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Retrieved from the memory hole

December 2nd, 2007

The NY Times says that Iraq is the third most corrupt country in the word after the failed states of Somalia and Myanmar (Burma). The article gives plenty of examples at all levels, but is striking in the way it represents US forces as dismayed, but largely helpless, onlookers.

It’s time, obviously, to dive into the memory hole, and point out that the looting that started the downward spiral was a matter of deliberate Coalition policy. As this report in the London Times stated in April 2003

The British view is that the sight of local youths dismantling the offices and barracks of a regime they used to fear shows they have confidence that Saddam Hussain’s henchmen will not be returning to these towns in southern Iraq.

One senior British officer said: “We believe this sends a powerful message that the old guard is truly finished.�

This report focuses on the British but the US and Australian governments were at least as culpable

As well as encouraging and condoning looting (“freedom is messy”) the US pushed convicted fraudster Ahmed Chalabhi as its preferred nominee to succeed Saddam and, when that proved impossible, put him and his cronies in charge of the oil ministry. And of course, the reconstruction program has been riddled with made-in-the-US corruption as well as the Iraqi variety.

Getting in early and punching above its weight in this respect, the Australian government, through its export monopoly AWB (initially a government enterprise and later a quasi-private business stacked with political appointees) colluded with Saddam to rip off $300 million from the oil-for-food fund by selling overpriced wheat. The margin was divided between payoffs to Saddam through bogus transport fees andhuge bonuses to AWB executives, with the remainder going as a premium to Australian wheatgrowers.

The good news in the NY Times report is that the civil war in Iraq, while still bloody has abated to the point that a report like this is worth paying attention to. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, things are getting worse. More on this later, but one general lesson is that war is unpredictable and should always be a last resort. All wars come to an end, but that doesn’t bring the dead back to life, or turn a tragedy into a triumph.

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  1. December 2nd, 2007 at 19:26 | #1

    war is unpredictable? but ok if you are really confident yer gonna win.

    the notion of killing people as an exercise in securing commercial advantage, or some electoral advantage, appears to be the motivation in dispatching uniformed goons to iraq and afghanistan. and to be fair to jwh, the chance of pitt street being controlled by taliban check points is remote.

    but i still find participation in wholesale killing to be a matter of national shame and personal rage. war is not rugby. it is murder if not in self defense.

    kevin rudd intends to continue to play the role of loyal henchman to the american empire, so i really don’t care if he signs kyoto, tears up work choices, brings the entire youth to phd standard, and issues false teeth to every pensioner. he’s still a murderer by proxy, willing to participate from canberra while his servants get on with the actual blood-letting. people who celebrated his ascension are easily pleased, or undiscriminating.

    it’s too easy to go to war here. pm says “go, kill!” and they go, and kill.

  2. rog
    December 2nd, 2007 at 21:23 | #2

    When the US entered (or invaded) Sicily during WW2 they did so with the protection of the Mafia – a deal was done whereby Lucky Luciano was released from prison and deported in return for safe passage for US troops. It was a pragmatic move that paid off in the short term.

  3. jack Strocchi
    December 2nd, 2007 at 22:24 | #3

    Pr Q says:

    It’s time, obviously, to dive into the memory hole, and point out that the looting that started the downward spiral was a matter of deliberate Coalition policy.

    Ummm…we are talking about Iraq here. When exactly has it ever been a light unto nations in the matter of transparency and accountability? Iraq was not exactly a bed of roses before the Coalition invaded.

    The last pre-invasion corruption perceptions report put Iraq’s score at 2.6. Needless to say that is right at the bottom of the table, in the same boat as the sub-saharan African trio of Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

    And of course ’twas ever thus in Iraq and the region. This is the nation that spawned Ali Babba. And it is the region where the wheels of commerce are greased by baksheesh.

    I am dismayed at Pr Q’s intolerant attitude towards Iraqis celebrating their diversity. Whatever happened to multiculturalism?

    Most likely the Iraqi’s thieving attitude comes from the narrow kinship structure of tribal con-sanguinary societies. Tribal society is based on ethnic clans which have little loyalty to the nation state or respect for civil law.

