Commentary Magazine


Shopping for Iraq

President Bush has garnered much derision for telling Americans who wanted to know how to respond to the 9/11 attacks to go shopping to bolster the economy. That was hardly the kind of ringing call to service and self-sacrifice that might have been expected under the circumstances. But now it seems there is a way in which Americans can help us achieve a vital national objective by opening their wallets and their shopping bags.

Josh White reports in the Washington Post that efforts by the Pentagon to revive the Iraqi economy are faltering because few American firms are stepping forward to buy goods being produced by Iraqi factories. J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart have backed away from possible deals to buy clothes made in Iraq. But so far there is one exception.

Mike Longo, president of Memphis-based Shelmar Inc., said he has signed a contract to buy about $10,000 worth of boys’ shirts and jogging suits for his 51 stores in seven Southeastern states—the only U.S. contract of its kind so far. Longo, a West Point graduate and an infantry officer for nine years, said he will put most of the clothes on the shelves of his unbranded stores this fall, but will not emphasize their Iraqi origins.

It is hardly surprising that Long has an Army background, which suggests that he is doing business in Iraq for motives that are at least as much about patriotism as profits. It is a shame that other American firms aren’t joining in to do their small bit to help create employment in Iraq, which might give young men an alternative to joining militias or setting off IED’s. Given how many Americans say they “support the troops,” there should be money to be made marketing Iraqi clothing, perhaps with an “Operation Iraqi Freedom” label. This might be our 21st century version of the “liberty bonds,” which involved Americans on the home front in the larger struggle during World War II.