Two thoughts about the whole reconstruction contracts mess.
First, if the prohibition on bids from German, French, and Canadian companies is punitive, it simply doesn’t make any sense, as Josh Marshall points out today, noting that reconstruction dollars are a relatively small pot compared to debt owed by Iraq to nations like Germany and France. If it’s about rewarding our allies in the war on terror (“friendly coaliation folks,” as Bush puts it), it still doesn’t make any sense: Germany has large numbers of troops in Afghanistan and plans to train Iraqi soldiers and police. Meanwhile, other countries on the approved list have expressed moral support for the war, but have not sent any troops anywhere; so it’s not about risking lives in the struggle, either. And finally, it’s clear that the prohibition isn’t about saving money, so could we put an end to the claim that this is what the U.S. taxpayers expect? Frankly, if Bush is no longer interested in putting money back in my pocket (so that I am more likely to demands goods or services, which makes it more likely for someone—in Indonesia?—to have a job, you know), I would like to think that his administration would at least consider the possibility of a truly competetive bidding process.
Second, one might expect that when confronted with the uncomfortable proposition of now having to ask excluded nations to forgive their loans to Iraq, President Bush would find within himself some diplomacy, some of that down-home humility of which he is so fond. But, no. Instead, we get this stellar example of uniting-not-dividing on the part of the president:
Asked by a reporter to respond to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s suggestion that there might be some issues of international law involved, Bush said: “International law? I better call my lawyer. . . . I don’t know what you’re talking about, about international law. Better consult my lawyer.”
I figure that remark can be taken to mean one of two things, neither of which is very complimentary: “I’m an asshole because I turned a legitimate question into an opportunity to insult someone…again,” or “I’m incompetent because I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Update: Working to make sense out of the administration’s action, Slacktivist refers to the dilemma of looking incompetent or looking malicious as “Regan’s bind,” and applies it to Paul Wolfowitz’s authorship of the contracting policy. He writes,
By writing today of a “deliberate debacle,” Paul Krugman is being as charitable as possible toward Paul Wolfowitz. Speculating on someone’s subversive, malicious intent may not seem charitable at first, but the only other option available is that the debacle Krugman describes was not deliberate. In that case, Wolfowitz would have to be a dimwitted bumbler. And suggesting that wouldn’t seem terribly charitable either.
Reagan’s bind sure seems to be shadowing this administration’s every step lately.