    Iraq is definitely more corrupt now than it was under Saddam. But that is because of democracy, not the Coalition. Their new freedoms allow the underlying rotteness of the society to flourish. The Age reports:

    Like many other Iraqis, businessmen invariably make then-and-now comparisons with Saddam Hussein. Saddam ran his own massive corruption of the UN oil-for-food program and he and his cronies regularly demanded a cut of any new business or contract.

    But Jawad, a Shiite with no brief for his former leader, said: “I’d say that about 10 per cent of business was corrupt under Saddam. Now it’s about 95 per cent. We used to have one Saddam, now we have 25 of them.”

    So Pr Q’s argument logically leads to an argument against pluralist democracy and for authoritarian dictatorship, at least in the present case.

    But I would not want a little socio-biological theory and cultural history get in the way of his “gotcha” story.

  4. jack Strocchi
    December 2nd, 2007 at 23:07 | #4

    None of this is to excuse the Coalition’s civil reconstruction efforts which have been shambolic, when not an actual scam, from the beginning.

  5. Ian Gould
    December 3rd, 2007 at 04:47 | #5

    Jack Strocchi’s capacity to turn virtually any topic into the launching-pad for one of his lectures on the genetic inferiority of Johnny Arab is almost, almost, admirable in its way.

    It’s sort of interesting to go from, “Nice weather we’re having today” to “…and that’s why genetics prove Arabs eat babies – not that I’m racist and how dare anyone suggest otherwise”.

  6. December 3rd, 2007 at 05:54 | #6

    and speaking of corruption mixed with war crimes, the carlyle group and awb are world class mixtures of blood and greed.

    i wonder how many backhanders an egyptian police sargeant has to take to put his country in the ‘more corrupt than us’ category.

  7. jack Strocchi
    December 3rd, 2007 at 06:02 | #7

    Ian Gould Says: December 3rd, 2007 at 4:47 am

    Jack Strocchi’s capacity to turn virtually any topic into the launching-pad for one of his lectures on the genetic inferiority of Johnny Arab is almost, almost, admirable in its way.

    A post on endemic corruption of Iraq is not just “any topic” like the weather. We should perhaps consider the possibility that its problems go deeper than the latest Coalition mishap. Things like human nature, social structure and cultural scripture, you know the staple of social science in the 19th C when they were actually making theoretical progress in the discipline.

    My criticisms of Arabic ways of life are largely culture-, rather than nature-based. Arabs are, in any case, Caucasian and so unlikely game on the genetic score, even if I was a white supremacist.

    Of course once upon a time when I knew alot less about Iraq and Arabia I did swallow the liberal certitudes about the possibilities for progress in that part of the world. More fool me.

    Cousin marriage is endemic throughout the region, especially beyond the cities, with predictable natural and cultural consequences. Particularly hampering civic trust and political integrity.

    I am guessing that this is why the most successful Arab organisations are city-states rather than nation states or regional confederations. Maybe it is handy to know this fact before expecting miracles from such places?

    I am not sure if it is racist to point this out. Polite opinion on the issue of human bio-diversity is a crock and leads to disaster (witness remote Aboriginal communities – I’ve lived on one of them for a while – have you?) No one else is prepared to mention 800 lb gorilla’s squatting in living rooms so I guess it falls to me. And theoccasional blogger, unconcerned about losing their highly unpaid moonlit job:

    Another interesting tangent to this discussion is the issue of racism. Is it racist to point out the features of Arab culture and the consequences that make social progress extremely difficult? Apparently a lot of leftists think so.

    I understand that flinging the “racist” slur is about the best you can do. But surely it is not the only thing. I would have thought that you might try empirical facts and logical methods, just for a change.

    But these are scientific facts about the world and historical facts about me. I understand that moral posturers and intellectual impostures will have little time for such trifles.

  8. melanie
    December 3rd, 2007 at 06:50 | #8

    I think that the transition from highly centralized state control over the economy is bound to produce corrruption – with or without a war. In order for a market economy to arise, there must be a deconcentration of capital ownership. Theft of state property seems to be one of the principal means of achieving this process. The high rents available create vested interests in lack of transparency and accountability, which along with previous authoritarian tendencies, then entrenches this kind of mess.

  9. jquiggin
    December 3rd, 2007 at 07:39 | #9

    Jack, you could at least respond to the central point of the post which points out that Australians were centre stage in the biggest single act of corruption in the entire affair. You might want to reflect on the fact that our government connived in the whole thing, while hiding behind an elaborate set of defences to ensure plausible deniability.

