The Petty Profiteers of Iraq’s Reconstruction

By Zack Kopplin

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, has refused to share meaningful details of his work for McKinsey & Company. He said the consultancy won’t release him from a nondisclosure agreement, although McKinsey did clear him to release the names of his clients. So far, Buttigieg has only provided the names of his clients empty summaries of his assignments, like grocery pricing in Canada and economic development in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I served a US government department in a project focused on increasing employment and entrepreneurship in those countries’ economies,” he said about the latter project. But client names and summaries aren’t enough.

These projects, especially the ones in built on war profiteering in low-oversight environments like the Middle East and Central Asia, require real transparency.

Internationally, McKinsey is known for serving dictators and advising clients to pay bribes, but Buttigieg believes the public should trust he avoided conflicts of interests and corruption. “I never worked on a project inconsistent with my values,” he said in a statement. That may be, but his work in Iraq put him a few connections away from deals with sketchy oligarchs. Voters shouldn’t have to take his word that he kept his hands clean.

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After a Siege

American forces in Iraq laid siege to Fallujah twice in 2004. When the smoke cleared at the end of that year the city on the Euphrates lay in ruins. Months of shelling, airstrikes, and house-to-house fighting damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of buildings—including countless homes, shops, schools, and mosques. Most of the approximately 300,000 inhabitants fled their homes, remaining displaced long after the sieges ended, but others were not so lucky. There is no precise body count of Iraqis who perished during the attack, but the figure is likely somewhere over 1,000. The city never recovered from the assault, falling prey to ISIS in 2014, and then another brutal Iraqi-government led siege in 2016.

The Sacking of Fallujah, published in April 2019, is an unusual history of these three sieges. The book is the product of years of work by six contributors inside and outside of Iraq. Personal essays and collected testimony of people marked by the destruction of the city are interposed between the chapters of a chronological narrative. In one affecting essay, Ross Caputi, one of the book’s credited authors, describes his participation in the second siege as a Marine and his gradual disillusionment with the war in Iraq. After leaving the military Caputi became involved in anti-war work and eventually co-founded the Islah Reparations Project, which provides resources to Iraqis and Palestinians in need.

With the fifteen-year anniversary of the 2004 sieges of Fallujah in mind, I reached out to Caputi to request an interview. We discussed The Sacking of Fallujah, his shift in perspective on American foreign policy, and his views on reparations and international solidarity.

Michael Youhana: Can you talk about the timeline of events encompassed in your book? 

Ross Caputi: The Sacking of Fallujah offers a little bit of background information on the city’s early 20th century anti-colonial struggles against Britain. The impact of the 1991 Gulf War and UN Security Council sanctions on Fallujah’s residents is also discussed. But the core of the book starts out in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq. The book describes the two American-led sieges of the city in 2004. It also discusses the more recent operation against ISIS in Fallujah in 2016 and the really difficult position residents of Fallujah find themselves in today. 

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The Quartermaster’s Tools and the Quartermaster’s House

When the next executive term is inaugurated on January 21st, 2021, it will have been 19 years, 3 months, and 15 days since the start of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Not since 2008 has the left in the United States had such an opportunity to re-imagine foreign policy from the executive branch. Should a Sanders or a Warren or another left-curious candidate assume the presidency in 2021, they will inherit a massive American security bureaucracy, with key positions waiting to be staffed by political appointees. 

To the extent that there is a bench for foreign policy within the big tent of the Democratic party, it is a bench that is almost exclusively aligned with the pro-intervention sides of both the Obama and Clinton camps, leaving few people of an anti-intervention bent for a president to call on. To better understand how this situation came to be and how it might be mitigated, I spoke over email with Daniel Bessner, a historian of American defense intellectual culture.

Kelsey D. Atherton: Let’s start with the most immediate question: should we get a Sanders or a Warren presidency, and a foreign policy to match, where would those administrations look to hire people into the administration to manage the national security apparatus? 

