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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

March 31, 8:30 pm EST.The Miami Herald published a pretty decent editorial (i.e., opinion of the editorial staff) about the closing of al-Hawza -- Anti-American news silenced in Iraq.

Send props to -- full instructions here.
March 31, 3:30 pm EST. In some circles, much is being made of revelations that Philip Zelikow, currently executive director of the 9/11 commission, made some remarks that the Iraq war was about defending Israel (back when he was still on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board):
”Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel,” Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

”And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell,” said Zelikow.
Inter-Press Service has an article about it here. It quotes Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, saying "Those of us speaking about it sort of routinely referred to the protection of Israel as a component." She then goes on to suggest that Zelikow, who is closely tied to the Bush administration, has just validated one of the staple points of the antiwar movement's analysis.

Personally, I disagree. I respect Phyllis Bennis's work tremendously (especially her magisterial "Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's U.N."), but this doesn't make sense to me.

Psychologically speaking, it is true, I think, that protection of Israel may have loomed large in the minds of many of the war planners. But, logically speaking, this is no more meaningful than the idea that invading Iraq was protecting the United States.

Israel doesn't need protection from a military threat. Iraq was no more likely to brave Israel's at least 200 nuclear missiles than it was to brave the United States's 6000 ICBMs. In 1973, the United States did a major re-supply of Israel when it was heavily pressed by Egypt and Syria; this was to keep Israel from using its nuclear arsenal to defend itself. Now, of course, the Arab nations couldn't even imperil Israel conventionally; the only ones with modern technology are completely integrated into the U.S. military-imperial sphere.

If it was to protect Israel from Saddam's payments to Palestinians who died in the fight against Israel, then certainly Israel has always maintained that Syria and Iran are a much bigger problem with regard to state funding of terrorism.

I think it's seriously misleading to pretend that Israel has any "security problem" except that stemming from the occupation. At the latest, that problem ended when Israel made peace with Egypt.

The main problem is that this analysis that Israel is the primary consideration (not what Bennis said, but it is what Zelikow said) is seized on by people who want to believe that the occupation of Iraq is not in U.S. imperial strategic interests but only in the interest of Israel.

For example, a recent CNN segment on anti-Semitism had this statement:
SAAD JAWAD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Whatever is happening here in Iraq is not in the interest even of the United States, this chaos and instability and security. In fact, it's in the interest of Israel.
(Thanks to John Turri at Elenchus for this). Now, it's true that the fact that the occupation is going badly is not in the interest of the United States. But the occupation itself, had it been done properly, would have been very much in the long-term interest the United States has had of controlling Middle East oil, which dates back to the 1930's, certainly in a major way to the middle of World War 2. Why the chaos in Iraq is in Israel's interest is also unclear. In fact, whatever economic benefits Israel may get from the occupation also require stability.

Among those benefits for Israel are cheaper oil through the revival of the Mosul-Haifa pipeline and, presumably, the right of Israeli corporations to do business in Iraq. These are small potatoes compared to the cost of the war and also to the aid Israel already gets from the United States -- and minuscule compared to what ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco would make in the long run if Iraq's oil was privatized.

All of this feeds into some desire many people have for not wanting to see the United States as an imperial nation, at least not as a deliberately imperial one -- just one that is misled by Israel.

Disclaimer: None of this is meant to deny the increasingly close strategic alignment between the United States and Israel driven by the neoconservative vision of U.S. imperial policy. I'm just addressing a different point.
March 31, 1:15 pm EST. An article in the Guardian reports that Louis-Jodel Chamblain, formerly No.2 in the paramilitary Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), which killed thousands in the early 90's when Haiti was under military rule, and more recently an agent of U.S. policy when he helped lead forces that overthrew Aristide, has threatened to kill Aristide if he returns to Haiti.

