Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Baker, Carlyle, Kuwait, and Iraqi debt

Naomi Klein reveals (or here) that while James Baker was swanning around the capitals of the world trying to convince governments to take a haircut on the sovereign debt owed to them by Iraq - an effort marked by a notable lack of success - Carlyle, the company of which Baker is a big equity partner and senior counselor, was involved in a consortium which was negotiating with Kuwait to provide a financial structure and PR cover to shield from a similar reduction the war reparations debt owed by Iraq to Kuwait (another member of the consortium is a company owned by Madelaine Albright, famously indifferent in a '60 Minutes' interview to the plight of 500,000 Iraqi children killed by the sanctions, and apparently still thrilled about making a buck off their suffering). In fact, the same day that Baker was officially meeting with Kuwaiti leaders including the Foreign Minister to discuss Kuwait's haircut, Carlyle was delivering its scheme to the same Foreign Minister. Carlyle's services were sold on the crass basis of its ability to peddle influence in Washington, and the timing of Baker's visit must have made Carlyle's abilities abundantly clear to the Kuwaitis. Carlyle was slated to make a huge profit off this scheme, but claimed that somehow Baker wouldn't personally benefit. In the wake of Klein's revelation, and after a few unsuccessful attempts at damage control, Carlyle announced it would play no more part in the consortium.


Even by the mega-sleazy standards of the Bush Crime Family, this has to be one of the sleaziest attempts at double-dealing I have ever heard of. Baker used his 'integrity' and 'reputation' to clear the decks of other competing debt payments, while Carlyle fashioned a way to exclude Kuwait from having to participate in the pain felt by countries foolish enough to listen to Baker. Of course, no one was really fooled, which probably explains why Baker has had such a notable lack of success. The victims of this sleaze are the people of Iraq, who will still be burdened with the huge debt run up by Saddam, and the American taxpayers, who will have to fund the impoverished government of Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The Bush Crime Family has always succeeded in its schemes by the sheer enormity and audacity of the crimes it commits. Who would ever believe that someone of Baker's stature would even dream of such a scam? It reminds me of the great comedy series Father Ted, where Father Ted loses a bet and has to kick Bishop Brennan 'up the arse'. Father Ted is terrified of the Bishop, and terrified at what will happen when he kicks the Bishop, but his idiot sidekick Dougal manages to convince him that the conduct is so outrageously unbelievable that the Bishop will never be able to comprehend it actually happened. This is exactly how it transpires, but, it being Father Ted, things soon go terribly awry. Baker attempted to kick the world community, the people of Iraq, and the American taxpayers 'up the arse'. His double dealing was so completely outside the realm of decency and morality that he thought he could get away with it. This time, he got caught.


The irony is that the scheme was to protect reparations payments to Kuwait. The official American theory is that the United States went into Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people from the dictator Saddam. Surely the Iraqi people should no longer be liable for payments to Iraq which were caused entirely by the actions of Saddam. At least with much of the other sovereign debt, the Iraqi people obtained a benefit from it, and presumably still benefit from whatever was bought with it. In the case of the reparations, the debt is a dead weight on the Iraqi people who cannot logically be held responsible for the actions of a dictator from whom they had to be forcibly liberated by the United States. If Kuwait wants to receive payment of the reparations, it should look to Saddam. Kuwait's reparation payments, and the reparation payments claimed by the long line of corporations identified (or here) by Klein, should be the first debt payments to be wiped clean, even before any of the other sovereign debt disappears.


If you ever have the misfortune of shaking James Baker's hand, be sure to immediately count your fingers.

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