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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.
June 30, 10:30 pm
by Mohamad Bazzi of Newsday (which unfortunately has a
On the very day that the 25-member council
June 1, it issued a little-noticed decree that guarantees most of its
members seats on the Iraqi National Council, a de-facto legislature
that will serve until elections are held early next year. The
100-member assembly will have the power to veto laws, approve Iraq's
2005 budget and replace the Iraqi president and two vice presidents in
case of death or resignation.
Members of the Governing Council, which was appointed by the
U.S.-led occupation last July and was rejected by many Iraqis as
illegitimate, also guaranteed themselves seats on an array of
committees that will choose the remaining members of the National
The June 1 edict -- which had the tacit approval of U.S.
officials -- said that the 20 Governing Council members who did not get
other government posts would be guaranteed seats in the new legislature.
As Bazzi points out,
By granting itself such wide powers, critics
say, the Governing Council risks tainting the legitimacy of the new
Iraqi government set to assume sovereignty on Wednesday.
"This is the problem that Iraqis have encountered since the
occupation's start: There is a lack of transparency in the political
process," said Jawdat al-Obeidi, secretary-general of the Iraqi
Democratic Congress, an umbrella group of 216 small political parties.
"The National Council is going to face the same lack of legitimacy that
the Governing Council faced."
The fix is really in on the transition to the interim government.
What's next -- demonstration elections like Diem's in South Vietnam in
1955 (he insisted on 98.2% of the vote, even though his U.S. advisers
urged him to content himself with a more reasonable number like 70%)?
Of course, elections held in Iraq will be controlled in a much more
sophisticated manner, but it still remains clear that elections don't
automatically mean democracy, even the primitive, restricted notion of
democracy that we have in this country.
June 30, 10:23 pm
Finally, we see the mainstream media use the l-word in
relation to Bush -- in a Nicholas
taking to task those who call Bush a liar.
Apparently, according to Kristof, Bush stretches the truth,
exaggerates, and says things that are incorrect -- but calling him a
liar "impedes understanding."
Best of all -- "Mr. Bush always has available a prima facie defense of
There is a question of whether Bush is a liar or is cut off from
reality. If you really have no idea of the difference between the real
world and some fantasy world you have constructed, you can say a lot of
things without lying.
Personally, I think he's both. Which is to say, many of his remarks in
the past year or so indicate a genuinely dissociative state -- Saddam
didn't let the weapons inspectors in, free nations don't develop
weapons of mass destruction. Before that, he was just a liar. Of
course, if Bush doesn't recognize reality he's even less fit to be
president than if he's merely a pathological liar.
It's stunning to me that something which is 10 if not 100 times the
scandal that Iran-contra was has generated no talk in the mainstream
media about some sort of legal remedy for administration malfeasance --
not even hearings of some sort, let alone impeachment.
June 29, 8:50 pm
You gotta love the mainstream media. Check out this AP
on resumption of full diplomatic relations between the
United States and Libya. First, we hear from Bert Ammerman, whose
brother was on Pan Am 103 in 1988. He's not happy about these
developments. Then, it continues:
"Big business. There is no question that what
administration is big business," Ammerman said.
Bob Armao, the acting president of the nonprofit U.S.-Libya Trade and
Economic Council, saw the development differently.
"This is very heartening for American businesses, which are keen to go
back to Libya," Armao said by telephone from his New York office. He
said American oil companies will be leading the race to secure
investment opportunities in Libya.
There could be $10 billion worth of investment in Libya's energy
industry in the next five years, he said. The country currently
produces 1.4 million barrels of oil a day, a figure well below its
How does one reconcile such stunningly different views?
There's no question that what has driven the administration's recent
Libya policy, besides the fact that Qaddafi has shown perfect obedience
to U.S. dictates, is oil interests and not some sudden access of
reasonableness and understanding that there are other ways to make
policy than by bombing.
Still, it's hard to see this as a negative development. There are those
who decry it because of the claims of Libya's sponsorship of terrorism,
but, of course, U.S. sponsorship of terrorism is and has been beyond
the wildest dreams of poor Qaddafi.
The United States and Libya show genuine affinity on other
political issues, for example the fact that they were two of the seven
nations in the world that voted against ratification of the Rome
statute creating the International Criminal Court.
With such a confluence of material interests and ideological positions,
governments are natural allies. It's a shame it took them so long to
June 28, 3:35 pm
The big news today is that, without any prior announcement,
the United States moved
the "transfer of sovereignty" by two days and concluded it in a
small private ceremony.
Done in order to pre-empt attacks almost certainly planned for June 30,
the move was a prudent and sensible one. But the symbolic effect should
I was in Baghdad on April 9, the anniversary of the "liberation."
Firdaus square, the plaza where the statue of Saddam was pulled down
(and the footage then played and replayed even more than Saddam's oral
exam later on), was deserted. It was completely closed off on all sides
with razor wire, along with numerous adjoining areas and buildings. It
was so obvious that, one year later, it was not a liberation but a
tense, nervous occupation, incapable even of keeping order in the
country let alone bringing genuine development or freedom.
The symbolism here is the same. The proconsul Paul Bremer, who ruled
Iraq for 14 months and promulgated laws by fiat in the manner of the
pharaohs of Egypt, slunk out of the country unheralded. No ticker-tape
parade, nothing. No public festivities for the transfer of sovereignty,
but a furtive attempt to slide it by while no one was paying attention.
