The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism HOW YOU CAN HELP Home ArticlesLettersArchives
Empire Notes Needs Your Help
more info

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

January 31, 1:45 pm EST. In yesterday's Guardian, you can read the following about the results of the Hutton inquiry:
Lord Hutton's decision to absolve the government from blame for the Iraq weapons dossier placed the spotlight yesterday on the accuracy of the intelligence provided to ministers.
Far from drawing a line under the controversy about the dossier, the Hutton report has switched the focus on to the reliability of intelligence, an issue also gathering steam in the US.
So we have no monopoly on obsfuscation on this side of the Atlantic. Now, the punditry tell us, the question of government lies is off the table and we can focus on what's supposedly the real issue: nonexistent intelligence failures. Remember David Kay's conclusion that the UNSCOM and IAEA inspections were an extremely powerful source of information about Iraq's WMD? Just put that together with the fact that inspectors were deliberately withdrawn at the instigation of the Clinton administration, which wanted to try a little regime change operation of its own -- the 1998 Desert Fox campaign (the regime change nature of that campaign is covered in Kenneth Pollack's book, The Threatening Storm, and in Full Spectrum Dominance as well). And the fact that it was predicted that Desert Fox would mean the inspections couldn't be resumed. It's hard to characterize a deliberate policy with predictable, and predicted results, as a "failure."

A fascinating expansion on the theme of intelligence failures in USA Today: Intelligence lapses corrupt policy of pre-emptive strikes. As the article correctly points out, a policy of "pre-emption" (an invalid use of the term, which historically applies to clear imminent threats, like an army massing on your borders) does not make sense if you can't depend on your intelligence services to figure out which countries are a threat and which aren't. Unfortunately, this doesn't address the actual point. Even if Saddam had WMD, he posed no threat to the United States. As even Perle and Frum admit in their execrable book, "An End to Evil," no Third World government is going to attack the United States directly. Given the certainty that any terrorist attack with WMD in the United States would lead to an instant war on Iraq, Iraq wasn't going to arm any terrorists to commit such attacks (and, of course, it was well known that Iraq had no link with al-Qaeda). The real problem with the "pre-emption doctrine" is that it helps governments that are bent on war and trying to manufacture excuses to go ahead.
January 30, 8:20 am EST. Remember the Exxon Valdez spill back in 1989? 11 million gallons spilled, 1000 miles of coastline damaged? Supposedly it was because of a drunken skipper, but the real culprit, according to Greg Palast, was a corporate decision not to fix the broken Raycas radar system because of its cost.

Remember how it was a model for corporate litigation because Exxon (now Exxon Mobil) paid up so promptly? Well, it turns out that Exxon didn't pay the $4 billion in punitive damages it was ordered to pay (they only had 14 years to do it, after all), and a judge has recently ordered that the punies be upped to $4.5 billion, with added interest of $2.25 billion. Perhaps in another 14 years they'll pay that -- or perhaps not.

In its defense, Exxon says it has "voluntarily" paid $300 million in damages. This is like a criminal being sentenced to 40 years in prison, escaping after three, and excusing himself by saying he voluntarily stayed three years. We should be fair, though. Some turn to crime because they can't make ends meet. Last year, for example, Exxon Mobil only raked in $21.5 billion in profit.