The same article also mentions that the U.S.-and-France-installed "interim government" (which the prime minister, Gerard Latortue, says could last two years) has reneged on earlier commitments and offered no place to the Lavalas Family Party. Only 80-90% of Haiti supports Lavalas, so if they were included the government wouldn't fit the Bush administration's definition of democracy.
March 31, 1:00 pm EST. Another very nasty incident in Fallujah. A mob shot four foreign contractors, dragged their corpses through the streets, then hanged them from a bridge, while chanting, "Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans."

This Saturday, I'll be leaving for Iraq. We'll be driving by Fallujah very fast on our way into Baghdad.

Fallujah has been one of the biggest hotbeds of resistance. This is usually attributed in the Western media to its being especially pro-Saddam. It is true that it was on the pro-Saddam side, but everyone I talked to on a previous trip in Iraq confirmed my original analysis of this: it dates from an incident on April 28, in which U.S. troops fired into a crowd of nonviolent protesters, killing 15 (another 3 were killed on April 30). They claimed there was firing from the crowd, but Human Rights Watch investigated the incident and discredited this claim.

This set off a cycle of escalating tit-for-tat violence to the point that we see now. Not only was that killing an atrocity and a severe violation of human rights, it wasn't exactly smart from the point of view of controlling the country.
March 31, 4:10 am EST.  Kaus responded promptly when I notified him of the mistake about Clarke and has removed it from his site.
March 30, 10:10 pm EST. Slate columnist Mickey Kaus once again demonstrates the legendary background work of the mainstream journalist:log
And if I read Newsweek's Isikoff and Hosenball correctly, Clarke also came forward with his scenario of how 9/11 could have been prevented only after his book went to press. It's not an implausible scenario--involving getting two hijackers' descriptions on "America's Most Wanted"--but the fact that Clarke didn't even lay it out in time for it to make his book weakens his claim that he would have come up with it back in the summer of 2001 if only the Bushies had viewed the Al Qaeda threat as more "urgent." ...
Actually, the "America's Most Wanted" idea is on page 24 of Clarke's book. Is it too much to ask that Kaus and people like him actually read Clarke's book before they comment on it?
March 30, 9:40 pm EST. Check out this headline from the Times -- Angola's Plan to Turn Away Altered Food Imperils Aid. Two million Angolans, mostly war refugees, need to be fed by the World Food Program. 3/4 of this comes from the United States, most in the form of GM corn and other grains.

Angola, like many other southern African nations in recent years, has concerns about donated GM foods. Zambia barred them outright; Angola is taking a milder position, just asking for the grains to be milled, so that there is no chance they will germinate and contaminate the local flora. Unfortunately, because of the emergency nature of this current situation and the small milling capacity in Angola, this will result in serious delays.

The Times says the United States has "accused governments of placing political and theoretical concerns above the survival of their own people." Nowhere in the article does it say that anyone accuses the United States of taking advantage of humanitarian emergencies to insert GM crops and take over the markets of other countries, despite the very legitimate concerns about those crops.

Whenever this issue is covered in the U.S. media (and the Times headline is no exception to this), it's always presented as the fault of the African nations. Extra!, FAIR's publication, had an excellent article about this about a year ago.

And what are those legitimate concerns? The primary problem with GM crops is not whether they're safe to eat, it's that it can be impossible to keep them from spreading and contaminating other crops. This can certainly lead to consumption problems -- for example, StarLink, a strain of corn that was engineered to produce a protein toxic to the corn borer, was approved for use in animal feed but not for human consumption. It spread, however, and contaminated corn produced for humans, ending up in Taco Bell's taco shells. But the main thing is that nobody can predict the multiple, proliferating, possibly synergistic effects of piling up genetic modification after modification in different crops that exist in the same ecosystem.

The other problem for non-corporate producers is that companies, like Monsanto, that produce GM crops have aggressively required farmers who use them to pay royalties, even if the farmers didn't want to use them but are forced to because of contamination they could not control. Courts have sometimes ruled that this is legitimate. A sensible legal system, presumably, would hold that the farmers are the ones with a right to compensation because of the contamination, but then corporate producers hire more expensive lawyers.

