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"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

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January 31, 2005

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote

This is just too precious not to share. One of the bloggers at Daily Kos turned up this gem from the September 4, 1967, New York Times -- U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote: Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror (for all you fact-checkers out there, LEXIS-NEXIS archives don't go back that far for the Times, but it's available on ProQuest).

Here it is:
U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote : Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.

A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown by a military junta.

Few members of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power.

Significance Not Diminished

The fact that the backing of the electorate has gone to the generals who have been ruling South Vietnam for the last two years does not, in the Administration's view, diminish the significance of the constitutional step that has been taken.

The hope here is that the new government will be able to maneuver with a confidence and legitimacy long lacking in South Vietnamese politics. That hope could have been dashed either by a small turnout, indicating widespread scorn or a lack of interest in constitutional development, or by the Vietcong's disruption of the balloting.

American officials had hoped for an 80 per cent turnout. That was the figure in the election in September for the Constituent Assembly. Seventy-eight per cent of the registered voters went to the polls in elections for local officials last spring.

Before the results of the presidential election started to come in, the American officials warned that the turnout might be less than 80 per cent because the polling place would be open for two or three hours less than in the election a year ago. The turnout of 83 per cent was a welcome surprise. The turnout in the 1964 United States Presidential election was 62 per cent.

Captured documents and interrogations indicated in the last week a serious concern among Vietcong leaders that a major effort would be required to render the election meaningless. This effort has not succeeded, judging from the reports from Saigon.
Of course, although this is amusing, the parallel is only partial. Some parallels:
  • The NLF was not allowed to compete in those elections. Similarly, there really isn't a group representing the resistance. In the case of South Vietnam, it's likely the NLF would have won a substantial victory in free elections (and had elections been held in Vietnam in 1956, as mandated by the Geneva Accords of 1954, the Vietminh would have won an overwhelming victory). Although the vast majority of Iraqis opposes the occupation, it's not clear how much of the vote a party representing the resistance would win.
  • Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky, the people who were "elected," had already taken power in a coup and were running a military dictatorship fully backed by and collaborating with the U.S. forces in South Vietnam. Ayad Allawi was picked by U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer to be the dictator of Iraq until the elections and all other major politicians who will get any substantial portion of the vote, including those from SCIRI, Dawa, the KDP, and the PUK, were also picked by the United States to serve on the Governing Council and have been supported by and collaborating with U.S. occupying forces ever since.
Now, those South Vietnamese elections so hailed by the U.S. press were an absolute sham.  Thieu and Ky made sure the vote count came out the way they wanted. Official figures had no connection with actual votes. The country was under a brutal counterinsurgency carried out by the Thieu-Ky regime and U.S. forces. Nobody else with an actual constituency could run. They were as farcical as any elections you could imagine.

These are one degree up from that. In particular, there's no clear indication that the votes will not be accurately counted. Parties could campaign with more freedom than in South Vietnam, although not much. The lack of freedom in campaigning in this case, however, was more because of the resistance than because of the United States or even the Allawi government (although the Allawi government used its power over the media to ensure constant favorable coverage of Allawi).

On the other hand, the election is roughly as significant as voting for your city council in a country ruled by a dictator. The new government will not be allowed to go against U.S. wishes in any major way. It will have some small amount of autonomy, mostly in areas the United States doesn't care about.

Posted at 1:40 pm
January 30, 2005

The 100,000

Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon's tribute to the 100,000 Iraqis who are involuntarily boycotting the election because "the dead, unless they live in Florida, cannot vote:"
Had you been birds, your disappearance might have caused much more outrage. You could have flown en masse over a metropolis and clouded its skies for a few hours in protest. Meteorologists and bird- watchers surely would have noticed. Had you been trees, you would have made a beautiful forest the destruction of which would have been deemed a crime against the planet. Had you been words, you would have formed a precious book or manuscript the loss of which would be mourned across the world. But you are none of these. And you had to pass quietly and uneventfully. No one will campaign for you in these elections. No one cares to represent you. No absentee ballots have been issued or sent. You will have to wait decades for a monument, or a tiny museum. If you are lucky in provoking retroactive guilt your names will be inscribed on a wall somewhere. But until then, you may welcome more to your midst and form a vast silent chorus of ghosts, condemning the spectators and the actors.
Posted at 6:54 pm
January 29, 2005

