Wednesday, November 14, 2012

When press created images implode

Following the KRG's successful trade fair a few weeks ago, Nouri had to stage one in Baghdad.  Though there was a long history of these trade fairs in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki seemed unprepared.  Or maybe he just hoped that, as with the Arab League Summit that very few leaders bothered to attend, he'd get applauded just for staging an event?

AFP is the first out of the gate with the post-trade fair review and it's not a rave:

Excessive red tape, rampant corruption, an unreliable judicial system and still-inadequate security, as well as a poorly trained workforce and a state-dominated economy all continue to plague Iraq, which completed its biggest trade fair in 20 years last week to much domestic acclaim.
The various difficulties of doing business in Iraq cast doubt on efforts to raise $1-trillion in investment income over the coming decade that officials say is needed to rebuild its battered economy.

B-b-but, he staged it, right?  You can almost hear Nouri whimper that, stunned that he would be expected to accomplish anything other than staging another poorly attended event.  Just as the Arab League Summit was light on actual Arab leaders, the trade fair was light on big company reps.

Other than violence, what could have scared them away?

How about crazy Nouri?

The paranoid noted for his attacks on business.  Going into the month, he was riding high on the 4.2 billion weapons deal with Russia and the much smaller but still significant deal with the Czech Republic.  Now Prague is all but forgotten as Nouri spent the weekend trashing a contract he signed.  He announced it was no more.

This took away any renewed energy the Russian deal may have brought to Iraq.  Instead, the international business community saw the Nouri they'd grown to know too well: a man who refuses to honor contracts.  Politically, there is most infamously the Erbil Agreement which was a US-brokered contract between Nouri and the political blocs.  Following his losing in the 2010 parliamentary elections, Iraqiya had first dibs on forming a government with someone from that winning bloc being named prime minister-designate.  Instead of honoring the Constitution (a contract in and of itself), Nouri created an eight-month political stalemate which only ended with the contract the US government negotiated.  In the contract, Nouri made concessionss in order to get the blocs to agree to give him a second term he hadn't earned.  Nouri used the contract to get the second term and then insisted upon breaking it.

Trust will always be an issue with Iraq for businesses while Nouri remains prime minister.  In November 2011, he declared war on ExxonMobil among others.  That war has not gone well for Nouri and the image problems the wars created for him in business circles are now legendary and will not soon vanish.  (This despite the White House personally lobbying business donors to Barack's re-election campaign to 'toss a few crumbs' Iraq's way.  One donor's desire to serve Barack and not her family business will result in a shake up among the board before the end of 2013 -- and that's directly to my ear from the woman's brother.)

In that climate, a change is needed.  Whether Nouri will allow Iraq to move forward after the 2014 elections or remain an anchor around the country's neck is the answer to watch for over the next months.

The unrestrained ego is not limited to Nouri.  Take ex-CIA Director David Petraeus who honestly thought the fluffing would never stop.   Kevin Gosztola (FireDogLake) observes:

The press can barely come to grips with the fact that America has “lost” someone widely considered to be a role model for leadership among establishment journalists. CNN’s Howard Kurtz said, “This is a guy who when he was a four-star general and even as a junior officer was portrayed as practically being able to walk on water. He was on magazine covers, he was touted as a potential presidential candidate, and that was no accident.”
It was no accident because he “gave a lot of access to selected journalists.” That is why, unlike other scandals, the media has not been behaving like it normally does when it covers sex scandals.

Gosztola quotes from Michael Hastings' book The Operators:

Under his watch, one hundred thousand weapons supplied to the Iraq army and police go missing. More disturbingly, the army and police units he trains go on to become the death squads in Iraq’s brutal civil war—its men “dress like army and police” who rampage through Baghdad, killing tens of thousands, kidnapping men in the middle of the night, and, as we learn later, running a system of secret prisons and torture dungeons. Yes, it’s the Iraqi security forces trained and equipped by Petraeus who do these horrible things, who set the stage for the sectarian war in Baghdad. “After he leaves a legacy of shit behind because of the long-term effects of the choices he’s made, he’s never held to account,” explains a US military official in Baghdad. “No one calls him out.”