It's quite understandable that poor countries like Zambia and Angola don't want to be subject to perhaps perpetual payment of royalties because of a single famine crisis that could easily be alleviated by donation of non-GM food.
March 30, 2:40 pm EST. Seven more countries have joined NATO -- the three Baltic republics, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Coverage of this issue in the United States tends to leave one of two impressions. Either it's just meaningless expansion of a treaty or it's building the glorious European coalition of the civilized to fight terrorism.

Europeans understand well that NATO expansion is a way for the United States to gain the dominant role in politically influencing/controlling the new republics of eastern Europe, one-upping the powers in the area, like France and Germany (and to a lesser extent Russia). Combine this with EU expansion, and you have a substantial political voice of the United States in the EU, which is the only global formation that can even dream of rivalling the US in power. Vive la new Europe!
March 30, 2:30 pm EST. Apparently, there's still a presidential race going on. And a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows Bush now leading what's-his-name by 51 to 47 percent -- after all of Clarke's revelations and his near-constant media coverage.

The article linked above explains why. Apparently, a bunch of idiotic, badly done campaign commercials painting Kerry as a liberal have more effect on the public than a long-time insider's claims that had the Bush administration not lowered the level of vigilance 9/11 might have been prevented.
March 30, 1:50 pm EST. So Bush and Rice have decided to compromise the critical principle of separation of powers in order to let Rice testify under oath in a public hearing before the 9/11 commission. And it was just the other day (Sunday) that Rice was so earnest about the need to uphold the Constitution by making sure she was not put under oath.

So, after mounting public pressure, the administration caved. The result will be less than impressive. My prediction: Rice will reveal nothing new.
March 29, 6:25 pm EST. Friedman Watch. It has not escaped my attention that most of the blogosphere is at its best in snarky analysis/criticism of individual journalists or officials, dissecting their statements and showing what fools they are. I figured I would give it a try.

If you're going to snark, Thomas Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, is sort of a cliche as targets go, but it's because he's such a damn good target. So I'm inaugurating a new feature of Empire Notes. Friedman comes out with columns on Sundays and Thursdays. Every Monday I'll see what inanity he's come up with in the past week. We'll see if it works out.

Friedman's latest is called "Awaking to a Dream" (although for him awaking from a dream would be more apposite). In it, he boasts about not having read anything about the 9/11 commission hearings. He actually says something half-sensible:
It's because I made up my mind about that event a long time ago: It was not a failure of intelligence, it was a failure of imagination. We could have had perfect intelligence on all the key pieces of 9/11, but the fact is we lacked — for the very best of reasons — people with evil enough imaginations to put those pieces together and realize that 19 young men were going to hijack four airplanes for suicide attacks against our national symbols and kill as many innocent civilians as they could, for no stated reason at all.
There was a failure of imagination, just not the one he mentions. Evil imaginations are hardly lacking in the great minds that thought up "limited" nuclear exchanges, "dirty war," the Phoenix program, the School of the Americas, and structural adjustment. The problem is that nobody could quite imagine that the violence could flow the other way and that the defense establishment would have to defend us.

He goes on to talk about how the good guys should show some imagination, concluding with the asinine idea that a Democratic presidential candidate, to be really forward-thinking, has to ask a conservative Republican warmonger (John McCain) to be his running mate.

But his column of the previous Thursday, No Vote for al-Qaeda, has much better stuff. We are treated to his usual profound insights (al-Qaeda doesn't do exit polls, an extra thousand Europeans in Iraq would "make al-Qaeda weep"), but as a special treat we also get this historical tidbit:
To answer that question I need to draw an analogy with a different era of Spanish history: the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, where all the big powers of that day tested out the weapons they would employ in World War II.
Friedman should try cracking a history book. If Germany and Italy were the only "big powers of that day," he would be right. The Soviet Union, however, supplied only minimal amounts of light weapons. As far as Britain and France went, the weapon they tried out, which was then tried again to such good effect when Hitler took the Sudetenland, was appeasement. Although maybe"appeasement" is not quite the right word, since the ruling groups in both societies clearly favored Franco and Hitler because they would keep the Reds down. The weapon the United States tried out was having its major corporations supply Franco's fascists while trying to keep anything from getting to the Republic.
March 29, 2:15 pm EST. At long last, I've finished Richard Clarke's instant bestseller. Interesting stuff, and it's clear that Clarke is not who anybody would want him to be -- he's a military hardliner, strongly "tilted" toward Israel, and a big advocate of bombing the hell out of things. More on this later, but for now a fascinating and revealing quote from p. 74 of the book. The setting is the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Clarke has just been called by his boss, NSA Tony Lake, and is scrambling to find out what happened.
My next call was to the Situation Room. "Did something just get bombed?"