God's Endorsement

Remember that whole scandal-that-wasn't over right-wing churches where the pastors more or less endorsed Bush for president to their congregations? Well, Iraq has it even worse. Ayatollah Sistani, the acknowledged spiritual leader of the vast majority of Iraq's Shi'a population, has stopped being coy. In the past, he has soft-pedaled his endorsement of the United Iraqi Alliance (headed by the Islamist parties SCIRI and Dawa) by such locutions as saying he "blesses" the UIA slate but "supports" all "patriotic" slates.

Now, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's reporters in Basra, he has come out openly:
Hayder al-Safi, spokesman for Sistani’s representative in Basra, Ali Abdul-Hakim al-Safi, said on January 28 that Shia leaders are urging people to vote for the United Iraqi Alliance, listed as number 169 on the ballot sheet. "Anyone that votes for List no. 169, I will answer for them before God,” said al-Safi, quoting the words of Sistani. “And anyone who will vote for other lists will answer before God."
I think that's pretty definitive. Vote for 169 or you're damned. Sistani should worry -- he's on track to descend to the level of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

I'm not sure how much more of this democracy -- in American and in Iraq -- the world can take.

Posted at 7:57 pm

January 28, 2005

Some Good News on AIDS

No, it's not about the glorious exercise in democracy that is about to descend on the Iraqi people.

The FDA has just for the first time ever approved a "generic triple-therapy AIDS cocktail." The rest of the world has been using them for years, of course.

This is of particular significance because of George W. Bush's "Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief." Of his vaunted $15 billion over five years for AIDS relief, only a little over $1 billion has been given to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (this is expected to rise to a little over $2 billion by 2009). The rest goes to his "Emergency Plan," which focuses on 13 African countries, Haiti, Guyana, and Vietnam, and only allows the use of FDA-approved drugs. Thus, while, over the past two years, people have been dying in unprecedented numbers, the administrators of Bush's plan have insisted on paying exorbitant prices for brand-name drugs.

One might even have been forgiven for thinking that the emergency plan was just a cynical scam perpetrated for two reasons:

  • To undercut the international Global Fund (initiated by the U.N., although you'd have a bloody hard time finding the phrase "United Nations" on its website)
  • To provide a boondoggle for American pharmaceutical companies that are running out of places to market their insanely overpriced drugs.
Somehow, though, things are changing slowly, probably out of a need to appear slightly more multilateral. The FDA approval for the cocktail was fast-tracked by the Bush administration and the company that got the approval, Aspen Pharmaceuticals, is actually a South African company, not an American one.

Don't get too excited, though. We still don't know at what price this generic cocktail will be sold. And, says the Global AIDS alliance,

This approval, a full two years after the President’s declaration of a global AIDS emergency, is a positive development. But, the product that was approved is not a fixed-dose combination, and, as a result, is not as easy to take. Also, the company would not have gotten its drug approved without cozy relationships with several brand name companies, something not all producers of essential, generic medications enjoy. As a result, while many more generics are urgently needed to simplify treatment and make it more cost-effective, this might not be replicated any time soon.
Anyway, so pathetic is the state of worldwide mobilization against the most immediate global crisis and one of the most severe that even this counts as good news.

Posted at 7:09 pm
January 27, 2005

Advice for the Democrats

Unsurprisingly, the Democrats are annoying me again. What can one say about a party that learns from the miserable militaristic "John Kerry reporting for duty" campaign loss the lesson that they should "ease up" on abortion, an issue on which the public is already with them, start talking about what good Christians they are, which nobody will believe even if it's true, and completely forget the word "Iraq," except in a retrospective sense?

But, anyway, here's the current annoyance. After Barbara Boxer's (reasonably) forceful grilling of Condoleezza Rice at her confirmation hearing and Mark Dayton's even more forceful denunciation of her as a liar -- "Repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally," no less -- something that actually takes a fair amount of political courage in this bizarre world of ours -- the Democrats decided to hang them out to dry, by voting 30-13-2 in favor of confirming Rice.

