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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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July 29, 5:25 pm EST. Shell has agreed to pay $120 million in fines to the SEC and 17 million pounds to its British counterpart, the Financial Services Association, for the serious accounting and other irregularities that caused it to overstate its reserves by almost 4.5 billion barrels (thus skewing investors' and speculators' ideas of what its net worth should be).

This scandal erupted into the news in January of this year.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni were hanged on November 10, 1995, primarily because of their attempts to expose the destruction Shell was causing to their homeland. The wrongful death lawsuit by Saro-Wiwa's son may come to trial as early as next month.

July 27, 5:32 pm EST. It's sort of beating a dead horse, but I feel I must make a few comments on the Democratic Convention. So, let's talk about Bill Clinton's speech, which according to Truthout, "electrified" the convention.

As you might expect, it was mostly blather, but there were several points which showed once again why so many ordinary people found Clinton so disgusting (and why many thought of him as a shifty liar even before Monica).

In order, then. First, he's talking about how after 9/11 everyone united behind Bush, but he used the opportunity to go way to the right of all right-thinking Americans:
Instead, he and his congressional allies made a very different choice: to use the moment of unity to push America too far to the right and to walk away from our allies, not only in attacking Iraq before the weapons inspectors finished their jobs, but in withdrawing American support for the Climate Change Treaty, the International Court for war criminals, the ABM treaty, and even the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
In December 1998, Bill Clinton had UNSCOM chief Richard Butler withdraw weapons inspectors, befre they "finished their jobs," so that he could attack Iraq. The objective was "regime change." The only difference is that, unlike Bush, Clinton didn't have the courage of his convictions (or is that "convictions") and wasn't going to send in U.S. troops to achieve it.

It was under Clinton that the CTBT was ditched. It's true that the administration signed the treaty, but it failed miserably in marshaling political support for it in the Senate. In any case, it was a dead letter before Bush got into office.

In 1998, the United States joined Iraq, Libya, Qatar, Yemen, China, and Israel in voting against the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. At that time, George W. Bush probably had never even heard of the ICC. Clinton was all in favor of internationalism when it came to prosecuting others, but refused to support the ICC unless it explicitly exempted Americans. The administration held out for a perpetual ban on trying Americans, but then, a little before Clinton left office, he agreed to sign on in exchange for a one-year exemption, to be perpetually renewed (although that renewal did fail this year, despite his best-laid plans.

But wait, there's more of that special brand of Clintonian hypocrisy. Check this out:
Here is what I know about John Kerry. During the Vietnam War, many young men - including the current president, the vice president and me - could have gone to Vietnam but didn't. John Kerry came from a privileged background and could have avoided it too. Instead he said, send me.

When they sent those swift-boats up the river in Vietnam, and told them their job was to draw hostile fire - to show the American flag and bait the enemy to come out and fight - John Kerry said, send me. ...
OK, so Clinton didn't go and now he's lauding Kerry for going, but at least he admits it. That's all right. But look at his description of Kerry's role in the war -- showing the American flag to bait the enemy to come out and fight. We're supposed to admire this. This is basically saying, Vietnam was an immoral war, we had no defensible reason to be there and no chance to win, but we kept on going in the insane logic of killing people because they fought us, even though they only fought us because we were there, and when Kerry was asked to go on some of the most inane operations of that war, he went. This is especially ridiculous a thing to say now, when the United States is fighting according to the same logic in Iraq.

And we conclude with an example of Clinton's unequalled ability to mangle history in the service of the pursuit of cheap sentiment:
In the Civil War, America was at a crossroads, divided over whether to save the union and end slavery - we chose a more perfect union. In the 1960s, America was at a crossroads, divided again over civil rights and women's rights. Again, we chose a more perfect union. As I said in 1992, we're all in this together; we have an obligation both to work hard and to help our fellow citizens, both to fight terror and to build a world with more cooperation and less terror. Now again, it is time to choose.

Since we're all in the same boat, let us chose as the captain of our ship a brave good man who knows how to steer a vessel though troubled waters to the calm seas and clear skies of our more perfect union. We know our mission. Let us join as one and say in a loud, clear voice: Send John Kerry.
Actually, the Civil War is an odd example of choosing union -- plenty of "us" didn't. 800,000 people had to be killed before the more perfect union was temporarily chosen, then fought over again, with the upshot being that a perfect compromise was reached: Northern industrial interests won their main goals in the South and Southern whites got to have African-Americans subjugated again almost as badly as under slavery. And, oh yeah, in the North the division was over whether to save the Union or end slavery, not and.

And in the 1960's, isn't he forgetting something that the nation was even more divided over than civil rights or the women's movement? Like, say, Vietnam. And the more perfect union was chosen for us by Reagan and Bush, who put the Vietnam syndrome to rest, so that Clinton, the first fully post-Vietnam Democrat, could emerge and we could forget all the lessons we learned.

For the average American, frankly, Clinton's hypocrisy is easier to divine than Bush's.

July 26, 10:15 am EST. Here's my latest radio commentary. It's about the Democratic Party and the upcoming convention. If you're really bored and have no interest in using your time productively, you can read the proposed platform here.

As William Safire points out, the platform doesn't even use the phrase "global warming," referring to the condition merely as "global climate change."
July 23, 10:10 pm EST. Apologies to all for the spotty posting this week. I've been immersed in over 1000 pages of government reports -- primarily the report of the 9/11 commission and, at long last, the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The 9/11 commission report is actually much better-written than your typical government report -- probably fully up to the level of a third-rate potboiler, although it has far more interesting material.

I should have something on Iran very shortly.

For now, just a little musing.

I just caught an episode of Now with Bill Moyers, which is, I imagine, without much question the best newsmagazine aired nationally in the United States. There was a long segment with George Lakoff, a linguist who has become something of a political consultant for the liberal left, with an eye aimed always at affecting the strategies of the Democratic Party.

Lakoff's big thing, which was the topic of the interview, is framing. For example: when Bush was pushing his big tax cut back in 2000, it was always framed as "tax relief." As Lakoff explained painstakingly to Moyers's co-host David Brancaccio, this phrase immediately evokes the following frame: taxes are an affliction, Bush is trying to relieve them, and therefore anyone trying to stop Bush is a bad guy.

As Lakoff goes on to point out, although "tax relief" is a pretty straightforward attempt at framing, Bush frequently relies on heavily Orwellian framing -- "Healthy Forests" for an initiative to let private corporations cut down the forests, "Clear Skies" for an initiative to let corporations pollute more, etc.

To his credit, Lakoff doesn't flinch at all when pointing out the reason for framing and the reason he thinks that liberals or progressives need to work a lot harder on it than they do. Roughly rendered (I don't have a transcript), this is what Lakoff thinks:

Liberals tend to think that facts and reasoning are what matter -- a legacy of the Enlightenment (something, of course, the radical right never went through and is largely unaware of). In other words, they think people are mostly rational and try to piece out what are the best policies by looking at the facts and the arguments that the two sides bring.

That's totally wrong, according to Lakoff. In fact, people make decisions based on emotive associations that are formed by the creation of simple, easily grasped, emotionally resonant frames that are then repeated ad nauseum. Thus, for liberals to fight back, they shouldn't ignore the facts but they need to concentrate on the frames.

For example, when Edwards was picked as Kerry's running mate, there was a flurry of media coverage about the potential problems because Edwards is a "trial lawyer" -- as if trial lawyers are inherently more evil than, say, oil company CEOs, blustering sons who are business failures that use their father's clout to get ahead, or husbands of widows of billionaire ketchup-manufacturers. BTW, it seems pretty clear this was another example of the media picking up some Republican talking points and spewing them nationwide without digesting them. But, as Lakoff suggests, why not turn this around by calling them "public protection attorneys." They protect the public from corporations and professionals who are negligent or greedy.

On these issues, Lakoff is an astute analyst (his actual politics is pretty unimpressive). But I have to say that for me this falls in the category of simple and obviously true.  Politicians of almost any stripe use it. Even Kucinich's campaign speeches were almost all full of simple emotive catchwords like peace. NGOs or independent organizers who really focus on winning campaigns rather than the diffuse activities of most left activists also strive to come up with simple slogans and easy frames.

What this amounts to, of course, is saying that the way to win meaningful political victories is to manipulate people.

