Daily Cynicism Dose

OK, we’ve heard from the sanctimonious but idealistic Danish Left. (That’s the entry from earlier today, below; with the zany way that weblogs work, you get to read that afterwards, unless you switch over there right now.) Now for last week’s Madrid Conference of Iraqi donors from the cynic’s point of view – what you could call the “pay-to-play” outlook. (That “pay-to-play” concept I’ve now run across in connection with the California recall election, and just recently having to do with the upcoming election for Philadelphia’s mayor – which I am definitely not interested in. You should get a good idea of what it means from what follows.)

Let’s start with Die Zeit . . .

. . . which with Dry Interest-Politics delivers a rare disappointing piece – short, with little insight. But its main point, as from its title, is clear: Nations gave money at the Madrid Conference not out the boundless generosity of their hearts (or even in pursuit of that “new beginning” in Iraq which the Danish paper Information spoke about in my previous entry), but because they had cold-blooded interests in doing so, of one type or another. The Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates): They pledged a total of $2 billion, and clearly did so 1) Because Iraq is in their very own neighborhood, so they need a calm and stable Iraq, and 2) Because they certainly owe the main sponsors of this conference, the Americans, something for basically conducting their defense for them (Kuwait especially, from 1990-91), to the yearly tune of many of billions of dollars. Japan: $5 billion pledged in all, although most in loan form (interest to be earned!), and most of that money tied to purchases from Japanese companies. The UK and Spain: Amounts pledged not given, and the relevant self-interest cited by Die Zeit here falls a bit flat: supposedly they gave because for months they have enjoyed the prestige of being allowed to stand on the side of the US. The German newspaper also makes no mention of the theory that the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, have a countervailing interest that Iraq be not too much of an economic and (especially) democratic success, because of the ominous example that would present to those nations’ inhabitants.

But for a real cynical point of view we need to go to an article in last Friday’s Het Financiële Dagblad, the leading Dutch business and finance newspaper: The Dutch Business World Can Contribute to the Building-Up of Iraq.

Now, commenting on HFD articles for you, and especially giving their links, has to amuse and confuse me a bit, since you’re only actually going to be able to click through to the articles if you have a subscription to the HFD paper version and have taken the trouble to exercise your right to register for the additional perk of access to all that content on-line. Considering how expensive such a subscription is – it’s definitely a product for the business world, meaning those who can get a bit of that subscription price back as a business expense, i.e. in the resulting taxes that they do not have to pay – that surely means you can already read Dutch rather seriously, and so have all-the-less need of me telling you what is going on – at least in the Dutch press. Why do I have a subscription? Basically because they now have a cut-price offer for a multi-week trial deal. It’s an OK paper from a technical perspective, but I’m unlikely to go for the whole-hog yearly commitment when that time comes. I have the same problem with HFD as I have with a rather more-famous business newspaper that I don’t like and don’t read, the Wall Street Journal, namely its very disturbing and distasteful point of view that money determines everything: that the value of a movie is its box-office returns and the value of a book its sales, the value of a given polity is how well business is prospering within it, etc.

The HFD is certainly true to this form with this article, right from the very first sentence: “The countries which give the most, haul the most contracts in with the rebuilding of Iraq.” That was why Arnold Noorduijn, head of the Dutch delegation to the Madrid Conference (who in real life happens to be export manager at Friesland Coberco, a large, internationally-operating Dutch dairy product producer) was so concerned that his government pony up some more funds towards that goal, i.e. apart from what it has to commit for its portion of the €200 million the EU as a whole has pledged. At the last minute, his government made Arnold Noorduijn a very happy export manager: it added an additional €13 million of its own to the pot. Anyway, that €13 million is surely to be gebonden hulp, or “aid with conditions,” namely that it be used to purchase Dutch goods and services. Why should the Netherlands behave any differently than Japan in this regard? – or, for that matter, from the United States? Of course, the Dutch potentially have a lot to contribute: in the management of airports, transport, and public water works, for example, not to mention the health and schools sectors. Says Noorduijn: “We’ve got to sit in the first row to grab those contracts which haven’t already been awarded to the larger donor-countries in bilateral deals. That’s why it’s so important that the Dutch authorities give money. We’ve got to receive back something for that.”

So much for international charity and solidarity. Actually, I also remember reading much-earlier material along these lines, but in the Polish press. I recall that you could almost conclude that the reason why the Polish government put its soldiers in the line-of-fire during the actual war (admittedly a limited number of special forces troops) was so that it would have a leg-up to get contracts for Polish companies in Iraq after the war. Sorry that I didn’t bother to note down any URLs to those articles at the time so that I could refer to them more precisely.

By the way, from an entirely different source (and an English-language one, namely the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Southwestern Asia and the Middle East Newsline for today), there’s word that even a few of the world’s poorer countries made pledges at Madrid to contribute what they could towards the new Iraqi beginning. Vietnam, for example, pledged $500,000 – not in cash, but in rice. And Sri Lanka pledged to contribute 100 tons of tea. That’s pretty charming.

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