On the bright side, Exxon Mobil is now pumping oil from Chad. Because of concerns over how Third World governments use oil money, Chad's share of the oil revenues, 12.5% of the total, is being put in a special escrow account in London, where disbursements will be carefully audited by the World Bank. Exxon Mobil's share, a mere 87.5%, doesn't need to be regulated because we know how responsibly it uses its money.
January 29, 6:00 pm EST. Just as Floridians were happy to be relieved in their role as the butt of the nation's jokes when California elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief now. The British have just completed a formal inquiry, which has concluded that the BBC is responsible for Blair's lies -- or, to be more careful, the Hutton inquiry exonerates Blair from any blame over WMD lies and instead castigates the BBC for reporting those lies. This even though Blair's claim, repeated as gospel truth, that Iraq could launch its (nonexistent) biological and chemical weapons in 45 minutes has been repudiated by a representative of Iyad Allawi (head of the Iraqi National Accord and member of the Governing Council), who passed the claim on to the British government in the first place. The original source of the claim is now in hiding. Gavyn Davies, head of the BBC, resigned within hours of the report's release, and was followed shortly thereafter by Director General Greg Dyke. This is a spectacle even more absurd, and more disturbing, than George Tenet falling on his sword last summer because the Bush administration ignored the CIA's analysis.
January 29, 12:45 pm EST.Sorry to beat this horse again, but it just refuses to die. The standard story now is that "intelligence failures" are the key to the great vanishing WMD mystery. In today's Washington Post, Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank, reporting on David Kay's conclusions, say, "Still, even hawks who had backed the administration on Iraq said it is not credible for the administration to deny that there was an intelligence failure." If only Pincus could go back and re-read the excellent article he wrote with Barton Gellman back in August, "Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence." You don't have to read very far to figure out that intelligence failures were not exactly the problem.

Take the aluminum tubes as an example. Remember Colin Powell charging that they were not for artillery but for centrifuges to be used in uranium isotope separation?
"Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't think so," Powell said in his speech. He said different batches "seized clandestinely before they reached Iraq" showed a "progression to higher and higher levels of specification, including in the latest batch an anodized coating on extremely smooth inner and outer surfaces. . . . Why would they continue refining the specification, go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?
As Pincus and Gellman uncovered, the administration had been told unequivocally for the previous year that the tubes were for artillery. In fact, to use them for centrifuges, they would have to remove the anodized coating -- so Powell was taking evidence that they were for artillery and claiming it was evidence for the opposite.

Where's the "intelligence failure" in that -- aside possibly from Pincus's in ignoring his own work? Of course, I don't want to slam him -- he and Milbank have done some of the best reporting on the WMD issues, and I'm sure he realizes the inconsistencies in his reporting. Clearly, the decision has been made that it is uncouth to keep pointing out the obvious truth.
January 28, 9:55 pm EST.The 9/11 commission, which is investigating the 9/11 terror attacks, said today that it needs more time. It's set to terminate on May 27, but, partly because of systematic obstructionism from the Bush administration, it says it won't be able to finish its work by then and is asking for an extension until July. The Bush administration says no and House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office has said he will oppose any extension. Shouldn't the administration at least pretend to concern about a full investigation into the 9/11 attacks?
January 28, 11:00 am EST.Here's an interesting tidbit in the Guardian, titled  "Abuses force America to end aid to Uzbekistan." Uzbekistan is, of course, part of the new American empire in Central Asia, and recipient of roughly $100 million annually in U.S. aid -- far more than it received before 9/11. The State Department has, however, refused to certify Uzbekistan as supporting human rights, supposedly because of minor problems like its practice of occasionally boiling Islamist prisoners in oil. When was the last time you heard of the the State Department mucking up something of strategic interest to the United States over the question of human rights? Congress has occasionally done this under huge pressure from grassroots activists, with Guatemala in 1977 and Indonesia in the 1990's (credit here goes largely to the East Timor Action Network), but to have it done by the executive branch?