The sovereignty is also, shall we say, a bit incomplete.
First, we have the continuing direct military occupation, on a
semi-permanent basis. The United States will keep at least 138,000
troops in Iraq (augmented by about 20,000 from other countries) for the
foreseeable future. Those forces have, by a late edict of Paul Bremer,
complete immunity from Iraqi law and Iraqi courts. UNSCR 1546 grants
those forces full discretion over operations in the field, reducing the
role of the Iraqi government to "advice" and "consultation." Fourteen
permanent or semi-permanent military bases have been and are being
constructed to house them.
Next, there is the installation of a dictatorial client whose strings
havve until now largely been pulled by the United States. Iyad Allawi,
the new unelected prime minister, is a man with a long history of
brutality in the service of power, first as an agent of Saddam's
Mukhabarat, later as an instigator of terrorist attacks in Iraq while
backed by the CIA and Britain's MI6.
He has repeatedly talked about imposing "martial law," although the
difference between the existing permanent military occupation with
checkpoins, house raids, and bombing of civilian areas and martial law
is unclear, to say the least.
But that's not good enough either. The United States has also installed
numerous high bureaucratic officials and promulgated numerous policies
that will reduce even the on-paper freedom of action of this new
governemtn even further. Although control of Iraq's oil revenues
nominally passes to the new Iraqi interim government, that government
inherits all contractual obligations imposed on it, in particular a
number of dubious ones made shortly before the official transfer.
Furthermore, Paul Bremer promulgated a whole
series of last-minute edicts
restricting the future political
possibilities of the new government.
He outlawed political participation from groups with unapproved
militias, created and appointed an electoral commission that can ban
political parties from the electoral process, gave five-year terms to
the new handpicked national security adviser and national intelligence
chief, and appointed inspectors-general with five-year terms over every
one of the 26 Iraqi government ministries.
The level of control that the United States retains is just short of
full colonial administration.
At the same time, the already rampant corruption with regard to oil
revenues may be taken to new heights. The Liberal Democrats in the UK
and the British charity Christian Aid estimate that somewhere from $1
to $4 billion in Iraqi oil revenue is unaccounted for and missing from
the Development Fund for Iraq (the bank account into which all Iraqi
oil revenues are deposited, in accordance with UNSCR 1483).
The pre-April model of U.S. control was a throwback to the 19th
century, a more-or-less direct colonial administration with a few
native auxiliaries for show. After Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, the United
States seems to have cast into its past once again for a new model: the
old-style Latin American corrupt and authoritarian military
dictatorship (propped up by a massive U.S. military presence). Such
governments also used to have elections from time to time.
June 28, 12:20 pm
One more example of the lying ways of the Bush
from the Post:
President Bush often blames terrorists for
many of the attacks on U.S. military forces in Iraq. Islamic militants
and former supporters of Saddam Hussein are behind some attacks, he
said during his last White House news conference, and "terrorists from
other countries have infiltrated Iraq to incite and organize." A few
days earlier, in a radio address, he said, "Saddam supporters and
terrorists have struck against coalition forces."
Seems the CIA and the State Department are not paying attention. In
their yearly tally of the number of terrorist attacks worldwide, both
agencies exclude all attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. These do not meet
the definition of terrorism because they are directed against
combatants, the department's annual report states.
If State and the CIA had included those attacks, the officials would
have had to swallow even more crow during the painful correction last
week of their undercounting of such incidents. As it was, they had to
admit overlooking the deaths of 318 people in terrorist attacks last
year and conclude terrorist attacks are sharply increasing.
And if attacks on U.S. service members had been included? Well,
Coalition Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad told our colleague R. Jeffrey
Smith that "there were 8,688 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq from May 2,
2003 [after major combat operations were declared over], to about 8
p.m., June 25, 2004." That's about 20 a day, though the more recent
average is closer to 40 to 50.
Even worse, the administration, the media, and everyone else always try
to give the impression, even if they don't always say it outright, that
by definition attacks on American troops are "terrorism." And then,
when it comes to coming up with favorable-looking statistics, they
suddenly remember that attacks on combatants are not terrorism.
June 26, 10:40 pm
A new development of crucial importance in Iraq today. I have
stressed over and over the need to distinguish, not just morally but
also politically and analytically, between terrorist attacks like those
associated with Zarqawi and al-Tawhid and the actions of the resistance
(which come in many flavors, as does the resistance itself, but remain
focused on military targets).
The antiwar movement, overall, has done
fairly well in distinguishing these attacks on the moral level, less so
on the political level -- for example, I often get questions like, "Do
the recent assassinations of Governing Council members show that Iraqis
view them as collaborators?" and I have to point out that, although
many Iraqis do view them that way, that attacks of that kind are not
supported by any significant part of the Iraqi public and are generally
carried out by groups like Zarqawi's that have no connection with Iraqi
Ordinary Iraqis that one talks to on the street distinguish very
clearly on a moral level as well as a political level. If anything,
they have a too-pronounced tendency to dismiss all objectionable,
terroristic acts as the actions of foreigners -- but the evidence there
is mostly on their side.
