Sunday, October 10, 2004

Bribery? Sean makes a good point in his comments on the post below regarding the corruption in the Oil For Food Program. What, exactly constitutes bribery? Is it a sliding scale? Is it on or off? For example: Is what Sadaam did (giving money to France in exchange for escaping the strictures of the UN sanctions) the same thing as what the US did and does in providing material support for countries less wealthy than we as they assist us in our coalition?

The O.E.D. defines bribe as dishonestly persuade (someone) to act in one's favour by a payment or other inducement.

It seems to me that whether or not something is a bribe depends upon the level of "dishonesty." This might, perhaps, put us right back at the starting point: If you view the US' actions as dishonest, then, of course it's bribery. If you view it as honest, then it's not. Or, maybe, if it's only a little dishonest it's only a little bit of bribery.

Starting with Sadaam: The honest way to persuade the UN that sanctions should have been dropped would have been for him to allow inspectors anywhere at anytime, giving proof that he disarmed and was discontinuing his weapons program. [And, please, let us hereby stipulate that Sadaam was in no way doing this. Ok? Please don't make me do all the hyperlinking work to demonstrate that this is the obvious truth.] According to the Duelfer Report Sadaam instead was giving oil & cash money to people in power in order that they might help drop the sanctions regardless of the status of Sadaam's WMDs in hand or intent to build. It is clear that Bribery is the only way to describe this behavior.

Is this the case with the US? It is unhelpful to declare "yes" on the prima facie evidence that America gives money/cars/F16s/island getaways to countries around the world. If the giving of money/things/services were the sole criteria for bribery, then we would only be immune to the charge were we to have the financial stature of Hati. Futhermore, we could also, then, openly declare, "Bribery!" on employers, parents who give allowances at the end of the week when chores are done, and Universities who give students scholarships so long as they get good grades.

For the everyday person, using everyday common sense, these examples are not examples of bribery.

But I suggest that to some folks, it seems repugnant that when the US says, "Jump," to some countries, they "have no choice" but to jump, since they could really use some of that money/thing/service that only the US has. Part of the reason it seems repgnant is a very postmodern idea: the use of Power, in any way, is Wrong. (In fact, in the postmodern stew where we are Beyond Good and Evil, it seems to me that the only Evil is, actually, the Use Of Power by Anyone But Me. But that's a different post.) This is foolishness (and self-referrentially destructive) and an abandonment of the idea that Power might actually be used for the Good. It is easy to think of a place where one with Power might force another to do Good: in fact, Parents do this often, with impunity, and for the betterment of their children. "Eat your vegetables or no dessert. Go to bed or no playground tomorrow."

Would you like to argue with me about this? Then you might be inclined to declare that Spain was bribed out of the coalition. Spain was bribed with the blood of their children, as men with Power (the power to bomb and destroy) influenced Spain to do what said Men with Power wanted them to do: quit the coalition. For some reason, folks don't call this bribery.

So if "dishonesty" (and thereby "bribery") is not constituted solely in being richer or having more Power (some might say these are synonymous), since one can honestly use one's riches and honestly use one's Power, then where lies the dishonesty of the US' actions as we brought others into the current coalition?

Where is the dishonesty in asking a weaker friend: "Help me stop the bully on the block, please. I've been studying Karate and can do some damage, but I can't do everything. If you come along, you can use and have my baseball bat. If you come along and miss work, I'll pay you for your time. If by coming along and helping you don't have time to fix dinner for your family, I'll arrange to have someone fix a very fine meal for them."

If the coalition is bribed by the US, then the whole world is, in some way, being bribed by the US: Russia is disarming its nuclear weapons because we're paying them, countries in Africa do what we ask because we give them humanitarian aid (that is, we spend money on them), there is not a country in this world that is not benefited financially by the US if it lines up with US interests, either because of outright gifts, or because our companies make investments there.

What America has done in gathering allies is only Bribery if you think that what the coalition is doing is dishonest. That is the test for Bribery. So to translate the meaning of "Coalition of the Bribed": Coalition doing a Bad Thing; Coalition being dishonest.

This is why I have little patience for the Left's declarations of "Coalition of the Bribed!" It is vacant of meaning: I already know that the Left would rather we didn't invade Iraq. When folks declare that we should have an International Coalition, they're simply saying, "We shouldn't have gone to Iraq." Sure, that's not what they're thinking when they declare such a thing, but this is the end point of such silliness. The very fact that a report has come out showing that France & Russia were Bribed and no one on the left is saying anything about it clearly demonstrates that Bribery is not at all the issue for them. Declaring, "America BRIBED!" is itself deeply hypocritical and simply a rhetorical tool for the Left.

Now: the question of Should We Be In Iraq? is a good one, and one over which we can have a good discussion. But the issue of Bribery as thrown at America is a non-issue as it's only a weak but emotionally evocative (ie: Rhetoric) offshoot of the larger issue.

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