Huffpost Business
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Al Norman Headshot

Wal-Mart in Libya? Don't Bet Your Hog Futures On It

Posted: Updated:

At the heart of American arrogance is the notion that what we have in this country is what the rest of the world needs -- they just don't know it.

How else to explain President Bill Clinton's absurd question to the head of Wal-Mart: "If the new president of Libya asked you to open a store in Tripoli, would you consider it?"

Clinton has boosted Wal-Mart since his days as Governor of Arkansas, when Hillary graced the retail giant's Board of Directors. Mike Duke, the CEO of Wal-Mart, was careful not to answer President Clinton's question, choosing instead to write a 'guest blog' for The Huffington Post about how "Business must lead. And Walmart should always be right at the front."

President Clinton depicts Wal-Mart as a leader in sustainability, because the retailer has 148 stores (out of more than 4,000) with solar installations. But Wal-Mart is also the company that has abandoned more stores than any other retailer in the history of America, imports products thousands of miles, and creates huge 'heat islands' around its superstores. None of this is sustainable or good for the environment.

Here is the straight answer to Bill Clinton's question: "Wal-Mart will never open a store in Tripoli (or Cairo,or Damascus)." Here's why:

· Libya is in a state of political turmoil. Wal-Mart still remembers how its Jakarta, Indonesia store was looted and burned to the ground during the 1998 riots.
· A Wal-Mart store would be a prime target for terrorists operating in the country. Wal-Mart has enough trouble maintaining security at its U.S. superstores--much less in a war-torn city.
· Wal-Mart has imploded in a number of foreign markets besides Indonesia,like Germany, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Wal-Mart does not need another foreign failure.
· The IMF ranks Libya 86th in terms of GDP per capita--right above the Dominican Republic .
· Wal-Mart told Reuters just last month that international sales had slowed and the retailer planned to scale back its addition of store space this year.

Using Clinton's improbable question as a springboard, Duke described Wal-Mart "as a new model for making change." But with anti-American sentiment blowing through the Arab Spring nations, now is not the time for two rich, white Americans to be musing at a Global summit about the change that Wal-Mart could bring to Libya.

Duke took it upon himself to proclaim that Wal-Mart is working for "the global emerging middle class." The people who work for Wal-Mart in this country might take issue with that statement--but certainly activists in Libya want no part of America's vision of middle class life.This is precisely the time when giant American chain stores should not be talking about setting up shop in Libya. Wal-Mart has its hands full in India and China.

To foreign eyes, Wal-Mart must appear as the threatening embodiment of retail colonialism. Anyone doing cultural due diligence would realize that these "emerging" nations do not seek America's 1% corporate elites meddling in their affairs.

No one in the Middle East is clamoring for Wal-Mart intervention. Bill Clinton's unsolicited offer of a big box store in Libya was as culturally tone deaf as offering a Muslim a pork chop.

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters. He has been helping communities fight sprawl for nearly 20 years. His new book is called Occupy Walmart.