"Well, something just exploded, we don't know if it was a bomb, sir. The World Trade Center," a young Navy officer replied. "I know you handle terrorism, sir, and we're supposed to tell you when something happens that might be terrorism, but do you want to know when things happen in the United States too? Do you guys handle domestic crises too?"

The notion that terrorism might occur in the United States was completely new to us then. The National Security Council staff, which I had just joined in 1992, had only ever concerned itself with foreign policy, defense, and intelligence issues.
Doesn't that say it all? Clarke is in charge of counter-terrorism, working for the National Security Council, and this Navy officer doesn't know if an attack on the United States is within his purview. For almost 50 years, at that point, "national security" had meant destroying the security of other countries, not defending the security of the United States.

Even while writing this, Clarke has the same blinders on as the rest of the "national security" establishment, saying that the NSF had only concerned itself with "foreign policy, defense, and intelligence issues." Amazing how divorced their concept of "defense" can get from the vernacular -- ever since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947, "defense" has meant "offense" and nothing more.

Reading this book, seeing the hidebound mentalities of people who were just used to committing aggression against other countries, never defending against it, and noting also the phenomenally unimaginative bureaucratic turf-defending mindset, it becomes much easier for me to understand that such a colossal failure of vigilance could happen on September 11.
March 29, 2:25 am EST. The CPA has shut down al-Hawza, a radical Shi'a weekly associated with Moqtada al-Sadr, the young firebrand who has staked out a far more anti-occupation position than the mainstream Sistani and colleagues. Al-Sadr has support throughout the country, but the heart of it is in Thawra, a sprawling mostly Shi'a slum area in Baghdad. He has built support partly by using the reputations of his father and uncle, both of them ayatollahs who were killed by Saddam Hussein.

According to the Times, the CPA accused the paper of "printing lies that incited violence." I expect the CPA to shut down the Times next for running Judith Miller's stories about Iraq's WMD.

At the same time, apparently, "the letter outlining the reasons for taking action against Al Hawza did not cite any material that directly advocated violence." So saying that the occupying forces are committing crimes is inciting violence and therefore is potential grounds for censorship.

The CPA says the paper can reopen in 60 days, but editors say that they're basically out of business -- evicted from their offices, with no jobs.

Some of the claims the paper printed were ridiculous, like the one that U.S. forces were responsible for a car-bombing that killed over 50 Iraqi police recruits. No more ridiculous, of course, than so many of the claims printed in American newspapers in the run-up to the Iraq war. And you don't shut down a paper because you claim it's saying things that are untrue. The claim that we are bringing democracy to Iraq has become a bad joke.

Also, in pragmatic terms, this is idiotic. Shutting down al-Hawza doesn't send a signal to other Iraqis that its claims are wrong, it sends a signal that you're afraid of its claims -- rather the opposite of the intended effect. All Iraqis are speculating about the source of the phenomenally bloody bombings that have been rocking Iraq. There's probably no one who hasn't heard someone claim that the Ashura bombings, for example, were CIA or Mossad (of course, many Iraqis will take such a claim with a grain of salt, whether or not it comes from a newspaper).

The Americans may be viewing Iraq as a hotter, drier version of the United States. Here, there's little direct public discussion and if you can keep an issue out of the media then it doesn't exist and no one talks about it. In Iraq, they are talking about these issues, they can't be stopped from talking about them, and the United States has just lent credence to their speculations.
March 28, 2:20 pm EST. Good lead article in the Times, about the global AIDS crisis. It actually gives you enough background to make sense of the question.