The right wing understands what Lakoff has to say and uses it masterfully -- at least on its own base. In fact, there is increasingly little attention paid to facts of any  kind. Liberal strategists use this in a piddly local kind of way -- how do I get my candidate to win, etc. And if they follow Lakoff's advice they will work hard to use it in a global way like the right does -- certainly groups like MoveOn are trying to do this.

The question that occurs to me, though: are the rest of us, who explicitly abjure propaganda and manipulation, also at the same time abjuring any possibility of winning political victories?

July 21, 8:00 pm EST. Iraqi militants have kidnapped six more people -- three Indians, two Kenyans, and an Egyptian, all truck drivers. A group calling itself "Holders of the Black Banner" (this is a reference to a black banner that the Prophet gave to Ali before the battle of Khyber) has said that it will execute one hostage per 72 hours if the three countries fail to withdraw all citizens from Iraq.

Of course, India, Kenya, and Egypt are not part of the coalition. During the 1980's, at any given time there were generally over 1 million Egyptians working in Iraq. There's nothing like that now, but there are a fair number. For example, Iraq's cell phone service is provided by an Egyptian company, Orascom.

The day I flew out of Baghdad on my last trip, I ran across a charter flight to Cairo taking Orascom contract workers home. Every one of them was carrying some bulky consumer electronics -- except for all the explosions, Iraq is a free trade paradise, with most tariffs removed by fiat last May. I talked to a few. They agreed the money was pretty good.  They were also extremely happy to be leaving Iraq.

The Indian workers in Iraq, as I've blogged about before (here and here and here), are mostly doing menial labor, for pitiful wages, in slave-labor conditions, abused by American contractors, and often there because Indian subcontractors lied to them and told them they were going to be working in Kuwait.

This is rather unfortunate development is a predictable consequence of the Philippines' withdrawal in response to the threat to Angelo de la Cruz. It is most likely also true that the new international jihadi network, which nobody as yet has a good way to characterize, saw the Spanish election as validating their methods and as a victory to be repeated.

At the same time, the Spanish election and planned withdrawal and the Philippine withdrawal were the right things to do. It's the United States that repeatedly acts to maintain a context in which all choices are bad.

July 21, 5:11 pm EST. It's not exactly news, but the General Assembly voted 150 to 6, with 10 abstentions, that Israel obey the ICJ's advisory ruling that it dismantle the separation wall and pay compensation to Palestinians affected by it.

Aside from the United States and Israel, dissenting votes came from U.S. Pacific protectorates Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Australia. The empire's main outpost in the Atlantic voted with the majority of the world.

The next step is the Security Council, where the initiative will die. Still, this ruling is bringing closer the day when international law is a weapon that can be used by the weak, not just by the strong.

July 19, 7:28 pm EST. Bush Calls for 'Honest and Fair' Venezuela Recall:
President Bush urged transparency on Monday in an August recall referendum against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and backed calls for open access for observers monitoring the vote.
No, it's not from The Onion.

July 19, 10:58 am EST. I do a weekly 5-minute radio commentary on Uprising, Sonali Kolhatkar's morning radio program on KPFK in Los Angeles.

I'm going to start posting the scripts I use (they may not be exactly the same as what's on the radio, because I sometimes run a bit over 5 minutes).

Today's commentary was on Thomas Franks's interesting new book, What's the Matter with Kansas?, which poses the question of why the poor so often vote against their material interests.

July 17, 3:55 pm EST. Jonathan Steele of the Guardian recently wrote a column about Sheikh Jawad al-Khalissi and the National Foundation Congress, a broad-based, nonsectarian, nonviolent anti-occupation coalition that includes Sunni, Shi'a, Arab, Kurd, Turcoman, Assyrian, secularist, Islamist, and leftist organizations.

Steele quotes Wamidh Nadhmi, a Baghad University political scientist, who functions as spokesman for the group:
"National unity cannot grow in a country that emphasises sectarian divisions or expects ethnic strife," he told me in the comfortable study of his house across the Tigris from Kadhimiya. "There has to be reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. We're not interested in religion as such, but we feel that by bridging the gaps, the ground will be better prepared for a national struggle."

The real division in Iraq, he says, is not between Arab and Kurd, Sunni and Shia, or secular and religious, but between "the pro-occupation camp and the anti-occupation camp". In his view, "the pro-occupation people are either completely affiliated to the US and Britain, in effect puppets, or they saw no way to overthrow Saddam without occupation. Let's agree not to indulge in slander but discuss the issue openly. Unfortunately, the pro-occupation people tend not to distinguish between resistance and terrorism, or between anti-occupation civil society and those who use violence. They call us all Saddam remnants, reactionaries, revenge-seekers, mercenaries, misguided, or foreigners".
When I was in Iraq in January, I had the opportunity to interview both al-Khalissi and Nadhmi at considerable length (when I returned in April, there was so much going on that I spent almost all my time in on-the-spot reporting).

Although Steele says the National Foundation Congress was "set up a few weeks ago," it has been much longer in inception. The founding meeting was in December, at which time they already had managed to bring together 200 people who were representatives of parties, clerics, or political notables of some sort.

The organizing principle of the group, which at the time had no name, was very simple: anyone could join, as long as they were anti-occupation and had no association either with the Governing Council or with the crimes of Saddam's government.

This was before Sistani's revolt in favor of universal suffrage. It was at a time when armed attacks were petering out and the resistance seemed to have very little strong popular support, outside of al-Anbar province. This doesn't mean that most people condemned the resistance, they just thought it was of no account.

Al-Khalissi's initiative seemed to me to be exactly along the right lines for building a political resistance to the occupation (it was clear that Trotskyists like the Worker-Communist Party and affiliated groups like the Union of the Unemployed had very little potential to build a mass following).

Now, when the resistance has clearly emerged with a political face, the situation is very different, but the National Foundation Congress is still most definitely a positive thing. Any kind of anti-occupation political intermediary or potential intermediary between the resistance and the mass of the people is a good thing. Groups on the Governing Council like the Hizb-i-Islami had played such a role with the Fallujah mujaheddin, but, of course, any group affiliated with the Governing Council is suspect as an American stooge.

If there ever are free elections, something like the National Foundation Congress could emerge as truly important. For the time being, however, Iraq is still heavily enmeshed in the political logic of military occupation by a foreign power. The primary component of said logic is an extraordinary ability to remain unresponsive to popular opinion.

Dictatorships like Saddam's or, to take a milder version, Suharto's post-1966, are extremely vulnerable to popular opinion. In fact, one fine day in 1997, the Indonesian security forces blinked and there were a million people in the streets of Jakarta and Suharto's long and bloody story was at an end. Saddam never let it get that far except when he was forced to in 1991 and at that time he needed a lot more than just the U.S. military intervention on his side. Had it not also been for the fanatically loyal Republican Guard, a Sunni Arab backlash against the intifada (partly because of some bloody massacres), and an Iraqi nationalist backlash against the intifada (partly because of the pictures of Khomeini that found themselves at the head of many processions by insurgents), he would have been history.

Quite to the contrary, the strength of the Israeli occupation of Palestine or the American occupation of Iraq depends on Israeli or American public opinion and not more than marginally on Palestinian or Iraqi public opinion. This, by the way, is why the United States can allow an extraordinarily higher degree of press freedom than Saddam could. It doesn't matter to the Herrenvolk what the Untermenschen say or think.

This is why groups like al-Khalissi's will have a hell of a time actually meaningfully opposing the occupation.

July 17, 2:45 pm EST. Kerry's at it again. He's not satisfied with calling for an increase of 40,000 in the number of U.S. troops (presumably some of the extras to be sent to Iraq). Now he wants to double the number of spooks we send abroad as well.

Although he does a bit of caviling about reconstruction contracts, entertaining the bizarre illusion that opening up bidding to the French and Germans will induce them to send their soldiers to die in Iraq, almost the entirety of Kerry's criticism of what's going on in Iraq is of the "I'm tougher than Bush" variety.

Rumsfeld authorizes an increase of 30,000 troops -- Kerry wants 40,000. The CIA says they need a 30 to 35% increase in the number of operatives abroad, and Kerry wants it to be over 100%.