Now, it's one thing to disavow people on the fringes of the party, like Barbara Lee or Dennis Kucinich or Cynthia McKinney, but Boxer and Dayton are both well within the mainstream of the liberal wing of the party and don't even (at least, not yet) have a name for being mavericks like the late Paul Wellstone and Russ Feingold (the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act).

That there would be political disagreements between centrist and right-wing Democrats on the one hand and liberal Democrats on the other is understandable. But this goes beyond that. Two-thirds of Senate Democrats voted to approve the appointment of someone who was accused by other Senate Democrats of being a flagrant liar. And, to boot, the charge is obviously correct.

So, we have a party that's under ferocious attack from a force that controls all three branches of government, nearly controls broadcast media, and is constantly scheming to increase its power, effectively isolating and rejecting fairly important people in its own ranks when they happen to tell the obvious truth.

As Marx would say, the Democratic Party may be a party of itself, but there is precious little evidence that it's a party for itself. If this doesn't change, well, it's not hard to predict the outcome of a war in which one side doesn't fight.

So, a propos of all that, some advice. Let me preface it by saying clearly this is an outside view. I'm not a Democrat and I can't stand the Democrats. If this advice is followed, I still won't be a Democrat. This is advice not from a left perspective (mine), but simply from the perspective of the party's survival as a party.

First, your biggest problem is not that you will be labelled "obstructionist" (although you will) but that you will be crushed by a force that doesn't believe there should be any limits to its power. Thus, fighting back even when you're going to lose is important. Your fighting on Social Security has been a good thing and has already affected the Bush administration's expectations. I imagine that all but a few of you are far too gutless to fight back on the upcoming Iraq appropriations bill or to filibuster Gonzales, but find some things you'll go to the mat on even if you lose. Don't worry about getting a legislative agenda accomplished; the Bush administration never does as long as it can build the right wing.

Second, and most important, don't just play defense. It's important to go out and attack the Republicans. Again, I expect that most of you are too gutless and unprincipled to fight hard on substantive issues like withdrawal from Iraq or single-payer healthcare (even though it's something that most corporations would welcome). So, you should gun for a prominent Republican personally. It seems impossible in this climate to go after Bush or Cheney and pointless to go after an appointed member of the executive branch (except in cases, like Rumsfeld, where again it's impossible). So go after a prominent legislator on ethics charges -- maybe Tom Delay? Create a situation where the Republicans have to either openly sanction corruption or acquiesce in the elimination of one of their own. If this works, lather, rinse, repeat.

This isn't about social justice. Nobody expects much on that front any time soon -- nor have they expect much from you for some time now. It's just about your survival. Your current strategy of curling up in a ball and hoping the Republicans don't kick you just encourages them to kick you.

Any readers out there who have more contact with the Democrats than I do, please feel free to pass on this advice.

Posted at 7:09 pm
January 26, 2005

Zarqawi's Bombmaker

On Monday, Iraqi security forces announced the capture of one of Zarqawi's top bomb-makers, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Omar al-Kurdi.

Apparently, he has confessed not only to a major role in the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in August 2003 but also to involvement in the same month's assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim (the head of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the Americans' staunch allies) via a car-bomb in front of the Imam Ali mosque, which killed about 95 people. The bombing of the U.N. headquarters, also in the same month, was, he said, the work of some of his close associates.

Oddly, this is the first concrete mention of Zarqawi's involvement in the attack on al-Hakim. Ever since his emergence into the public eye about a year ago, I have assumed his organization was responsible for the attack.

I remember trying to figure out what was going on when it happened. Despite the views of many Iraqis, it clearly wasn't the Americans.  Not only was al-Hakim an ally, taking such a huge risk of damage to the mosque when they were depending so heavily on the Shi'a to stay calm made no sense at all.

The claims that it was Moqtada, which you still hear, were ridiculous. He is accused of assassinating Abdel Majid al-Khoei in the Ali mosque, a claim he denies, but in that incident, a stabbing, there was no risk of damage to the mosque. He has later shown, in April and August, that the inviolability of the mosque is essential to his political strategy.

