Teapot Dome on the Tigris


The next time the Bush administration starts bitching about its press in Iraq, roll out this glowing ode to U.S. bribes of tribal sheiks. Even though bribes can never be a long-term path to a stable nation, indeed the end of the story proves that in sad detail, the American bribers are praised as "embracing unorthodox, creative and daring approaches to build alliances with local power brokers."

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  1. Yeah, these bribes need to be stopped so everyone can get back to the task at hand: Bitching about how nothing is getting done in Iraq and the locals are hostile.

  2. So… we liberate Iraq from Saddam only to send it into whirlpool of corruption and cronyism? Giving out contracts like this makes you think of Halliburton.

    The Bushies seem to have a real thing for handing contracts to their friends.

  3. It is an interesting story. I am not sure what is meant about “sad end”.
    Teapot Dome was a scandal where the awarding authorities were enriching themselves. I am sure no one is suggesting Mines or other officials are corrupt.
    The prospect of someone other than the “Bushies” (presumably a Democtatic administration) would take an 80 billion project and get more value for the dollar…well, my mind just won’t run to it.

    I can recall similar stories about relief organisations in Africa– apparently to help, a considerable proportion of aid funds need to be expended in bribes to local strong men. A moral dilemma.

    Outside of the English-speaking world, there is scarce enough transparencey for stories like this to appear in the press of the home country (one can hardly imagine it in France)– we suffer for our integrity, not our sins.

  4. Anybody checked to see what checkbook diplomacy has bought us lately in Afghanistan?

  5. And the champeen checkbook diplomat on global scale is Jim Baker.

  6. Andrew,

    You make a good point, it is a moral dilemma. Your comment about suffering for integrity reminds me of the “massacre in Jenin” where Isreal was criticized for chosing the most humane tactical approach rather than what many other countries would have done, which is just leveling the city.

  7. Didn’t intend to imply that US officials were on the take, merely (?) that they are growing a culture of graft and corruption. And if the sheik immediately complaining about his first $15K bite is not sad — and sadly unsurprising — I’m not sure what is sad.

  8. one man’s morally-bankrupt bribery is another’s morally-sanctioned tribute. maybe people more religious than me can vent about how bad money is when it is employed to achieve an end. i guess i’m not that righteous.

    bribery works — which is why it (like prostitution or drugs or other western moral no-nos) around after lo these many thousands of years. but the key to making tribute effective is to do it well. when bribery fails — and i’m sure many of these bribes will — it’s usually because the briber doesn’t understand who he is giving money to and what that money represents to that person. i imagine there’s a lot of that sort of misunderstanding on our part in iraq.

  9. Wasn’t there a congessional witch-hunt in the 1970’s focussed on American corporations who bribed officials in third world countries as part of the cost of doing business?
    Seem to recall that it was led up by a Senator Church– an eminently forgettable liberal blow-hard.
    There was even legislation criminalizing such conduct by American-based private firms– which Europeans at the time seemed to find rather hilarious (picture any EU nation so persecuting their multinationals)– which may still be on the books, as far as I know.
    Can’t say for sure what the editorial stance of Reason was at the time, but there was a time when Reason gave the businessman at least a hearing.

    I wonder what Ayn Rand would have thought of casting aspersions on cutting-edge firms like Halliburton, or millionaires like Cheney and Baker, because they are…well, successful?

  10. It’s hard to say what Rand would have thought. With business and politics as enmeshed as they are, and with so many barriers to entry in the form of regulations and whatnot, I find it very difficult to determine who may be a fantastic businessman, and who may be a fantastic crony by looking at currently successful companies.

  11. The old saying goes “A journey of 1000 miles begins with just one step.” Is it wise for the U.S. to begin the journey of instilling democratic values in Iraqi by using the same techniques that led to Saddam Hussein in the first place? I personally don’t think so.

  12. Does the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act deal with this issue?

  13. “growing a culture of graft and corruption…”

    I don’t think bribes are a good way to conduct foreign policy, but somehow I doubt there’s much we can teach the Middle East about graft in public life. I think they’ve been doing it all on their own for hundreds if not thousands of years now.

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