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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 25, 2005

Radio Commentary -- Iraq Withdrawal, Part 2

Last week, I pointed out that the continuing occupation of Iraq is a global security disaster, morally indefensible, and even a severe drag on U.S. imperial hegemony – and yet, until very recently, there has been no sustained movement or buildup of opinion for U.S. withdrawal.

On Sunday the 23rd, the third anniversary of the issuance of the famous "Downing Street memo," people across the country held events focusing on the illegality of the Bush administration's drive to war – reportedly, attendance was so excessive that hundreds were turned away. Notwithstanding the importance of these events and the great achievement of the After Downing Street project, most of the newly energized criticism sweeping the nation shares this purely retrospective feel to it. The inevitable rejoinder from the other side is, "Whatever happened before, we're in Iraq now." And, say the protagonists of "responsible" opinion, we're all agreed that we have to win.

Although there are rumors of some glimmers of light on the horizon, to date the closest approach progressive Congresspeople generally make to withdrawal is to call on the Bush administration for a timetable and for a commitment that it wants no lasting military bases in Iraq.

This is true even though there is no single aspect of the Iraq war and occupation that has not already been exposed to be a sham and a fraud and a disaster for American power, even though the foreign policy establishment is split as it has never been since the late stages of the Vietnam War – and even though not even the neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard support what the administration has actually been doing.

Many people look to the persistent vegetative state of the Democratic Party leadership as the primary explanation, but that may well be begging the question. They are the perfect codependents, but why? Is it simply such an extreme political cowardice that they decide to go on losing because they're afraid of taking a stance that might cause them to lose? Even so, why take the only position less popular than the Bush administration's – calling for more troops in Iraq, a position with no discernible base of support outside of cruise-missile liberal intellectuals?

I begin with the observation that criticism of the war has been almost entirely as a fiasco, a failed and reckless venture, and not as a moral failure. Now, of course, there has been a great deal of moral outrage from parts of the movement, major figures like Dick Durbin have criticized torture in harsh terms (even if they have later apologized for it), and you can even find considerable criticism in mainstream press circles, most notably perhaps in some of Bob Herbert's columns in the New York Times.

So what am I talking about? Well, first, all of that large amount of moral outrage is a tiny drop in a very large bucket of Iraq commentary. Second, even those whose outrage seems strongest almost always temper and undo the effect of whatever comments they make.

In one breath, one mentions torture by U.S. troops, checkpoint killings, the savage destruction of Fallujah, and then in the next one talks about the great bravery and nobility of the troops that did it and of one's complete support for them. Well, such a complete disjunction between the evil of the enterprise and the nobility of those who carry it out is just untenable. There is no need to paint the American soldiers as any more monstrous than the cogs in other monstrous machines have been. But neither are they any less so.

More important, the way they have conducted themselves and the way that Iraq has been treated since the regime change doesn't just reveal something about the Bush administration. It doesn't just reveal something about the military-industrial complex and corporate CEOs. It reveals something about American culture and about the deeper morality of this country and its people. The antiwar movement doesn't say this, and absent some broad moral revulsion, it would be fatuous to expect any political leader to pick up this theme. In fact, it's remarkable that people like Durbin have gone as far as they have with virtually no pressure from the grassroots.

The Iraq occupation is a mirror in which to look at this country, and so far nobody wants to take a serious look. I'll continue with my withdrawal considerations next week.

Posted at 10:52 am

July 18, 2005

Radio Commentary -- The Iraq Fiasco and the Withdrawal Paradox

From Friday through Sunday, Iraq was hit by an unbelievable 15 suicide bombings, one of which, on a Shi'a mosque in Musayyib, killed 98 people. Since the April 28 formation of the new government, car bombings alone have killed close to 1700. Since the United States has a population at least 11 times that of Iraq, this is proportionately something like 6 9/11's that Iraqis have gone through in just the past few months – without even counting deaths, injuries, and torture inflicted by U.S. and Iraqi government forces. According to a justification George Bush gives now and again, this was a deliberate goal of the invasion and these 6 9/11's count as a stunning success of the policy.

This week, Seymour Hersh reports that, according to anonymous military and intelligence sources, during the runup to the Iraqi elections, George Bush signed a "highly classified Presidential 'finding' authorizing the C.I.A. to provide money and other support covertly to political candidates in certain countries who, in the Administration's view, were seeking to spread democracy." The context in which this finding was made was Iraq and the political candidate who was supposedly "seeking to spread democracy," was none other than the Paul Bremer-appointed strongman Ayad Allawi, whose democratic record includes general thuggery, vicious crackdowns from the Iraqi security forces, attempts to intimidate and suppress the media, and approval of the murderous assault on Fallujah in November – although it's true he has shown no less respect for democracy than his successors.