Of course, as the Guardian article points out, the State Department was well aware of human rights abuses in 2002, when it certified Uzbekistan. So what's going on here? It certainly looks like another move in the interminable drama of State vs. Defense, realist vs. neocon, rather than a sudden access of concern for human rights. We should keep in mind, though, that although there are genuine differences of opinion about how to secure "U.S. strategic interests," both departments are working for the same longstanding policies of imperial control and domination. The administration has clearly been successful in using them as part of a "good cop, bad cop" game; the good cop is Baker going abroad to secure loan forgiveness for Iraq, Rice and Powell negotiating with Libya, etc.; the bad cop is Cheney, Rumsfeld and "new Europe," sidestepping the Security Council over Iraq, and so on. Termination of aid to Uzbekistan is likely a reasonable sacrifice right at the moment, when the country's immediate significance is not great and the empire is stretched thin anyway.
January 27, 10:00 pm EST. As I write, the results of the New Hampshire primary are a foregone conclusion -- Kerry beats Dean by about a dozen points, and he beats Edwards and Clark by about the same amount. Dean is definitely recovering, somewhat, from his Iowa problems and Kerry is definitely the frontrunner. The big dichotomy between Democratic voters is between those who vote based on the issues -- Dean is favored overy Kerry -- and those who vote on "electability" -- Kerry beats Dean by something like 3 to 1 in New Hampshire on this one. The results of Iowa and New Hampshire will likely reinforce this perception. One thing people are not reckoning with, however -- the primaries are a competition between Democrats, while the election will be run against George W. Bush, or, more accurately, Karl Rove. Anyone who weasels as much as Kerry on the question of the war will be eaten alive once Bush actually starts campaigning.

Kerry's victory speech made it clear what he's going to campaign on when it comes to foreign policy. He talked about the help of veterans, his "band of brothers." He talked about their experience "fighting for our country." Back when Kerry protested the Vietnam War he was pretty clear on the fact that he and his fellow soldiers had been fooled and lied to and that destroying Vietnam was not fighting for his country. It's still hard for me to believe that this man once made perhaps the best speech ever delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Had he learned the lesssons of 2000 and 2002, he would have put that speech right at the top of his website. If Dean has any sense, he'll realize that the way to come back is to emphasize David Kay and the fact that the Bush administration lied repeatedly -- so far, he's saying things like, "The White House has not been candid."
January 27, 7:20 pm EST. If you were the Bush administration, battling a perpetual international image problem, who would you send to the World Economic Forum at Davos and then on a European goodwill tour? Which of your fund of internationally experienced, cosmopolitan, sophisticated, reasonable-seeming people would you choose? Keep in mind that the mood in Davos last year was extremely critical of U.S. policies. Naturally, you would pick ... John Ashcroft ... and then follow him up with Dick Cheney. According to a new bio of Tony Blair, Cheney continually derided the British for their "multilateralism," saying to a British official in the summer of 2002, "Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools." At the time, of course, the administration firmly denied that it was bent on war with Iraq. He's also continued to tell the same lies about WMD and al-Qaeda since the beginning.
January 26, 11:50 pm EST. Campaigning in New Hampshire today, Howard Dean criticized John Kerry:
Foreign policy expertise depends on patience and judgment," Dean said in Nashua. "I question Senator Kerry's judgment when he voted 'no' in 1991 and 'yes' [in 2002]. I think it should be the other way around.
Finally, someone mentions the obvious fact. The arguments that the Democratic candidates are using against Gulf War 2 -- alienated our allies, no U.N. resolution, didn't share the cost, bogged us down in occupation, lied about WMD, and so on -- didn't apply for Gulf War 1. And yet, far more Democrats voted against the first one (47 Senators voted against the resolution on Gulf War 1 and 183 Representatives, as opposed to 23 and 133 for Gulf War 2). Dean is no paragon of intellectual consistency, and clearly accepted the bogus arguments about WMD, but he does seem more logical than the other candidates. His line about the guys in pickup trucks with Confederate flags is actually a pretty obvious point -- as long as the Democrats continue to allow the Republicans to use racism to get poor whites to vote for them, the Democrats are always going to have the deck stacked against them. But anyway, to criticize the Gulf War or to criticize this one in a meaningful way, deeper analysis of U.S. motives is necessary, as is recourse to ethical arguments, something that is just not happening here. Even Dennis Kucinich is not using his time on TV to criticize the occupation for what's being done to Iraqis.
January 26, 11:17 am EST. Recently finished David Frum and Richard Perle's book, An End to Evil. Will write more on it later, but a few thoughts. It's not quite as full of lies as I would have thought, because most of it is so vacuous -- they don't number the footnotes, my guess is, because they don't want to make it obvious how few there are and how little of any kind of scholarship, even jaundiced neoconservative scholarship, went into making the book. Despite the vacuity, though, there are some doozies:

On page 3, they tell us that U.S. intervention saved millions of Afghans from famine. That's an interesting reconstruction of history. In fact, within days of 9/11, the United States had demanded from Pakistan the "elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population" ("Pakistan Antiterror Support Avoids Vow of Military Aid," John Burns, NYT, September 16, 2001). The risk of famine was dramatically increased when aid shipments were halted in September due to U.S. demands and then could not resume until late November because of U.S. bombing. The Guardian is one of the few organizations that attempted to estimate the death toll due to cessation of aid -- they came up with a figure of roughly 20,000 (not an upper bound -- the upper estimate was 50,000).

Perle and Frum are also at pains to explain that the deaths due to the sanctions are entirely Saddam's fault, with no blame shared by the U.S. government, so on p. 21, they say, "On the very day that Iraq was liberated, $13 billion in oil-for-food funds sat unexpended in the program’s escrow account in Paris." When I saw this, it seemed very wrong, so I checked out the U.N. Office of the Iraq Program's April 5-11, 2003, weekly update. It says that there were $3.2 billion in funds unallocated and $10.3 billion of goods in the "production and delivery pipeline." Add them together and you get $13.5 billion, but, of course, the primary reason for delays in getting goods into Iraq was U.S. obstructionism in the so-called 661 Committee. So was the number $3.2 billion instead of $13 billion? Maybe just a typo? Here's the kicker: at the same time that $3.2 billion was unallocated, $6 billion worth of contracts were approved but unfunded, so for Frum and Perle's purposes the correct figure is not $13 billion but rather negative $2.8 billion.
January 25, 11:50 pm EST. David Kay said today on NPR that he doesn't think any WMD will be found in Iraq and that what happened was a "corrupted process" where Iraqi scientists tricked Saddam into thinking he was funding research into WMD and then used the money for other things. He also says that Iraq's nuclear program, so frequently touted by Dick Cheney, had not gotten along nearly as far as Iran's and Libya's, which, of course, have not gotten very far. He also admitted the obvious fact that UNSCOM on-the-ground inspections were very effective and the best way of gaining information on WMD -- so that the U.S. government's constant claims to have extra information were clearly lies. But the most interesting thing:
Asked whether President Bush owed the nation an explanation for the gap between his warnings and Kay's findings, Kay said: "I actually think the intelligence community owes the president, rather than the president owing the American people." (Kay Asks Why U.S. Thought Iraq Had WMD, AP)
Since it was on radio, we may never know whether he said this with a straight face.
January 24, 7:19 pm EST. David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, which was the Bush administration's replacement for U.N. and IAEA weapons inspectors, has now resigned, and concluded that Iraq had no stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons before the war, and that they had probably all been eliminated in the early 90's. The New York Times article on it also quotes Jane Harman, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, saying "It is increasingly clear that there has been a massive intelligence failure."

How long are the Democrats going to continue with nonsense like this? Even before the massive revelations of the summer, it was clear that what was going on was not "intelligence failures" but massive deception. To take one example, Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, defected to Jordan in 1995 and revealed a great deal about Iraq's weapons programs to U.N. inspectors. One of his revelations led to the seizure of huge numbers of documents. The Bush administration played up his case a lot, saying that inspections weren't enough, you need defectors. On March 3, 2003, however, Newsweek revealed that Hussein Kamel had also told inspectors that all weapons of mass destruction were destroyed and that this information had been covered up with the cooperation of UNSCOM, the Clinton administation, and the Bush administration (you can find the full text of that interview here). Whether Kamel was a liar or not, to use part of his testimony and cover up the rest is a pretty clear sign of dishonesty. Or how about the infamous "16 words" in the 2002 State of the Union speech? We know Iraq is seeking uranium from Africa? The continent? We can say that it's seeking uranium from one of over 50 countries, but we can't tell you which one? And, of course, these are just the tip of a mountainous iceberg of lies.

