state embroiled in a civil war.
What would a rational CEO of a multi-national imperial enterprise do about a venture that was losing $ 250 million/day?
Well, his first instinct would be to sell it off. Unfortunately, no one is scrambling to bid for the broken pottery in Iraq. So, there goes that option.
The next option is to invest more money into the project and bring in new management to tidy it up before spinning it off. That can be done in Iraq.
What can you buy with $ 250 million a day in Iraq? In five months, you could wipe out Iraq's external debt - estimated to be around forty billion dollars. Every day, you could hand a crisp ten-dollar bill to every Iraqi man, woman and child. In the span of 24 hours - you could award ten thousand small business loans - in the amount of 25,000 dollars. That would add up to seventy thousand such loans a week. In fact, a single month's worth of occupation expenditures could translate into 300,000 small enterprises. That alone would soak up a huge amount of the pool of unemployed destitute Iraqis - estimated to be 50% of the labor force.
So, what if America woke up one morning and made a straightforward business decision about Iraq. Let's pay off the Iraqis and get the hell out of Dodge. Call it reparations - call it guilt money - call it anything you want to call it. Pay up and get out.
To understand why this "pay on the way out" plan is the best option for getting the 'job done' - it helps to be acquainted with Iraqi nostalgia for a not so distant past.
For a contemporary citizen of the land of two rivers, the glory years were the post-1973 decade that saw Iraq emerge as the world's third largest oil exporter - with proven reserves of 100 billion barrels. By 1979, Iraq was exporting 3.5 million barrels of oil a day with an additional million barrels in capacity that was set aside in deference to OPEC quota restrictions. At the time, Iraqi officials had good reasons to boast that "the last barrel of oil to be exported by any producer in the world will be an Iraqi barrel."
Iraqi Oil revenues in 1979 amounted to $18 billion dollars - for a population of 13 million. You do the math. It works out to nearly $1,500 for each and every citizen. So back then, an Iraqi family - with an average of five kids or more - had the expectation that they would be the beneficiaries of a hypothetical family "oil revenue" of $10,000. If you adjust that figure for inflation - you get a realistic picture of what might have been.
Unlike other Gulf countries, the Iraqis had a large pool of native technocrats, professionals and middle managers - many educated in the west. It was blessed with a mature agricultural sector that contributed to the national wealth. The government had invested heavily in industrial projects. For the lack of labor, over a million non-Iraqi Arabs migrated to Iraq to take jobs that went begging in a country with full employment. In terms of economic aspirations, the Mesopotamians of that era were entitled to expect a future standard of living that rivaled that of Southern Europe - on a par with Spaniards and Greeks.
That was the Iraq inherited by Saddam Hussein - a land that was as optimistic about the prospects of future prosperity as any country on the planet.
If only the wizards in Washington could come up with an American peace plan that takes into account a huge Iraqi majority - a demographic that transcends ethnic and sectarian passions. We can have peace with honor in a week if we could author an exit strategy that appealed to Iraq's collective nostalgia for the good old days of plenty and plenty to come.
This neo-con war of choice has so far cost $340 billion dollars - $100 billion a year. If we stay put till 'victory' - a yet to be defined delusionary fantasy of a deeply disturbed presidential cranium - we'll rack up another $500 billion in debt and still end up handing our Iraqi colonial subjects to a theocratic junta aligned with Iran. Yes - the sectarian thugs of SCIRI and Dawa were elected fair and square. But the fact that Nouri Al Maliki's death squads are attired in official police uniforms is no comfort to their victims.
So enough gibberish already about 'staying the course till victory.' Put a miserly $100 billion on the table and let's get creative about how best to spend it in order to bring the boys home by Christmas.
The first $20 billion will go to pay off Iraq's external debt. The remaining $20 billion of debt will be paid by the very generous and very grateful Kuwaitis and Saudi clans - or we withdraw every last soldier from Kuwait on our way out of Baghdad.
