Danish Afterword on Madrid Conference

In the end, last Thursday’s and Friday’s Madrid Iraqi Donors’ Conference seems to have turned out better than expected. The coverage in Denmark’s Politiken (Japan Gives Iraq $5 Billion) gives a final verdict that is middle-of-the-road: yes, donor countries “reached deeper into their pockets than had seemed would be the case even hours before the conference closed.” (As the headline recounts, Japan upped its contribution during the course of the conference, ultimately offering a soft loan of $3.5 billion, and an outright grant of $1.5 billion.) On the other hand, Politiken still calls the results disappointing for the Americans, who had hoped to call forth much more money than the result of $18 billion to add to the ca. $20 billion that the US Congress approved (half of it a loan). On yet another hand, the article points out, for a long time there were doubts whether there would even be enough support to hold the conference in the first place.

Overall, the world’s press has plenty in the results of the Madrid Conference to see either a glass half-full or half-empty, according to the given newspaper’s (and/or its journalist’s) inclination or political stance. It’s rather more refreshing to come across a piece of commentary on these happenings which is willing to put them into a wider context, even if it turns out to be a very anti-Coalition one. This is what we have in the article in the Danish commentary newspaper Information entitled A New Iraq.

Information’s editorial (not signed, but initialled “bjm”) starts off with the recent comment by American essayist Susan Sontag: “It seems remarkable to me that the USA can go into a land like Iraq, and afterwards ask the rest of the world for money to rebuild it.” Go into Iraq “without the legitimacy of the United Nations,” Information adds; and Sontag’s observation does seem to reflect a large part of the world’s opinion on the Madrid Conference. Indeed, the editorial adds, you could say that it is that “Coalition of the Willing” that should also be “willing” to pay – a coalition which, the paper hastens to add, certainly has included Denmark – including to pay the Iraqi people in compensation for the bombing, occupation, and loss-of-life which they have had to suffer.

For now that the myth of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction has been exploded, the bottom-line summary of the War in Iraq reads more and more like “merely a tragic bringing-to-bear [“iscenesættelse“] of the USA’s imperial power, built upon lies, fraud, and a cynical confiscation of Iraq’s oil.” And don’t forget how Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton, and former Republican supremo George Schultz’s, Bechtel, are already profiting mightily from their “privileged contracts” with Iraqi rebuilding – contracts which “smell of dirty corruption.” This is especially galling in light of the poverty and economic desperation most Iraqis are still struggling with.

OK, OK. Still, the newspaper concedes, the Madrid Conference and its results are a good thing, showing an admirable international solidarity with the Iraqi people. With this help, now that economic sanctions are gone, now that the Baath regime that milked the country as its personal economic fiefdom is gone, Iraqis can rightly hope for the future.

Of course, there are many other of the Earth’s people who deserve a similar break, a similar show of international solidarity to help ease them out of their poverty and misery – such as the population of sub-Saharan Africa. If there is to be any talk of a “Marshall Plan,” it is these long-suffering people who deserve to be its target, says Information – not that it should be at the cost of the help which, as the newspaper takes pain to declare, the Iraqis certainly deserve and need.

So is Information just being wishy-washy? “Give A massive economic help, but also don’t forget to give B the same.” Not really: in the short run, the reason why less along these lines is possible than it should be, says the newspaper, is the cynical behavior of some: “In this connection,” it writes, “it merely calls forth our contempt that a rich land such as France has not desired to give a euro to Iraq’s re-building.” Don’t the French realize that, after the passage of that latest UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, numbered 1511, this attitude is no longer tenable? That resolution is a historical step, because at its core it returns Iraq’s sovereignty to the Governing Council, as long as it formulates and carries out a plan to provide for a new constitution, elections, and the ultimate return of Iraq’s complete sovereignty as a free, democratic state. (With all foreign troops presumably gone by then, at least those who are not explicitly invited to stay by the country’s new leaders. The reference here is to Thomas Friedman’s recent proposal to invite Iraq to join NATO, and its my reference, not one that Information makes).

In all, writes Information, no matter what you may think about the justness or unjustness of the War in Iraq, it’s time for everyone to leave all those old arguments and resentments behind. It’s time to recognize that the international community as a whole, with the aforementioned UN resolution and this Madrid Conference, has embarked upon a hopeful course to help build a new Iraq, a new Iraq that the Iraqis deserve.

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