It's harder and harder for anyone to justify any aspect of the Iraq war unless, like most of the right wing, he takes the position that facts don't matter or, really, don't exist. You simply can't argue that Iraqis are better off – the violence far exceeds that of Saddam's later years, unofficial militias intimidate everyone and restrict basic political freedoms almost as much as Saddam did, and, indeed many basic rights that Saddam guaranteed, especially women's rights, are gone now.

You also can't argue that the United States wanted any real democracy in Iraq. The presidential finding may or may not have been fully implemented and it certainly made little difference – Allawi's list only got 14% even in the official figures – but the intent to manipulate the election was there. And even the election itself represented a capitulation to Ayatollah Sistani, not any American plan.

You get the point. And yet, this same week, Jay Bookman, deputy editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote an opinion piece in which he excoriates the Iraq war as an absolute fiasco but says we can't just leave, that we're "morally obligated" to stay until the Iraqis can elect a government and establish a "means of self-defense."

This would mean little – it is, after all, the conventional view – but Jay Bookman is the same man who wrote, in the fall of 2002, that the reason for the impending Iraq war was dreams of a new militaristic American empire and referenced the plans of the Project for a New American Century, at the time largely unknown but now a staple of left analysis.

Now add to all of this the analysis developed over the last few weeks in these commentaries, that the Iraq war is now significantly weakening American imperial hegemony, directly through bogging it down and consuming the administration's attention, and indirectly through hastening the collapse of the international legitimacy of America's role.

You have a picture of a war that's not helping anyone, except, of course, the very people Bush swore eternal enmity against after 9/11, that neither hard-headed realists who care only about American power or American soldiers' lives nor bleeding hearts who are willing to make sacrifices if it's for the good of Iraqis can seriously support. And yet the antiwar movement is silent, nobody is coming to us to say, "You were right all along, please tell us what to do now," and, most critically, even people with penetration, open minds, and basic good will like Jay Bookman don't support withdrawal. Talk about immediate withdrawal and meaningful support is negligible – the question isn't even asked on polls.

This situation is, or ought to be, a tremendous paradox. Why are we in it and can we get out of it? Be sure to tune in next week.

Audio Link

Posted at 10:33 am

July 13, 2005

Nonviolent Resistance by Palestinians

Doug Ireland has a post about the "Palestinian Gandhis" of Bilin, a small West Bank town near Ramallah.

According to Mohammed Khatib, a member of Bilin's Popular Committee Against the Wall and secretary of the village council, writng in an International Herald Tribune op-ed, Help Us Stop Israel's Wall Peacefully, Bilin is due to lose 60% of its land to the Wall (even though it is 2.5 miles east of the Green Line), and has held 50 peaceful protests since February.

Apparently, among their innovative tactics was holding a demonstration with protesters already in handcuffs, to undermine the inevitable claims by soldiers that they had to fire because they were attacked.

Apparently innocent of the deep insights of Thomas Friedman, Khatib points out that, despite their nonviolence, villagers are routinely attacked by the IDF:
In the face of our peaceful resistance, Israeli soldiers attack our peaceful protests with teargas, clubs, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition, and have injured over 100 villagers. They invade the village at night, entering homes, pulling families out and arresting people. At a peaceful protest on June 17, soldiers arrested the brothers Abdullah and Rateb Abu Rahme, two village leaders. Soldiers testified that Rateb was throwing stones. An Israeli military judge recently ordered Rateb's release because videotapes showed the soldiers' claims were false.
These much-beleaguered people certainly deserve all the support they can get.

Posted at 12:45 pm

July 11, 2005

Radio Commentary -- Iraq and the Weakness of U.S. Hegemony

There's little new to say about last week's London terror bombing. It has proved Bush's "flypaper" theory – that if we "take the war to the terrorists" in Iraq, then "they" – whoever "they" are – won't be able to attack "us" – to be nonsense, if we needed any more proof. It was a heinous crime, like Madrid, or the Bali nightclub, or Beslan, or like either of the two U.S. assaults on Fallujah in 2004. Like the first of those Fallujah assaults, it didn't even seem designed, or likely, to accomplish anything beyond killing people.

It did give the British a taste of daily life in Iraq over the last 11 weeks. Over 1500 have been killed since then, the vast majority in attacks that targeted civilians, not soldiers in the foreign occupying forces. One Iraqi preacher, explaining the vastly different levels of global concern, said, "This is because Iraqis are like chickens and nobody cares about the killing of a chicken, but the British are the lords of this world."

Bush's openly and repeatedly avowed strategy of making Iraq a central battlefront in the "war on terror" has been stunningly successful – although making Iraq unsafe has hardly made anyone else safer. It's difficult to understand why he expects the Iraqis to be grateful for this.

Other recent developments, however, are perhaps more important and likely to remain so when the London bombings are just a footnote.

