|BAKER TAKES THE LOAF
The President's Business Partner Slices Up Iraq
by Greg Palast
Monday, December 8, 2003
Well, ho ho ho! It's an early Christmas for James Baker III.
All year the elves at his law firm, Baker Botts of Texas, have been
working day and night to prevent the families of the victims of the
September 11 attack from seeking information from Saudi Arabia on the
Kingdom's funding of Al Qaeda fronts.
It's tough work, but this week came the payoff when President Bush
appointed Baker, the firm's senior partner, to "restructure" the
debts of the nation of Iraq.
And who will net the big bucks under Jim Baker's plan? Answer: his
client, Saudi Arabia, which claims $30.7 billion due from Iraq plus
$12 billion in reparations from the First Gulf war.
Let's ponder what's going on here.
We are talking about something called "sovereign debt." And unless
George Bush has finally 'fessed up and named himself Pasha of Iraq,
he is not their sovereign. Mr. Bush has no authority to seize control
of that nation's assets nor its debts.
But our President is not going to let something as trivial as
international law stand in the way of a quick buck for Mr. Baker. To
get around the wee issue that Bush has no legal authority to mess
with Iraq's debt, the White House has crafted a neat little
subterfuge. The official press release says the President has not
appointed Mr. Baker. Rather Mr. Bush is "responding to a request from
the Iraqi Governing Council." That is, Bush is acting on the
authority of the puppet government he imposed on Iraqis at gunpoint.
I will grant the Iraqi 'government' has some knowledge of
international finance; its key member, Ahmed Chalabi, is a convicted
The Bush team must see the other advantage in having the rump rulers
of Iraq pretend to choose Mr. Baker; the US Senate will not have to
review or confirm the appointment. If you remember, Henry Kissinger
ran away from the September 11 commission with his consulting firm
tucked between his legs after the Senate demanded he reveal his
client list. In the case of Jim Baker, who will be acting as a de
facto US Treasury secretary for international affairs, our elected
Congress will have no chance to ask him who is paying his firm.… nor
even require him to get off conflicting payrolls.
This takes the Bush administration' Conflicts-R-Us appointments
process to a new low.
Or maybe there's no conflict at all. If you see Jim Baker's new job
as working not to protect a new Iraqi democracy but to protect the
loot of the old theocracy of Saudi Arabia, the conflict disappears.
Iraq's debt totals something on the order of $120 billion to $150
billion, depending on who's counting. And who's counting is VERY
Much of the so-called debt to Saudi Arabia was given to Saddam
Hussein to fight a proxy war for the Saudis against their hated foe,
the Shi'ia of Iran. And as disclosed by a former Saudi diplomat, the
kingdom's sheiks handed about $7 billion to Saddam under the table in
the 1980's to build an "Islamic bomb."
Should Iraqis today and those not yet born have to be put in a
debtor's prison to pay off the secret payouts to Saddam?
James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, says 'No!' Wolfensohn
has never been on my Christmas card list, but in this case he's got
it right: Iraq should simply cancel $120 billion in debt.
Normally, the World Bank is in charge of post-war debt restructuring.
That's why the official name of the World Bank is "International Bank
for Reconstruction and Development." This is the Bank's expertise.
Bush has rushed Baker in to pre-empt the debt write-off the World
Bank would certainly promote.
"I FIXED FLORIDA"
Why is our President so concerned with the wishes of Mr. Baker's
clientele? What does Bush owe Baker? Let me count the ways, beginning
with the 2000 election.
Just last week Baker said, "I fixed the election in Florida for
George Bush." That was the substance of his remarks last week to an
audience of Russian big wigs as reported to me by my somewhat
astonished colleagues at BBC television.
It was Baker, as consiglieri to the Bush family, who came up with the
strategy of maneuvering the 2000 Florida vote count into a Supreme
Court packed with politicos.
Baker's claim to have fixed the election was not a confession; it was
a boast. He meant to dazzle current and potential clients about his
Big In with the Big Boy in the White House. Baker's firm is already a
top player in the Great Game of seizing Caspian Sea oil. (An
executive of Exxon-Mobil, one of Baker Botts's clients, has been
charged with evading taxes on bribes paid in Kazakhstan.)
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Over the years, Jim Baker has taken responsibility for putting bread
on the Bush family table. As Senior Counsel to Carlyle, the
arms-dealing investment group, Baker arranged for the firm to hire
both President Bush 41 after he was booted from the White House and
President Bush 43 while his daddy was still in office.
Come to think of it, maybe I'm being a bit too dismissive of the
Iraqi make-believe government. After all, it's not as if George Bush
were elected by voters either. It would be more accurate to say that
TWO puppet governments have agreed to let the man who has always
pulled the strings come out from behind the curtain, take a bow, take
charge -- then take the money and run.
*** Hear Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,
today on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. And listen to "WEAPON OF MASS
INSTRUCTION - PALAST LIVE AND UNCENSORED," the CD from Alternative
Tentacles, available this week only at www.GregPalast.com.