Meenal Vamburkar (Mediaite) quotes Michael Hastings declaring on last night's Piers Morgan (CNN), "Come on. Let’s be honest, David Petraeus fueled an Iraqi civil war that the Shiites won. We installed a radical Islamist government in Iraq."  Mark Thompson (Time magazine) notes that criticism has come from all sections of American society:

But not everyone sang Petraeus’ praises. “Petraeus is a remarkable piece of fiction created and promoted by neocons in government, the media and academia,” argues Douglas Macgregor, a retired and outspoken Army colonel and innovator, known for Breaking the Phalanx, his book taking the Army to task for the way it organizes and uses its ground forces.
Macgregor elaborates:
“How does an officer with no personal experience of direct fire combat in Panama or Desert Storm become a division CDR in 2003, man who for 35 years shamelessly reinforced whatever dumb idea his superior advanced regardless of its impact on soldiers, let alone the nation, a man who served repeatedly as a sycophantic aide-de-camp, military assistant and executive officer to four stars get so far? How does the same man who balked at closing with and destroying the enemy in 2003 in front of Baghdad agree to sacrifice more than a thousand American lives and destroy thousands of others installing Iranian national power in Baghdad with a surge that many in and out of uniform warned against? Then, how does this same man repeat the self-defeating tactics one more time in Afghanistan? The answer is simple: Petraeus was always a useful fool in the Leninist sense for his political superiors — Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Gates. And that is precisely how history will judge him.”

 The following community sites -- plus, Pacifica Evening News, Jody Watley, C-SPAN, Adam Kokesh, Chocolate City and the New York Times' war blog  -- updated last night and this morning:

Finally, David Bacon's most recent book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with this from Bacon's "Blood on the Silver: Assassinations and Violence - the High Cost of Mining Concessions in Oaxaca" (NACLA Report):

In the front room of Avigahil Vasquez Sanchez home in San Jose del Progreso, she's installed half a dozen little phone booths, used by town residents who have no phone of their own. Outside the windows above the telephones, the tree-lined street she lives on leads out to fields at the foot of cloud-topped hills. San Jose, at the edge of a valley an hour south of Oaxaca's capital city, is a pretty town.

But this seemingly peaceful environment is deceptive. Since a mine began operation nearby, residents passing in the road view each other with suspicion. The fear is palpable in Vasquez' home as well. And one evening last March her fears became real. She remembers waiting at home for her brother Bernardo to return from the Oaxaca city airport:

He called us at six that evening. I asked him to wait for us in the airport, because there were people looking for him. The day before a stranger had been asking for him, and that night a woman came asking to make a phone call. We didn't realize what was about to happen, that she was just finding out the time he'd be leaving Oaxaca.

At all the crossroads on the highway there were people watching to see when he'd pass by. After stopping at a gas station he saw there was a car following him. Then there was another car beside him. He thought it might be one of the taxi drivers from our town, but it wasn't. When the car pulled along side him they began to fire. The shots hit him in the back, and they forced him off the road at the crossroads to Santa Lucia, where he fell over the wheel. My cousin was sitting beside him, and was shot in the leg.
- Avigahil Vasquez
Jaime Vásquez Valencia, a passing taxi driver, stopped to help. He put Vasquez and his wounded brother and cousin into his taxi and drove them to the closest town. By the time they arrived, however, Bernardo Vasquez was already dead. Paramedics took his two wounded companions to the Specialties Hospital in San Bartolo Coyotepec.
The assassination was planned. We knew he was bothering the mine, because he was getting a lot of threats. He was very quiet about it, but he told me, 'I know I'm going to die, because the mine doesn't like what I'm doing.' Most threats came on the phone. They'd say, 'You know, Bernardo, you're going to die.' There was a threat written on the wall of the spillway below the dam, saying 'Your end has come.' Leaflets would appear in town, saying, 'The end of Bernardo Vasquez has come.' When we'd tell him to be careful he'd say, 'I have to stay here. If my death is coming, I accept it.' He came to help people wake up, and because of his bravery, many people followed him. - Avigahil Vasquez

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