103 out of the 275 members of the Iraqi parliament – nearly 40% -- have demanded that the Iraqi government rescind its previous request for extension of the occupation and that it put forward "a clear plan for army building and a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops from Iraq." This includes numerous members of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance.

Iraqi Defense Minister Sa'adoun ad-Dulaimy visited with his Iranian counterpart, Admiral Ali Shamkhani last week; reportedly, they are working on a military cooperation agreement that will include Iranian training of the new Iraqi armed forces.

Dulaimy says the Iranians have offered of $1 billion in reconstruction aid and there is talk of building an oil pipeline between the two countries.

The British Daily Mail just published details of a secret British memo prepared by its Defence Secretary a few weeks ago that alludes to a strong desire in the Pentagon to reduce forces dramatically by the middle of next year.

The memo should be interpreted with care. The Pentagon has expressed all along a desire to keep the troop presence in Iraq low – before the war, Paul Wolfowitz even suggested that by October 2003 they could have as little as one division in Iraq. The way it has prosecuted the war since then has made it unable to carry out such reductions. There's no reason to believe that it will be able to now. Also, the memo does not express a desire for full withdrawal –full withdrawal without creating a government under the American thumb would negate the reasons for the invasion and is a position the United States would have to be forced into.

Finally, despite the renewed focus on terrorism, the G8 meeting still wrapped up with an "in-principle" agreement to double aid to Africa by 2010, on the heels of an earlier debt relief agreement. The practical value of these agreements to the countries in question is limited or nil, weighted as they are with conditionalities on the one hand and vagueness on the other.

Even so, these four pieces of news all point to the same thing. The developments of the last three years have seen a catastrophic decline in U.S. global hegemony. Bad enough that it has to sit by quietly while revolutions go on in Venezuela and Bolivia and Argentina defies international finance capital. Bad enough that it can no longer defend extortionate debt repayment requirements on destitute nations, a policy that required no defense ten years ago.

Worse, it has invaded Iraq and cost itself blood, treasure, and legitimacy only to find that its political weakness has forced it into allowing elections and the advent of a government that may well instead increase the power of Iran. This eventuality, anathema to the American imperium, is a very clear sign of its weakness in what we have been told is to be a new American century.

Posted at 10:51 am

July 1, 2005

AIDS, Botswana, and More Bush Administration Lies

Anyone who occasionally opens a newspaper knows that Iraq, although the most consistent subject of administration lies, is far from the only one. In fact, it's difficult to find a topic on which this administration won't lie. Still, the mendacity uncovered by Craig Timberg in his front-page Washington Post article, Botswana's Gains Against AIDS Put U.S. Claims to Test, is particularly shocking.

Of course, Bush's much-vaunted $15 billion global AIDS funding initiative has been decried by activist organizations as a scam from the beginning. Back in January, I wrote a short assessment of its progress to date. It's a while since anyone should have been confused about this issue.

Even so, Timberg's story is amazing. Back around the time of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bush anti-AIDS officials put out press releases hyping their progress, in which they said, among other things, that U.S. aid was responsible for anti-retroviral treatment of 32,839 patients in Botswana.

Now, even if this number was true, it would have shown the hollow sham that is the "international" effort to fight AIDS. Even though Botswana has a very small population (about 1.6 million), 32,000 is only a tiny fraction of its AIDS sufferers.

However, says Segolame Ramotlhwa, operations manager of Botswana's treatment program, the U.S. figures are "a gross misrepresentation of the facts." His boss, the deputy permanent secretary for health services, more diplomatically suggested that the figures were a "mistake."

To those familiar with Bush's postmodern style of government, the true number of patients who owe their care to U.S. aid will come as no surprise: zero.

In fact, says Timberg, "The total outlay of U.S. government funds for 'treatment' in Botswana last year was $2.5 million, about one-twentieth of the amount paid by the Botswana government. And even that money was delayed by many months."

Shortly after Bush's stirring announcement of the U.S. initiative in the 2003 State of the Union address, his administration decided that the best way would be to work through existing governments and their programs, rather than building separate clinics, separately hiring doctors, etc. The next step, logically, was to work through existing programs and then forget to actually fund them.

The crowning step is, once you have established negligible involvement in existing programs, to claim credit for all patients treated under their programs.

That is precisely what they have done. Indeed, since then Botswana has submitted the figure 41,444 to the U.S. government. That is the total number of people in Botwana receiving anti-retroviral treatment (with under 5% of those funds coming from the United States). The result? Now, the administration is claiming credit for treatment of 41,444 Botswanans.

Incidentally, the treatment numbers for Botswana are far better than they are for many other nations in Africa, for India and South Asia, and other places, because Botswana is comparatively wealthy. Diamond exports give it a per capita GDP in dollars of over 3500 (2003 World Bank figures), often translated into a PPP (purchasing power parity) in the high 8000's.

Posted at 11:20 am
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