Even "Saddam loyalists," it seemed to me, would have been more careful about the mosque, given their very precarious position.

Both the al-Hakim attack and the U.N. bombing bore the clear imprint of extremist Wahhabi/Salafi Sunnis (bin Laden hates the U.N. almost as much as Dick Cheney does, blaming it, for example, for helping to push Indonesia, a Muslim country, to end its genocidal occupation of East Timor, a Christian country).

Anyway, it's all so plausible that, notwithstanding the methods that might have been used to obtain al-Kurdi's confessions, I believe them. The al-Hakim assassination is a clear example of divergence of the Zarqawi group's attacks from any imaginable goals of the U.S. occupying forces. In fact, the loss of al-Hakim deprived the occupiers of any way to fight against Sistani's influence, with the result that when he puts his foot down, they have to capitulate -- as they did on the matter of elections.

Other Zarqawi attacks, like the U.N. and the frequent executions of Iraqi police and national guard, seem to me very much acts that had no U.S. involvement, but it's possible to figure out some tortured way in which they serve U.S. interests -- and conspiracy theories always rest on a purely functionalist view of human agency, whether individually or in organizations (and, of course, conspiracies do exist).

In particular, although the killings of security forces have scared many people away, they seem also, at long last, to have created a core of Iraqis in the security forces who are as gung-ho against the resistance as the Americans are. That's something the Americans were completely lacking at the beginning.

None of this will daunt the true conspiracists, of course.

Posted at 2:25 pm
January 24, 2005

Radio Commentary -- The Inauguration, Democracy, and the Iraqi Elections

Here's this week's commentary for Uprising Radio:

Last Thursday, the foremost scion of the Bush Dynasty returned to the scene of the crime for his second coronation. This man, who once said, “If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator," which at the time was considered a joke, gave a 20-minute speech in which he used the word “freedom” 27 times, “liberty” 15 times, and “free” 7 times. He declared a historic mission of the United States to “seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” According to him, the right of every man and woman to democracy stems from the fact that they all “bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth,” a doctrine Hindus, Buddhists, and many others do not believe in.

On Sunday, the ever-convenient Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who if he did not exist would have had to be invented, declared a “fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.” To him, the candidates running for election were “demi-idols” and those who would vote for them “infidels.” He accused the Americans of engineering the elections to “make Shiites dominate the regime in Iraq,” which is true if unavoidable in a country with a considerable Shi’a majority, and of bringing in four million Shiites from Iran to “take part in the elections to achieve their aim of winning,” a gross exaggeration.

For months now, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the man who is actually responsible for the elections now being held in Iraq, has told his followers that voting is a “religious duty.” Although he was somewhat coy about it initially, he has made it clear that their duty is, in fact, specifically voting for the United Iraqi Alliance, the unified slate of the Shi’a Islamist parties. Although he is opposed to a theocratic state, there is no doubt that he has insisted on elections, and at times mobilized over 100,000 people in the streets, primarily in order to increase the power of the Shi’a, in particular of the Shi’ite clergy. In the process, he has effectively, if not officially, been supporting the occupation.

According to the most recent issue of the Kurdish weekly Hawlati, the unified Kurdish slate, which will draw virtually all of the Kurdish vote, includes at least a dozen high-ranking Ba’ath Party members and people involved in Saddam’s Kurdish paramilitary groups created to aid his counterinsurgency in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s. Kurdish leaders were taking advantage of the security situation to keep these names secret from Kurdish voters, who will be turning out en masse in part to reject Saddam’s dictatorship and his murderous Anfal campaign, that killed 182,000 people in Iraqi Kurdistan according to Kurdish sources. There may be many more such surprises in the other slates; the majority of candidates are having their names kept secret from those who are to vote for them.

Perhaps the most sensible position on the election has come from Moqtada al-Sadr, a man who inherited his authority from his father. Until recently, he had taken a low profile on the election, investigating the possibility of running some of his own candidates. Now, however, while stopping short of calling for a boycott, he says, "I personally will stay away [from the elections] until the occupiers stay away from them, and until our beloved Sunnis participate in them. Otherwise they will lack legitimacy and democracy."

