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Should Saddam Hussain pay the price for Enron?
By Karamatullah K. Ghori
|Toronto: The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged nearly 400 points in the day’s trading on Friday, July 19. This was the steepest fall in one of the most reliable economic indicators on the Wall Street since October 1998 which, incidentally, was a period of intense speculation, like today, about the U.S. military designs against Iraq. Clinton let loose America’s dogs of war against Iraq two months later, in December, 1998, when that beleaguered country was targeted from the air for 5 consecutive days.
The current spate of unrest in the financial market of the world’s largest economy is a direct result of the growing lack of faith by investors in the moral health of America’s corporate culture. It was the debacle at Enron Corporation, two months ago, that triggered the rot. A similar unraveling of massive fraud with the share holders at World Com took another heavy toll of the people’s trust in the big business that has defined America’s lead as the flag carrier of our industrial world. Dozens of other multinational corporations are currently being investigated by the Securities and exchange Commission for fraud and financial irregularities.
Enron shook the U.S. financial world and the money market down to its roots. Dow Jones has kept going down for 8 weeks in a row. But along with breach of faith in the financial sphere, the Enron scandal also exposed the blatant hypocrisy of America’s political culture which draws much of its sustaining power and resilience from the corporate world, which underpins the political culture by virtue of filling its coffers with massive donations and other forms of patronage.
Enron is proving to be particularly galling to the Bush administrations because many of its luminaries were not only major recipients of Enron’s largesse but also served the corruption-ridden corporation in various capacities—as directors, advisors and consultants—before jumping on to the Bush bandwagon. Bush and Cheney, themselves, have been linked with Enron, especially Cheney who consulted, and confabulated with, Enron regularly on energy matters, his speciality, since becoming vice president under Bush.
The Enron saga, far from being over, also encouraged investigative reporters, researchers and political analysts to snoop around the past dealings and activities of the Bush team. They came up with the miasma of several rotting scandals, with key players of the Bush administration at the centre of them, including the President and the Vice President.
Bush’s scandal sheet exposes his clever financial deals at the Harken Energy and as an official of the Texas Ranger’s baseball team. Journalists have described these deals as " slick and unsavoury." Prominent and respected investigative reporters, Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof, wrote lead stories on George W.Bush’s sordid business past on the New York Times’ op-ed pages under the captions: " Bush and the Texas land Grab", and " Steps to Wealth." Bush, reportedly, made nearly 400, 000 dollars by cashing in his stocks on the market less than two weeks before Harken Energy’s stock plunged into insignificance. He did not report the transaction, as required under the law, to the Federal exchange Commission for nearly eight months. Now quizzed repeatedly on his gaping financial irregularity, he pulled the shutters on the issue by insisting that his finance manager had ‘forgotten’ to report.
Dick Cheney’s haul of money was much larger than Bush’s. He presided over the industrial/military contractors, Halliburton, in the years since leaving the George Bush Sr’s cabinet as Defence Secretary. When he was named Vice President by Bush Jr. Cheney managed to secure a golden hand-shake of 40 million dollars from Halliburton. He has been sued by a group of clean business lawyers for financial irregularities.
It was not only that Cheney enriched himself at the expense of the company’s share-holders, but the company under his watch also made money through questionable deals.
It has now been revealed that with Cheney as its CEO, Halliburton did $ 73 million worth of business with Iraq, between 1997 and 2000, through its various subsidiaries. This was done in clear violation of U.S. laws and the UN economic sanctions against Iraq which are being enforced only because of U.S. insistence. Now the same Cheney is in the driver’s seat of that cabal of Washington hawks who want to enforce a ‘regime change’ in Iraq because Saddam Hussain is a dangerous man in their eyes. Saddam is a pariah to Vice president Cheney but he was alright as a customer to CEO Dick Cheney at Halliburton.
It is not only the Wall Street that has been taking the battering in the financial market under the lengthening shadows of Enron but the political fortunes of Messers Bush and Cheney are also being pounded.
A latest political survey—the Reid/ Cook Political Report—released on July 16, in tandem with the battered financial plight of the stock market, concludes that only 42 % of the people, today, would re-elect George W. Bush. Another political pollster, the Zogby Poll, also came out the same day with their findings according to which Bush’s popularity rating plunged from a high 74 % to just 62 % in one week. The same pollster also inferred that 51 % of those asked to compare their present status with a year ago said they were worse off than last year.