It's hard to judge Kerry's political intelligence. If he thinks this kind of dick-waving is going to make people think he's tougher, more manly, and more warlike than Bush, he's a fool. If he's just trying to cover his ass while events in Iraq continue to torpedo Bush's popularity and while Bush seems unable to come up with a decent campaign ad, he's a political coward, but the results aren't in on whether it's foolish or not.

Personally, I think if Bush has a strategy left, it's crucifying Kerry in their foreign policy debate. In the second debate last time, Gore, so worried about not appearing too cerebral, managed the remarkable feat of appearing dumber than Bush. This time, Kerry, terrified of saying anything meaningful about foreign policy, could well manage the feat of appearing less substantive than Bush.

As far as policy, rather than politics, I wouldn't read too much into these statements. I don't think Kerry is actually more of a warmonger than Bush, nor that he's more gung-ho about the occupation. It's just that there's virtually nothing to choose between the two.

July 16, 2:40 pm EST. Apparently, Seymour Hersh has been dropping hints for a while of even darker things yet to come out of the bowels of Abu Ghraib. And, just recently, speaking to the ACLU in San Francisco, he was a little more explicit:
He said: "The boys were sodomised with the cameras rolling, and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking. And this is your government at war."

He accused the US administration, and all but accused President George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney of complicity in covering up what he called "war crimes".
The boys mentioned are the children of women who were taken prisoner. Those women were there in the first place as hostages. When U.S. soldiers come to a house and don't find the man they're looking for, it is not at all unheard of for them to take other family members, to be released if the wanted man turns himself in -- i.e., they take hostages.

Then these hostages are coerced further, apparently, by having their children tortured in front of them or at least within earshot.

Given everything else we have heard, it's sad to say that these claims are entirely plausible. Nor do I think Hersh would make these claims if they weren't firmly documented, although it is annoying that he hasn't written about them yet.

This is it. It's hard to sink much lower than this. The United States has been torturing children.

Forgetting about the claims of U.S. moral supremacy, let's examine the basis for a simple claim: the United States government is better than Saddam Hussein's government. It seems to me that this can in theory rest on a variety of claims:

1. We kill fewer people.
2. We may kill more, but we don't use the evil methods he uses.
3. We may kill more and use methods just as evil, but we do lots of good to make up for it.
4. We do just as much evil, don't make up for it by doing any good, but at least we thoroughly investigate and acknowledge past evil before once again pretending that it has no bearing on current policy.

Even construing harshly, Saddam may have killed 1.5 million people (even here, I'm crediting him with all the Iraqi dead in the Iran-Iraq war). Higher numbers just credit him with Iraqis killed in the Gulf War or by the sanctions. I'd be surprised if the Clinton-Bush crusade for HIV in the Third World hasn't killed as many, although I don't know if there will ever be any reasonable estimates. If it hasn't yet, it will soon reach that mark. The sanctions on Iraq also killed on the same order of magnitude -- at least 600,000 children under the age of five alone.

We torture and sodomise children. We bomb residential areas -- sometimes for as little reason as the killing of a handful of mercenaries, sometimes for no reason at all. There may be minor differences in methods, but they are just quibbles.

As for doing good, even in a case, Iraq, where U.S. prestige is on the line, where the United States would have actually saved a huge amount of money if it had done a few basic things like rebuild Iraq's electrical power production, it couldn't. Whatever capacity the United States once had to do good in order to sugarcoat its empire (and the massacres that the empire entailed) is now long gone.

As far as investigation and acknowlegment, see Congress's Inquiry Into Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners Bogs Down.

All things considered, this is as low a nadir for this country as the Vietnam War was, both morally and politically.


July 16, 2:25 pm EST. Color me flabbergasted. The 216th annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) just approved (by a vote of 431-62) an Israel divestment measure. The Church, which has 3 million members and in 2001 had a total investment portfolio of $7 billion, will divest itself of all holdings in companies that either have $1 million or more invested in Israel or take out $1 million or more per year in profits.

In the news release announcing its decision, the Church drew an explicit parallel to the divestment campaigns over apartheid South Africa.

The divestment movement has been around for a few years in the United States, gathering a lot of steam with first the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada and then the invasion of the West Bank in April 2002. But, unlike the divestment in South Africa movement, campus organizations never managed to get the social weight behind them to do more than public education and exhortation. I know of no serious attempts, success or failure, to get a college to divest.

My opinion has always been that this is a very different ball of wax from the old divestment movement. On a moral level, there's great similarity -- in fact, in many ways Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories goes beyond what was done under apartheid. But Israel is far more economically integrated with the United States than South Africa ever was, and U.S. multinationals are far more "globalized" than they were then.

While this is heartening news, I really wonder whether the Presbyterian Church will be able to implement this measure. It seems to me that it requires at the least divestment from any major U.S. multinational corporation.

July 14, 2:59 pm EST. From a column by Joseph Stiglitz a few days ago, yet more evidence that hyperprotectionism for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is a staple of new U.S. bilateral trade agreements, even though significantly lowering access to health-case, especially for expensive patented drugs like those needed to treat AIDS, is an absolutely predictable consequence. In the case Stiglitz mentions, it's Morocco.

Note also the U.S. requirement that Chile dismantle its capital controls.

The dirty truth about U.S. bilateral trade deals is simple. No longer can the United States gain easy acquiescence to more and more exploitative measures in multilateral fora, whether WTO or FTAA. There is strength in numbers, and a revolt by a handful of Third World states can make what U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick thinks of as "progress" difficult or impossible. It happened last year at Cancun and Miami.

In a bilateral deal, on the other hand, the United States almost always retains sufficient leverage to push through much harsher measures. They're starting small -- bilateral deals with Jordan, Morocco, and Singapore won't exactly set global markets afire, and even Chile and Thailand are only middling players. But rack up enough highly restrictive bilateral deals and you increase the pressure even on bigger players, in both bilateral and multilateral negotiations.

July 14, 2:35 pm EST. Today is Bastille Day. 215 years ago today, the people of France stormed the Bastille. The rest, as they say, is history.

46 years ago today, after a period of 10 years of extreme political ferment, Iraqis removed their monarchical government, heavily dominated by British and increasingly American imperial interests. The brief interlude of five years when Abdul Karim Qassem headed Iraq was a time of great possibilities, most of which were never realized. But it was the beginning for Iraqis of independence from foreign domination, an era that came to an end with the first Gulf War and even more so with the recent war and occupation.

One of the first decrees of the new handpicked Iraqi government was to remove July 14 (and July 17, the date in 1968 when the Ba'ath Party came to power, after a brief period of rule in 1963) as a day for commemoration and replace it with April 9, the day on which Iraqis were "liberated."

When there will be another July 14 in Iraqi history is unclear. That there will be I have little doubt.

July 13, 11:15 pm EST. The Bush administration is carrying on the crusade started by Al Gore to help make the Third World safe for the AIDS virus in order to protect actual profits, future profits, theoretical profits, vaguely imagined profits, and absolutely nonexistent perpetually unrealizable profits of U.S. pharmaceutical corporations. It's a long and sordid story that started in 1997 when Gore in his role as trade czar threatened South Africa with trade sanctions when it passed a law allowing for compulsory licensing and parallel importing of AIDS drugs.

Compulsory licensing is the production of a patented substance without the permission of the patent-holder, but with a license fee paid; parallel importing, something the U.S. Congress is trying to allow now on an individual basis, is importing from a country where the item in question is cheaper (multinational drug companies sell their products at different prices in different countries, creating an obvious potential arbitrage). Both are legal under the rules of the World Trade Organization. The November 2001 Doha Declaration reaffirmed and further specified these rights in the area of public health.

A remarkable combination of American AIDS activists, African and other Third World activists, and Third World companies like India's Cipla that reverse-engineer and produce patented drugs has dealt numerous setbacks to this noble crusade, but it continues.

The latest news concerns Thailand. Along with India and Brazil, it is a key manufacturer of generic versions of the most important AIDS drugs:
The country began researching manufacturing techniques for the drugs in the early 1990s and was preparing to market a generic version of the drug didanosine when Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., the drug's manufacturer, served notice that it held a valid patent on the drug. The Thai government was ready to accede, but Doctors Without Borders urged it to fight the claim.

The following year, Thailand's Central Intellectual Property Court ruled the patent invalid in Thailand, paving the way for the country to begin large-scale drug production.