All in all, a highly confusing picture. It’s incontrovertible that the United States has consistently delayed elections for two years, and would have done so longer had there been no opposition; it’s equally clear however, that the winner of these “democratic” elections will cooperate with the occupiers and lend, for most Americans if not for most Iraqis, an air of democratic legitimacy to the new Iraqi puppet government. But Iraqis can be forgiven if, after all of this, they understand as little of true democracy as Americans, who don’t seem to have understood that you impeach presidents who lie to get you into an illegal war, you don’t re-elect them.

Posted at 10:57 am
January 20, 2005

A Day that Will Live on in Infamy

THE "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death."

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence. ...

Posted at 12:51 pm

January 19, 2005


The year is young, but it has already seen some remarkable remarks. A few nominations:
  • Dumbest Remark of the Year -- "Don't cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?" -- Guy Womack, lawyer for Charles Graner, recently sentenced for torture in Abu Ghraib.

  • Most Unthinking/Unfeeling Remark of the Year -- "Senator, first of all, I do agree that the tsunami was a wonderful opportunity to show not just the U.S. government, but the heart of the American people. And I think it has paid great dividends for us." -- Condoleezza Rice, in her confirmation hearing.

  • Scariest/Most Evil Remark of the Year --
    "Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

    Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?"

    Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you: depart from me, you evil doers."

    Everyone who listens to these words of mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man, who built his house on a rock:

    The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, but it did not collapse; it has been set solidly on rock.

    And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but does not act on them, will be like a fool who built his house on sand:

    The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined. (Matthew 7:21-27)

    Tom DeLay, at a Congressional Prayer Service after several others had spoken about the tsunami and relief efforts to help the victims. Yes, really. 
And what do all of these comments have in common? A moral sickness that doesn't just affect the people who said it, but all of us who live in a society in which things like this are said by people in prominent positions. But not to worry. All will soon be well. The Democratic Party has just discovered "moral values."

Posted at 4:50 pm
January 18, 2005

Against the Cult of MLK

Stop the presses! I am informed by GOPUSA News (a listserv I was somehow added to) that John Kerry shamelessly used an appearance at the annual MLK Day breakfast in Boston to decry the fact that "thousands of people were suppressed in the effort to vote" and even said we "cannot tolerate" the denial of democratic rights to so many.

The author indignantly concludes with the charge that "Kerry's comments about the need for electoral reform at a Martin Luther King, Jr. event mark the second time in as many days the former civil rights leader has been used to further liberal causes."

Just try, if you can, to imagine the temerity of using MLK to "further liberal causes." Especially such an outlandish one and as irrelevant to King's life as making sure that African-Americans can exercise the right to vote. Shocking.

This is more than mere right-wing inanity. It's a window onto some deeply important and interrelated issues.

First, the systematic attempt by the right wing, carried out with fair to moderate success, to remake MLK into a generic American hero, not just palatable across the political spectrum but even (dare one hint it) really more of a conservative than a liberal. They really have come a long way, baby, from the days of burning crosses and wearing white sheets (swastikas of course, then and now, being reserved for deviants). And yet, somehow, they haven't. This (not just MLK, but the way the right wing deals with race) ought to be a subject for a book in itself.

Second, the damage that is done by the cult of MLK. I'll say it clearly, I am against the hagiography of the man, against his widespread acceptance as an American hero. The most profound reason for that should be fairly obvious: this can only be done by depriving him, his life, and his political movement of any meaning, by dumbing him down to the point of uselessness.

In 1963, when King was still in his words (though not in his actions) a good American liberal, he said in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." This phrase is now used by the right wing, and especially by black conservatives, to suggest that King would have opposed affirmative action -- absolutely nonsensical for anyone with the slightest acquaintance with King's politics.

Later, of course, in 1967 with his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, famous on the left and unknown to others, he engaged in a full-blown critique of capitalism and imperialism:
  • "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
  • "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." "
  • A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.'"
Although he suggested that this true revolution of values was the best defense against communism, it's pretty clear that what he was suggesting was exactly the kind of thing communists advocated. Certainly, today's right wing, which sees Bill Clinton and Dan Rather as communists, would unhesitatingly say the same of King -- except, somehow, that instead they try to pretend he wasn't even a liberal.

