The White House lost a few more friends on Wednesday with the announcement that some countries would not be allowed to compete for U.S. government contracts in Iraq “for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States.” The Bush administration produced a list of acceptable countries—those nations that provided material or moral support or for the invasion of Iraq. Several major U.S. allies who opposed the war in Iraq have been left out in the cold, including Canada, France, Germany, and Russia. The announcement also complicates U.S. envoy James Baker’s upcoming meetings with European leaders. Ostensibly, Baker will ask them to relieve some of Iraq’s staggering debt (though Slate’s Fred Kaplan suggests he’s on a different mission).
The news was met with varying degrees of confusion and rage in the European press. Even in Britain, which is not affected by the contract limitations, the Financial Timesdubbed the move “impolitic” and argued that “the U.S. needs help in Iraq and this is not the way to get it.” The Guardian noted that the move “immediately stalled attempts to heal post-war rifts.” The London-based Arabic paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi summed up prevailing opinion when it said, “The US decision will create harsh divisions in the Western world and will increase the world’s hatred for the current arrogant US administration.” (Translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.) Reuters quoted EU Commissioner Chris Patten calling the U.S. plan “gratuitous and extremely unhelpful.”
The Guardian also noted that the European Union is investigating whether the contract restrictions violate international trade law. When Bush was asked about this, he cheekily replied: “International law? I better call my lawyer; he didn’t bring that up to me.” France’s Le Monde took issue with the U.S. assertion that World Trade Organization statutes don’t apply to the contracts because the Coalition Provisional Authority is not a WTO member.
Le Monde also noted that French aid organizations in Baghdad are unfazed by the news. The paper quoted one relief administrator saying, “We didn’t come here waving our flag.” Another article discussed the list of 63 nations the Pentagon has approved to compete for primary contracts: The list “includes states, such as Rwanda and the republic of Palau that are being repaid for symbolic support of the war, and whose ability to participate in reconstruction is infinitesimal.” The paper also reported that neocons William Kristol and Robert Kagan had published a disapproving article in the Weekly Standard, calling the announcement “a dumb thing.”
German officials also declared themselves dumbfounded, since before Wednesday, U.S.-German ties seemed to be mending nicely. Most papers carried the German government’s official response that the U.S. policy was “not acceptable” and went against “a spirit of looking to the future together.” Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his country noted the news “with amazement,” and Süddeutsche Zeitung called it “national chauvinism.” One German paper was willing to boldly disagree, however. Tagesspiegel chided Germans for their reaction: “It is childish to reject the war but to be offended when afterward no profit is to be made from reconstruction.” (Translation from BBC Monitoring.)
The Canadian press was also swift to condemn the U.S. stance. The Globe and Mail reported on a phone call Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien received from Bush on his last day in office, in which Bush told him “basically not to worry.” Mixed signals aside, an angry editorial in the Toronto Star declared that “Canadians won’t be browbeaten, bullied or bought” into following the American line on Iraq. However, the piece continued, the Canadian government should not take its anger out on the Iraqi people by withholding reconstruction aid. Instead, “the next contribution Canada makes to Iraq’s rebuilding should be to a duly elected Iraqi government, not to a puppet regime run by people who can’t tell friends from foes.”