November 15, 2009 8:40AM

Iraq: Making Few Friends and Less Profits

When the Bush administration started its misguided adventure in Iraq, the president and his Neocon chorus presumed that the U.S. would be acquiring a loyal, even obseqious ally.  With the American-subsidized bank embezzler Ahmed Chalabi in charge, Baghdad would create a Western-style democracy, enshrine women's rights, recognize Israel, provide the U.S. with permanent military bases, and offer a new market for American businesses.

Alas, we've struck out:  zero for five.  Although America's uber-hawks bridled at reference to our "occupation" of Iraq, Iraqis had no hesitation in using the word and surprised the Bushies by demanding a deadline for the withdrawal of American forces.  And Iraqi opposition to the U.S. occupation has affected their attitude toward Americans in other areas.

Although none of this is, or at least should be, surprising, the lack of success by private U.S. companies should provide a particularly powerful lesson of the perils of intervention.  Reports the New York Times:

Iraq’s Baghdad Trade Fair ended Tuesday, six years and a trillion dollars after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and one country was conspicuously absent.That would be the country that spent a trillion dollars — on the invasion and occupation, but also on training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and on ambitious reconstruction projects in every province aimed at rebuilding the country and restarting the economy.

Yet when the post-Saddam Iraqi government swept out its old commercial fairgrounds and invited companies from around the world, the United States was not much in evidence among the 32 nations represented. Of the 396 companies that exhibited their wares, “there are two or three American participants, but I can’t remember their names,” said Hashem Mohammed Haten, director general of Iraq’s state fair company. A pair of missiles atop a ceremonial gateway to the fairgrounds recalled an era when Saddam Hussein had pretensions, if not weapons, of mass destruction.

The trade fair is a telling indication of an uncomfortable truth: America’s war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American business.

American companies are not seeing much lasting benefit from their country’s investment in Iraq. Some American businesses have calculated that the high security costs and fear of violence make Iraq a business no-go area. Even those who are interested and want to come are hampered by American companies’ reputation here for overcharging and shoddy workmanship, an outgrowth of the first years of the occupation, and a lasting and widespread anti-Americanism.

While Iraq’s imports nearly doubled in 2008, to $43.5 billion from $25.67 billion in 2007, imports from American companies stayed flat at $2 billion over that period. Among investors, the United Arab Emirates leads the field, with $31 billion invested in Iraq, most of that in 2008, compared to only about $400 million from American companies when United States government reconstruction spending is excluded, according to Dunia Frontier Consultants, an emerging-market analyst. “Following this initial U.S.-dominated reconstruction phase, U.S. private investors have become negligible players in Iraq,” Dunia said in a report.

So much for the old theory of mercantilism.

Think about it.  The U.S. overthrows the dictator, pours in billions of dollars for reconstruction projects, and promotes democratic elections — and instead of applauding America and filling the land with statues to George W. Bush, the locals prefer to buy goods from other people.  Maybe invading and bombing other countries, disrupting and wrecking other societies, and killing and injuring other people isn't the best way to promote good relations with the rest of the world.