The U.N. Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria is funded at roughly 20% of what it needs -- Kofi Annan had called for $7-10 billion per year, but it's getting $1.6. Of 6 million people in the "world's poorest nations" who need treatment (this sounds like an underestimate to me), only 300,000 are getting it. (If you do the math here, it seems like, even if you limit yourself to treatment and don't spend on prevention, Annan underestimated the cost by a factor of four, but this doesn't take into account possible economies of scale, among other things. So I'm sure $10 billion is on the low side, but how low is unclear).

Somehow, this is all happening despite Bush's great rhetorical commitment to spend $15 billion on AIDS over the next five years. But, surprise surprise, he only asked for $200 million to be given to the UN fund last year and Congress had to up it to $550 million (still less than a third of what US should contribute if you assessed countries proportionally to their GDP).

And, bigger surprise, while everybody else is buying as cheap as possible, from companies like the Indian Cipla, the U.S. money is all going to the pharmaceutical giants, even if they have to pay twice as much or more for the same drugs.

Anyway, the article gives you enough background so that you can figure out that Bush's great AIDS initiative, to the extent that it wasn't just a bald-faced lie for rhetorical effect (like his job training, mission to Mars, you name it), was an attempt to do two things: undermine the UN Global AIDS Fund by setting up a parallel source with greater funding and give guaranteed largesse to Big Pharma while simultaneously preserving this market for them, so that perhaps some time in the future they could shut down the independents like Cipla again.

This politicking with what is currently the biggest global catastrophe, just in terms of human cost, is disgusting but expected -- where is the issue that the Bush administration won't exploit for cheap power politics while padding the bank accounts of the wealthy?

The only other thing worth noting is that it takes a great deal of global collusion to keep donations to the Fund so low. The European countries are still abiding by the unwritten rule that nobody can upstage the United States by giving a larger absolute amount (they generally give at a much higher per capita rate). I'm not one of those who thinks of the European nations as the founts of all morality (to say the least), but even on the grounds of enlightened self-interest why don't they just forget about how much the United States does or doesn't give and allocate more than a pittance to deal with this plague that has already killed 22 million people with no end in sight?
March 27, 3:20 pm EST. As many of you know (because you came to Empire Notes from there), Michael Albert of Znet has just set up a blogging area. The biggest feature is a "blog" by Noam Chomsky called Turning the Tide -- I use the scare quotes because it's actually a selection of Chomsky's responses to readers in the Znet forums. Doesn't quite have the feel of a blog, but it's good to see those responses getting out to a wider audience.

In Chomsky's latest post, he's responding to someone advancing the standard humanitarian/liberation argument for the war on Iraq. At one point, he says
The invasion of Iraq brought two murderous regimes to an end: the sanctions regime, and the rule of Saddam Hussein.
Based on my observations when I was in Baghdad in January, and on some press reports since then, I think it's misleading to say that the sanctions regime was ended.

It is true in a purely technical sense. There are no longer any legal restrictions on imports and huge amounts of consumer goods are flooding the markets of Iraq. In a more meaningful sense, however, the sanctions continue and have actually been substantially worsened.

Let's not think of "sanctions" as some specific legal regime controlling Iraq's trade. Let's look at the effects. In the last few years before the war, what the sanctions on Iraq amounted to were a situation in which there was minimal provision of basic government services (garbage collection, electrical power, potable water, health care in government hospitals, education) and the revenues of Iraq were externally controlled. Iraq's oil revenues went into a U.N.-controlled escrow account in New York, there were massive bureaucratic impediments to its disbursement, and the United States often denied or held up essential contracts, especially for industrial and infrastructure reconstruction. Because of this, you had high unemployment, high infant mortality, minimal access to medical care, etc.

