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Empire Notes

"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.

"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

February 14, 2:05 pm EST. Human Rights Watch has weighed in on the campaign to overthrow the Haitian government by violence. Their press release quotes the Executive Director of the Americas division saying "President Aristide must take immediate, constructive steps to reestablish the rule of law and rebuild the country’s democratic institutions" -- as if to suggest that the opposition-driven breakdown of the rule of law is Aristide's fault.

The release also says, "Under international standards, the intentional use of lethal force by law enforcement officials is permissible only when strictly unavoidable to protect life." This is a laudable standard, but one that no government will abide by when there is a danger of armed insurrection -- yes, perhaps if the government allowed the thugs to take over without resisting, there would be no immediate loss of life, but democracy would have gone right out the window.

So Human Rights Watch, in the face of a U.S.-engineered destruction of Haitian order and attempted regime change, comes up with criticism only of Aristide and his government. Not even a word to say about whether U.S. intervention to fund and create the opposition is a violation of Haitians' civil and political rights.

On the other hand, HRW did mention very clearly in its 2004 World Report that the war on Iraq was not a humanitarian intervention.
February 14, 1:30 pm EST. According to the Associated Press, the resistance staged a major raid in Fallujah against a security compound, killing 20 members of the Iraqi security forces and freeing 100 prisoners. This is the kind of attack that could quickly increase the popular base of the resistance, unlike killing people standing in lines waiting for jobs or gunning down cleaning women. It's even possible that a few raids like this could catalyze mass action. Expect severe collective-punishment-type reprisals from the U.S. occupying forces.
February 14, 4:00 am EST. A stunning revelation, from the LA Times -- Ex-Halliburton Workers Allege Rampant Waste. Halliburton's standard military contracts are cost-plus -- and the plus is a percentage of the cost -- so they actually have a positive incentive to increase costs. Ex-employees told of renting cars and truck for almost four times the going rate, wasting money on monogrammed towels, and much more. Some particularly striking examples:
The procurement supervisor mentioned other examples. He said Halliburton had purchased several fire engines for $750,000 whose hose mountings did not match the hoses available in Kuwait. As a result, a building burned down when firefighters could not connect a hose to the fire engine, he said.

In another incident, the procurement supervisor said that Halliburton had purchased 25 tons of nails that were too long for a construction project. The nails were dumped in a fenced enclosure in the desert.
Imagine that: buildings burning down because there were no hoses to attach to the extremely expensive firetrucks. It's the rare corrupt, feckless Third World government that can match that level of absurdity. It's pretty clear that the Iraqi people, if given a fraction of the money Halliburton is being given for "reconstruction," could do a far better job.
February 13, 9:15 pm EST. Lakhdar Brahimi, recently appointed U.N. special envoy to Iraq, has just agreed with the United States that elections by June 30 are not feasible. Interestingly, Ahmad Chalabi, favorite of the neoconservatives, disagrees and his spokesman, Entifadh Qanbar, has said that the Iraqi National Congress will prove that elections are doable by then.

Of course, there is no technical impediment to having elections by then. Countries with worse levels of internal violence routinely have elections.  On the other hand, it's definitely not a great idea to have the elections, since there is no chance for a political process to develop that will make elections meaningful while the occupation continues. Furthermore, it should be understood that no Iraqi government that comes to power under a U.S. occupation has any pretension to legitimacy. U.S. control of the process would be far to great for any pretense of fairness.

What's interesting is that the United States doesn't want to hold artificial elections and try to take the easy path to legitimacy. Apparently, this administration is not ready to take even the slightest chance on elections anywhere. Perhaps the real reason they claim there isn't enough time for elections in Iraq is that there isn't enough time to hire ChoicePoint to scrub Iraq's voter rolls or to get Katherine Harris chosen as Secretary of State by the Erbil caucus.
February 13, 9:00 pm EST. Israel has just decided not to defend itself before the International Court of Justice on the case of the apartheid wall. It claims that the ICJ has no jurisdiction because the wall is a matter of internal security. This is laughable, because, of course, the wall does not follow the internationally recognized pre-1967 boundary of Israel, but cuts through the occupied territories. If the ICJ has no jurisdiction here, then it should have none on any international case.