Actually, it's even worse. The Bush administration went to war on Iraq because they knew there was no significant WMD capability -- and, of course, made sure of that with the resumption of weapons inspections in November 2002. They weren't going to risk massive American casualties. They also had to know that Iraq had no links with al-Qaeda and wouldn't cooperate with it for any reason. Otherwise, in all the months of buildup, Iraq could not only have transferred WMD to al-Qaeda, it could have transferred huge amounts of money -- remember the story about Saddam pulling out about $1 billion in cash from Iraq's Central Bank three hours before the invasion started? What could al-Qaeda do with an extra billion or two (we know from all sources that money is a perpetual problem for al-Qaeda operations)?

Simple rule of thumb: Listen to what Dick Cheney says and believe the opposite.
January 23, 1:35 pm EST. Hot off the presses from the Washington Post (undoubtedly the major newspaper doing the best reporting on the occupation) -- "Immunity Pact for American Troops in Iraq Still Unsettled." Now, it is true that we already knew that the so-called "transfer of sovereignty" planned for the end of June 2004 was a sham. As Paul Bremer said when the plan was first put out in November, "Our presence here will change from an occupation to an invited presence." In other words, "transferring sovereignty" is about creating a government that will approve of the occupation and make it permanent -- which is not quite the same as creating a government that is independent.

But this adds insult to injury. Iraqi "independence" will involve a long-term presence of over 100,000 American soldiers who enjoy complete impunity and are not subject to prosecution by Iraqi authorities for crimes committed in Iraq. When the Western colonial powers, Britain, the United States, Germany, and France, imposed such a condition on China in the mid-19th century, it was called "extraterritoriality," and it was one of the most hated signs of colonial domination. In the dealings of the Ottoman Empire with Europe, similar concessions were part of the "Capitulations," which accumulated over several centuries. Abrogation of the Capitulations was one of the main reasons the Ottomans gave for entering World War 1 on the side of the Central Powers.

Note that this is a step beyond the phenomenal arrogance shown by U.S. demands that the strictures of the International Criminal Court not apply to Americans -- a demand that has manifested in dozens of bilateral immunity treaties. That says American soldiers are not subject to international law; this immunity pact, when agreed upon, will say that American soldiers are not subject to the law of the land they're in.

This is why Iraqis are wont to say that the Americans are merely "transferring power from the right pocket to the left pocket." It's hard to find an Iraqi on the streets of Baghdad who won't tell you that this particular transition plan is more about elections in the United States than those in Iraq. It's also hard to find one who doesn't know that, for all its talk about commitment to the rule of law, this administration clearly believes that the rule of law is only for other people.
January 21, 11:00 am EST. Returned from Iraq a week ago. I'll be writing more about the trip shortly. Recovered from jetlag just in time for the glorious pageantry of the State of the Union address. Did anyone else notice the insulting way that Adnan Pachachi was displayed as evidence of the great new partnership between Iraq and the United States? Much as Hamid Karzai was in the 2002 SOU address. Reminds me of Columbus bringing Native Americans to the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. You can't see the chains in this modern re-enactment, but they're still there, no doubt about it.

Anyway, the difference between the reality of Iraq and the mythmongering of the SOU was a bit much to take. You can see my detailed comparison of Bush's claims with the truth here
Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond"Report from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and U.S. War Crimes "Report from Baghdad -- Winning Hearts and Minds"Report from Fallujah -- Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it"Report from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell"War on Terrorism" Makes Us All Less Safe Bush -- Is the Tide Turning?Perle and FrumIntelligence Failure Kerry vs. Dean SOU 2004: Myth and Reality