After the war, Iraq's revenues are still externally controlled. Now, the escrow account is controlled by the United States. No matter how bad the bureaucratic impediments under the Oil for Food program, there was at least a government in Iraq that would make plans to use its oil revenues to buy various goods, to do reconstruction, and so on; now, there is virtually nothing. The "government of Iraq,' the adjunct of the CPA, has no authority or control over any substantial amount of funds. Allocations are made by the U.S. government, a foreign authority, and most of them go to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel, which use their cost-plus contracts to "study" problems instead of fixing them.

As a result, the level of services provided in Iraq is actually lower than before. Hospitals get less in the way of supplies and can deliver less care than before the war. When I was in Baghdad in January, there was no garbage collection. Unemployment is far higher than it was before the war (most estimates run at about 60%).

Thus, Iraq is under something very much like the sanctions, just worse. The "murderous regime" has not ended and will not until Iraqis have control over their oil revenue.
March 26, 6:55 pm EST. Pretty dramatic news. The 15-nation Caribbean Community does not intend to recognize the U.S.-created govdernment in Haiti. A few weeks earlier, the 53-nation African Union called the removal of Aristide "unconstitutional." So there's at least 68 countries that agree -- unfortunate that the great proponents of "democracy" have no time for global democracy.

The Caricom is calling for the U.N. General Assembly to investigate Aristide's removal -- they specifically don't want the Security Council to do it because of the threat of a veto by the United States or France.

Early reports that Aristide would have asylum in South Africa may be wrong.

The debate over whether Aristide was kidnapped or not remains as silly as ever. Personally, I know who to trust when it's the Bush administration versus anyone -- Richard Clarke, David Kay, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Hugo Chavez, ... The point is this, however: the fact that Aristide contests it means that if he ever did want to step down he doesn't now.

Since it was purely the threat of force and no legitimate process that removed him, whether or not his decision was "voluntary" (and, again, there's little doubt, especially since members of Aristide's American personal security forces have corroborated his story), the best you can say about his "resignation" was that it was under coercion. Unless he abandons his claim to be the head of state of Haiti, there's no legitimate way to contest it. That's just common sense.
March 26, 3:40 pm EST. This article, "The Occupation: U.S. Officials Fashion Legal Basis to Keep Force in Iraq," in today's Times should be mandatory reading for everyone. It lays out in some detail the way in which the United States will keep control of Iraq for the foreseeable future. In keeping with a common theme these days, it will surprise no one who has been reading the work of the left and the antiwar movement; it's just that the people putting forth this analysis here are Bremer and his aides.

Apparently, some of Bremer's aides just did some heavy reading and re-discovered UNSCR 1511, passed in October. This resolution, they now realize, gives a legal basis for continuing the occupation even after the so-called "transfer of sovereignty." In fact, when Spain's Prime-Minister-elect Rodriguez Zapatero said he would withdraw Spanish troops unless a legitimate U.N. authorization was given, my first thought was that he was unaware of 1511. As far as I can tell from re-reading the text, Bremer's interpretation of 1511 is correct.

A lovely quote from the article:
Showing his confidence that the approach was grounded in international law, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the occupation authority, issued an executive order this week specifying that the newly formed Iraqi armed forces be placed under the operational control of the American commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who has been named to lead American and allied forces after the transfer of political authority to the Iraqis.
And another one:
The Americans hope they will not be forced to rely on a legalistic argument. They plan to negotiate with the interim Iraqi government in place after June 30 for the kind of "status of forces" agreement the United States has in dozens of nations where its forces are deployed.

But if negotiations snag - many Iraqi political leaders are often hostile to the foreign military presence - the Americans believe that they will be able to fall back on the United Nations resolution.
Translation: The U.S. is in Iraq and will continue its occupation (which includes little perks like extraterritoriality -- American soldiers are not subject to Iraqi courts) in the current manner whether the new "sovereign" Iraqi government likes it or not.