What is really new is that today, across a wide spectrum of
anti-occupation Iraqi organizations and constituencies, leaders
expressed a clear and open distinction between these kinds of acts,
lending rhetorical support to resistance in many cases while uniformly
denouncing the actions of Thursday. The Post has a very poorly-titled
of U.S. in Iraq Criticize Insurgents
, which samples this expression
of opinion. For example:
"We do not need anyone from outside the
borders to stand with us and spill the blood of our sons in Iraq,"
Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a Sunni cleric with a wide following,
declared in his Friday sermon at Umm al Qurra mosque in Baghdad.
"Which religion allows anyone to kill more than 100 Iraqis, destroy 100
families and destroy 100 houses?" raged Samarrae in his sermon. "Who
says so? Who are those people who do this? Where did they come from? .
. . It is a conspiracy to defame the reputation of the Iraqi resistance
by wearing its dress and using its name falsely. These people hurt the
Iraqis and Iraq, giving the occupier an excuse to stay longer."
Samarrae said he had learned that some Iraqi insurgent leaders have
begun to clash with Zarqawi loyalists, insisting the jihadists do not
represent the "right and true resistance."
Not surprisingly, Moqtada
al-Sadr's people did the same (since Zarqawi has targeted all Shi'a as
apostate, Sadr's people have been condemning him in particular for
Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has fought U.S. troops
in the Sadr City slum in eastern Baghdad and in Najaf, 90 miles to the
south, ordered his followers to lay down their weapons and cooperate
with Iraqi police in Sadr City to "deprive the terrorists and saboteurs
of the chance to incite chaos and extreme lawlessness."
"We know the Mahdi Army is ready to cooperate actively and positively
with honest elements from among the Iraqi police and other patriotic
forces, to partake in safeguarding government buildings and facilities,
such as hospitals, electricity plants, water, fuel and oil refineries,
and any other site that might be a target for terrorist attacks," said
an order from the Mahdi Army distributed in Sadr City.
Abdul Hadi Darraji, a Sadr spokesman, explained:
"This gesture is designed to distinguish
between honorable, legal
resistance against the occupation and the dishonorable resistance,
which does not target the occupation, but targets the Iraqi people," he
Interestingly, even the armed resistance participated in this exercise:
In a similar vein, a group of masked fighters
stood before Reuters television cameras and read a statement insisting
that the city's violent struggle against surrounding U.S. Marines is
being carried out by Fallujans, not Zarqawi or other foreign fighters.
"The American invader forces claim that Zarqawi, and with him a group
of Arab fighters, are in our city," said one of the heavily armed men,
reading from a paper. "We know that this talk about Zarqawi and the
fighters is a game that the American invader forces are playing to
strike Islam and Muslims in the city of mosques, steadfast Fallujah."
The Post article goes on to badly misinterpret the significance of
But Friday's show of disgust --
expressed in mosques and, in Sadr's case, with fliers calling for
cooperation with Iraqi police -- marked the first time anti-occupation
clerics and fighters sided against violence associated with the
insurgency, for which Zarqawi has increasingly asserted responsibility.
In that light, it could be an important moment in the U.S. struggle to
win acceptance for the military occupation and for the interim
government scheduled to acquire limited authority next Wednesday.
If anything, it could be an important moment in the armed resistance's
struggle to retain, extend, and capitalize on the legitimacy that was
given to it by the U.S. assault on Fallujah. Even before these attacks,
Iraqis did not in general condemn armed resistance, accepting it as a
legitimate political choice, but my impression was that the majority
thought it was foolish and counterproductive. That changed after the
siege of Fallujah.
Hamza Hendawi of the AP, who also
on this story, analyzes it more accurately in the context
of continued opposition to the occupation:
The anti-U.S. content of the sermons also
underlines America's failure
to win the goodwill of most Iraqis, despite the United States' ridding
the country of Saddam's dictatorship.
"American soldiers are infidels," said Youssef Khodeir, a Sunni sheik
and imam of Saad Bani Moaz mosque in Baqouba, scene of the heaviest
fighting Thursday. "The blood that is being shed every day is because
we are not closing our ranks. The source of all power comes from
adhering to the Qur'an."
"Al-Zarqawi is a myth created by America," sheik Aous al-Khafaji told
hundreds of worshipers in Sadr City, where U.S. troops and al-Sadr's
al-Mahdi Army have clashed for 2 months.
Referring to Washington's declared aim that its war on Iraq was to
bring democracy to the Arab nation, a Sunni imam, Mohammed Bashar, told
worshipers in Mosul that what America really wanted was "the freedom to
kill and arrest Iraqis."
What this represents, I think, is the completion of a process that
started with the attacks of April: the emergence of the Iraqi armed
resistance and affiliated groups as a political force. One could count
al-Sadr's organization as a political force even much earlier, but it
was keeping itself clearly distinguished from the armed resistance
until the event of late March and early April.
As for the rest, there were undoubtedly resistance factions that
concentrated on military targets, had no interest in killing Jordanian
embassy employees, U.N. humanitarian workers, Red Cross workers, or
Iraqis. In fact, the majority of the resistance was pretty clearly of
this nature. At the same time, however, they took no pains either to
make their organizations or aims known to the public, on the one hand,
nor to dissociate themselves from those actions and from the groups
that took them. When, say, the Red Cross attack occurred, none of these
groups came out with a clear condemnation of the action or even a
statement that it was not responsible for the action. They just went on
with their military attacks.
