Bringing Gadhafi’s Money to Rebels Recalls Bringing Saddam’s Money to Iraqis

The plan to use Moammar Gadhafi’s frozen assets to fund the Libyan rebels faces legal obstacles according to this weekend’s Wall Street Journal story “Obstacles Loom on Path To Funding Libyans.” This reminds me of the plan to use Saddam Hussein’s frozen assets to fund payments to the Iraqi people in 2003. The plan was developed before the military invasion and was part of an overall plan for financial stability. I was Under Secretary of Treasury with responsibility for the plan. Legal obstacles arose then too, and we had to develop legal procedures to deal with them.

Treasury lawyers determined early on that the President of the United States could legally issue an executive order calling on U.S. banks to vest Hussein’s frozen funds with the Treasury, which would then transfer them to the Iraqis. But an obstacle was the risk of law suits from Saddam’s victims, who could make claims on the funds, prevent their transfer, and thus threaten the financial stability plan. To deal with this risk, we recommended that the executive order contain an exception for such victims—but only if they had already made claims—and that the order state that using the frozen funds for the Iraqi people was in the interest of the United States.

So when the military operation began, President Bush issued Executive Order 13290, “Confiscating and Vesting Certain Iraqi Property,” saying that “All blocked funds held in the United States in accounts in the name of the Government of Iraq, the Central Bank of Iraq, Rafidain Bank, Rasheed Bank, or the State Organization for Marketing Oil are hereby confiscated and vested in the Department of the Treasury, except for the following….” The exception was for funds already claimed in a legal suit. The executive order also stated that “I [George W. Bush, the President of the United States of America] intend that such vested property should be used to assist the Iraqi people and to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq, and determine that such use would be in the interest of and for the benefit of the United States.”

Once the was order issued we opened an account at the New York Fed where Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and other banks transferred about $2 billion of Saddam’s previously frozen funds. The Treasury then withdrew the funds as needed. Cash was removed from the Fed’s warehouse in New Jersey, placed on armored trucks, shipped to Andrews Air Force Base, loaded on planes, flown to Iraq, and paid to Iraqis. I recall how Treasury staff went down to Andrews to inspect the first cash transfers. When they returned to report that the cash was airborne, they radiated well-deserved pride at their accomplishment. The picture shows David Nummy (blue shirt) of Treasury dispersing the cash (in the black box) to the Iraqis in Baghdad.

There are differences today—Saddam Hussein’s funds were frozen years before during the first Gulf war, but the legal procedures remain relevant. To overcome such obstacles, President Obama would have to say something like “I determine that using the funds to assist the Libyan rebels is in the interest of the United States.”

About John B. Taylor 117 Articles

Affiliation: Stanford University

John B. Taylor is the Mary and Robert Raymond Professor of Economics at Stanford University and the Bowen H. and Janice Arthur McCoy Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He formerly served as the director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, where he is now a senior fellow, and he was founding director of Stanford's Introductory Economics Center.

Taylor’s academic fields of expertise are macroeconomics, monetary economics, and international economics. He is known for his research on the foundations of modern monetary theory and policy, which has been applied by central banks and financial market analysts around the world. He has an active interest in public policy. Taylor is currently a member of the California Governor's Council of Economic Advisors, where he also previously served from 1996 to 1998. In the past, he served as senior economist on the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1976 to 1977, as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1989 to 1991. He was also a member of the Congressional Budget Office's Panel of Economic Advisers from 1995 to 2001.

For four years from 2001 to 2005, Taylor served as Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs where he was responsible for U.S. policies in international finance, which includes currency markets, trade in financial services, foreign investment, international debt and development, and oversight of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He was also responsible for coordinating financial policy with the G-7 countries, was chair of the working party on international macroeconomics at the OECD, and was a member of the Board of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. His book Global Financial Warriors: The Untold Story of International Finance in the Post-9/11 World chronicles his years as head of the international division at Treasury.

Taylor was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Award for his overall leadership in international finance at the U.S. Treasury. He was also awarded the Treasury Distinguished Service Award for designing and implementing the currency reforms in Iraq, and the Medal of the Republic of Uruguay for his work in resolving the 2002 financial crisis. In 2005, he was awarded the George P. Shultz Distinguished Public Service Award. Taylor has also won many teaching awards; he was awarded the Hoagland Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching and the Rhodes Prize for his high teaching ratings in Stanford's introductory economics course. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his research, and he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society; he formerly served as vice president of the American Economic Association.

Before joining the Stanford faculty in 1984, Taylor held positions as professor of economics at Princeton University and Columbia University. Taylor received a B.A. in economics summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University in 1973.

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