    Finally, you might want to observe that the outgoing government’s defenders, almost without exception, have excused their role in giving hundreds of millions of dollars to an evil dictator with whom they were about to go to war.

    In these circumstances, lecturing people from other countries about a culture of corruption seems a bit rich to me.

  10. gandhi
    December 3rd, 2007 at 07:52 | #10

    You have to wonder what would happen if the level of corruption was calculated on a per-dollar basis. I note that the former Mayor of NYC (now running for President) has a “shag fund” set up to support his mistress. New York’s “finest” were even paid to walk her dog!

    If Rudd has any brains at all, he will set up a whole host of inquiries to dig up the dirt on Iraq and AWB, then use these new findings as a convenient excuse to get us the f%$& out of there.

  11. snuh
    December 3rd, 2007 at 07:54 | #11

    arabs are caucasians! didn’t see that coming. jack, are you sure multiculturalism isn’t involved somehow?

  12. Persse
    December 3rd, 2007 at 10:56 | #12

    What amazes me is the assumption that it is ok for a country to have an occupying power, whose interests are antithetical to that of the nation as a whole, including the ‘elected government’, and expect civil progress to be made.

    If national institutions become ineffective, cannot provide security and is despised, then its everyone for themselves – exacerbated by the impulse, for security, to turn to traditional institutions, such as tribes, in Iraqs’ case, which is corrosive the authority of the central government.

    Surely the American presence is in and of itself, a corrupting influence, because it subverts the authority of the state and alienates nationalist minded citizens.
    Let alone the fact the Americans are world class incompetents at nation building anyway.

  13. sona
    December 3rd, 2007 at 13:12 | #13

    jack Strocchi @ 3: what is “socio-biological theory”? particularly a “little” of it? Is that very different from lots of it? If you can find some time away from your obvious predilection for such pedantic twaddle, did you know Australian special forces were in Iraq preparing the ground for the US’ “shock ‘n awe” superpower show while Howard was lying through his teeth to the Australian electorate?

    I wonder if Iraq did not indeed have excellent teachers to perfect techniques in corruption.

  14. sona
    December 3rd, 2007 at 13:15 | #14

    “Arabs are, in any case, Caucasian” – no JS, they are semites.

  15. December 3rd, 2007 at 14:55 | #15

    Timely coincidence with a post from ‘Inside Iraq’:

    ‘More than four years ago some of my friends and I agreed that what would happen might change Baghdad’s face forever and I suggested driving through Baghdad’s streets for the last time few days before the invasion started …

    The last time I see Baghdad ruled by a dictator and now I see Baghdad ruled by jungle law (if there is difference).

    It was the last time that I see Baghdad’s face not stained with blood as obvious as now.’

    From http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/iraq/2007/12/the-last-tour.html

  16. jimbirch
    December 3rd, 2007 at 17:01 | #16

    I think you’d also want to take in to account the fact that Iraq is basically a war zone when considering the inherent rottenness of the Iraqi populace. Living in a environment where there is a real daily felt risk of death has a profound effect on their moral qualities of most people. There’s ample evidence to demonstrate this.

    Ethics is something you can only really choose after you have secured the safety of yourself and your family, and got enough to eat. When starving people steal it doesn’t mean they are bad, they are just responding to more basic needs than the desire to respect property. Fear has a drastic effect on your thinking. I’m sure that a year thinking about staying alive in Iraq or anywhere similar would modify our opinions on what’s ok and what’s not. Whether or not we’d married our cousin.

  17. Ian Gould
    December 3rd, 2007 at 17:44 | #17

    I wonder if Jack ever wrote a post attributing the endemic corruption of post-Soviet Russia to “scientific facts” about Russians’ intellectual inferiority.

    Somehow I dodut it.

  18. Ian Gould
    December 3rd, 2007 at 17:46 | #18

    And Jack I didn;t call you a racist – I pointed out, correctly, that if anyone disagrees with you, you claim they’re calling you a racist.