Israeli intransigence here. bad as it is, is not as bad as that of the United States, which since the 1986 decision on U.S. v. Nicaragua (which found the United States guilty and ordered it to pay $17 billion in damages) has refused to recognize that the ICJ has any jurisdiction over the United States, period. When a case was brought against the NATO nations over the Yugoslavia war, the ICJ didn't even issue a ruling on the case against the United States.
February 13, 1:30 pm EST. I've just posted a new article, Bush -- Cracks in the Ice?, about the signs of a new political opening, about Bush's vulnerability, and about what a re-emergent mass movement should be doing. Public opinion is even more open to a new point of view about U.S. foreign policy than it was before the war.
February 13, 12:40 pm EST. Bush seems to be newly vulnerable. A few signs:
  • A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows approval for the war at 48%, Bush's job approval at 50%, and belief that Bush lied or exaggerated about WMD at 54%.
  • Alan Greenspan, for three years Bush's favorite Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, has broken with the administration and is calling for limits on tax cuts.
  • The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence just voted to expand the purview of the new independent commission to include, in an extremely limited way, administration deception. The Pentagon's Office of Special Plans will be investigated, but ways the administration used its material will not. Published statements of administration officials can be viewed, but the commission doesn't have subpoena power. Still, given that the Republicans control the Senate, this is not insignificant.
Intriguing signs, although Bush has not yet begun to counterattack seriously.
February 12, 4:30 am EST. This just in. The Bush administration is moving into the endgame on its Haitian regime-change operation. That old staple of foreign policy reporting, the senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity, is reported in the New York Times as saying, "When we talk about undergoing change in the way Haiti is governed, I think that could indeed involve changes in Aristide's position."

The reporting on Haiti has been enormously misleading and readers of the mainstream U.S. media can be forgiven for not understanding that the issue is of a coup against a democratically elected government with significant popular support by a gang of brutal thugs who represent the interests of the traditional Haitian elite. Aristide's government would have even stronger support among the mass of Haitian poor had it not been for the preconditions levied by the Clinton administration on his 1994 restoration, which included wholesale acceptance of IMF-style structural adjustment and neoliberal "reform."

Virtually unreported in the media here is the fact that the thuggish opposition has been put together largely by the International Republican Institute, the Republican Party's portion of the National Endowment for Democracy (which helped give us the 2002 Venezuela coup attempt).

There are allegations that Aristide supporters have committed atrocities as well, although nothing on the scale of any past Haitian government (all other recent ones were U.S.-supported). And, of course, to put down a violent coup attempt, the government has to use violence.

Kevin Pina has written an excellent series of articles on the subject for The Black Commentator.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

February 11, 10:00 am EST. Thirteen Palestinians killed in an Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip today. When these things happen, they get reported. The larger underlying story, however, the complete breakdown of life and even the basic humanitarian situation, in the occupied territories, goes generally unreported. The report written over the summer by Jean Ziegler, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right of Access to Food, paints a horrific picture: the Israeli policy of "closures" has resulted in a Palestinian population with over 60% in poverty, two-thirds unemployed, 50% of families subsisting on one meal a day, over 50% completely dependent on international food aid. Check out the earlier Bertini report as well, which in the year after it was released was covered once in a major newspaper in the United States.

Interestingly, the U.S. policy in Iraq of destroying the government and putting in military search-and-destroy missions in its place (plus a few cosmetic programs on the side) has led to 60% unemployment in Iraq, althought the food situation is better.
February 10, 8:15 pm EST. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is much in the news again because U.S. forces allegedly found a document written by him in which he proposes to senior al-Qaeda leaders a massive campaign to cause sectarian strife in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi, you may remember, is a Jordanian militant who spent some time before the war in Baghdad, getting his leg amputated, and was mentioned in Colin Powell's famous February 5 presentation to the Security Council.

The reasoning was that since al-Zarqawi was allegedly a member of Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist group operating in northern Kurdistan (outside of Saddam's control) and since he had gone to a hospital in Baghdad, therefore the Iraqi government had been planning the 9/11 attacks with al-Qaeda -- even though Ansar's head, Mullah Krekar (living untouched in Norway) denied any connection between al-Qaeda and Ansar.