This, if one may call it such, apolitical nature of the resistance
before almost certainly hurt it in terms of general public legitimacy
and in terms of specific support and recruitment. It also meant that,
although it might destabilize things enough to bring foreign investment
to a halt, the resistance could not accomplish more, certainly could
not built the kind of political counterforce necessary to bring about
an end to the occupation.
Today's developments are an important step along that necessary path of
political evolution. The political situation is still an extremely
difficult one in which to develop politically effective resistance that
can be proactive, rather than simply reactive as in the case of the
defense of Fallujah. But actions like these condemnations open up
June 25, 6:05 pm
After a little discussion with Justin Podur of The Killing Train
realized that part of an earlier post
was highly susceptible to misinterpretation. In my post yesterday about
Zarqawi and the dangers for Iraq if his organization comes to the fore,
I have the following paragraph:
The calculus of any genuine popular-based resistance in Iraq -- like
the Fallujah mujaheddin or al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, but not like Zarqawi
and his people -- is very simple. You can hope to defend against U.S.
assault and inflict some military and political losses. But you can't
hope to mount an offensive. Sadr's attempt to do this starting in late
April (the first phase was defensive, in response to first the closing
of Sadr's newspaper and then to numerous U.S. assaults on
demonstrations by Sadr supporters) was a disaster, militarily and
As Podur says in response,
In fact what an outgunned insurgency *cannot*
do is defend against US assault. All it can do is try to inflict
losses, usually through hit and run type attacks, which cause reprisals
that civilians suffer from, and that insurgents cannot protect
civilians from. As for not being able to hope to mount an offensive,
that also depends what you mean.
So, let me clarify what I mean. Yes, it's very easy for Zarqawi or
other groups to kill civilians standing in the street with car-bombs.
But it's very difficult to inflict noticeable losses on the U.S.
military. You can plant IEDs (improvised explosive devices), shoot down
the occasional helicopter, and send random mortar fire into U.S. bases,
but no more.
When the Mehdi Army found Sistani (working in conjunction with SCIRI)
undercutting their presence and support in Najaf and Kerbala and
responded with a strategy of making repeated assaults on massed U.S.
forces and on U.S. military bases, they were cut to pieces while
inflicting negligible losses. Juan Cole actually says they lost 1500
fighters, a number I can't reconcile with the reports I've seen, but
certainly they lost in the neighborhood of 500 people while killing
only a handful of U.S. soldiers. The fighting ability of the
organization countrywide was badly damaged.
By contrast, the defenders of Fallujah, while clearly incapable of
keeping their families safe from the U.S. bombardment, killed enough
U.S. soldiers to have a noticeable political effect and to pose
significant dangers if there was a full-on offensive to take the city.
The fact is that there are few positive steps for Iraqis to take
against the occupation. Nonviolent political organizing for the most
part means nothing because the U.S. military is unresponsive to it
(with the exception of a few very large demonstration called by
Sistani). Violent attacks on U.S. bases just don't work because of the
technological mismatch. Support for important Iraqi political figures
doesn't seem to work because they denounce U.S. policy when it's
convenient and then collaborate when it's necessary.
And so there is at least a small chance that, with all legitimate
avenues shut off, some Iraqis will turn to horribly dangerous ones like
that provided by Zarqawi.
June 25, 1:05 pm
In the aftermath of Thursday's attacks, the United States has
launched its third
airstrike on Fallujah
, once again on a "suspected Zarqawi
safehouse." The strikes yesterday involved 10 bombs dropped on the town.
AFP is already reporting 20
to 25 killed
. If you recall, the strikes on June 20 killed a
similar number of people, amid strong disputes over who was killed.
Eyewitnesses and the local commander of Iraqi Civil Defense forces in
Fallujah said the dead included women and children and were not
foreigners; political hacks working for the United States in the newly
sovereign government of Iraq said the victims were terrorists and welcomed
. You be the judge.
All of this takes place in an atmosphere of a Marine loss
with the new Iraqi Fallujah brigade. Apparently, local
Marine commanders don't understand that the creation of the Fallujah
brigade, which works closely with the mujaheddin to police the city,
was just a face-saving measure to cover over the fact that the United
States suffered a defeat in Fallujah and was forced to make a
withdrawal, because of the political consequences of continuing the
The USA Today article linked above lists the key problems the Marines
have with the Fallujah brigade:
- None of the men responsible for killing and
U.S. contractors on March 31 have been apprehended, even though last
month the commander of the 1st Marine Regiment gave Fallujah police a
list of 25 people sought in the killings.
- Few heavy weapons used in the fight against the
April have been surrendered.
- The brigade has not been able to produce foreign
the Marines are seeking.
In other words, the United States levied collective punishment on
Fallujah, but abandoned all its stated objectives. Now, it's upset that
the Fallujah brigade understands that all of those objectives were
abandoned. And it's starting the whole cycle over, although it will
presumably avoid galvanizing, catalytic actions like the siege.
June 24, 8:35 pm
Very sinister developments in Iraq recently, especially
100 people have been killed and 320 wounded
as a result of a
six-city offensive that included setting off car bombs, seizing police
stations, and pitched battles with U.S. troops. Baghdad, Mosul,
Fallujah, Ramadi, Baqubah, and Mahaweel were hit. The lion's share of
the carnage, 62 dead and 220 wounded, came in four car bombings in
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Jama'at al-Tawhid wa Jihad (Association for
Monotheism and Jihad) claimed responsibility for the attacks.