  19. snuh
    December 3rd, 2007 at 18:13 | #19

    “My criticisms of Arabic ways of life are largely culture-, rather than nature-based. Arabs are, in any case, Caucasian and so unlikely game on the genetic score, even if I was a white supremacist.�

    so if, for the sake of argument,[1] nick griffin made some absurdly offensive remark about the inferiority of “pakis”, you couldn’t from that conclude he was a white supremacist, because south asians and europeans are, both of them, caucasian?

    [1] no, i don’t know why i made this a hypothetical either.

  20. Ian Gould
    December 3rd, 2007 at 19:49 | #20

    “Empirical studies on the progeny of first cousins indicate morbidity levels to be some 1% to 4% higher than in the offspring of unrelated couples (reviewed in Bittles and Makov 1988). The less common a disorder, the greater the influence of consanguinity on its prevalence, a generalization that applies to recessive multigene disorders as well as to single gene conditions. For this reason, many previously unrecognized genetic diseases have first been diagnosed in highly endogamous communities, and in a significant proportion of cases the underlying mutation may be unique to the community. At a practical level, this community-specific pattern of disease leads to major problems when attempting to estimate the burden imposed by consanguinity-associated morbidity at national or even at regional and local levels.

    In a study based on combined data from 38 populations in eastern and southern Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and South America, with average coefficient of inbreeding (a ) values ranging from 0.0005 to 0.0370, mean excess mortality at the first cousin level was 4.4% (Bittles and Neel 1994). This estimate appears to be valid for all of the large human populations so far examined. However, consanguinity interacts with a range of sociodemographic variables in determining rates of mortality during infancy and early childhood. When these influences were simultaneously analyzed using data collected retrospectively as part of the 1990/91 Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, the major determinants of early death were maternal illiteracy, maternal age at birth of less than 20 years, and a birth interval of less than 18 months. But, even after controlling for these factors, first cousin progeny had statistically significant odds ratios for neonatal, postneonatal, and infant mortality of 1.36, 1.28, and 1.32, respectively (Grant and Bittles 1997).”

    http://www.consang.net/index.php/Summary#Consanguinity.2C_morbidity.2C_and_mortality

    So, the total effect of consanguineous marriage on neonatal mortality (from all causes) is around 1%.

    I see no reason to assume the impact on intelligence is greater.

    Given that under half of all Iraqis are in consanguineous marriages, any impact on average IQ’s is going to be so small as to be unidentifiable.

    (At this point I predict Jack Strocchi will pull out a link to some fringe scientist who says different (or simply name-drop them)and will continue to happily insist that the “scientific facts” are all on his side and that anyone who disagrees is simply being politically correct.)

    Oddly, Jack can seeing the improbability of a layman being right and the vast majority of relevantly qualified scientists being wrong when the subject is global warming. Hereditabiltiy of inteligence (and very specifically the idea that nationality or ascribed ethnicity can be used as the basis for statistically valid predictions about individual intelligence) is different.

    Thus “arabs” are apparently genetically uniform and utterly distinct from neighbouring races.In Jack’s world, obviously, the modern arabs aren’t primarily the descendants of Greeks, Hellenized Syrians; Egyptians and Tuareg who adopted the religion and language of their Muslim conquerors.

  21. Ian Gould
    December 3rd, 2007 at 20:00 | #21

    Let’s quickly test the hypothesis that the rate of consanguineuous marriage i major determinant of national prosperity.

    Would anyone care to guess which of the following countries has the lowest rate of consanguineous marriage:

    Peru
    Spain
    Italy
    Japan

    http://www.consang.net/index.php/Summary#Introduction

  22. sg
    December 3rd, 2007 at 21:54 | #22

    Jack, what’s your opinion of the monarchy? I hear they’re a little cosanguinous…

  23. melanie
    December 3rd, 2007 at 22:22 | #23

    Amazing how easy it is to divert a discussion.

    Nobody has addressed my suggestion that there is an economic rationale for corruption that has nothing whatsoever to do with cultural or racial, ethnic, whatever, characteristics – even with marriage between cousins!

    Go on, just talk among yourselves. I’m sure the views of Jack S are really, really interesting.

  24. FDB
    December 4th, 2007 at 11:02 | #24

    Sorry, I can’t resist pointing out that Jack’s own blood comes from a region not exactly famous for open and accountable governance. People in glass sociobiology labs shouldn’t throw phrenology books.

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