Let’s face it, if you happen to be an international fugitive looking for shelter, you’re going to need help. When the chips were really down for Saddam Hussein, he turned to Dow, renowned experts in the art of concealing fugitives such as Union Carbide. So revealed the UK’s Daily Mirror yesterday, who, in a description of Saddam’s spider-hole, said that, “Saddam was found asleep and alone in a dark pit camouflaged by bricks and dirt and a piece of Styrofoam.” In choosing to use Dow’s most famous product after Napalm and Agent Orange – pity about those sanctions – Saddam clearly still had his wits about him: “By keeping basement walls warmer to reduce condensation, STYROFOAM PERIMATE brand insulation helps eliminate the potential for mold and mildew.”
Still, it wasn’t just practical considerations that drew Saddam to Dow, there was also the familiarity grown from a decades long relationship that even survived “the most comprehensive sanctions ever extended by the international community to a country.” Whilst vital items such as construction materials and specific medicines were kept out of Iraq for fear that they could be used in weapons programmes – resulting in a vertical rise in the mortality rate amongst the population – Dow continued merrily selling “herbicides, fungicides and insecticides” to Iraq right up until February 2003. Dow spokesman Scott Wheeler, doing a fine impression of John Musser, blithely asserts that “none of the pesticides sold to Iraq could be ‘weaponized.’” That’s peculiar, because according to Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post, when Dow sold Iraq $1.5 million worth of pesticides nine months after Saddam’s gas attack on Halabja US government officials worried that they could be used as chemical warfare agents. An Export-Import Bank official overseeing the sale reported there was evidence that “the pesticides were “highly toxic” to humans and would cause death “from asphyxiation.” ” Not wanting to miss out on the potential profits from human misery, Union Carbide also sent shipments of the chemical Xylene to Iraq, which UN weapons inspectors identified as having been used in Iraq’s chemical weapons programmes.
Saddam’s bolt-hole was helpfully concealed by one of Dow’s chief products. And that’s not the only help they’ve given…
So how is it that Dow-Carbide could escape a sanctions policy that according to critics kept out even the most innocuous medicines? Perhaps we should ask Willy ‘Pants on Fire’ Stavropoulos, who apart from being Dow’s CEO is also with the American Enterprise Institute, who themselves name arch neo-conservative, security advisor and proponent of war against Iraq Richard Perle amongst their fellows. The AEI are one of the neo-conservative organisations who had been impatiently pushing a hardly unwilling Bush regime for a war against Iraq. But where’s the motive? What, for instance, could a company like Dow gain from a war against a far off country like Iraq?
It’s the economy, stupid. At the beginning of 2003, for Dow things were as bleak as an Alaskan winter: they’d recorded a net loss of $809 million for the year, despite a rise in revenues. The reason? According to the journalist David Brinkerhoff, “the high cost of crude oil and natural gas continued to erode Dow’s results during the quarter, with no relief expected in the current quarter.” Well, where better to turn for cheaper crude oil than to the country with the world’s second largest oil reserves…
Less than a week after the illegal bombardment of Iraq began, the shadowy Stavropoulos stepped into the light in a lengthy interview in the Midland Daily news. He was amazingly forthcoming. “Stavropoulos believes the war in Iraq is a bright spot for the economy, and for Dow. “On one hand,” he said, “you can see the war having a very positive effect. We get finality if the war is successfully executed. Then things get better… we’re looking like we’ll get through this in the shortest period of time, that the economy will probably grow 2 to 3 percent globally, and that hopefully, after the war is settled and we’re successful there, energy prices will return to normal. That will be good for the chemical industry.”"
If you’re still looking for a reference to human rights and democracy in that statement, so are we. But then why shouldn’t ‘Pants on Fire’ have been a little candid? After all it’s hardly the first time that war has been good to Dow. It could, however, be the first time the Dow has wanted one to end so quickly. Take the WWI, when Dow found a splendid market for picric acid with the US military. Or WWII, when a cartel agreement with IG Farben ensured that Germany couldn’t buy enough of Dow’s magnesium – albeit at special discount rates. True, the end of both wars brought a harvest of booty to the likes of Dow, but there’s also profit to be found even when there isn’t a pot of German chemical patents at the end of the rainbow: witness Vietnam, where Dow found another market for Styrofoam.
Yes, Styrofoam again, which was blended by Dow into their own imperfect innovation, Napalm. Why imperfect? A Vietnam veteran had this to say about it: “We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot – if the gooks [Vietnamese] were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene - now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But then if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter (white phosphorus) so’s to make it burn better. It’ll burn under water now. And just one drop is enough; it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.”
It’s a short path from war-profiteering to war-mongering, and talk of human rights and democracy along the way, like Dow-improved Napalm, just doesn’t wash – as Stavropoulos appears to realise.
You could almost feel sorry for Saddam for choosing friends like these.