That decision was, in effect, reinforced last September when the World Trade Organization agreed that poor nations could ignore patents in times of national health crises.
Thailand has reduced the cost of AIDS treatment and is planning to start providing free drugs to many of its citizens as well as to aid in the global fight:
In March 2002, the Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization began producing a single pill that contains the three drugs recommended by UNAIDS for first-line treatment of HIV infection: stavudine, lamivudine and nevirapine. The pill reduced the monthly cost of treatment for an individual from an estimated $750 to $30. The government now plans to provide it free to 50,000 Thai citizens.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Sunday at the opening of the 15th International AIDS Conference here that the government would spend $20 million to provide about 40,000 of those patients with drugs and that the rest of the money would come from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He also said Thailand would soon begin exporting the drugs to neighboring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Thaksin said Thailand would also offer its manufacturing technology to Africa in the near future.
Unlike Reagan's famous offer to share "Star Wars" technology with the Soviet Union, this is one that I believe could actually be implemented. Unfortunately, just when things were looking up, last October, the United States decided to "reward" its longtime ally with a bilateral trade pact.

As the LA Times and other papers report today,
A free-trade agreement — meant to greatly expand business exchanges between the United States and Thailand — would incorporate language reinstating the patents, in an effort to protect U.S. drug companies. The Bush administration has also argued that the generic versions of the drug are potentially unsafe and that they are not as effective as the branded versions, a claim most experts dispute.
This has already become a pattern:
The reinstatement of patents was part of a similar agreement signed last year by Singapore. Brazil has refused to sign an agreement because of the provision.

Cawthorne, head of Doctors Without Borders in Thailand, urged the Thai government on Monday to follow Brazil's example lest it upset its thriving generic drug industry.
Actually, the FTA will not greatly expand trade -- the Thai government, in promotional literature, reports estimates that the total volume of trade will increase by barely over 5%. Thailand will be opened to U.S. agribusiness -- a similar opening in 1996 proved devastating to Haiti, which now imports not only rice but even sugar, long a famed export.

Free trade agreements have always had tariff reduction as a component, but for several years now it has not been a primary component. The primary components of recent "free trade agreements" have been openly protectionist measures like racheting up off intellectual property protections or measures that will have a protectionist effect like the push through the General Agreement on Trade in Services to create natural monopolies for First World companies on basic necessary services like provision of water or electricity.

Another point worth noting is that in bilateral trade agreements the United States does, as Dennis Kucinich repeatedly pointed out during his campaign, have more leverage than it does in multilateral agreements like the one creating the WTO. The problem is that the United States does not, as Kucinich repeatedly implied, use that extra leverage for good, nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future. It uses that extra leverage to impose the most horrific measures possible, winning victories through the backdoor of bilateral agreements on issues, like global public health, that it lost on upfront at the WTO.

Of all the measures contained in the new protectionism that is the heart of "globalization" today, there is none more disgusting than the efforts to deny crucial medication to the poor, even for global epidemics like AIDS. 22 million have died of AIDS already; there is no estimate of how many of those died because of the delays and the chilling effect produced by Clinton and Bush administration attempts to keep Third World countries from dealing with the problem of treatment.

With resistance popping up at high levels, like the government of Brazil, incremental additional activism in the United States could have dramatic effects.

For further info on what's going on with U.S. attempts to derail a sensible global AIDS policy, and in particular for another example of the amazing pettiness and vindictiveness of the Bush administration, check out Under the Same Sun -- here's a current post about the world AIDS conference going on right now and here's a longer one about several related aspects.

July 12, 11:58 pm EST. Taking a break from Iraq blogging as I finish up an article. Just ran across an interesting and hopeful new venture. According to the BBC, Indian slum-dwellers in Bangalore have a new publication devoted to them, Slum World.

It is published in Kannada, the demotic language in Bangalore. It has had stories about successful community organizing among slum dwellers against a garbage dump and a profile of a woman who earns Rs. 40 (less than $1/day) selling cigarettes but somehow manages to feed several street children.

The publication has reached a circulation of 2500 and has interested slum dwellers in neighboring cities.

In itself, the publication is not huge news. India has numerous large, active social movements buttressed by a bewildering variety of NGOs, many of which put out publications. But this is almost always the province of middle-class activists supporting the poor. Slum World is distinguished by the fact that the people who put it out have themselves lived in the slums.

Bangalore is constantly pumped up (and not just by Thomas Friedman) as the face of the Indian future, a high-tech metropolis growing fat off of the IT boom. At the same time, the city has 700 slums. The editor, Isaac Arul Silva, says, "Forget about support from the IT industry, they don't want us around," says Mr Selva.

At the same time, the producers are very ready to take advantage of IT, with plans to take the publication online.

In the last few years, we've seen dramatic increases in self-expression from the marginalized of the world. I'll have more to say about it in the future, but it's a sign that the defenders of the status quo are going to have their hands full in the 21st century. These movements are in a way enabled by "globalization," if by that one means the spread of technology, which has put certain key elements like the Internet within their reach, but they are also very much emerging as a response to globalization, if by that one means the dramatic increases in global inequality as free market fundamentalism comes to rule everywhere.

Abuse and torment humanity past a certain point and there is a response. The poor of Bangalore will not go gentle into that good night.

July 11, 11:51 pm EST. Many of you have likely seen the recent New Republic exclusive, July Surprise, by John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari.

As was reported several months ago, this spring the Bush administration pushed for a major increase in operations in southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Mohammed Omar, and other "high-value targets." I commented back on March 5 about the move to "24-7" high-tech surveillance -- as some wags commented, apparently they were finding out that the whole M-F 9-5 thing wasn't working so well. Later that month came the operations in Waziristan.

Apparently, Ansari et al. can add to this confirmation of what was shall we say just a bit obvious:
This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar. "Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't change because of an election," says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt.
Well and good. Given the timing of the increase in pressure, there's hardly a Pakistani official who wouldn't assume it was all about the elections. This much is completely believable, and no surprise.

But the authors go further yet. Check this out:
A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Imagine that. The Americans are supposedly so crass and stupid as to say they want something to happen during the Democratic National Convention. It's at least as likely that the source is just planting something with Ansari and others. There are, one must say, many reasons why people in Islamic countries are angry with Bush. Musharraf certainly does better with a Republican president, because it will be easier for him to get aid, arms sales, etc. On the other hand, however, pretty close to everybody in Pakistan is furious over what the Bush administration has been doing and a large chunk of them are furious with Musharraf as well.

I don't want to suggest that there are any depths of stupidity below which Bush administration officials won't descend, but this does seem to me more than a bit ridiculous. So I don't believe it. What's interesting is that people at the New Republic, which was just as gung-ho for the Iraq war as the Weekly Standard, are printing claims like this. It's hard even to find a war-hawk who supports Bush's foreign policy these days.

July 10, 10:15 pm EST. Now that "Kenny Boy" has finally had to do his little perp walk (full 65-page indictment here), the Bush administration's reaction has been exactly what you might have expected. Just as they've been doing since the Enron scandal broke, it's been a chorus of "Kenny who?" Added to that, numerous smarmy statements that Lay contributed to both Democrats and Republicans, and thus there is no partisan implication to all of this.

Well, that's clearly nonsense. Lay and Enron actively supported Republicans and passively supported Democrats, and in fact, Kenneth Lay has had almost as much as Karl Rove to do with the creation of George W. Bush. Billmon has returned from a break with a long and illuminating post about these Republican ties as well as an overview of all their other wrongdoing.

But to me the most interesting thing about Enron as a company, aside from its novel method of creating wealth out of othing with phenomenally complicated accounting maneuvers, was its unparalleled ability to use the United States government, under Bush Sr. and Clinton, to exert political pressure on Third World governments to force them to sign extortionate deals.

The absolute worst of these, its Dabhol power plant project in India, involved repeated intervention in Indian internal affairs by the U.S. government, through Clinton's ambassador to India, Frank Wisner (who later surfaced as an Enron board member).

I wrote an article about Enron's Third World depredations and the increasing problem of what I called "corporate extraterritoriality" in the Third World that was published by the Texas Observer back in April 2001 under the execrable title "Riding the Global Gravy Train."