The result of all of this is that Americans today get no inkling of this complex, enormously significant person who represented and put forth a withering critique of American society that has not lost its force since that time. Instead, we get this sterile, watered-down plaster saint.

Better, almost, that King continue to get the execration he got from "decent" white society when he was alive, when he was hated by most whites and hounded by the FBI.

Posted at 8:08 pm
January 18, 2004

Radio Commentary -- the Situation in Iraq Today

Here it is.

Posted at 10:50 am
January 14, 2004

Christian Charity

Here's something more than ordinarily disgusting. WorldHelp, a "charity" organization run by evangelical Christians, has been raising money by telling people that it will be used to take 300 Muslim orphans and have them raised in a Christian home. This was reported yesterday in the Post, but the article has been removed today.

Today, the Post reports that the Indonesian government got wise to the idea and has forbidden it. WorldHelp, in accord with its notion of Christian charity, has ceased fundraising for the orphans.

It's difficult to think of too many things more sickening than this -- to use the vulnerability of some ultimately victimized specimens of humanity to proselytize.

If you don't see it, just imagine doing something similar, only with Jews in the Nazi death camps instead of tsunami victims. Of course, that's just too far-fetched to imagine.

Posted at 7:58 pm
January 12, 2004

More on the Salvador Option

When, in the course of my Monday commentary, I mentioned Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service, I had a sneaking suspicion that I couldn't confirm at the time. Now, thanks to a reader in Britain, some confirmation.

According to Sami Ramadani, an antiwar Iraqi exile who writes regularly for the Guardian, "Shahwani was one of Saddam's intelligence chiefs in Baghdad with a reputation for brutality."

Unfortunately, this is not surprising. For some time now, the United States has been relying heavily on the remnants of Saddam's intelligence services, both to provide them with information and more recently (especially since April) in direct and open supporting roles. It's likely that there are more "former regime elements," "Ba'athist dead-enders," or whatever you wish to call them working for the U.S. occupation than fighting against it.

Posted at 10:19 pm
January 10, 2004

The Salvador Option

Today's commentary for Uprising Radio (thanks to Doug Ireland for tipping me off to the story:

As we roll closer to the planned demonstration elections in Iraq – elections that will now be happening while an official state of emergency is in effect – there’s a new article in Newsweek that details more of the vision of democracy that the United States has in Iraq.

There is intense debate in the Pentagon over what’s being called the “Salvador option.” The murderous counterinsurgency in El Salvador in the 1980’s, where, as Dick Cheney said in the vice presidential debate, 75,000 people were killed by terrorists (he just neglected to mention that it was U.S.-backed terrorists) is rightly seen as a success. The counterinsurgency in Iraq is quite obviously being seen as a failure – this despite the fact that the insurgency is not exactly a success.

So, naturally, the thing to do is to jettison a failing strategy and adopt a tried-and-true approach. The key to success in El Salvador was the death squads. These were groups with no formal affiliation with the government, although they drew personnel, training, resources, and legal cover from the government. They were Salvadoreans, familiar with their own country and good at deciding who to target for maximum political effect. Most of all, they operated with complete impunity, with no need to consider legal restrictions on their operations.

The option currently under discussion would involve using a handful of Special Forces to create and train small groups of indigenous forces, mostly either Kurdish peshmerga or Shi’a militiamen from one of the political parties that supports the occupation.

This is often being discussed as if it simply involves creating groups that have a greater capacity to strike surgically, to find out who really is part of the resistance before they attack – obviously, the aerial attacks like those on so-called “Zarqawi safehouses” in Fallujah before the November assault seemed to kill primarily civilians. And should these plans come up for a wider discussion in the media here, this is the argument that will no doubt be stressed. Expect pundits to say, should it prove necessary, that in fact such squads are far more humane and efficient than large-scale military operations or aerial bombing.

The truth of the matter is that, just as torture isn’t really primarily about extracting information, death squads aren’t primarily about killing particular people who are judged to be a threat. The true rationale for both is to create a climate of pervasive fear.

