Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY....I haven't said anything yet about Paul Wolfowitz's recent directive that prevents French, German, and Russian companies from bidding on Iraqi reconstruction projects. After all, it's hardly unexpected from the "teach 'em a lesson" crew running the country right now, most of whom seem to think that loud threats constitute an effective foreign policy. And hell, we all know that W is a guy who can hold a grudge.

But here's a chain of thought for you anyway:

  • I imagine that even without any directive on this, the vast bulk of the reconstruction money would have gone to American firms. Only a small amount would have gone to France, Germany, and Russia.

  • How small? My guess is that even a country the size of France couldn't expect more than one or two percent of the total business, perhaps a few hundred million dollars in all. Does anyone really think that Jacques Chirac is going to change his foreign policy based on losing a few hundred million dollars in business for France? (Or that some future partner will change theirs based on the hope of getting a few tens of millions?) It's not even a drop in the economic bucket.

  • But if even that's too much, surely there are ways of quietly ensuring that nothing of substance goes to countries we don't want to do business with, aren't there?

In other words, this directive will have virtually no real effect at all and was designed solely to deliver a big public "fuck you" to these countries. Question: does this ever work? TR said "speak softly and carry a big stick," and there's a reason for the first part of that advice. If you want someone to back down, you need to give them a face saving way of doing it.

Bottom line: what the hell was the point of this? It's not likely to make any substantive difference, it's not likely to change anyone's behavior, and it makes us look bitter and nasty for no good reason.

But that's really it, isn't it? The Bushies like being bitter and nasty even if there's no point. Nixon felt the same way, I think, but at least he was smart enough to try and hide it.

UPDATE: As Robert Tagorda and a few other people have pointed out, this policy is also likely to increase the cost of the reconstruction since less competition generally produces higher prices. More damaging, perhaps, is that there might be specific areas where the best products or services come from a non-coalition country possibly even the only viable product for a particular need. In that case, we either have to make do with second best or else embarrass ourselves by twisting the rules to allow the banned product.

UPDATE 2: Canada is complaining that this policy is unfair since they've already contributed $190 million to the rebuilding effort: "To exclude Canadians just because they are Canadians would be unacceptable if they accept funds from Canadian taxpayers for the reconstruction of Iraq."

That sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Kevin Drum 4:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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