"I'm a businessman. I'm not here because I think you're nice people. I think there's money to be made," explained Llewellyn Werner
in his pitch for a vast recreational complex to be built in, of all
places, Baghdad. "I also have this wonderful sense that we're doing the
right thing -- we're going to employ thousands of Iraqis. But mostly
everything here is for profit."
It has come to this. We're not
even pretending anymore. As the years, memories and excuses have fallen
away like dead skin, America's invasion of Iraq has revealed itself for
what it truly is: a consumerist pipe dream. The Great American Mall of
the Middle East. Disneyland in the desert.
And since we're
already giving away billions in duffel bags, why not throw another
billion or two down the money pit? Where there's funding, there is
fire. And in the case of the Baghdad Zoo and Entertainment Experience
(BZEE), there may also be firefights. If you can ignore the bullets,
IEDs, power outages and, well, the entire occupation, you might just
have yourself a good time.
"In Southern California, there's drive-bys and everything else," reasoned Ride and Show Engineering
Executive Vice President John March, whose company has been contracted
to develop the site, which is adjacent to the Green Zone and
fast-tracked by the Pentagon. "So there's danger everywhere. I think
the key thing is this will be tremendous for Baghdad," he explained to Fox News chatterhead Bill Hemmer.
by "tremendous" he means a huge target, then March, who refused to
participate in this article, is dead right. It is also financially
tremendous for C3, the hedge fund holding company that Werner oversees:
Already given a green light from the Pentagon and an endorsement from
Gen. David Petraeus, Werner secured a 50-year lease on what used to be
acreage containing Baghdad's looted and left-for-dead zoo for "an
undisclosed sum," according to
the UK's Times Online. He is quickly building everything from a skate
park, museum, concert arena and rides to future diversions. So far,
Werner has collared $500 million from his elusive investors, who are
practically impossible to find (a rarity in the Internet age) and
secured joint partnerships across Iraq for a variety of projects. The
million-dollar skate park is scheduled to open this month, and further
hotel and housing developments will follow, especially since Werner has
exclusive rights to them.
And although they may be managed by Iraqis, their profits belong to America. Just like most of country's oil reserves.
"Even the idea of bringing U.S.-style escapism entertainment to the hell of Baghdad is absurd," explains author and journalist Dahr Jamail, who, unlike the majority of his peers, has actually ventured
outside the Green Zone without being embedded in a military detail.
"Just watch how much of this infrastructure even gets built."
just the beginning of the problems, explains journalist Sharon
Weinberger, who covers the Pentagon and other disaster capitalist
complexes for Wired's Danger Room. (Full disclosure: I cover music for Wired's Listening Post.) The BZEE may get built after all, but who's to say it'll be left standing when the smoke clears?
"Even if they do pull this off, then the park's immediate survival,
like any private business, is going to depend on stability and the
ability of the Iraqi government to control violence and ensure public
safety," Weinberger says. "If the situation in Baghdad deteriorates, I
think the idea that the park will somehow be spared violence is, sadly,
naive at best."
What seems most naive, however, is the idea that
any American business venture launched in the miasma of Iraq's
reconstruction is dealing in good faith.
From Halliburton to Bechtel and on to Blackwater and beyond, the place
has been an epicenter of fraud and corruption, and that's just the
so-called private sector. Our collective public enterprise has been as
daunting a failure: So far, the war has cost hundreds of billions in
dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. By the time it's all over,
those numbers could skyrocket, and the last thing anyone is going to
want is a Los Angeles hedge fund looking to stash its money in a
private-public partnership that serves no real purpose.
though Werner landed the acreage with the blessing of Iraqi politicians
and officials, it was not them who shut down the nation's state-owned
factories after the invasion. That was L. Paul Bremer, a U.S. official
in charge of the pillage. In other words, if America and its business
partners want the BZEE bad enough, they will get it. No questions asked.
it is leading to further criticism that American economic interests are
living in Disneyland, rather than looking to build one in the most
dangerous metropolis in the entire Middle East.
"The Bush junta
has already attempted to impose a neo-liberal economic Disneyland upon
the Iraqi people," Jamail asserts, "but they have flatly rejected the
neurosis of its brand-conscious, failed capitalism. The two geographies
meet nowhere in my imagination, nor in reality. The not-so-Green Zone
is barely inured from the death, destruction and suffering which
surrounds it. The point is that no gated community is safe from mortars
and rockets. I believe we are looking at the next evolution of the
gated community, albeit grossly failed."
With one caveat: Failure
is merely the end of this economic stratagem, not its beginning. It has
all the earmarks of a successful scam, from its suspicious
fast-tracking all the way down to its undisclosed sums changing hands
over territories that once belonged to someone else and may indeed be
taken back by force shortly after the ink on the contracts dries. It is
enough for some economic players to merely get something this
compromised off the ground; success is a mere side effect to the
financial interchange, which will have already taken place and been
pocketed once the BZEE is judged an unmitigated disaster. Just like the
Milo Minderbinder would be proud. It's like his chocolate-covered cotton, only vastly more lethal.
think I'd file this under 'zoo allegory,'" Weinberger concludes.
"People are fascinated by the effects of wars on zoos. Think of Emir
Kusturica's 1995 movie, 'Underground,' or Marjan, the one-eyed lion of
the Kabul zoo. Right now, people are following this as a 'News of the
Weird' story, but I hope you or someone revisits it in a few years. If
the Baghdad Zoo and Entertainment Experience is thriving and Iraqis are
visiting, then it will be a wonderful testament to the country's
progress. If, however, it's an empty space, then it will be a testament
to a larger self-delusion."
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