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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Remember that whole scandal-that-wasn't over right-wing churches where
the pastors more or less endorsed Bush for president to their
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
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
I'm not sure how much more of this democracy -- in American and in Iraq
-- the world can take.
Posted at 7:57 pm
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
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.
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.
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
But, anyway, here's the current annoyance. After Barbara Boxer's
grilling of Condoleezza Rice at her confirmation hearing and Mark
Dayton's even more forceful denunciation of her as a liar -- "Repeatedly,
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
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
Any readers out there who have more contact with the Democrats than I
do, please feel free to pass on this advice.
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
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
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
Muslim country, to end its genocidal occupation of East Timor, a
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
"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
The year is young, but it has already seen some remarkable remarks. A
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
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
"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
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
house, but it did not collapse; it has been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but
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.
Tom DeLay, at a Congressional Prayer Service after several others had
spoken about the tsunami and relief efforts to help the victims. Yes,
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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,
too far-fetched to imagine.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
Gwen Ifill tried, feebly, to press the point by referencing U.N.
official Jan Egeland's remark about the stinginess of the Western
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.