William F. Buckley
Unnamed administration spokesman: You agree that what I tell you will be completely off the record?

Questioner: Yes, sir. But let's get right to the point: The exclusion of France, Germany and Russia from bidding was --

A: Just plain dumb.

Q: Why does the administration do things that are just plain dumb?

A: The way life works in high-circle administrative life, Joe --

Q: You don't need to be condescending. I've been around a long, long time, looking in on White House cultures.

A: I didn't mean that. I mean, what experienced people know about that culture isn't being very widely applied in this situation. What was the objective? The objective was for the administration to pass out the word to France, Germany and Russia -- we'll call them the Dissenters -- that there are unpleasant consequences for failing to side with the United States on major policy issues that have to do with national security.

Q: Is that why the Pentagon used the phrase "for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States"? Which by the way, what does that mean? That we can't let the Dissenters bid for $18 billion in prime contracts in Iraq because to do so would fail to protect essential security interests?

A: You're right. That formulation was gobbledygook, the kind of thing that George Orwell would never have permitted. Look, the objective was to register U.S. displeasure with muscle behind that displeasure. There are commercial interests in the Dissenter nations that will be sore to have been excluded from the prime bidding.

Q: But the order didn't rule out subcontractors from the Dissenter nations getting into rebuilding Iraq.

A: That's right. The ban is only at the first level. Germany's BDI group blurted it out. Herr von Wartenberg, BDI's managing director, admitted that the only firms affected in any way are those that don't have subsidiaries in any one of the 63 countries allowed to take part in the tenders, which means, roughly speaking, nobody.

Q: Well, if it's not going to have a practical economic effect, why do it?

A: Satisfaction. The White House people liked the feel of a reproach. Recall JFK's dictum: Don't get mad, get even.

Q: But we aren't even getting even, if you're telling it right. Not only that, we've handed the Dissenter nations an excuse to get out of the pool of countries that could help Iraq by giving up debts. Russia especially, with $8 billion owed. They've already said maybe they won't move on that, and Canada is spitting mad --

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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