According to Reuters
"Witnesses said some of the black-clad gunmen who attacked a police
station and government buildings in Baquba, 60 km (40 miles) northwest
of Baghdad, proclaimed loyalty to Zarqawi and wore yellow headbands
linking them to his group."
U.S. aircraft dropped
at least a dozen 500-pound laser-guided bombs and 2 2,000-pound
GPS-guided JDAMs in Baqubah and Fallujah. As always, "collateral
damage" was "very, very small."
As far as I can recall at the moment, this is the first time there are
claims that Zarqawi people were out in the street fighting pitched
battles and openly declaring their allegiance rather than just doing
bombings and clandestine beheadings.
I have never come across an Iraqi who had anything good to say about
Zarqawi, even ones who were very bitterly anti-American. This is a
small sample from a large country, but I think I got an accurate
Normally, I doubt Zarqawi would be able to build much of a following.
Even in highly abnormal circumstances. But if it's true, as U.S.
authorities claim, that he's basing himself in Fallujah, then I could
imagine potential recruits.
The calculus of any genuine popular-based resistance in Iraq -- like
the Fallujah mujaheddin or al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, but not like Zarqawi
and his people -- is very simple. You can hope to defend against U.S.
assault and inflict some military and political losses. But you can't
hope to mount an offensive. Sadr's attempt to do this starting in late
April (the first phase was defensive, in response to first the closing
of Sadr's newspaper and then to numerous U.S. assaults on
demonstrations by Sadr supporters) was a disaster, militarily and
If Zarqawi holds out the hope of changing that calculus, it's possible
to imagine a small base of people he could appeal to. Young men in
Fallujah who saw their families and town devastated by a brutal
American assault, fought in the defense of Fallujah, saw a victory
against the Americans when they withdrew, then were frustrated by two
solid months when there seemed to be nothing to do. Even here, he may
appeal only to those who are already Salafist (Wahhabi), a small
fraction of the total but a fraction that is higher among the young.
If Zarqawi starts to build a wider base for his attacks, this would be
a disaster for Iraq. His interpretation of Islam is so virulent it
makes bin Laden's look positively mild. He has repeatedly denounced
Shi'a as kafir (infidels) and killed hundreds of Shi'a pilgrims on
Ashura. By contrast, al-Qaeda has supposedly (I'm going on U.S.
intelligence evaluations) shown a great ability to work with Shi'a
In Saudi Arabia, Tawhid, which means "monotheism," is a term associated
with extremist factions. Muslims in general take monotheism more
seriously than Christians. Some take it so seriously that Shi'a, who
make Imams like Ali and Hussein into iconic figures, are considered to
be kafir. Some take it so seriously that most ordinary Muslims are
Takfir, which means declaring a Muslim to be an infidel (or, worse, an
apostate), was the cause of a great deal of divisive violence in the
early years of Islam and has played a significant role in Algeria's
civil war. If such a practice were to gain currency in Iraq (except for
Zarqawi's pronouncements, it's essentially nonexistent now), it would
be a calamity.
It remains only to say that the continued U.S. presence is the catalyst
that keeps Zarqawi going. And if he ever rises to political relevance,
it will be absolutely and solely because the heavy hand of the U.S.
occupation stifled all of the more reasonable alternatives or made them
seem impotent against the occupation. In pre-occupation Iraq, the vast
majority even of Salafists would never have considered it.
It's hilarious to think of Tony Blair, in the context of Zarqawi, claiming
that Saddam "created a permissive environment for terrorism." To judge
by the number of actions Zarqawi took before the war compared with the
number after the war, it's pretty clear that the United States has
created a far more permissive environment.
June 24, 8:05 pm
More brilliant reporting from the Times. Latin Americans are
growing impatient. Well, we've known that for a while. Of what?
Neoliberalism? U.S. domination? IMF/World Bank conditionalities? Rising
inequality? Unresponsive political elites? Of course not. Don't be
Americans are Growing Impatient With Democracy
If you actually read past the headline, you find that in every case
mentioned except Colombia the author is actually talking about
impatience with the fact that nominally elected governments are no more
responsive to the needs of the average person than the military
dictatorships of bygone days. But who reads past the headlines on Latin
America these days?
June 24, 12:30 am
Good news. Faced with broad opposition on its effort to renew
American immunity from trial by the International Criminal Court
(including planned abstentions by 8 of 15 members of the Security
Council), the United States was forced to drop its plans to bring the
resolution to a vote. After June 30, then, U.S. forces in Iraq will be
potentially liable for trial by the ICC.
The United States has already concluded bilateral immunity agreements
with 90 countries. The United States claims
these agreements are in accord with Article 98 of the Rome Statute, but
there are strong arguments
that those agreements are illegal.
UNSCR 1546, which governs the status of forces in Iraq, has no specific
language about immunity.
The way the United States is dealing with this is very straightforward.
It has just decided that before the "transfer of sovereignty" Paul
Bremer will unilaterally extend Order
, promulgated almost one year ago, until Iraq has an elected
government. This was the order giving immunity to the troops, as well
as to all foreign contractors. The Washington Post has an article
on this decision with some actual historical background.