There seems to be an increasing awareness among the American people that the Bush-Cheney team is part of the problem and not an answer to solve the spiralling order of corruption governing the corporate culture of America. Little wonder, therefore, that Bush’s theatrical performance on the Wall Street turned out to be a damp squib. It failed to shore up the people’s and investors’ plunging faith in the health of a sick and seriously haemorrhaged corporate ethics. Bush’s pledge to clean up the corporate act sounded hollow and effete in the face of his own, and his vice president’s, past shenanigans.
It is obvious that the honeymoon Bush and Cheney enjoyed as a gift from the American people is rapidly unraveling. To pollsters like Zogby, Bush is almost back at the position where he was a week before September 11 last year when 51 % of the people polled gave him a favourable job rating and 49 % did not.
Bush and Cheney have only one remedy to revive their plunging political stock: take a swipe at America’s favourite villain and leader of one of the ‘evil’ states on Bush’s book. They know that war or a state of war is a prescription that never fails to work in winning over the American people. Bush has the ‘inspiring’ example of his own father who became a hero by winning the Gulf war against Iraq. George W. Bush’s own image got a hefty boost in the eyes of the people when he declared war on terrorism.
In the unending flirtation of U.S. with war ( the country went to war more often than any other in the 20th century ) it never fails to pay the highest dividends to a President taking America into war, against anyone. Bill Clinton shored up his sagging fortunes, when he was upto his eye-balls into the Monica Lewinsky scandal, by venting his wrath on Iraq. Bush has ample temptation—and in the eyes of his hawkish advisors justification,too—to follow the example of his predecessor.
But there is a qualitative difference between what Clinton sought to achieve, and what Bush is gunning for. For Clinton, the air strikes against Iraq in the twilight days of 1998 was only a diversionary tactic; and it paid him exactly what he was after.
Bush is aiming much higher than that. Because his coterie of ultra-hawks and Christian crusaders owe much of their past fortunes to the energy-related corporate world, therefore they would like to make sure that any military adventure against Iraq, this time around, must be productive. In other words, a regime change in Iraq should not only get rid of Saddam Hussain but also install in his place a successor—leader or regime—which would be pliant and open up iraq’s huge oil reserves to U.S. energy predators.
But Bush and Cheney are learning, to their dismay, that both these objectives are not going to be easy to realise. Getting rid of Saddam and throwing him on the dung-heap of history is not going to be, to use an American slang, a piece of cake. Iraq is not another Taliban-Afghanistan. It will not be a pushover, notwithstanding the recent ‘inspired’ leaks of the Pentagon military plans to unleash a massive air and ground assault against Iraq, involving tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers,from bases in the countries surrounding Iraq.
Getting the neighbours of Iraq to succumb to U.S. blandishments is proving to be a colossal task. Dick Cheney himself experienced that during his extended visit to the neighbours of Iraq a few months ago. Paul Wolfowitz, a super-hawk on Iraq and deputy to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has gone rushing to Turkey to take a measure of it in the wake of the ongoing political turmoil in Ankara. The beleaguered Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, has never been enthusiastic about American punitive plans against Iraq. So Washington would welcome his eventual eclipse.
However, even the Turkish Generals who brook no political interference in their monopoly of Kurdish affairs, are not in favour at all of any strategy to topple Saddam because of its blow-back on the Kurdish situation in Turkey. They fear, rightly so, that a major upheaval in Iraq may send the shock waves travelling up north which would not be in the best interest of Turkey and its restive Kurds. Even the Kurds of Iraq do not want the centre in Baghdad to give in because the floodgates thus opened may also engulf them into myriad problems and leave them stranded. Their past experience of American ‘help’ is not, exactly, redeeming.
All this should, common sense says, discourage Bush and Cheney from going down a road full of trap doors and pitfalls. But it is mid-term election year in U.S. and both the President and the Vice President are becoming increasingly accountable for their questionable past. Their discomfort is mounting, and with it the prospect that to save their skin they would take U.S. into another war. To them Iraq seems a fair deal to get the messy and sordid saga of Enron behind them. q