The Axis of Weasel’s Economic Ties to Saddam

As the sounds of cascading statues muffle the joyous cries of a liberated people, the righteousness of the United States’ cause has been vindicated before the entire world. The naysayers have watched with embarrassment as a grateful population shares harrowing tales of freed political prisoners, rejoices at the closure of Saddam’s rape rooms, and participates in the shattering of megomaniacal idols of their “beloved leader” — all on Al-Jazeera television! An intransigent United Nations, the partisan Left, and a well-financed cadre of domestic extremists did all they could to prevent this emancipation of the Iraqi citizenry by mouthing class warfare rhetoric and accusing the United States of waging an imperialist “war for oil.” The wizened political failure George McGovern added a different spin to the argument in an essay published last Thursday in Nation magazine (in which he reveals that he considers the U.S. Army inferior to the Viet Cong), claiming the Bush administration’s liberation of Iraq “and other costly wars now being planned in secret” (!) are “fattening the ever-growing military-industrial complex.”

Economic Determinism

This is hardly an original tactic; interpreting foreign policy through the prism of economic interests dates from at least the days of Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams (or, perhaps more to the point, Karl Marx). However, denunciations of economic imperialism vis-a-vis Iraq were, like all leftist rage, selective. Conveniently missing from these neo-Marxist analyses were the stakes French, German, Russian, and Chinese firms had in keeping Saddam Hussein in power.

During the dragging prelude to this war, more than one leftist remarked, “It’s tragic that only the European Union is listening to our voices.” However, Old Europe’s representatives in the EU were more likely hearkening to fat cats in their own countries than the (literally) unwashed masses jamming San Francisco’s intersections. In Saddam Hussein’s nightmarish regime, France, Russia, Germany, and China see a trading partner representing billions of dollars to their domestic firms.

The Economic Facts

For these nations, Iraq is a major player. France alone sells Iraq nearly one-quarter of all its imports. Russia and China each control 5.8 percent of Iraqi imports. Germany is believed to have $1.35 billion in annual trade with Iraq, directly or indirectly. Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Salah announced that, as of early 2001, UN sanctions had cost $200 billion in lost trade to Iraq’s trading partners, including $40 billion for Russia, $35 billion for France, and $25 billion for China. Even the UN itself benefited economically from the sanctions and inspections regime. Perhaps this accounts, in some small measure, for these entities’ lenient stance toward Iraq.

And Iraqi trade continued growing, even through last year. France has become Iraq’s top European trading partner, displacing Russia. Nearly 60 percent of French companies have business ties with Iraq, pulling in $1.5 billion annually. France ranks as Iraq’s third largest trading partner under the UN’s Oil-for-Food program, raking in $3.1 billion since 1996. (Russia is number one, incidentally, with a cool $4.3 billion.) France has felt no need to go to war to leverage Iraq’s oil; the French oil company Total Fina Elf has received the option to explore an estimated 25 percent of Iraq’s oil supply.

Nor is France alone in getting a piece of Saddam’s oil. Russia’s LUKoil inked a $4 billion deal to rehabilitate a West Qurna oil field, effective upon the lifting of UN sanctions; while Zaruezhneft (also of Russia) signed a projected $40 billion pact with Hussein last year allowing the company to explore oil fields in western Iraq.

The “silent partner” in the anti-liberation force, China, signed an agreement for a 22-year-long exploration in the Al Ahdab oil fields.

Aid and Comfort by Other Means

Not all contracts between the “Axis of Weasel” are oil-related. The Chinese Aero-Technology Import-Export Company (CATIC) sold Iraq much-needed fiber optic cables for $2 million — with full UN approval. The EU nations provided Iraq’s military establishment with “dual-use” equipment, under the guise of rebuilding Iraq’s technological and industrial base. At last November’s 35th Annual Baghdad International Fair, a German company agreed to supply German trucks and spare parts to the Iraqi dictator’s government at a cost of $80 million. France’s Renault SA likewise provided $75 million in “farm equipment” to Saddam. Much of this “civilian sector” equipment no doubt rolled toward Coalition forces during the war.

Other economic ties between these nations and Iraq do not even try to hide their military nature. Indeed France, Russia, and China are responsible for selling Iraq 81 percent of its weapons arsenal between 1981-2001. In fact, Jacques Chirac personally negotiated the sale of the Osirak nuclear reactor to Saddam Hussein. Worse yet, the arms trade has reportedly continued, even during the U.S. war against Iraq. As William Safire documented, France, China, and Syria have continued illicit weapons shipments to the Iraqis, either directly or through back channels. (Syria has doubled its trade with Iraq between 2000 and 2001 after signing a free trade pact. Syria is accused of smuggling Iraqi oil, hiding Iraqi WMDs, and possibly hiding Saddam himself.) A German company stands accused of selling weapons to Iraq through Jordan. And Ari Fleisher publicly accused Russian companies of marketing Global Positioning Sattelite-blocking technology to Iraq just two weeks ago. And these are allegedly U.S. allies.

A (Nearly) All-Consuming Mania

Do these economic data prove the other nations opposed a clearly just (not to mention, under Resolution 1441, UN-mandated) war with Iraq? No, not anymore than the scribblings of Williamson and Beard prove their assertions about U.S. foreign policy. However, it makes a far more convincing case than leftists’ emotion-laden and fact-wanting arguments that America is invading Iraq for oil. When pressed for hard evidence of Bush’s postwar plans, they come up shy, except to admit that Bush has said all oil belongs to the Iraqi people.

Besides, their theories raise vexing questions of their own, such as: Why should the United States go to war for oil when it would be far easier to tap the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, or the known oil deposits off America’s coastal shelves? And if this were an oil war, what would that say about the Democratic Party: that they prefer murdering Iraqi children to potentially endangering tiny pockets of wildlife in the ANWR or coral reefs in California?

Regardless, it seems queer that those activists most likely to allege that policy wonks craft foreign policy around base economic gains do not have a word to say about the clear ties of Saddam’s most virulent defenders , the proponents of inaction, to Saddam’s millions. And now that the sun of liberty has dawned upon the Iraqi people, leftists scatter from the light, lest it show their ideological mania led them to oppose Iraqi freedom and coddle a hideous dictator. However, the economic dealings of their new favorite nations show that left-wingers’ ideological mania is not all-consuming: They only oppose “economic determinism” when those policies would benefit Americans and destroy tyranny.

Although this author conducted and verified all research for this article, he is largely indebted to the condensation of many relevant facts made by Carrie Satterlee of the venerable Heritage Foundation.

This article originally ran as the lead article on April 10, 2003, on FrontPage Magazine.