December 10, 2003

Could Wolfowitz Be Telling the Contracting Truth?

As Dave Adesnik points out the recent barring of Russian, French, and German companies from being the prime bidders on reconstruction contracts doesn't make sense as financial retribution because they can be subcontractors and make money anyway. But what if the motivation that was explicit was the motivation in truth? According to the underlying NY Times story, the order was justified as necessary to protect "the essential security interests of the United States."

How could that be? What do general contractors do that subcontractors do not do that would endanger the essential security interests of the US? General contractors have overall responsibility for the behavior of all their subcontractors and they have the ability to vet and veto the selection of sub-subcontractors. If there are any other differences, I'm unaware of them.

In other words, this order doesn't make sense as revenge but only if US intelligence agencies had discovered instances of a country or countries not participating in the coalition looking to use their domestic companies in intelligence operations to sabotage the rebuilding effort in Iraq either directly or by hiring Iraqi companies with operational ties to either the Baathists or Islamists. Creating such a widely drawn order makes it impossible to figure out who leaked and how did it happen.

No wonder the French hate Echelon.

The New York Times seems to have successfully spun the blogosphere coverage so far as the two different accounts I've read on the issue both carry the payback meme forward (the other one is here). I don't buy the argument that Wolfowitz is incompetent and that nobody around him could stop him from doing something this stupid and ineffective.

You can get on the list of allowable countries by sending troops to Iraq. This means that Japan is eligible. Given the US' difficulty in getting more troops from other countries to participate in the reconstruction effort, this is probably the more likely justification for the national security finding that limited contract availability.

I await debunkings on either point.

Posted by TMLutas at December 10, 2003 12:55 PM