Here's a concluding passage:
Although further disquisitions on the corporate threat to democracy, humanity, and life as we know it are rapidly becoming superfluous, we can still learn much from the case of Enron. In a world where corporations routinely write laws to suit themselves, Enron stands out because of its cavalier assumption that all laws should redound to its own benefit. In the Latin American business press, for example, Enron executive Kathy Lynn can be found blandly remarking that, "Through market presence [in Brazil] we hope to be able to influence the way the regulations are written. We have a regulatory affairs group that is active in trying to influence regulations that affect us so we are comfortable with them."

Enron also stands out for its skill in co-opting politicians from all parts of the spectrum to do its dirty work, and for its willingness to grease the wheels of government with liberal doses of campaign cash . Perhaps most striking is the way it has grown out of nothing, combining ultramodern Internet-fueled growth with techniques rarely seen since the days of the robber barons, when anyone sufficiently ruthless and corrupt could create billions of dollars in equity out of thin air.
July 10, 9:45 pm EST. Bill Clinton gave Christiane Amanpour an interview last week. Check out this exchange:
AMANPOUR: In one of your farewell interviews as president, you told an interviewer that one of your most difficult and challenging issues as president was Iraq. In retrospect, do you wish that you had mustered a large invasion force like President Bush? And if not, do you think the threat you faced from Iraq was any different than the one President Bush faced from Iraq?

CLINTON: The answer to the first question is no. I basically believe that the policy that I inherited, which was basically to keep Saddam Hussein in a box and under sanctions, unless and until he fully complied with the U.N. resolutions, was the right policy. It wasn't so great for the Iraqis, but he didn't present a substantial threat to anyone else.
Wonderful. It was the "right policy," but, oh well, it "wasn't so great for the Iraqis." What does this remind you of? Well, how about the May 12, 1996 episode of "60 Minutes:"
Lesley Stahl on U.N. sanctions against Iraq: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it."
At least Albright admitted the magnitude of the cost, instead of brushing it off with a weasel phrase like "wasn't so great."

Logically, Clinton's case stacks up poorly against Bush's. His policy was fine because, regardless of the cost to Iraqis, Saddam "didn't present a substantial threat to anyone else." What is easier than for Bush to say, "Well, now Saddam doesn't present any threat, to Iraqis or others?"

Later, when asked why the "humanitarian interventions" in Bosnia and Kosovo, but not in Iraq, Clinton's reply was that NATO and Russia sanctified those interventions. Again, pathetically easy for the Bushies to answer.

Clinton joins Lieberman, Biden, and Edwards as one of a handful of Democrats who actually make John Kerry look like a strident critic of the war by contrast.

My prediction: if the Bushies have any collective intelligence whatsoever (an open question), they can arrange to have Bush eviscerate Kerry in the foreign policy debate. Unless Kerry is prepared to talk about how bad Bush has made things for the people of Iraq. It's not that that's what people care about most, but rather that the "liberation" can be successfully used by Bush to deflect all ancillary criticism that doesn't go to the heart of the matter.

And I see no sign that Kerry or any other mainstream Democrat is prepared to address this issue.

July 9, 11:40 pm EST. A great victory for what the Bush administration calls "fair trade." Facing a WTO action brought by the United States, China has agreed to phase out a tax break for domestic computer chipmanufacturers. Currently, China imports 80% of its chips but has been trying to create an indigenous computer-chip industry. Every country that has industrialized has followed a similar protectionist strategy at some point, starting with Britain's levying of tariffs against Indian textiles in the early 1700's.

Ending the tax break "levels the playing field for semiconductors," said Jennifer Greeson, a policy spokeswoman for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel, the world's largest chip maker, which had joined other U.S. chip makers in urging the Bush administration to file the WTO case against China in March.
A level playing field against Intel -- wonderful. But it gets better:
At the same time, U.S. sock manufacturers, reeling from a steep surge in low-cost Chinese competition and plunging prices, recently petitioned the Bush administration to restrict imports from China.
So we imperil China's domestic computer chip industry and they imperil our sock manufacturing. Roughly equal threats to each country's economic wellbeing, I suppose.

July 9, 11:25 pm EST. For readers who want a good picture of what's happened in Haiti in the last several months, and what are its antecedents, Peter Hallward's article in the May/June edition of New Left Review is an excellent source.
July 9, 4:56 pm EST. Some good news. The International Court of Justice has found that Israel's wall is a violation of international law, and amounts to an attempt at "de facto annexation."

It even said the wall "severely impedes the exercise of the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination, and therefore is a breach of Israel's obligation to the respect of that right." While the fact that the wall is a violation of international law could be based simply on UN Security Council Resolution 242, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and similar standard stuff, explicit mention of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination is a step further (242 is notorious for not recognizing the existence of the Palestinians as a people).

The Court called on Israel to pay reparations to Palestinians and return land seized to construct the wall. Furthermore, it suggested that the UN "should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall."

Interestingly, it ignored Israel's protests that the wall was only temporary, saying that it would constitute a "fact on the ground" that might then lead to de facto annexation. Apparently the Court is going by  the famous Texas maxim (or maybe it's from Tennessee), "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me continuously and repeatedly, on a daily basis, for 56 years, shame on me."

And, not surprisingly, the vote was just like it always is on the Security Council -- 14-1, with the American judge dissenting (no veto on the ICJ, fortunately).

The MSNBC report linked above says, "The 15-member court's advisory opinions are nonbinding, but bear moral and historic weight." Another way of saying this is, "a certain rogue nation undermined the authority of the court in a way that it has never recovered from." Amidst all the blathering about how this is the first administration ever to ignore international law, etc., etc., it's worth remembering the history of the United States and the ICJ.

In 1986, surmounting massive political obstacles, the ICJ ruled against the United States in Military And Paramilitary Activities In And Against Nicaragua (also known as Nicaragua v. United States of America) , ordering the United States to pay an amount later fixed at $17 billion in reparations to Nicaragua for its illegal contra war, mining of Nicaraguan harbors, etc. In response, the Reagan administration said that the United States no longer recognizes the authority of the court.

In 1999, when Yugoslavia brought actions against the NATO countries for their illegal war, the ICJ refused to hear the cases against the United States because the internationalist Clinton administration still didn't recognize the court's authority (if you want to read the decision with all the "whereases," it's right here).

July 8, 11:26 pm EST. New from the AP: Iraq insurgency larger than thought. Apparently, the stock "estimate" of 5000 fighters is ridiculously small.

If you take into account people who can be mobilized by clan leaders or local imams and then demobilize afterward, the number is above 20,000. Apparently, U.S. military officials claim that 4,000 insurgents were killed in April, obviously without notable impairment of the ability of the resistance to commit further attacks.

The other article of faith about the resistance, as far as mainstream coverage is concerned, has been that foreign fighters play the main role. I don't think military officials have backed up this line since maybe last September or October, but it still gets considerable play in broadcast media.

Actually, as USA Today reported yesterday,
Suspected foreign fighters account for less than 2% of the 5,700 captives being held as security threats in Iraq, a strong indication that Iraqis are largely responsible for the stubborn insurgency.

Since last August, coalition forces have detained 17,700 people in Iraq who were considered to be enemy fighters or security risks, and about 400 were foreign nationals, according to figures supplied last week by the U.S. military command handling detention operations in Iraq. Most of those detainees were freed after a review board found they didn't pose significant threats. About 5,700 remain in custody, 90 of them non-Iraqis.
The AP article acknowledges this point, too, going on to say
The developing intelligence picture of the insurgency contrasts with the commonly stated view in the Bush administration that the fighting is fueled by foreign warriors intent on creating an Islamic state.

"We're not at the forefront of a jihadist war here," said a U.S. military official in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official and others told The Associated Press the guerrillas have enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence of U.S. troops that they cannot be militarily defeated.

The military official, who has logged thousands of miles driving around Iraq to meet with insurgents or their representatives, said a skillful Iraqi government could co-opt some of the guerrillas and reconcile with the leaders instead of fighting them.
Apparently, some in the military -- I would assume they hold a dissident view -- have finally figured out that this resistance cannot be militarily defeated. Or, at least, not without the kind of massive violence that would cause the United States and the Bush administration serious political problems (Fallujah seems to have caused no problems internationally or domestically in the US, so we're talking levels of violence a few orders of magnitude beyond that).