Daniel Bessner: I think this will be one of the foremost problems confronting a future progressive president. There is simply not a bench for left wing foreign policy thinkers, analysts, and bureaucrats in the same way that there is for conservatives or liberals. This is, in fact, my biggest gripe with the previous generation of left wing thinkers: though they were mostly correct in their moral condemnations of US foreign policy–its imperialism, its brutality, its feigned innocence– they fundamentally misunderstood how power works, at least in the foreign-policymaking realm.

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Political Science

Science diplomacy is part of the basic blocking and tackling of American foreign policy. The State Department’s Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, for example, manages a US Science Envoy Program and an Embassy Science Fellows Program in an effort to “build relationships and partnerships that advance American foreign policy and scientific priorities”. Yet it is rare to hear any real debate about the role of science in America’s work abroad, or about how science came to be incorporated into the core functions of American foreign policy. Enter Audra Wolfe, a historian whose recent book, Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science covers the rise and consequences of science diplomacy as a tool of the American state and the rationalizations scientists made along the way. I spoke with Dr. Wolfe over e-mail about how the Cold War shaped American science in the 20th century and how effects are still felt today.

Sam Ratner: Your work centers around the idea of “scientific exceptionalism”, which isn’t a concept that we hear a lot in foreign policy discourse. What exactly is scientific exceptionalism, and why does in matter to broader questions of diplomacy?

Audra Wolfe: Scientific exceptionalism is the claim that science — and scientists — somehow exist beyond the reach of politics, and especially international politics. It’s a claim that obviously isn’t true, and yet it is also a core belief among many American scientists. I wanted to figure out why that is, so I dug into the history of American science. What I found kept bringing me back to Cold War propaganda. 

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Fear of a Black Atlantic World Order

Review of Adom Getachew’s Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton University Press, 2019).

By Alden Young

As the century drew to a close, elites believed themselves to be at the end of history. Many American foreign policy elites had taken for granted the United States’ commitment to economic globalization. From the Clinton era onwards, Democratic Party elites frequently suggested that globalization was an inevitable, irreversible, and ultimately beneficial process. According to Bill Clinton, the championing of globalization was one of the United States’ greatest achievements during the decades since 1945, and while a few rough edges remained, globalization was an unambiguous good for the United States and for the developing world. These narratives about the success of the American project help to explain the shock and outrage that policy wonks expressed when President Trump abruptly reversed course and suggested that globalization was a scam, a project crafted by corrupt elites and designed to rob hard-working Americans of their livelihoods. 

Perhaps Trump’s greatest heresy, in the eyes of the liberal orthodoxy of globalization, was his suggestion that the United States adopt industrial policy in the name of national security and unilaterally use tariffs to seek to preserve and expand America’s economic advantages while arguing that the international market was something that an American president could seek to shape rather than prepare his country’s workforce to adjust to. Crude as his articulation was, it made an explicit claim that markets did not naturally stand apart from politics, but were actively created and shaped by political action.

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A Trade Policy for the Workers Begins from Within

By Yong Kwon

After decades of pushing back against free trade agreements that advanced corporate interests, labor advocates in the United States have developed a reflexive disdain for treaties that expand commercial ties with other countries. As a consequence, the left has shied away from criticizing the Trump administration’s imposition of trade barriers.

This is a mistake. Privileged classes throughout history have employed protectionism and trade liberalization interchangeably to safeguard their economic dominance. Labor must be similarly flexible to counter the malign influence of capital.

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The United States Must Support a Non-American World Bank President

By Daniel Remler

After seven years at the helm of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim announced in January that he would be resigning as president. Since the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were first established after World War II, the United States and Europe have had an informal agreement whereby an American would run the World Bank and a European would run the IMF. True to this pact, President Donald Trump announced the nomination of Treasury official David Malpass as the US nominee. As happened when President Obama nominated Kim in 2012, there were calls for the US to abandon its stranglehold on the World Bank’s top job.

Though Malpass managed to gain enough support from other stakeholders to become president, progressive policymakers can take the opportunity of this transition to make clear that ending the US monopoly on World Bank leadership and supporting leadership for the organization from the developing world must be a priority for the next progressive US president. This policy shift would not only recognize fundamental shifts in the global economy toward developing countries, but also begin to address the institution’s significant shortcomings and help advance progressive economic policy.

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