by Eric Margolis
As I walked along the elegant Quai d'Orsay, past France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Talleyrand's wonderfully cynical bon mot about Napoleon's murder of the Duc d'Enghien kept coming back to me: "Worse than a crime, it was a blunder."
Napoleon's foreign minister could just as well have been speaking of Iraq.
France repeatedly warned the Bush administration against invading Iraq. DGSE, the French intelligence service, had highly placed agents within Saddam Hussein's regime and informed the U.S. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat and would, if invaded, turn into a second Lebanon or West Bank.
Warnings by France and other European powers were sneeringly dismissed by the war's principal architects, among them U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose strategy was based in large part on disinformation from shady defectors and self-serving sources.
Pro-invasion Americans hurled insults at France for impeding Washington's rush to war.
Totally wrong about Iraq, Wolfowitz and fellow neo-cons are now punishing those who were totally right.
France, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Greece, and China - and maybe or maybe not Canada - were blacklisted from $18.6 billion US of "reconstruction" contracts in Iraq.
The laughable reason: "To protect the essential security interests of the United States." Albania and Uzbekistan are approved vendors.
"Reconstruction" is a euphemism for repairing massive damage inflicted on Iraq, formerly the Arab world's most developed nation, by a decade of crushing American-led sanctions and bombing.
French diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay are asking whatever happened to Colin Powell, who is supposed to head U.S. foreign policy? Wolfowitz seems to be running foreign as well as defence policy now. The hapless Powell has been demoted to messenger.
Banning staunch allies like France and Germany from rebuilding Iraq is not only foolishly vindictive and ham-handed, it is downright stupid, a condition now epidemic at the Pentagon's highest civilian echelons.
America's affronted allies, facing domestic outrage over this insult, must now take overt or covert counter-action, worsening U.S.-European relations.
Ironically, the spiteful ban undermines intense U.S. efforts to draw Europe into the Iraq mess.
All this could have been done quietly.
Instead, Wolfowitz created an unnecessary trans-Atlantic fracas that again shows the alarming diplomatic ineptitude and political crassness of the Bush administration. Embarrassingly, the American blacklist was issued just as Bush was calling European leaders, trying to get them to forgive Iraq's huge debts. The president was left red-faced. Many wondered who really was running the administration.
The exclusion of some of America's oldest friends from Iraq underlines the point that the U.S. invasion was really motivated by big oil and big business, rather than the faux war on terrorism or Baghdad's non-existent unconventional weapons.
Few people realize how important the occupation of oil-rich Iraq is to America's military-industrial-petroleum complex, a major financial backer of Bush and the Republican party. Defence spending, spurred by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will reach $3.1 trillion US over the next two years - the same amount, in constant dollars, the U.S. spent on World War II!