On a separate note, the United States has warned
ex-Ba'athist thug and CIA-backed terrorist Ayad Allawi that,
notwithstanding his musings about imposing martial law, the Iraqi
interim government does not have that power. That power, of course,
rests only with the occupying forces.
The Post article quotes "U.S. officials" as saying that these
developments "could also create the
impression that the United States is not turning over full
sovereignty." Now, who could possibly think that?
June 23, 10:50 pm
Check out this article from The Onion -- Coalition:
Vast Majority of Iraqis Still Alive
Last night, the Daily Show on the Comedy Channel opened with Jon
Stewart first proving that Dick Cheney is a liar and then pointing out
that he's a liar -- something we have yet to see on the "news" shows on
A sad state of affairs when there's more news in comedy than in the
June 22, 11:50 pm
Ever since I saw this marvelous headline in the Times, U.S.
Is Quietly Spending $2.5 Billion From Iraqi Oil Revenues to Pay for
, I've been planning to post once again on the theme
of how little money the United States has actually spent on
"reconstruction" -- and how most of the funds actually disbursed are
Iraqi money. This, after all, is the charity the United States does
Under the Same Sun, however, has beat
me to the punch
, with an extremely detailed analysis of same. Among
the highlights: it's possible that only $500 million of the
much-vaunted $18.6 billion for reconstruction (often reported as $87
billion for reconstruction by those who are more than ordinarily
dishonest) has actually been spent. So, for example, the huge funds
laid out on importing (that's right, importing) oil into Iraq have come
from Iraq's own money.
One thing to add to Under the Same Sun's account: very few people seem
to know of this, but when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, it wasn't just
government funds that were frozen. Private individuals had accounts
frozen as well. I've never seen an accounting, but it's possible that
those people's money is being distributed in $100 bills and portrayed
as U.S. largesse as well.
June 22, 2:28 pm
It's not getting a lot of press in this country, but another
potentially serious test of the United Nations and its ability to
oppose the empire may be coming up this week. On the previous test, the
passage of UNSCR 1546, the Security Council gets perhaps a D+ -- it
unanimously voted to use the word "sovereign" to describe an occupied
country, but it did impose some legal limits on the occupation (I
refrain from giving it an F only because with the Security Council you
need to leave a lot of room at the bottom -- on Haiti it gets maybe an
This time, it's over the International Criminal Court and U.S.
immunity. You may recall that, as a condition for allowing the ICC
deliberations to go forward, the Clinton administration put forth the
unprecedented idea that there should be a global two-tier legal system:
impunity for Americans and accountability not just for all the
Untermenschen but even for our staunch European allies. This was a
great deal even for those staunch allies to swallow. The United States
had to scale back its demands to one year of immunity, renewable by the
Security Council. Even so, the decision was grotesque. The final Rome
statute was ratified by 120 countries, with seven dissenting -- China,
Israel, Qatar, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and, of course, the United States.
Later, of course, Bush pulled the United States out of the treaty --
the U.S. is still the only country to have pulled out. The ICC went
into legal effect in July 2002. The Security Council has twice, with
Resolutions 1422 and 1487, ratified exemptions for actors from states
that are not party to the Rome Statute. The second time the United
States threatened to veto one by one every single U.N. peacekeeping
mission if 1487 was not ratified.
At the same time, the United States embarked on a course of signing
bilateral immunity agreements with other countries -- each side agrees
not to extradite citizens of the other for trial before the court. Such
agreements exist already with at least 80 countries. Many were
convinced by threats of cessation of U.S. military aid or arms sales.
This year, the exemption runs out, oddly enough, on June 30. The United
States started seeking a new resolution in May, then backed off because
of difficulty in rounding up support and because of the need to get
1546 passed. Several days ago, Kofi Annan came
renewing this impunity in pretty harsh language:
"For the past two years, I have spoken quite
strongly against the
exemption, and I think it would be unfortunate for one to press for
such an exemption, given the prisoner abuse in Iraq," he told reporters
"It would be even more unwise on the part of the Security Council to
grant it. It would discredit the council and the United Nations that
stands for rule of law and the primacy of rule of law," Annan said.
"Blanket exemption is wrong. It is of dubious judicial value, and
I don't think it should be encouraged by the council."
Numerous countries have indicated
they intend to abstain
, including France, Germany, Brazil, Spain,
Benin, Chile, and China. Passage of a Security Council resolution
requires 9 affirmative votes (plus no vetoes from permanent members).
Romania, which has signed a bilateral immunity agreement, has said it
will abstain -- unless that abstention imperils passage of the
It's quite possible that this resolution will not pass. The United
States has threatened to dismantle the UN piece by piece by denying
funding if immunity for U.S. citizens is not perpetually renewed.
June 21, 11:53 am
I caught the Bill Clinton interview on 60 Minutes last night.
A few things worthy of note.
They showed the clip of Bill and Hillary on 60 Minutes in 1992 lying
about his relationship with Gennifer Flowers. The funny thing is that,
just looking at it, you could tell he was lying. You could also tell in
what manner he was lying. Steve Kroft says something about Flowers'
claims that they had had an affair that lasted for 12 years and Clinton
claim is false" -- meaning, of course, that the
12-year part was false (probably 11 years and 10 months). Then Kroft
presses, "But, did you have an affair" (or something like that) and
Bill says, "I've already said before that's not true" (or something
like that) -- meaning, of course, that he denied having the affair
before, but that when he denied it he was lying. A virtuoso performance
in hairsplitting, but it was all undone by Clinton's body language.