At the same time, much of the resistance would be extremely easy to co-opt. The administration seems to be slowly and stupidly working its way toward a model of control that actually has a chance:
  • A restricted U.S. military presence, almost completely confined to bases;
  • A free hand for Allawi and other potential puppet figures to put an Iraqi face on the counterinsurgency, simultaneously reassert the authority of figures that were powerful under Saddam (including clan leaders and some Ba'athist officials), and institute a "uniquely Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem" (i.e., a host of new repressive measures that functionally give the Iraqi security forces the right to do what the U.S. military has been doing -- arbitrary detention, etc.).
  • An alliance between the Allawi puppet government and key co-optable elements of the resistance.
And, of course, the will of the United States is enforced on the central government (not directly on the people) by John Negroponte through the leverage of a massive military presence on bases, control over the lion's share of uncommitted funds for reconstruction, control over key bureaucratic positions, and the simple fact that the people in power have been put there because they are compatible with U.S. dominance.

This can potentially work, because there are no mass political movements in Iraq at the moment. All the same, this solution would require large parts of the administration and the national security establishment to move sharply against their purely militaristic thinking on the occupation. This would require the small dissident factions represented in this article to become the dominant ones.

As yet, unfortunately, there is no "leave the Iraqis be" faction, except in the antiwar movement.

July 8, 8:15 pm EST. Apparently, Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover never to speak at an NAACP convention during his term in office (he recently declined the latest invitation).

He did speak to a convention in 2000, when he was a candidate. Back then, he was a "compassionate conservative" who supposedly stood foursquare against the racial divisiveness of much of the Republican Party.

Although his refusal is rather a blatant statement, it's probably not so bad as strategy. Not only has Bush/Cheney committed itself to an extremist "mobilize the base" campaign strategy, Bush is notoriously bad in situations where somebody might potentially challenge him, even a little bit.

July 8, 6:35 pm EST. Check out this Reuters headline -- Post-Chavez Venezuela Would Be U.S. Ally -Opposition. 'Nuff said.
July 7, 10:43 pm EST. According to a Reuters article of yesterday, although the presidential election in Afghanistan can finally go through by mid-October, "logistical grounds" require that parliamentary elections be delayed two to six months longer.

According to the Financial Times today, those logistical problems are as follows:
Officials have yet to receive accurate census data to apportion seats to parliamentary constituencies, said Aykut Tavsel, JEMB spokesman. Political parties that are newly established or reviving themselves after decades of civil strife need more time to field candidates and get the lie of the political ground, he said. So far, 24 parties have registered.

The UN has also expressed concern that the political ground has not been adequately prepared for a parliamentary election, as the majority of irregular militia forces that serve provincial strongmen have not been disarmed.
Apparently, according to the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), 5.6 million of the 9.5 million eligible voters have been registered.

Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said Karzai wants parliamentary elections as close as possible to the presidential ones, to avoid the charge by other Afghan politicians that he wants to consolidate power and electoral legitimacy before allowing elections for any of them. From the U.N. and nameless "foreign officials," on the other hand, comes the impetus to delay parliamentary elections possibly until spring.

The Afghan elections have already been a political football. They were originally scheduled for June, but  it was recognized as early as February that  they would have to be postponed because of inadequate voter registration. In a post on February 16, I wrote more about this issue. At that time, basically, the Bush administration was pushing for quick elections in Afghanistan but saying that there was no way to hold elections in Iraq at the same time -- even though voter registration among Afghans was marginal and for Iraqis the ration-card system was a perfectly adequate basis for voter registration.

The reason, of course, was that the administration was quite confident about the results of Afghan elections -- Karzai is really the only possibility -- but not at all about elections in Iraq. Thus, it wanted to postpone Iraqi elections until after U.S. elections, something that has now been accomplished.

It is possible that, although there is enough data to assure a meaningful national election (meaningful on technical grounds of percentage of registration, not on political grounds), there won't be enough data to apportion parliamentary seats. This is a strange objection, though, because surely one could do an approximation and then reapportion before the next election (Republicans are certainly big on reapportioning between elections).

The other rationales brought up in the excerpt above are quite interesting. Political parties need more time to develop themselves and field candidates so that there can be meaningful parliamentary elections. This may well be true, although, unlike with Iraq, at least one mass-based political party (the Watan Party, successor to the Communist PDPA) retained an existence in exile. If we grant that it is true, the same can certainly be said for the presidential election -- other potential candidates have not had the time to develop themselves. In fact, the rationale presupposes that Karzai is the only choice for president.

The other objection, that militias have not been disarmed, is the same in character. While it is true that militias could coerce people to vote one way or another in parliamentary elections, they could do the same in presidential elections -- except that Karzai is the only candidate.

The timing is also interesting. Mid-October is three weeks before U.S. elections. Could one suggest that the Bush administration is happy having presidential elections, in which the result is a fait accompli and where the person to be elected is already identified with the United States, but is unhappy with parliamentary elections that could potentially have messy and even anti-American results?

July 7, 10:14 pm EST. The results of my little informal survey are in. I got about 80 responses, most of them long and thoughtful, some short and to the point.

If it's fair to try to sum up the gist of the responses, it was this: I should continue what I'm doing, go deeper about Iraq, cover a wide variety of other issues, and write about ways to change the world, not just to analyze it.

Many respondents agreed with my analysis of the centrality of the occupation to the short-term fate of the world. Several people wrote to say very emphatically that I shoult NOT stop writing about Iraq. Of course, I could hardly contemplate doing that, but it was important to get that reminder of the felt need for this kind of analysis. A couple reminded me not to forget Afghanistan, which is so easy to do when one is dependent on mainstream media coverage.

There were several requests for more writing focused on the election. I have taken numerous occasions to point out that Kerry is scarcely distinguishable from Bush in his words (actions may be a different matter), but haven't gone into depth on this, nor on questions of election strategy -- the last time I discussed that seriously was back in February.

A couple people suggested that the value of my focussing on Iraq is not as great now that I'm not there. Others said that one of the things they value in my blogging is the feeling that I point out how the Iraqi public feels about developments, a point of view rarely expressed in media reporting here (although I have seen an upsurge in it in the last three months).

There were also suggestions that I create a comment area. This is an area where I've never looked into the relevant technology. If you think I should create such an area strongly enough that you'd write to me about it, please do.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and to the numerous others who have written to me since I started blogging. For those of you who wrote to me between the beginning of April and about June 6, I was in the middle of answering messages when I had some unforeseen technical problems and lost all the messages. For those who have written to me since then, I'm working through answering them, but I never seem to catch up.

July 6, 8:40 pm EST. So John Edwards is Kerry's vice presidential candidate. As I'm certain every reader here knows, he voted for the Patriot Act, for the Iraq war, and then last fall was in favor of the $66 billion for military spending but against the $18 billion for reconstruction. Furthermore, he struck me during the primary season as the favored candidate of everyone who was terrified about the idea of a Democratic presidential candidate talking about the war and the occupation.

Leaving aside Sharpton and Kucinich, Dean was the mainstream candidate carrying the torch for some very vague, unclear, antiwar feeling that didn't include any ideas for a different foreign policy but that was ready to criticize Bush harshly on foreign policy grounds. Clark was the attempt by some who will remain nameless to steal Dean's thunder by having a gung-ho military hawk elucidating the same mush critique of the war. And Kerry carefully tacked just critical enough of the war and the occupation to get Dean's voters (to complete the roundup, Gephardt was the three-time loser he's been ever since he started running for president and Lieberman was the Democrats' neoconservative).

But Edwards had nothing to say about Iraq and his avoidance of the issue was conspicuous. So when I ranked the candidates who seemed to have a shot, I ranked them Dean, Kerry, Edwards (Clark may have had a shot at one point, but I thought his dishonesty was on a level the others couldn't match -- also he ran out of things to say about five minutes after he started campaigning).

Not to say Edwards was necessarily a bad choice for Kerry to make -- just that I always disagreed strongly with the progressives who thought he was the man to back.

Under the Same Sun has a great excerpt from Edwards' speech in favor of the Iraq resolution, in which he says,
Saddam Hussein's regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel. For more than two decades, Saddam Hussein has sought weapons of mass destruction through every available means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons. He has already used them against his neighbors and his own people, and is trying to build more. We know that he is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal.
Read the whole post here.

Do you think we could refer to this by that ugly little three-letter word -- lie?

July 6, 8:20 pm EST. An interesting op-ed in the Post today, from Rep. Henry Waxman, the man who also commissioned the creation of a searchable database of Bush administration lies about WMD and al-Qaeda links.

