This publication is available in microform from University Microfilms International. 111111,10 Call toll-free 800-521-3044. In Michigan, Alaska and Hawaii call collect 313-761-4700. Or mail inquiry to: University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Parochial Senators The Texas-Iraq Connection BY DAN CARNEY Washington, D.C. IT IS FASHIONABLE to sound tough these days. With the exception of San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, who wants to invoke the War Powers Resolution and bring American troops back from Saudi Arabia, politicians from both major parties seem to be reading off the same teleprompter. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait is an “outrage.” His holding of hostages is “unconscionable.” His use of chemical weapons is “a threat to world peace.” All this unanimity makes for boring politics a point mercilessly hammered home by Dick Gephardt’s Democratic response to President Bush’s initial speech on the deployment of troops. It has also fundamentally changed the way senators behave in public. Just last summer, Texas Senators Phil Gramm and Lloyd Bentsen were defending Iraq’s right to loans guaranteed by the federal government so Iraq could buy American foodstuffs. Neither senator has said much about the Persian Gulf crisis recently. It’s not that their language was all that different before the invasion. Bentsen was pretty hostile to Iraq when he delivered a floor speech on July 27. “Saddam Hussein is an outrage,” he said. “The man is a dictator. He is a man who has used chemical weapons, he violates human rights. He is a man who is looking at the Middle East, at Kuwait, not stopping there but also looking at Saudi Arabia.” Evil as he was, however, Hussein evidently wasn’t bad enough to make Bentsen want to cut off the Iraqi tyrant’s line of American credit. Nor did Gramm. Before the invasion, the two took to the Senate floor in tandem to argue for a Gramm amendment to the farm bill that would continue the flow of credit to Iraq if it could be determined that Iraq could buy its food elsewhere. “Do we want to hurt American farmers simply to make a gesture that we are being tough on Iraq?” Gramm asked. “My view is that if we are going to do something, let’s do something that hurts Iraq, not something that hurts the people who produce food and fiber in this country and who produce manufactured products.” The problem, Bentsen explained, is that denying Saddam easy access to Dan Carney is a writer for States News Service in Washington, D.C. BILL LEISSNER Lloyd Bentsen American agricultural goods would only encourage him to look elsewhere. That is what happened with an embargo on soybean sales to Tokyo and grain sales to the Soviet Union, he said. The point is a legitimate one, but there is clearly something else operating here. Texas politics even with the wholesale changes in the state’s economy in the last two decades is still the hostage of agriculture and oil commodities so abundant they have to be wasted, stored, subsidized, or overconsumed, and still require all the help our senators can wring out of the government. For agricultural goods, foreign buyers need easy credit and artificially low prices while domestic producers need to sell at artificially high prices. In the realm of oil, political pressure from Texas guarantees an endless barrage of legislation providing tax credits and other financial incentives to domestic drillers. These credits might help oilmen but they can’t significantly reduce the country’s dependence on foreign petroleum, because there is little oil left in the United States And it’s environmental concerns, not the lack of tax credits, that prevents drilling there. An energy policy is one of those ideas that sounds a lot better than it really is. If it were called a policy to force taxpayers, consumers, and industry to buy more expensive domestic energy and less cheap foreign energy; or a policy of drilling in a pristine wilderness in Alaska and a picturesque California coastline; or a policy to bring back nuclear energy in a big way, it wouldn’t sound so innocuous. “Energy policy” sounds like something that will solve all the country’s problems if someone would just adopt it and put it in writing. But the specter of a Saddam run amok in the Middle East prompted Gramm and Bentsen, as well as lawmakers from other energy states, to remind us that for years they’ve been calling for an energy policy and that if Congress had just listened, we’d all be better off. The same threat prompted Gramm and Bentsen to want to lend Saddam more money to buy rice and corn. Constituent interests are clearly the operating principle here. In the case of agricultural sales to Iraq, the important group is rice farmers. The United States moved into the Iraqi market aggressively in the early 1980s, when credit was first offered. Using these credits, rice farmers \(mostly from Texas, Louisiana and and Thailand at a time when Iraqi rice imports were going way up as a result of a growing imported labor pool and static domestic production. In 1989, the United States sold $133 million of long-grained rice to Iraq, $30 million of which was shipped from Houston. Approximately a quarter of the Texas rice crop was going to Iraq each year by the late 1980s. The embargo has not only cut off a market but sent rice prices tumbling on the Chicago mercantile exchange. It is easy to see why Gramm and Bentsen felt so strongly about lending Saddam money to buy food. \(Incidentally, Gramm and Bentsen were unsuccessful in their pleas; the But it is also easy to see why most Presidents have complained about Congress’s increasing involvement in U.S. foreign policy, when so much of it is driven by parochial instead of national interests. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.