Dan Rather mentioned that Clinton lied about Flowers and about Monica.
It would be nice if somebody that visible or actually anybody in the
mainstream media would ever mention that Bush has lied about even one
of the many things he's lied about. Honestly, the man has at least
twice said that we invaded Iraq because Saddam wouldn't let inspectors
in. Does it take much to figure out this is untrue?
The most damaging lie on the program, however, was one that Rather and
Clinton were both complicit in. I kid you not, after five solid years
of debunking, Rather in his narration once again repeated
that "Hussein kicked U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq in
Iraq activists and media critics have spent countless hours debunking
this lie in media forums across the country, but it dies very hard
(note that media coverage at the time of Desert Fox in December 1998
uniformly reported that Richard Butler ordered the inspectors out at
the behest of the United States -- see, for example, this
Please join me in flooding 60 Minutes with letters calling for a
retraction of this so-venerable lie. You go to the 60
and then scroll down to "Contact Us" in tiny letters
at the bottom and click on the link to bring up the appropriate form.
June 19, 1:26 pm
Assuming that the 9/11 Commission's reconstruction of events
on the morning of 9/11 is reasonably accurate, what really stands out
is the laxness of the FAA, in repeatedly failing to notify NORAD
regarding hijacked planes (paradoxically, the first plane that was
hijacked was the one for which NORAD had the most advance warning -- 9
minutes). The Post today has an unbelievable postscript to this, Capitol
Plane Scare Blamed on Lack of Communication
Apparently, there was a major scare on June 9 regarding a plane coming
in to Washington's National airport, which caused the Defense and
Homeland Security departments to scramble two F-15's and a Black Hawk
helicopter to intercept the plane and the U.S. Capitol Police to order
an evacuation of the Capitol.
This happened even though the FAA had been in contact with the plane
for 40 minutes and knew that it was not hostile.
The plane's transponder was malfunctioning, so it contacted the FAA,
which satisfied itself that nothing untoward was going on. But the FAA
failed to notify the Washington air defense center of this. So when the
plane entered its surveillance area, 50 miles out from DC, it
registered as an unidentified plane (in the aftermath of 9/11, things
were changed so that NORAD can now see commercial plane transponder
signals, so it was able immediately to identify the anomaly) and planes
were ordered up within a minute to intercept it.
This time, because of the post-9/11 changes, the FAA's laxness
imperiled only the commercial plane and not any potential target.
Still, this degree of negligence after 9/11 is even more inexcusable
than the negligence on 9/11.
June 18, 9:21 pm
More regarding the amazing double standard that comes out in
virtually all commentary on Chavez. The Post article mentioned earlier
Chavez Taps Oil Cash In a Social, Political Experiment
, which takes
Chavez to task for using some of the oil money to benefit the poor,
says that the problem is that he "is gambling irresponsibly with the
long-term fiscal health of a state company that provides half the
A responsible source is trotted out:
"He is killing the goose that laid the golden
egg," said Ramon Espinasa, an oil industry consultant at the
Inter-American Development Bank who was the oil company's chief
economist from 1992 to 1999. Espinasa said Chavez was spending money
that the oil company needs to invest in maintenance and modernization
to keep its production from falling off.
Espinasa said the company needs to reinvest
at least $6 billion a year in revenue just to maintain current
production levels. He said the company reinvested about $7 billion in
1997, the year before Chavez's election, but only $2.5 billion last
year. Chavez's social spending, he said, would make it impossible for
the company to maintain its current production, let alone meet its
publicly stated goal of increasing production to 5 million barrels a
day within five years.
"Their plan says one thing, but the reality says otherwise," Espinasa
said. "This is all lip service."
Furthermore, Chavez is also blamed for firing half of the state oil
company's workers, with another very responsible source:
To achieve his goals, Chavez is using a $40
billion-a-year company with which he has had tortured relations. Many
of its top managers at the time were responsible for a strike that
began in December 2002 and lasted until February 2003. The strike
virtually halted production, and cost billions of dollars in revenue to
the company and to foreign oil companies that operate here, including
ChevronTexaco Corp., ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.
Chavez fired about half of the company's nearly 40,000 workers, mainly
those involved in important planning, financial and engineering
departments. While government officials have said that oil production
has returned to prestrike levels of at least 3.1 million barrels a day,
analysts across the industry estimate that the true levels are about
2.5 or 2.6 million barrels. They said that the company's loss of
experienced managers, combined with Chavez's decision to funnel profits
into social programs instead of maintenance and improvements, have left
the company struggling to recover.
"You don't get rid of your key technical staff and lose your most
precious human capital -- that's not a political policy, it's
stupidity," said Orlando Ochoa, an economics professor at Catholic
University in Caracas. "There have been excesses of power in the past,
but this is a Guinness record."
But here's the thing. The whole framework of judgment here is of
Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as just another corporation. No idea
that, as a publicly owned company, maybe it's supposed to be run for
the public good, and that providing education and a stipend to the poor
is worth giving up a bit of its "corporate health" -- at least as an
analog of the high executive salaries that affect corporate health just
as much in a normal company.