The next chunk of change will go to pay 'blood money' to Iraqi victims - regardless of whether they were killed by coalition forces, government sponsored death squads or insurgents.
It's hard to estimate the cost of this line item - because both the American and Iraqi government persist in cooking the numbers. But, for the sake of argument, let's take the average of the Lancet estimate of 650,000 and the figure from the Iraqi Health Minister - 150,000. That leaves us with a conservative figure of 400,000. Given Iraq's population, the American equivalent would be five million fatalities. Not that it matters to most Americans - but in terms of proportionate civilian losses - the average Iraqi family has suffered as many casualties as the average Vietnamese family. So Iraq is exactly like Vietnam - at least for the Iraqis.
It's worth keeping in mind that the Iraqi Health ministry has consistently subverted attempts to come up with reliable figures. Their attempts to hide the dead bodies in Iraq have included threatening morgue officials with dire consequences should they divulge accurate numbers to the media. Most recently, the Health ministry has decided to stop reporting their fraudulent tallies to the United Nations.
The payment of blood money is not just a benevolent policy to compensate relatives of the deceased for their pain and suffering. It takes into account native customs and traditions and the rationale behind a unique cultural phenomenon. In Arab tradition, blood money is primarily intended to bury the hatchet and prevent future feuds between clans seeking vengeance. It gives the victim's family a face saving mechanism to walk away from its obligation to "take an eye for an eye and a soul for a soul."
Since virtually every Iraqi family has lost a loved one - the whole nation would ultimately be beneficiaries of this plan. No other plan can do more to diffuse sectarian tensions.
At a $100,000 per victim, this line item will cost $40 billion. It would be unfair to saddle the entire amount on the back of American taxpayers. Here again, the Gulf Arabs should pitch in with ten billion or so - as compensation for their very cooperative role in facilitating the invasion. We should also oblige Tony Blair to throw in a few billion Sterling for being Dumbya's enabler and a willing participant in unleashing the reign of terror in Iraq.
We can start to dispense compensation within a week to ten days to Iraqi families that can produce death certificates. File a claim - get a lump sum of $20,000. Under the supervision of international mediators, joint Shia/Sunni/Kurdish committees would pay out the remaining balance after an expedited investigation
This mechanism will not only weed out fraud; it will initiate a healing process. It will soon become apparent that the vast majority of casualties were innocent citizens caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. With this plan, every victim will have his day before a panel representing all Iraqis. Instead of being a mere statistical figures, the circumstances of each death will become an individual narrative.
The net effect of the 'blood money' policy will be to facilitate "truth and reconciliation" while dispensing compensation and firing up the Iraqi economy.
The equitable and transparent distribution of compensation will also give the Iraqis a taste of what's possible if oil revenues were dispensed in the same manner - on the Alaska plan. If 80% of Iraqi oil revenues were to be distributed in monthly payments to each and every Iraqi adult, regardless of race, ethnicity or sex - 90% of the reasons for the current turf battles would disappear.
You want to empower women in Iraq - give them an equal slice of the oil pie. Another great outcome of implementing this Alaskan plan - is that Iraqi citizens will have a direct stake in assuring that any future government will give a transparent accounting of where oil revenues go. In the Middle East, economic democracy is the path to political democracy - not the reverse. The equitable distribution of oil wealth is something that will grab the attention of each and every citizen of the Gulf kleptocracies.
That leaves us with approximately $60 billion. All of it should be spent on basic infrastructure. Iraqi companies - under the watchful eyes of a panel of international experts and auditors recruited from reputable NGOs - should get priority on each and every contract. Only companies with boards of directors that include Shia, Sunnis and Kurds will be eligible. And each company will have the burden of proving that they follow non-discriminatory practices in hiring.
This exit plan has political pre-requisites. For one, we need mature political leadership in Washington with the integrity to act in the national interest and only in the national interest. Bush's face should not be a consideration. Wipe it off the priority list.