The same article quotes Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service, on the true logic of the idea:

The insurgents, he said, "are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them." He said most Iraqi people do not actively support the insurgents or provide them with material or logistical help, but at the same time they won’t turn them in.

Then it quotes an anonymous source in the Pentagon suggesting that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency: "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

On one level, this is simply making more explicit the strategy that was already carried out with some level of success in Fallujah. The population has been taught a severe lesson in the costs, not of supporting the resistance, but of not actively opposing the resistance and helping the occupying forces. Imposing such costs is a clear violation of the laws of war, which prohibit any attempts to make civilians in an occupied country fulfill a military role, but we all know what Bush and Gonzales think of the laws of war.

On another level, this represents yet another moral barrier to be crossed, not merely as a predictable consequence of running an occupation, but deliberately and unapologetically. Not only are people in the Pentagon openly discussing U.S.-administered state terror, the main argument is over whether these death squads will be under the supervision and authority of the CIA or of Defense.

Mark Danner, in response to Alberto Gonzales’ impending confirmation, wrote an op-ed in the Times entitled “We are all torturers now.” This plan, being seriously considered, would make us all assassins and terrorists.

Posted at 11:10 am
January 7, 2004

The Quality of Generosity

Courtesy of the Washington Post, an update on aid pledges:
To aid victims of the tsunami, Australia has pledged $810 million, Germany $674 million and Japan $500 million. The European Union on Thursday announced a pledge of $466 million. The United States has offered $350 million, in addition to a significant military rescue mission.
So, the EU's allocation, over and above those of its member states, dwarfs that of the United States. And Australia, whose 2003 GDP was 4.8% that of the U.S., has pledged well over twice as much.

This reminds me of an appearance by the disgusting Andrew Natsios, director of USAID on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on December 30. At the time, the U.S. pledge was $35 million, but Natsios defended the generosity of the United States:
NATSIOS: Well, it's not a matter of whether it's essential. We do that traditionally. While there have been some controversies over this, the statistics show, internationally accepted statistics, that in the last year that we have for '03, the United States gave 40% of all government assistance for international humanitarian aid for all countries in the world. So we're the largest donor by far, and I would say 40% of the total given, it's $2.4 billion, it's a lot of money.

IFILL: We're also the richest country by far.

NATSIOS: We are.

IFILL: So when. I guess there is a group called the Center for global Development that says that 40% of the relief aid boils down to about two cents a day per American. Is that generous enough?

NATSIOS: Well, I would say that 40% of the requirement worldwide and $2.4 billion is very generous. How much it is per American seems to me to be irrelevant.
Gwen Ifill tried, feebly, to press the point by referencing U.N. official Jan Egeland's remark about the stinginess of the Western nations:
NATSIOS: Those numbers don't add up. What they do is they use a European formula, which we've never used in the United States in 55 years, which is to use a percentage of our Gross National Product. The reason that people quote that is because in Europe it's been used as a standard, but our economy grows so much faster than the Japanese or the European economy that we would never catch up...
The formula Natsios is talking about is usually pegged at 0.7% of GDP for foreign aid. The U.S. is just about at 0.2% after significant increases in the past few years (through the Millennium Challenge Account, an attempt for the U.S. to impose conditionalities without working through multilateral agencies like the WB and IMF), although the bulk of that is actually military aid to countries like Israel and Egypt.

But note the really remarkable line: "our economy grows so much faster than the Japanese or the European economy that we would never catch up." This is no mere spin, but rather a major philosophical breakthrough: Andrew Natsios's version of Zeno's paradox.

Readers of this blog are no doubt aware that in general the real question in First World-Third World relations is not the degree of generosity from First to Third but the degree of extortion and exploitation from Third to First. Even so, the discourse on America's putative generosity is revealing. Needless to say, Ifill did not challenge Natsios's remarkably stupid statement.

Posted at 9:48 pm
January 3, 2004

Tsunami Commentary

Sorry for the long hiatus. I seem to be hit with one illness after another. Once I recover, I will be posting regularly. Here's my latest radio commentary for Uprising.
Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and BeyondBush, Iraq, and Demonstration Elections Notes on Bush RNC Speech"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