Remember how many members of Congress actually read the WTO agreement before it was first passed?
That was conservative Republican Hank Brown (CO), who took up a challenge issued by Ralph Nader to actually read the entire treaty and answer ten simple questions in public. Senator Brown not only did his homework, and answered all ten questions correctly, but had more to say: That he was a free trader and had voted for NAFTA, but after he read through the WTO agreement, he was appalled by the various anti-democratic sections and decided to vote against approval when it came to the Senate floor. Which he did. But, as Nader later wrote, "His example had no influence on his colleagues. None changed their vote and the WTO was approved...it was a sobering episode that taught people about the many slovenly puppets masquerading as denizens of "the world's greatest deliberative body." "
I was reminded of that episode when I read in yesterday's Politico how "volatile House Appropriations Committee chairman" David Obey (D-WI) erupted in a caucus meeting with a series of expletives directed at Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), after Kucinich had the courage to get up during a question-and-answer session and accuse the Democratic leadership of trying to privatize Iraqi oil reserves by including passage of the proposed Iraqi oil law as one of the so-called "benchmarks" in the Iraqi supplemental.
(As Matt Taibbi writes there are also "elements of the Democratic-crafted Iraq supplemental that are not only severely regressive but would actually tend to encourage the continuation of the insurgency," but let's set that aside for now.)
Obey told the Politico that Kucinich "was giving [the caucus] this inaccurate information about the committee's work product."
But I wonder -- has Obey actually studied the new draft Iraqi oil law? I can't imagine that he has, because it's hard to know what he's talking about!
Like the initial invasion force's dash to protect the Oil Ministry while the museums were all being looted, the supplemental is written in a way that reveals the Democrats' priorities: Passage of the hydrocarbon law is mentioned first among the list of benchmarks, before legislation requiring elections, reform of de-Baathification laws, and allocation of revenues for reconstruction.
And as Taibbi aptly suggests, as written, the oil law "is an unusually vicious piece of legislation, an open blueprint for colonial robbery of the Iraqi nation."
Yet instead of questioning why they should help out a bunch of oil companies who are hardly their friends, the Dems instead are bum-rushing the Iraqi Parliament into passing the law, which was crafted at least in part by an American corporate lawyer, and is still vague on key particulars -- like how the revenues will actually be shared (a sticking point with the Kurds, who are resisting proposals to let the central government manage all of the revenues).
A core provision in the law that critics identify as key is a requirement that forces Iraq to submit to 30-year Production Sharing Agreements -- a type of contract that no other country with big oil deposits (including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq) uses. In essence, the law is written in a way that would let western oil companies exploit Iraq's oil for decades to come.
And like the WTO and NAFTA agreements, an early draft of the oil law also required Iraq to surrender a great deal of its own sovereignty: Any disputes between foreign companies and Iraqi authorities that cannot be resolved through negotiation were supposed to be resolved 'through arbitration or the competent authority'. I.e., through a secretive and remote international arbitration tribunal. So Iraq will not have the power to intervene using its own judicial system when it comes to its own oil.
So much for spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.
When confronted with such facts, even oil industry experts like J. Robinson West, a former Reagan appointee, are willing to admit that "it's a mistake that [passage of the oil law] be one of the benchmarks for the performance of the government. This is like saying for the United States - well, why don't you solve states rights or slavery in a six-week period?"
The leaders of Iraq's major unions recently stated that "Iraqi public opinion strongly opposes the handing of authority and control over the oil to foreign companies, that aim to make big profits at the expense of the people. They aim to rob Iraq's national wealth by virtue of unfair, long term oil contracts that undermine the sovereignty of the State and the dignity of the Iraqi people."
Yet what's the Dems' response? A failure to pass the oil law means the Iraqi government is "unaccountable." (To use Nancy Pelosi's own word.) Unaccountable to who?
Obey should be ashamed for swearing at a member of his caucus who had the guts to try to hold it up to a higher standard than the petro-imperialists on the other side of the aisle -- who probably give two shits what the Iraqi people think.
Shame on Obey. But at this point, the real onus is on the press. Why aren't the mainstream media looking at this dustup and asking what it's all about?
They should be reading the law and asking the members if they've actually read it and if so, how it will help America's reputation in Iraq, and what they now say to critics who point to this and say it was always about the oil, stupid.
Shame on the Democrats for pretending otherwise.