The business of exiting Iraq is business. We went in there for economic reasons. We ended up with massive red ink. Our only objective should be to waste as little treasure and spill as little blood as possible on the way out.
We should openly declare that we intend to leave ASAP and dismantle each and every American garrison. Immediately cut troop strength by half. The enduring bases will not and should not survive this plan. We should retreat humbly and in sorrow - for their losses and ours.
As for the Iraqis, they have to make a commitment to put an end to the sectarian violence. The immediate resignation of government officials involved in operating the death squads is imperative. So, while offering these economic incentives to the Iraqi people, we should openly demand the retirement of Nouri Al-Maliki and Bayan Jabr as a condition of implementing this plan. A purge of the security forces is absolutely essential. Any officer or soldier or cop remotely associated with the death squads should hand in his resignation in return for future immunity. To entice them to sign up for this amnesty plan, the usual legal sanctions would include a fate worst then death - losing their life time 'oil dividend' check. Apply the same rules to the insurgents.
One of the criticisms leveled at the anti-war movement is that we don't have a peace plan. Sure, we were right about the fabricated intelligence and the phantom WMD stockpiles. We were clear headed enough to realize that Saddam and the regime in Baghdad had nothing to do with the terrorist assaults of 9/11. We were right on the money when we projected that the insurgency would not end. We were the first to pick up on the death squads, the 'El Salvador option' and Iraq's slide into civil war.
We cared enough to worry about the number of Iraqi casualties while grieving over our own dead. We noticed and were outraged by the war crimes in Fallujah, Tel Afar and Abu Ghraib. We definitely were not taken in by the preposterous notion that George Bush and his neo-con praetorian guards where on a mission of mercy to spread the blessings of liberty and democracy to the Middle East.
We knew that the Israeli lobby and their media operatives at CNN, FOX and The New York Times actively marketed and promoted this Mesopotamian tragedy. There is no denying that the Sulzberger Likudnik scribes and the Murdochrats skewed the debate in favor of the war party.
Unfortunately, only a few of us understood the economic rationale behind this imperial venture - insuring that the dollar retains its prominence as the only currency convertible to Arab oil. We invaded Iraq to insure our currency-exporting franchise, which allows us to run a daily trade deficit of over $2 billion. Yes, Virginia, we went to war so you could get cheap Chinese and Japanese goods in exchange for green ink splashed on paper backed by other people's oil.
We incinerated Iraq so we could force feed our oil dependent economic competitors the one product America excels at producing and exporting - currency. But, it's a little too late for economic lectures. As Bertrand Russell once observed "It is in the nature of imperialism that citizens of the imperial power are always among the last to know -- or care -- about circumstances in the colonies."
Now that we have reached this sorry juncture, the authors of the mischief tell us that the peace movement is incompetent to come up with an exit plan. In a sense, they are right. We can't come up with a plan to save Bush's face. We can't come up with a plan that looks or smells like 'victory.' We can't come up with an outcome that justifies the horrendous waste blood and treasure. We can't do anything to comfort Cindy Sheehan and the mothers of the fallen. We will never find the words to heal the broken hearts of hundreds of thousands of grieving Iraqi mothers. We must leave them behind to mourn their dead - forever.
But the anti-war movement is uniquely qualified to design a peace plan without the burden of justifying this costly, illegal and devastating assault on a people that did us no harm. We can exit with humility instead of hubris. We can salvage a little of our tattered honor and international reputation by giving the world a glimpse of the other side of America's face - an America that will not spare Bush's face to avoid taking a rational decision to buy our way out of Iraq.
And we can come up with a plan that will inflict the least amount of damage on the way out - a plan that should appeal to the vast majority of Iraqis nostalgic for a past where they had a promising future. Not only that, we have the cheapest fare to get Americans out of Baghdad and home by Christmas. So, shove the fabulous Baker Boys aside, and give the anti-war movement a well-deserved chance to clean up the war party's 'Mess on Potamia.'
Ahmed Amr is the editor of NileMedia.com
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