Monday, August 04, 2003

The Latest News You Aren't Supposed To Hear

The Presidential Executive Order is a wonderful thing. Increasingly powerful as Congress after Congress fail to check ever bolder usurpations of power by the Presidency. Quiet and inconspicuous, quick and convenient, all one need do is draft and record in the Federal Register; sometimes even that may be avoided and one may simply write a secret National Security Determination and stick it in a safe. Such use of presidential tools are seldom, if ever, reported by the press unless used to declare a new holiday. That can be very useful if you are up to no good.

The main problem is that policy wonks at the Institute for Policy Studies, or some other den of busybodies, sometimes notice what you have done. I am sure Bush and his oily cronies wish that Steve Kretzmann and Jim Vallette had been on vacation this week and not noticed Bush's Executive Order 13303 which declares that the threat of attachment or other legal process against Iraqi assets constitutes a unusual and extraordinary threat to the security and foreign policy of the United States and immunizes all Iraqi oil, proceeds from its sale, or interests therein from any legal attachment.

What this means is that Iraq's creditors are very unlikely to be able to collect on their roughly 40 billion in debts. It also means that the credit-worthiness of any Iraqi government is now essentially non-existent. If you loan Iraq money there is now very little chance you can enforce repayment. The only means Iraq has of paying back any substantial sums is its oil. The administration justifies the move by pointing to the reconstruction effort and claiming that any judgments or liens on the reconstruction fund or the ultimate source of Iraqi wealth, its oil, could hinder reconstruction.

One result of this policy is to ensure that American oil companies can now accept sweetheart deals for the privatization of Iraqi oil from the puppet interim "government" we've set up, and those assets, and any profits from them, are granted legal immunity under U.S. law. Unintended side-effect or true purpose? You decide.

Does the President have the authority to order such a blatant divestiture of the legal rights of so many? It's questionable. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act upon which this E.O. largely relies has been used to terminate legal rights in property before, such as during the Iranian hostage crisis under Carter and Reagan. It has also been used to seize the assets and suspend legal rights of terrorists by Bush. However, the fact that we are the occupying powers in Iraq, which has an interim government of our creation, begs the question of who the enemy here is. What about the availability of legal process constitutes a security threat? Is the mere existence of creditors in France, or Russia, or here at home, or claimants inside Iraq itself, an extraordinary threat to our national security? I think not. The low intensity warfare in Iraq creates a local security issue, but the only threat to the United States' security posed by Iraqi oil is that the Iraqis may kick us out before we can collect the cost of invasion and reconstruction from beneath the Iraqi sands.

This E.O. is clearly a case of over-reaching by the President, and for all the wrong reasons. To stop him requires a concurrent resolution of Congress, however, which is politically impossible. And the courts have always proven reluctant to curtail the President's foreign policy authority, especially when there are bullets flying. So if you were beginning to wonder if perhaps you were being too cynical when you were marching around with that "No Blood For Oil" sign, don't worry about it, no amount of cynicism is too much.

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