Share the Loot?

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High-minded politicians find the decision very unsporting. The American yahoos, even though they will pay the bill, think it’s just great: go go USA! In short, it was a good political move: distracting voters from their own self-interest, feeding nationalist sentiment, and enhancing the power of the state.

I speak of the Bush administration decision to bar France, Russia, and Germany from a share of the Iraqi reconstruction loot on grounds that they were insufficiently supportive of the war. Everyone saw it coming. In the lead-up to the war, among many low points, the Bush administration threatened France, Russia, and Germany to get on board else they would not enjoy the spoils that go to the victors.

By any standard of foreign-policy etiquette, the action is hostile. It will fuel hatred of the US in Europe, as if there isn’t enough already. It will harm trade and diplomatic relations. It helps revive the absurd anti-French, anti-German, anti-Russian feelings of the American nationalists. It might even be seen as a form of protectionism.

When private companies treat retailers this way, they get hauled in by the Justice Department for intimidation and illegitimate use of market power. Remember that Microsoft was hounded for the act of giving away software for free to computer makers who otherwise agreed to place Microsoft’s products front and center. The company had to relent, despite consumer wishes for ever more Microsoft products at ever lower prices.

In private markets, such threats are ultimately toothless. In a market economy, no supplier can literally force a buyer to trade. All decisions concerning which deals to accept and reject are speculative ventures. The money involved is purely private. All associations are voluntary. The profits and losses incurred are a result of the free decisions of consumers in the marketplace.

But the US government thinks nothing of using real tactics of intimidation to get foreign governments to go along with US policy. First they steal our money and then they offer it, or decline to offer it, to companies of other nationalities, contingent upon their governments’ willingness to cheer on the US destruction of other people’s countries. The bribes, the destruction, and then the absurdly named reconstruction are all financed on the backs of the taxpayers. We are talking tens of billions of dollars here.

It is a brutal way to do business, but at least it is rather forthcoming about the motivation. A bribe followed by a punishment for failing to comply at least foregoes all that prattle about how our “allies” are a “coalition of the willing” who understand the need to wage global war on terror. No, it’s not that at all. The coalition of the willing consists of governments willing to go along in exchange for which they will get a share of the loot or not be subject to attacks and threats.

Now, tell this story to the average American, and you will get an entirely different response. Most people are probably thrilled that the perfidious French, Germans, and Russkies are excluded from the list of countries lapping up reconstruction gruel. They see it as putting America First or otherwise teaching those Euro-wimps a thing or two about the price of cowardice. Germany says this is “unacceptable,” France thinks it is illegal, the Russians are mad as heck, but the American says: too bad for you, ’cause we’re number one.

But Americans should stop and think for a moment about this. Who is getting the money? Only the well connected. It will not be “America” that benefits but only companies that specialize in war-cleanup, many of whom are so closely connected to Washington that their boards resemble governments in waiting. No, “America” gets nothing when Halliburton gets billions and billions. What we have here is a government-corporate cartel looting the rest of us for its own benefit.

Do we really want to see more loot going to the gang that starts war to destroy so they can make money to rebuild? These are not the kind of enterprises anyone should want to see flourishing in America. What we need are more Wal-Marts and Microsofts, companies that profit by serving society, not looting taxpayers.

As for the excluded governments, they should have more courage of their convictions than to complain that their friends in the private sector won’t be able to grab a pound of flesh. They were right not to join the US in its misbegotten war. That they are not permitted to bid for reconstruction contracts should only permit them to be ever more vocal in opposition to one-power hegemony.

The great worry here is that this action is the first step in a new type of global hostility, one that pits the US government against Europe. As the Euro rises and the dollar falls, we might expect to see more of this. Sound crazy? Not really. At some point down the line, the “war on terror” excuse for US military domination of the world will run thin, and new excuses will be made. The power elite in this country might just find a cold war or worse with Europe; exactly what the military-industrial complex desires.

Lovers of liberty are against war, against tax-funded reconstructions, and against all forms of national belligerence. Lovers of liberty should therefore join the left in blasting this petty and parochial plundering of the American taxpayer on behalf of the well connected, and its use as a tool to punish what Rumsfeld disdainfully calls “Old Europe.”

Old Europe was right on the war. It should wear its exclusion from the competitive bidding process as a badge of honor.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of

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