Says Waxman, under Bill Clinton there was insanely excessive congressional oversight of potential White House improprieties, but now under Bush we have the opposite problem:
When President Clinton was in office, Congress exercised its oversight powers with no sense of proportionality. But oversight of the Bush administration has been even worse: With few exceptions, Congress has abdicated oversight responsibility altogether.
He gives an example:
Republicans in the House took more than 140 hours of testimony to investigate whether the Clinton White House misused its holiday card database but less than five hours of testimony regarding how the Bush administration treated Iraqi detainees.
Here's the justification for essentially not investigating the prison abuses:
One Republican chairman argued, "America's reputation has been dealt a serious blow around the world by the actions of a select few. The last thing our nation needs now is for others to enflame this hatred by providing fodder and sound bites for our enemies."
And the reason there's less oversight now? Leave it to the congressional Republicans to explain it to us:
Republican Rep. Ray LaHood aptly characterized recent congressional oversight of the administration: "Our party controls the levers of government. We're not about to go out and look beneath a bunch of rocks to try to cause heartburn."
If we look at the level of rhetoric and forget about facts for a minute, we find that the same Republicans (and esp. the Bush administration) whose talk about the politics of Iraq and the "transformation of the Middle East" is ceaselessly pro-democratic distinguish themselves by an a remarkably anti-democratic rhetoric when it comes to American politics. This is not unique in American history, but it is relatively rare.

Obviously, if we look at facts, the administration's foreign policy is anti-democratic at a similarly remarkable level. And yet this anti-democratic rhetoric is a fascinating phenomenon. It is not unique in American history, but it is relatively rare. It is not a trivial matter to try to figure out what it means, what it is aimed at, and what it portends. I definitely do not think it is just a simple power games as usual, rally around our side kind of approach, although that's certainly part of it.

July 5, 11:11 pm EST. A couple of days ago, the White House released figures that show everything you need to know about the "reconstruction" of Iraq. Of roughly $18.4 billion supposedly earmarked for reconstruction (actually, some of that money is for security forces, not for reconstruction) in the much-debated congressional allocation of last fall, only $366 million, 2%, has been spent. Not only is this scandalous, it is actually below any of the independent estimates that people had made. Over the last few weeks, we saw stories that said perhaps as little as $500 million, maybe only $400 million, but the truth was even more shocking than that.

If you recall, back when this was being debated in Congress, much of the Democratic leadership was in favor of the increased military spending on Iraq but against grants for Iraqi reconstruction, making the Bush administration actually appear to be the more generous party.

It turns out they were actually equal in their generosity.

But what, you ask, about all the money going to military contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel? Well, part of the answer is that far more in the way of funds has been allocated in contracts than spent (and should those contracts turn out to be unexecutable, it will be interesting to note what actually happens to the money).

But far and away the main factor is that it is Iraq's own oil money that is being spent on those U.S. contractors. While only $366 million of congressional money has been spent and $5.3 billion allocated (up from a mere $2.2 billion in March), $19.1 billion of Iraq's $20 billion in oil revenue in the Iraq Development Fund has been allocated -- $6 billion in the runup to the "transfer of sovereignty."

So, all those complaints that, for example, the United States is spending its "own money" on providing cheap gasoline for Iraqis while we have to pay so much at the pump are nonsense. What actually happens -- the United States takes Iraqi oil money and gives it to Halliburton to buy oil from Kuwait and Turkey at outrageous rates to sell to Iraqis at a rate that is cheap in absolute terms but still not trivial for the average Iraqi.

Even parts of the antiwar movement have made shameful arguments about the amount of money spent on Iraqi reconstruction. They were small parts and they haven't been saying it very loud for a while, but I do hope that such arguments don't get resurrected in the future.

The strategy of the United States is made transparently obvious. First of all, the fanfare about the reconstruction money is largely done to make it appear generous while it sets about giving Iraq's oil money to U.S. corporations without even wanting anything in return. Second, when it finally turns over nominal control of Iraq's oil revenues to the new "sovereign" government, we find that is has no discretionary funds -- everything is committed. Third, the rest of the congressional allocation -- still unspent -- remains over the heads of any Iraqi government figures who want independence in fiscal policy. If they ever want those funds to be disbursed, then they have to go along with U.S. plans for the money.

Expect more on this once I have finished digesting the GAO report on Iraqi reconstruction.

July 5, 10:30 pm EST. Yet another airstrike in Fallujah today. If I am counting correctly, this is the fourth occasion on which there has been aerial bombing of Fallujah since the end of "major combat operations" there. This one involved four 500-pound bombs and two 1000-pound bombs. The AP report says 10 were killed, but a different source says 15.

Clearly, acts like these, just as with the similar bombings done by Israel in the occupied territories, are violations of the obligations of an occupying power. If you suspect that people you are looking for -- resistance, terrorists, criminals -- are using a house, the thing to do is a police raid, not an air raid.

Interestingly, according to the AP report, Allawi made a point of saying that U.S. forces were acting on intelligence provided to them by the Iraqis -- the report characterizes the statement as "unprecedented." It's obvious that the Iraqi government and the groups that make it up are sharing at least some of their intelligence with the U.S. forces, but one wonders why Allawi made such a point of announcing it. It's rather a brazen statement of his role as prime minister of "sovereign" Iraq.

July 4, 11:59 pm EST. Because today is the Fourth of July, here is a little excerpt from the greatest Fourth of July speech in American history, and one that should have particular resonance today. It is actually a Fifth of July speech. In 1852, the great former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was asked by the Rochester Anti-Slavery Society to speak on the Fourth. He declined, delivering a speech instead the next day to a hall of 1600 people. He spoke for two hours, from a 41-page text. He left the audience stunned. A little excerpt:
What to the American slave is your Fourth of July I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy's thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
On this day, when the eagle's wings are hopelessly stuck in the mire of Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, when American liberty was celebrated at Bush's speech by the removal of two people for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts (not even causing any disruption), those words are as relevant as they have ever been.

July 4, 9:45 pm EST. Interesting political developments in Iraq. Ayad Allawi's government is talking about an amnesty for members of the Iraqi resistance.

In an interview today on ABC TV, Allawi said he had been approached by Moqtada al-Sadr's people and that "He is looking for an amnesty. He is looking to be part of the political process."

Also today, al-Sadr released a statement in which he said
"There is no truce with the occupier and those who cooperate with it."

"We announce that the current government is illegitimate and illegal," al-Sadr said. "It's generally following the occupation. We demand complete sovereignty and independence by holding honest elections."
So what the hell is going on? You may remember that, several weeks ago (on June 12), al-Sadr declared a readiness to deal with the new government and to start disbanding the Mehdi Army militia and turning it into a political party. What has changed?

It seems to me that the United States has once again misplayed its hand. Al-Sadr's initially conciliatory approach has likely been soured by two things.

One is Bremer's late-breaking Order 97 giving the newly appointed Electoral Commission the right to choose which political parties and individuals can stand for election and which cannot. This builds on Order 91, which distinguishes between Illegal Militias and others (basically, the militias associated with Governing Council entities are legal and others like al-Sadr's are illegal), calls for criminal proceedings against members of illegal militias, and denies the right to hold office to members of illegal militias. All of this is almost as if designed to make al-Sadr think that if he disarms and joins the political process as currently envisioned he will be kept from participating and likely taken into custody.

Second is the fact that Allawi's government is talking about an amnesty, as if fighting against the occupation is something that must be forgiven. In fact, his spokesman made it very clear that this was something limited and conditional:
The government spokesman, George Sada, told reporters in Baghdad that none of the "hardcore" criminals, including those accused of murder, would be eligible for amnesty. Only those who were "misled" by the leaders of the insurgency would qualify, he said.
In fact, in Sadr's statement, he makes a point of saying, "Resistance is a legitimate right and not a crime to be punished."

If this "amnesty" is going to work, it has to be extended to everyone who fought the U.S. military, based on the recognition that armed resistance to occupation is legitimate. Lumping those acts in with the mass terrorist attacks on civilians is just going to make it more difficult to stop those terrorist attacks.

The funny thing is, the amnesty is under fire here in the United States for the opposite reason -- because it would let people who have fought against American troops off from criminal prosecution.

