In November 2003, with US soldiers facing mounting casualties and the search for weapons of mass destruction largely abandoned, George W. Bush appeared before the National Endowment for Democracy, a quasi-public institution set up to advance US political objectives abroad. There, on the Endowment’s Twentieth anniversary, Bush proclaimed a new rationale for the occupation of Iraq-“To build a democracy,” a democracy that “will send forth the news from Damascus to Tehran.”
Now seven months later with the formation of the Iraqi Interim Government and the opening of the largest US embassy compound in the world, it has become apparent just what kind of democracy the United States is foisting on Iraq and the Arab world. It will be a democracy with controlled elections, a repressive state security apparatus, and a “free market” economy that favors US interests and the Iraqi economic elite. The two key figures anointed to carry out this democratic charade are the leader of the interim government, Iyad Allawi and the US ambassador, John Negroponte. Their backgrounds and credentials can hardly be described as democratic.
Much has been made in recent days of the alleged friction between the United States and the Iraqi Interim Government. This is largely staged-an effort to give the impression to Iraqis and the world that the new government has some legitimacy. Iyad Allawi, while publicly pushing for more autonomy, is closely aligned with the United States, and has been on the CIA payroll for years. He confirmed his dependence on the US agenda and the occupation army when upon being nominated as Prime Minister he proclaimed: “We need the support of the multinational forces.”
With the aid of the British and American intelligence services, Allawi founded the Iraqi National Accord in 1990, an exile group comprised largely of Baathist and military officers who defected from Saddam. Clinton and the CIA provided extensive support to the Accord and its failed attempts to carry out a palace coup by military officers close to Saddam. As the Bush administration ramped up for war in the summer of 2002, Allawi took part in high level Pentagon and State Department planning. Allawi finally returned to Iraq with the invading US army after living abroad for more than thirty years.
As a reward for his collaboration, J. Paul Bremer appointed Allawi to the Iraqi Governing Council. There he focused on running the Council’s Security Committee, which was responsible for building up the new Iraqi army, police and intelligence services. The New York Times quotes one observer as saying “Iyad is somebody who is military-minded, wants a strong government, and believes in a strong army.” Mary Curtis of the Los Angeles Times adds: “To those who want to build a democratic future on Iraq’s authoritarian past, Allawi’s record may be worrisome.”
Like his American sponsors, Allawi is committed to a neo-liberal market economy. The Iraqi National Accord promotes “giving permission to the private sector to participate in all economic activities and giving permission to the free market to specify the direction of those economic activities.” Allawi and the Interim Government will operate under economic guidelines put in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council. Decrees for the privatization of all sectors of the economy remain in effect, as well as the opening of the economy to foreign investment. Members of independent regulatory bodies appointed by J. Paul Bremer cannot be removed by the new ministers of the Interim Government.
Allawi himself comes from the Shiite merchant class of Iraq that would be among the primary beneficiaries of the US imposed economic order. The Washington Post points out that “with their links to the bazaars of Persia, the prominent Shiite families were often far wealthier and more cultivated than the Sunnis” who predominated under Saddam’s rule. Allawi has wasted no time in taking advantage of the new economic conditions. During his tenure on the Iraqi Governing Council, rumors abounded of corruption and influence peddling, including accusations that he collected “commissions” to deliver government contracts.
Allawi’s powerful overseer in Baghdad, US Ambassador designate John Negroponte, has been on the cutting edge in preserving and advancing the interests of the US empire for years. From 1971 to 1973 Negroponte served as the officer in charge of Vietnam on the National Security Council. In the 1980s he became the US ambassador in the pivotal Central American country of Honduras as the United States masterminded wars against a popular democracy in Nicaragua to the south and against a popular liberation movement in El Salvador to the west. From his embassy post in Tegucigalpa Negroponte first became known as the imperial “proconsul,” a title he carries with him to Baghdad. In Honduras he managed the largest CIA station in the world and oversaw an increase in Honduran military aid from $3.9 million annually to $77.4 million. He supervised the construction of military bases and the transfer of resources to the US financed surrogate army fighting the Nicaraguan government. And, befitting the role he will play in Baghdad, he turned a blind eye to the torture and abuse performed by Honduran death squads that disappeared critics of America’s wars in Central America.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington based research and information center, says that John Negroponte “is preeminently an ends-justifies-the-means operator.” Journalist Toni Solo has called him “the Teflon torture manager.” As US Ambassador to the United Nations under Bush, he faithfully strong-armed nations into supporting America’s preemptive war in Iraq and oversaw an intelligence operation that included bugging the phones of allies and adversaries alike.
The new US embassy in Baghdad, constructed on the site of one of Saddam’s palaces, will have a staff of 1500 Americans and an equal number of Iraqis. It will be protected by US soldiers as well as private contractors with over 100 armored vehicles. Inside the walls of the embassy compound, the strategy of the occupation forces will be plotted along with the construction of fourteen US military bases around the country. Embassy personnel will work throughout all 32 ministries of the Interim Government, with one key adviser serving as the counterpart to every minister. Special attention will be paid to the Oil Ministry which will be headed by Thamir Ghadhan who was originally appointed to the same post by the United States in May 2003. In that position he worked closely with an advisory committee lead by a former head of Shell Oil.
While Negroponte’s embassy is managing the military and oil aspects of the Iraqi situation, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is orchestrating the “democratic” operation. But democracy at the NED is by no means a popular democracy with broad participation. Instead NED promotes a top-down, controlled democracy in which the elites govern and the popular classes are only given token participation at election time. Meanwhile private economic power reigns supreme.
The National Endowment for Democracy grew out of the post-Vietnam-era need to attain US national interests without depending solely on coercive military force. At a time when the CIA had been embarrassed by intervening in foreign elections, the NED was developed as a quasi-private institution to carry out interventionist political policies beyond congressional inspection. NED’s chairman of the board is neoconservative Vin Webber. He signed the statement of principles for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which has promoted an American takeover of Iraq since 1997. The hubris of PNAC, which centers around a flawed concept of American exceptionalism, drives NED policies installing US-friendly, controlled democracies around the world.
Soon after 9/11 the National Endowment for Democracy jumped into the campaign to open the door to corporate globalization for that long swath from Morocco to China that encompasses Iraq and the Middle East. In January 2002 NED “placed urgent and increased emphasis on programs in the entire Muslim world.” In his 2004 state of the Union address George W. Bush called for the doubling of NED’s budget, from $40 million to $80 million, with virtually all of the new funding going to the Middle East and Iraq in particular. Even before Bush’s speech, the NED was already funding and setting up pro-US Iraqi organizations involved in polling, the media, civic education, and political party building.
Critics like the Center for Media and Democracy point out that NED promotes candidates that favor US interests “with strong ties to the military and who support the rights of US corporations to invest in those countries.” NED involvement in funding pro-American politicians and destabilizing democratic governments in both Haiti and Venezuela in recent years confirms that analysis.
However, in Iraq the triumvirate of Allawi, Negroponte and the Endowment may flounder on the shoals of an empire that is overstretched and traumatized by its hubris. Since Bush spoke before the Endowment on its Twentieth anniversary, the Iraqi insurgency has put down deep roots. The very occupation of their country is leading Shiites and Sunni’s to collaborate in unprecedented ways. It is unclear what type of government will eventually emerge, but it will be determined more by the struggle of the resistance and the popular movements from below than by the imperial designs of John Negroponte and George W. Bush.
Jim Tarbell and Roger Burbach co-wrote Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire, due out in the US on July 1, 2004. To order see: http://www.globalalternatives.org