Academic journal article Social Justice

Hire an American! Economic Tyranny and Corruption in Iraq

Academic journal article Social Justice

Hire an American! Economic Tyranny and Corruption in Iraq

Article excerpt


IN FEBRUARY 2005, ALMOST TWO YEARS AFTER THE ANGLO-AMERICAN INVASION of Iraq, George W. Bush (2005) issued a statement to Arab governments that encouraged good governance in their countries and promised development assistance "for countries that root out corruption, respect human rights, adhere to the rule of law and invest in their people by improving health care systems and schools." Bush could hardly have come up with a more brutally ironic statement if he had intended it, since each of the elements he identified for action by Arab governments can be found the humanitarian crisis created by the Anglo-American coalition in Iraq. Following earlier work on Anglo-American corruption in the Iraqi reconstruction economy, where it was argued that the corruption of the reconstruction economy provided momentum to the transformation of the economic order (Whyte, 2007), this article explores the centrality of a counter-corruption mobilization to this process.

Historically, the terms "corruption" and economic backwardness (as opposed to the perceived civilized and enlightened values of "fairness," "openness," and "transparency") have typically featured in imperialist narratives that invoke the primitiveness of less-developed states (Shore and Haller, 2005). The British Empire in particular claimed altruism and the pursuit of virtue as its rationale for colonial domination (Chomsky, :2004). In colonial British history, Arab backwardness revolved around the universal mythology of "primitive, warring tribes," and, perhaps more enduringly, around inherent tendencies of thievery, lack of trustworthiness, and deception. The Arab way of trading, doing business, etc., was, in British colonial mythology, plagued by corruption, cheating, and subterfuge; in other words, Arabs never play by the rules--of Western liberal markets, that is (Bayley, 1989). The cultivation of this stereotype--the mobilization of the empire against Arab corruption--was historically connected to the fierce competition between British and Arab traders for the domination of trading routes in the Middle East and Africa. It should therefore be understood as an ideological weapon in the struggle for the moral high ground as the British Empire sought to triumph over its commercial competition.

Defining Corruption, Defining Order

The brief historical discussion rehearsed above reinforces the need to recognize that corruption is a culturally mediated term (Carrier, 1997). Those narratives also alert us to the possibility that counter-corruption campaigns can imply something more than the eradication of corruption in business and political life per se. According to Sampson (2005:110), the world of anti-corruption can be understood as a "stage in which moral projects are intertwined with money and power." Indeed, contemporary counter-corruption programs are typically supportive of a neoliberal global order, endorsed and imposed by international institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program (Ibid.; see also Le Billon, 2005). For the IFIs, (1) anti-corruption measures are commonly used as a precondition of grant aid, debt relief, or of membership in international bodies.

To fully understand the ideological force of contemporary counter-corruption discourse and practice, it is necessary to understand how a particular way of thinking about corruption is inscribed into the working definitions used by the U.N. and the IFIs, and typically by NGOs such as Transparency International. There are important differences across those definitions. (2) Yet if there is one common characteristic across NGO, U.N., and IFI definitions, it is that corrupt acts are committed for the private gain of individuals in conflict with the public interest. Thus, corruption is committed "for the official himself or herself or another person or entity," (3) and typically involves "public officials acting in the best interest of private concerns (their own or those of others) regardless of, or against, the public interest. …

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