July 4, 8:50 pm EST. Check out this AP story -- Armed Men Ban Fallujah Pro-Saddam Rally:
Islamic militants prevented a group of Saddam Hussein loyalists from holding a planned march Sunday to show solidarity for the ousted Iraqi dictator.

About 20 cars filled with armed, masked guerrillas who refer to themselves as Mujahedeen, or holy warriors, forced about 100 people gathered for the rally to disperse. Islamic radicals were frequently targeted by Saddam and harbor little sympathy for the former leader, who appeared before a court last week.

"God gave victory to Fallujah, because it's a Muslim (city); because it's applying Islamic law," one of the militants said, according to witnesses. "We don't want our victory to go to Saddam."
As I've been saying for the past few months, the claim that Fallujah was a Saddamist stronghold was particularly laughable. There are places -- Aadhamiyah in Baghdad and Tikrit -- where there is more pro-Saddam feeling, but Fallujah was the part of the so-called Sunni Triangle that was most anti-Saddam.

Iraqis, of course, are well aware of this fact, and the propaganda put forth by the Bush administration about Fallujah was presumably entirely for American consumption.

Even in the 1990's, Fallujah was known for Salafist (fundamentalist) Islamism. This was one of the reasons for its anti-Saddam feeling (the other was tribal differences having to do with, among other things, Saddam's execution of a prominent local notable, Muhammed al-Mazlum ad-Dulaimy, of al-Anbar province in 1995).

Not surprisingly, the carnage caused by the Marine assault on Fallujah, in combination with the defeat and pullback of U.S. forces, has intensified Islamic extremism and expanded its sway in the area. Of course, this is nothing new in the history of U.S. intervention. The last quarter century of U.S. foreign policy could not have increased the sway of jihadism more had it been intended to (there were times when propping up Islamism was an explicit goal, but even when it wasn't, that was always the effect).

July 3, 10:42 pm EST. According to Reuters, attacks on oil pipelines have once again brought Iraq's exports down to about half of the postwar maximum. Of the two southern terminals, Khor al-Amaya was completely shut down, and Basra (formerly Mina al-Bakr) is at a little over half capacity.

In addition, apparently, the northern pipeline through Turkey has carried only a little over 13 million barrels since the war (the article says 13 million barrels per day, which is obviously absurd).

It's not easy to defend pipelines. Saudi Arabia has managed it so far, although there are a few rogue CIA operatives (like Robert Baer) who believe it has no capacity to withstand an organized attack on oil transport or refinement capacity. Of course, Saudi Arabia has a government -- a very bad one, but a government -- that keeps order. Iraq has none and is not likely to generate one any time soon, given the American strategy.

And, if you really want to protect the critical infrastructure for oil production, then 138,000 U.S. troops and a handful of foreign ones are not enough. It takes more troops to defend than to attack, because you have to cover every potential target.

It's become a staple of the liberal critique of the occupation that the Bush administration didn't send enough troops to Iraq. This was also the military critique, as exemplified by former General Anthony Zinni.

It's always been an odd critique. If the assumption was that the Iraqi populace would be basically friendly to the Americans, then the fewer troops the better -- fewer opportunities to create resentment. If the populace was basically not friendly, then the claim of "liberation" was nonsense (and we all know what happened to the other rationales for the war).

What would have helped, of course, was a major commitment to rebuilding infrastructure, keeping basic order (to claim that all the troops in Baghdad could have done nothing to stop any looting, has, of course, always been absurd), and possibly to "civil society operations" of some sort. This would have been a sophisticated way to serve the administration's imperial aims while potentially maintaining and building Iraqi support.

Now, of course, the calculations are different. The combination of brutality, as with the assault on Fallujah and the treatment of Iraqi detainees, and negligence (in one year of "reconstruction," perhaps 800 megawatts of power production capacity have been restored, according to a recent GAO report), has pushed things beyond such a point. It is not possible to make the Iraqis love or even support the American policies. In fact, the administration seems to have realized that and is going for apathetic acquiescence as the best that can be hoped for.

Given that that's the case, the best way to do it is to do as little as possible to rouse Iraqis from the apathy into which they're likely to sink when they realize how little there is they can do, beyond defending themselves. And so, the more troops you put in, the more problems. This would be the case even if the troops weren't saturated with a racist view of Iraqis as Untermenschen and even if they were not so woefully lacking in any ability to deal sensibly with the problems of running an occupation. Nor would an army of "civil affairs" specialists help at this point -- even in order to move around, they would need heavy armed escorts everywhere.

In fact, part of the reason that "reconstruction" is basically not happening at all at the moment is that the reconstructers spend most of their time holed up in the Green Zone (CPA headquarters), since going out to their sites is so dangerous.

More troops could perhaps do more to protect what's really important to the administration -- the oilfields and pipelines. They'd have to make themselves sitting ducks to do it, though. So, even if I try to credit the "need more troops" critique with something like sense, it's just hard to do.

In fact, Kerry's naive Clintonesque technocratic faith -- put more soldiers in, "do things better," ask our allies more nicely to support us -- seems almost designed to be the only strategy that might work worse for the United States than the current one has. And "realists" like Zinni don't seem able to do any better.

Since these plans involve more American troops in Iraq, they will also be worse for the Iraqis.

July 3, 10:00 pm EST. Thanks to all the people who wrote in response to my question of last night. Responses are still pouring in, so I'll report the results later.

Plenty to report today. Here's a small item, from the LA Times -- Army Stage-Managed Fall of Hussein Statue. This is the way news is reported in a "free society." Hundreds of hours of coverage of the statue falling, used for propaganda purposes to silence opponents of th war. And then, 15 months later, a one-time squib in a few newspapers.

I've never bothered to write or speak about the stage-managed aspects of the Firdaus Square incident, for the simple reason that, in fact, there were plenty of jubilant Iraqis who no doubt took down other pictures, etc. of Saddam. In fact, according to legend, the first shot in the 1991 intifada was from a tank commander in Basra, firing at an image of Saddam.

So the feeling expressed in this psyop was genuine enough, in part of the population. But it's certainly true that it's hard to imagine that Iraqis, still at that point very uncertain about what the future would hold, would take it upon themselves to express their opinions so openly if not actively encouraged to by the U.S. forces.

July 2, 11:18 pm EST. I took off the last couple of days to get a bit of a breather. Trying to stay committed to daily updates and at the same time to offering fresh insights is difficult and it doesn't always work. There is a certain sameness to the news, especially about Iraq, and I'm sure long-time readers have noticed a sameness to my commentary. Sometimes, I try to vary that by picking other subjects, but there is no way to avoid always returning to Iraq. Like it or not, it's my conviction that the world and its near future revolve around the occupation of Iraq more right now than around any other single issue.

It's not that it's more important than other issues. There are certainly many, like the war in the Congo, that involve more human suffering. There are many that have clear long-term implications even greater than the specific fate of Iraq -- think of the global AIDS crisis, for example.

But it so happens that, whatever issue you care most about, with only a handful of exceptions, the power of the United States and the reality of U.S. imperialism is central to it. Are you an environmentalist? Well, it is the United States that has sabotaged international attempts to get global warming under control -- and whose consumption is the biggest single cause of the crisis. Do you work on poverty or health care? It is the IMF and World Bank, acting as arms of the U.S. Treasury Deaprtment, that are the biggest obstacles in the way of attempts at a solution. And so on.

And thus, when U.S. imperialism and U.S. imperial credibility have been staked on one country, Iraq, and the success of one policy, occupation, it looms far larger than it would otherwise. Because Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, the importance of what happens in Iraq is already tremendous. Because the success of the occupation could usher in a new era in which U.S. imperial domination and aggression increases to levels heretofore unimagined, and failure of the occupation may keep U.S. imperialism in check while counterforces build elsewhere (especially in South America right now), the importance of the occupation is off the charts.

On the other hand, it's all become pretty clear, hasn't it? You can open the Washington Post any day of the week and get a decent analysis of the occupation and what's wrong with it (even the Times is starting, very slowly, to pick it up).

So here's a question, especially for readers who have been with me for a while. Do any of you feel as if further analysis of the occupation is beating a dead horse and that you want and need something different? Do you want to see more about vision for how to change the world, instead of an exclusive focus on what's wrong with it? Thoughtful, reasoned answers are welcome; so are straightforward votes. Drop me a line.
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