Well, if these claims are true, we have one more self-fulfilling prophecy. Before the war, al-Zarqawi was apparently unable to do much operating in Iraq, and hadn't been involved in any attacks against "U.S. interests." Now that the United States is occupying Iraq, he has apparently been involved in numerous gruesome attacks, including the attack on U.N. humanitarian headquarters in Baghdad and the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Bakir al-Hakim at the Imam Ali mosque (killing roughly 100 others in the process) -- and he's allying with al-Qaeda.

A stunning, and predictable, success of the "war on terror."
February 10, 8:30 am EST. More on Science Applications International Corporation, from an article in the New Yorker:
It is unclear what special expertise S.A.I.C. brings to several of its contracts. One company executive, who asked not to be named, said that its chief credential for setting up what was supposed to be an independent media for Iraq, modelled on the BBC, was military work in “informational warfare”—signal jamming, “perception management,” and the like.
I think that says it all. Their qualification to set up something like the BBC was experience in denying the enemy (read the people of Iraq) information. There's an excellent article in the Guardian from a month back that explores this theme further. A quote from that article:
Achieving information dominance according to American military experts, involves two components: first, "building up and protecting friendly information; and degrading information received by your adversary". Seen in this context, embedding journalists in Iraq was a clear means of building up "friendly" information. An MoD-commissioned commercial analysis of the print output produced by embeds shows that 90% of their reporting was either "positive or neutral". The second component is "the ability to deny, degrade, destroy and/or effectively blind enemy capabilities". "Unfriendly" information must be targeted. This is perhaps best illustrated by the attack on al-Jazeera's office in Kabul in 2001, which the Pentagon justified by claiming al-Qaida activity in the al-Jazeera office. As it turned out, this referred to broadcast interviews with Taliban officials. The various attacks on al-Jazeera in Kabul, Basra and Baghdad should also be seen in this context.
Of course, that "information dominance" approach is being applied quite consistently here as well (absent the bombing of unfriendly sources, but with severe pressure on some of them to recant). For proof, I refer you to the transcript of Bush's brilliant exercise in information denial on NBC's Meet the Press.

This idea, if you take it seriously (and remember that in the much-touted "full spectrum dominance" that the military types are going for, the full spectrum refers to land, sea, air, space, and information) explains the Soviet-style crudity of the administration's propaganda.
February 9, 5:00 pm EST. Here's a call from and to, I kid you not, have Congress "censure President Bush for misleading the country about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

MoveOn is apparently returning to its roots; it was founded in 1998 around the call to have Congress "censure President Clinton and move on." So let's get this straight: Clinton engages in sexual harassment and lies about it and MoveOn thinks he should be censured (in fact, he was impeached), and Bush lies repeatedly and consistently for two years to take the country into a blatantly illegal war and he deserves the same fate?

With enemies like this, Bush doesn't need friends.
February 8, 9:40 pm EST. More on Science Applications International Corporation, which failed so spectacularly in its attempt to create an Iraqi TV station that would be notably different from Saddam's state TV. Apparently, it held 60% of Intesa, the "public-private" enterprise that runs computerization and automation for PDVSA, Venezuela's national oil company. During the strike by the oligarchy in late 2002 and early 2003, it is alleged, Intesa deliberately sabotaged the operations of the oil company by crashing the computer systems.

Not surprising in a company with such luminaries as ex-US Secretaries of Defense William Perry and Melvin Laird, ex-directors of the CIA John Deutsch and Robert Gates, and former Admiral Bobby Ray Inman (ex-director of the National Security Agency) on its board.
February 8, 1:00 pm EST. Got this from Joshua Marshall's blog: if you read the executive order creating the new WMD commission,  you can see that the commission's entire brief is to investigate the nonexistent "intelligence failures" (as well as to look into similar issues for Libya, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, etc.). There is to be no investigation of administration pressure on the CIA, lies and distortions of existing intelligence, etc. So the commission starts out as a whitewash. And, to add insult to injury, it doesn't report until March 2005.
Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond Intelligence Failure Kerry vs. Dean SOU 2004: Myth and Reality