What's Left

October 22, 2002

Where profit is king, who cares about fighting a pandemic?

By Stephen Gowans

With the UN short $48-billion of the $50-billion it's calling for over the next five years to fight HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, some people are asking, Where is the money to fight a pandemic?

The pandemic could see up to 75 million new infections by 2010, according to the US National Intelligence Council.

Given that the world's richest country, the United States, has pledged just $500-million to the UN-led fight--one percent of what is needed--the answer is clear: it's not coming from the United States.

Nor is it coming from Canada, which has pledged $100-million, or from Russia, which is promising $133-million, or from any other Western nation.

So far, the UN has pledges for a measly $2.1-billion.

But this is hardly a matter of the world's richest nations being strapped for cash; it's a matter of values.

According to the US Budget Office, Washington will spend $9-billion if it escalates its war against Iraq, and that's per month, not per annum. In other words, what Washington could spend on one month of war, would almost entirely fund the fight against a pandemic for a whole year.

And it's not as if the war is necessary to protect Americans, or more grandiosely, the world, against a larger menace.

US policy, ratified by Congress, and backed by the Clinton and Bush administrations, commits the US to ousting Saddam Hussein.

While this is said to be necessary to remove an "evil dictator" whose obsession with weapons of mass destruction threatens neighbors and the world, it's clear US policy is aimed at thwarting the emergence of Iraq as a regional hegemon in the Middle East, as well as securing US control over Iraq's oil.

That means replacing the headstrong Saddam Hussein with someone more pliable.

And Washington is ready to cough up $9-billion per month to underwrite the takeover, after having already spent billions bombing Afghanistan.

There is, accordingly, no scarcity of money.

Unfortunately, nor is there a scarcity of the grim values that assign infinitely more worth to one month of destroying lives than one year of saving them.

But then there's little profit to be extracted in fighting a pandemic. Building missiles, tanks and fighter jets, and controlling Iraq's oil, is far more lucrative.

And in Washington -- indeed, in much of the world -- profit is king.

What horrors might be averted, and what humanitarian gains won, were this king deposed, and the deposing of Saddam Hussein left to Iraqis.

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