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The Marriage of War and Globalization in Iraq

The U.S. military has successfully liberated Iraq's economy.
"The invisible hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." (New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman on globalization.)

Mission Accomplished: The U.S. military has successfully liberated Iraq's economy.

President Bush exposed the economic motivations for the war when he announced in a speech last week in Pennsylvania that Iraq would open its economy to foreign investment and liberalize its trade policies.

This should have raised some questions in the media and in congress since these decisions were made before Iraqi elections. We can now rule out the latest excuse that the war was fought to export the democratic ideals of sovereignty and self-determination to the Iraqi people. But this should come as no surprise because economic expansion has always been a driving force behind our foreign policy.

"The bottom line is it's not just about making money," said Andrew Bacevich, a professor of International Relations at Boston University. "It is about security. And it's about making money. And it's about therefore making possible the preservation of American freedom, which we think depends on both living secure and having a world that accommodates our economic interests."

President Bush has made his economic intentions within his foreign policy clear on different occasions.

"We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world," wrote Bush in his National Security Strategy.

The president goes on in the document to highlight the importance of free trade by stating that it "arose as a moral principle even before it became a pillar of economics."

Bacevich said that is nonsense.

"How one would argue it's a moral principle is beyond me."

And one week after Bush prematurely declared that the war was over aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003, he gave a commencement speech at the University of South Carolina where he told students his plans to create a Middle East Free Trade Area.

"Economics is tied to politics. Economics is tied to our sense of how we want to live our lives," said Bacevich. "We think that in order to enjoy freedom we must also enjoy abundance. Policy makers think that for us to enjoy abundance we have to have an open world that accommodates our economic interests."

Bacevich said gaining commercial access to a country gives the benefits of empire without the burdens.

"You can extract from the place economic benefits because this place plays by the rules that suit you and the rules that suit you include things like respect for private property, no trade barriers, openness to investment—that kind of thing. So it lets you make money without having to shoulder the burdens of formal empire," said Bacevich.

This idea of an open world is economic globalization. The principles of globalization, often referred to as neolibralism, include the privatization of a country's public services, no government intervention in the market, and openness to foreign investment (which usually means American multinational corporations). Our government usually imposes these principles on other nations through free trade deals and International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans, which are consummated only when foreign governments agree to these conditions.

Stephen Zunes, chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, said that Iraq's economy had a certain independence that made it less susceptible to the more subtle mechanisms of globalization because of its oil wealth, water resources and sizable educated population—which leads us to the "hidden fist" of the market at work in Iraq.

"In many ways I've long seen this invasion of Iraq as essentially the military side of globalization," said Zunes.

But the president's war in Iraq is a departure from the benefits without burdens model of empire Bacevich described, largely because of the occupation.

"The Empire is supposed to be we get rich and we become more free, not that we have 138,000 Americans over there with people getting killed everyday," said Bacevich.

The prospect of any kind of stability in Iraq as a result of the economic changes this administration hopes to impose is unlikely. As history has proven, exporting free trade and free markets to other countries often leads to widespread exploitation of workers, environmental degradation, political instability, as well as rising poverty and economic inequality. Add this to the hatred and resentment Bush's violent occupation is inspiring and we are left with a recipe for disaster.

Despite all of this, many in the Bush Administration still zealously believe that exporting the neoliberal economic model in Iraq will help reshape the region in our image, thus preserving America's global dominance while making the Middle East more democratic.

"What's scary about the crowd in the White House is that they're ideologues," said Zunes. "And ideologues—whether right, left, or center—it's like to hell with the facts, full speed ahead."

But whether economic globalization is exported through cluster bomb diplomacy like in Iraq or through free trade deals, the root problem is the exploitative neoliberal model. Citizens everywhere must work to dismantle it and replace it with a system that globalizes human rights, political democracy, sustainable development, social justice and economic equality.