But that's not all. There's more. The article quotes from Bremer's Executive Order 67, which sets up the new Iraqi Armed Forces. Section 4, clause 2, says,
All trained elements of the IAF, to include the ICDC when transferred to the IAF, shall at all times be under the operational control of the commander of coalition forces for the purpose of conducting combined operations and providing other support ...
Here, the ICDC is the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, created by Order 28. Another lovely quote from the article:
Top aides to Mr. Bremer have said in recent days that the American troops will act as the most important guarantor of American influence. In addition, they said, the $18.4 billion voted for Iraqi reconstruction last fall by the United States Congress - including more than $2 billion for the new Iraqi forces - will give the Americans a decisive voice.
You can't be much clearer than that, can you? The presence of U.S. troops plus the complete control over Iraqi funds (don't forget that it's not just the U.S. congressional appropriation -- UNSCR 1483 also gives the United States control over Iraqi oil revenues) will mean that the new "sovereign" government has no freedom of action. Perhaps they'll be able to decide what color to paint the garbage trucks -- if municipal garbage collection ever resumes.

And, last but not least, the article shows the delicate sensitivity Bremer's officials have to matters of sovereignty:
Another official said Iraqis could hardly claim that Iraq's sovereignty was compromised by having its troops under American command when nations like Britain and Poland had placed military contingents here under an American general. "There's no sovereignty issue for them," the official said.
Of course, there's no difference between having British and Polish troops on a specific mission in a foreign land subject to temporary control by a U.S. commander and having your own land occupied and your armed forces and police (that's what the ICDC is -- it is responsible, among other things, for "patrolling urban and rural areas") in your own land subject indefinitely to a foreign power.

There can't possibly be any debate about the goals of this occupation any longer.
March 25, 6:50 pm EST.  A Chicago Tribune article of a couple days ago says that the United States is constructing 14 "enduring bases" in Iraq and that force levels are expected to remain at 105-110,000 at least through 2006 (which, of course, has been mentioned in many earlier news articles).

At the same time, the United States is cementing its rule over Iraq through a little-noticed provision in the interim constitution (thanks to blogger Nathan Newman for mentioning this first). Clause A of Article 26 says
Except as otherwise provided in this Law, the laws in force in Iraq on 30 June 2004 shall remain in effect unless and until rescinded or amended by the Iraqi Transitional Government in accordance with this Law.
The Iraqi Transitional Government will not come into being before December 2004 and could be as late as the end of January 2005 (it requires elections for the National Legislative Assembly). These laws include the blatantly illegal Order 39, which allows for privatization of a host of Iraqi companies (it excludes natural resources). Naomi Klein's got a new column about it.

You can't really debate any longer whether a continuing military occupation coupled with a closely held puppet government were the primary goals of the war on Iraq. Personally, I've always maintained that privatization of Iraq's oil is secondary to the political control over the oil that comes from integrating Iraq very tightly into the U.S. military-imperial network. But anyway, it's all in the papers. No need to refer to the historical record, make inferences, draw conclusions -- just open the newspaper.
March 24, 11:30 am EST. Watched the first day of 9/11 commission testimony on CNN yesterday. An interesting spectacle. We got to see, for example, noted child-killer Bob Kerrey going ballistic on Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, and Donald Rumsfeld (he handled Rumsfeld more gently than the other two, unsurprisingly) about why they hadn't gone to war with al-Qaeda or with Afghanistan earlier.

For me, however, the most interesting testimony came from Paul Wolfowitz, in a completely offhand comment that came in the middle of explaining why they didn't go to war with Afghanistan:
But to Senator Gorton, I fail to understand how anything done in 2001 in Afghanistan would have prevented 9/11.
An absolutely obvious point, right? At the beginning of 2001, the hijackers were not in Afghanistan. Bomb Afghanistan all you want, you couldn't have affected implementation of the 9/11 plan.

But what follows quite straightforwardly from this reasoning? Anything done to Afghanistan right after the 9/11 attack couldn't have prevented any potential further attack immediately afterward. If, as Wolfowitz admits, even action eight months earlier in Afghanistan couldn't prevent 9/11, then clearly action in Afghanistan had nothing to do with any attack on the United States in the two or three months after 9/11.

