December 14, 2003 by AK

Iraq’s Debts

Countering the Insurgency is a self-important — and thus a bit comical — article in the National Review by Jed Babbins, who used to occupy an unsurpassably important position in Bush I’s administration: deputy undersecretary of defense. “[T]wo warriors of my acquaintance”, “an upsurge in reliable intelligence coming from ordinary Iraqis”, “Iraqis, like everyone (at least everyone not running for the Democratic presidential nomination) realize that peace is about winners and losers,” — just three examples of his style. I would not care to comment, though, if he had not made this important recommendation (down below in the brackets):

The Beeb is already chock-a-block with quotes from the Germans (it’s “unacceptable”), Canadian threats to discontinue their support for the reconstruction, French huffing about taking a complaint to the WTO, and the Russian statement that they won’t write off Saddam’s $8 billion debt to them. (Iraq can write it off, and should. The debts of an illegitimate government such as Saddam’s cannot be enforced).

Dear Jed, we’re all familiar with the doctrine of odious debts. The problem, you see, is that most of that debt was extended by the government of the USSR; Russia simply inherited the claims. I hope we agree that the government of the USSR was no more legitimate than that of Iraq, and the people of Russia had no say whatsoever in the matter of providing loans to other countries. Therefore, it would be wrong to punish them by unilaterally writing off the Iraqi debt.

Moreover, whenever you rush to condemn Russia’s policy on Iraq, bear in mind it is strongly driven by a legitimate desire to receive at least a modest share of returns on the investment in Iraq the Soviet government had chosen to make without consent of its citizens. Resources that might have otherwise been spent on something useful within the country were foolishly diverted to various places like Iraq and Cuba, which hurt the living standard of my parents’ generation. Still, when the Soviets built oil wells and pipelines in Iraq, they did not do it for free, but lent money to Baghdad so that — little hope as there was — Iraq would return the favor later. Now the younger generations want back at least some of the money, while you insist that Iraqis be rewarded at the expense of Russians.

I presume you’re a neoconservative, Jed — a member of the political grouping that lobbied the decision to attack Iraq. It might have been, a priori, a wise decision, and Iraq may still turn out a success. But whatever problems you’re having in Iraq are your problems, and nobody else’s. Don’t turn them into a pain in the neck for other countries, especially if they have plenty of other things to worry about. Russia, for one, inherited not only Soviet credits, but all Soviet debts, which greatly exceed them — but it’s not begging to write those debts off. You don’t want Russian companies competing for reconstruction tenders? Fine, it’s your choice. But a gentleman would first pay Russia back, on Iraq’s behalf, and then tell the Russians to f*ck off. You, Jed, — if you were to decide this — would first refuse to pay, and then tell us to f*ck off. As an old Russian ditty goes, “I forgive all those I owe.”

Babbins proceeds to offer some sound advice:

For months now, two warriors of my acquaintance have been arguing that we should do what we have now begun. “See where the terrorist attacks come from,” they said, “cordon off the entire area, force everyone out, and search them as they come. Arrest those who are suspected, go in, seize weapons, and clear the area of the dangers as best we can. Bulldoze the buildings that arms and explosives are found in, and then let people we haven’t detained back in.”

I’m not sure if those who you propose to let back in would be happy among the ruins; rather, they’d be tempted to join the “resistance” or whatever it pleases you to call those guerillas. This is one of the reasons why the numbers of Chechen and Palestinian “freedom fighters” never dwindle down to zero. By the way, Russia, for all the horrors of its Chechen mess, can claim a legal right to bulldoze houses down there as far as the world agrees Chechnya is Russia’s domain. Israel must take daily care of its safety as it is endangered daily, thus the IDF’s raids into Arab towns are, as a rule, based on Israel’s interpretation of the right to self-defense. But what is America’s right to raze Iraqi buildings founded on? To answer this would be a good exercise for neoconservative scholasts.


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