What this means is that the war on Afghanistan could in no way be justified as self-defense against an imminent attack. Even if you thought the war was justified as self-defense in the long run, you couldn't claim that the need was immediate. The UN Charter is very clear that, whenever you have the time, you must submit questions of war and peace to the deliberations of the Security Council. The only exception is under ongoing attack or possibly under immediate threat of attack, which doesn't give you time to go to the Security Council.

If the United States had gone to the Security Council, likelythe war would have been approved; it did not, however.

Wolfowitz just admitted that even the legal case for the war on Afghanistan is bogus.

This argument, as I said above, does not obviate the case for a war, if the Security Council approved of it. For that, you have to add in the other arguments -- primarily, the fact that the United States refused to provide evidence to get an extradition agreement on bin Laden, and the fact that the U.S. war plan was going to kill lots of civilians.
March 23, 1:30 pm EST. Tony Saca of El Salvador's right-wing ARENA party beat Shafik Handal of the FMLN in a blowout on Sunday, with 57% of the vote to Handal's 36%. Most observers had expected that the result would be closer and would require a runoff election.

ARENA has won every presidential election since the 1992 ceasefire, with results that, for once, are actually fairly well detailed in this LA Times article -- almost half the population cannot afford basic nutrition and the richest 20% have 58.3% of the country's wealth, compated to 2.4% for the bottom 20%.

In his concession speech, Handal said,
We don't congratulate Mr Saca, because his vote has been achieved with fear, lies and blackmail, and a vote with fear is a vote without liberty. These methods aren't democratic and they aren't legitimate.
He's referring to some fairly heavy-handed intervention by Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, fomenters of a coup in Haiti and a multi-staged coup attempt in Venezuela. From the website of CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador):
U.S. intervention in the electoral campaign began as early as June of last year, when former Ambassador Rose Likins questioned the leftist FMLN party’s commitment to democratic principles and accused its leaders of celebrating the September 11 terrorist attacks. In February 2004, Assistant Secretary of Western Hemispheric Affairs for the U.S. State Department, Roger Noriega, was in El Salvador where he canceled a meeting with FMLN presidential candidate Schafik Hándal and then called on Salvadorans to vote for someone who “shares our [U.S.] vision and values.”
A week before the election, Otto Reich gave a phone-in press conference (at ARENA headquarters), where he questioned the impact of an FMLN win on "economic, commercial, and migratory relations with the United States." More than a quarter of Salvadorean citizens live in the United States and remittances from them make up about 16% of El Salvador's economy. ARENA campaign commercials exploited this, showing, among other things, a grandmother reading a letter from her grandson in the United States, saying he could no longer send remittances now that an FMLN government was in place.

In a quick search, of the four pillars of the aptly-misnamed National Endowment for Democracy, only two claim any connection with El Salvador -- the American Center for International Labor Solidarity and the Center for International Private Enterprise. The programs seem minor, though that can be hard to judge. If anyone has more information on the NED in El Salvador, please email me. In any case, El Salvador lost 75,000 people to the bloody Reagan-administration-backed counterinsurgency in the 1980's and probably only requires a slight hint of the consequences of displeasing Washington.

Tomorrow, it will be 24 years since the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. His murder was ordered by Roberto d'Aubuisson, a graduate of our own School of the Americas, who later founded the ARENA party -- this has been verified by a UN Truth Commission established in 1992.

Twenty-four years later, the party of his killers is still in power.
March 23, 12:40 pm EST. Sorry for the long delay. I was finishing up some non-EN-related writing over the past three days. More to come in a moment, but a tidbit first from atrios. The Coalition Provisional Authority has let its URL expire.

To anyone who hasn't been to Iraq, this would seem absurd beyond belief. After all, the CPA is running an entire country. It is, however, completely consonant with the negligence and lack of government that I saw there. I went into a building that was set up to be the State Company for Internet Services. This was in mid-January, nine months into the occupation. This is no exaggeration: I couldn't find a single computer in the whole building.
Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond Intelligence Failure Kerry vs. Dean SOU 2004: Myth and Reality