That framework is suddenly abandoned when it comes to dealing with the
strike by PDVSA's management and technical workers. Imagine what the
average corporate board would do if the management suddenly went on
strike for over two months, agitating throughout the whole country to
keep the corporation shut down, and permanently damaging the company's
real assets in the process (the decrease in production that article
alludes to has likely more to do with the damage done when producing
wells were capped than with investment deficits subsequent to the
Would there be any question that all those who went on strike should be
fired? If I'm not mistaken, corporations often fire executives even
when they've done nothing harmful to the company, simply to keep costs
down or to bring in people who will supposedly make them a greater
When Chavez takes the most elementary measures to preserve PDVSA's
corporate health in a way that is against the interests of the rich --
end the management strike, fire management -- he is a repressive
autocrat. When he possibly imperils its corporate health -- in a much
more modest way than did the strikers -- by doing a bit of
profit-sharing with the poor, he is a populist demagogue.
I just noticed that Under
the Same Sun
blogged on the Venezuela article well before I did.
June 18, 7:56 pm
Breaking news. You may recall that almost two months ago,
John Kerry took
pains to assure
a group of big donors that he is "not a
redistributionist Democrat." Well, today he unveiled a bold new
proposal to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7 -- by 2007.
The previous raise occurred in 1997, so this would be a mere 10 years
later. And, adjusted for inflation, might account for only a 15% rise
-- except that, if this is what Kerry's asking for, $6 an hour is what
he would get, which would be a step backward from 1997.
Powerful medicine for what mainstream economist Paul Krugman has
characterized as a "new Gilded Age
Check out this chart of minimum wage in
, 1955-2003. It's a stunning indictment of the free
market fundamentalist offensive of the past quarter century --
something Kerry obviously doesn't care about undoing, any more than
Bill Clinton did.
June 18, 12:15 pm
More on the dastardly Hugo Chavez, now set to face a recall
referendum in mid-August. Check out Embattled
Chavez Taps Oil Cash In a Social, Political Experiment
, in the Post
today (note that the article is linked from the main international page
with the title "Chavez Buying Loyalty, Critics Charge"):
"Our president is giving me a chance to make
my dream a reality," said Castillo, one of thousands of Venezuelans who
receive schooling, and a monthly cash payment of $50 to $100, from
Petroleos de Venezuela as part of a multibillion-dollar social and
political experiment being conducted by President Hugo Chavez that has
provoked a storm of criticism.
Chavez's government plans to spend at least $1.7 billion -- and perhaps
twice that -- in oil revenue this year on social programs ranging from
subsidized food to classes on literacy, farming, hair-styling and auto
mechanics. Chavez has said his goal is a "social transformation" that
will "redistribute national income" into the hands of the millions of
poor people who have long been denied access to this country's vast oil
But critics say Chavez is pandering to the poor to save his political
career and gambling irresponsibly with the long-term fiscal health of a
state company that provides half the country's revenue.
Apparently, Chavez has this crazy idea that Venezuela's state-owned oil
wealth should actually be used for the benefit of the poor. Check out
also this article
from the LA Times
a few days ago, about the literacy program, which
in less than a year has taught 1.2 million people to read.
Incidentally, one of the complaints levied against the literacy program
is that most of the material is donated by Cuba, and teaching people to
read involves simultaneously indoctrinating them in Marxist-Leninist
propaganda, as opposed to the pro-capitalist propaganda that is always
assumed as the default. But check out this excerpt:
"Labor is the activity that most ennobles men
and women," the Cuban presentation contends in Marxist-Leninist fervor.
"Labor is a source of inexhaustible pleasure."
This is even more inept than the Bush administration's propaganda. The
last people it's ever going to convince are laborers.
It's truly remarkable that the state of "democracy" worldwide is now
such that any attempt by a Third World government to provide even basic
services to the poor is now viewed and presented as inherently
controversial and generally also as anti-democratic (a constant
subtext in any reporting on Chavez and on Aristide as well).
June 17, 2:00 pm
The 9/11 Commission's report promulgated this morning, Staff
, Improvising a Homeland Defense, is an absolute
must-read. It is a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow reconstruction, based
on a great deal of research, of the events of that fateful morning. And
it is absolutely gripping.
I'll just outline the important points, but you really should read the
whole thing word for word.
Ever since 9/11, there have been some persistent questions. How could
the same Air Force that was able to lay waste to all of Serbia without
incurring a single casualty be unable to defend against these attacks?
In particular, how is it that even the third plane, which hit the
Pentagon, was not intercepted? Sending up fighters to escort a plane
that is acting suspiciously is fairly common procedure, even for much
These questions have provided a great deal of fodder for conspiracy
theorists. The most benign form in which the 9/11 conspiracy theories
have come has been the detailing of anomalies on the morning of
September 11, usually concluding with the claim that a "stand-down
order" was given to the military (or sometimes, the conspiracy
theorists will just say, "I'm not saying I know what happened, but
there are some questions we need answers to.")
Now, I've been in a difficult position. On the one hand, the cursory
reading of the situation I was able to do (prior to this report) did
raise some serious questions. On the other hand, the idea of a
stand-down order is absolutely ludicrous. Who would have given it? To
whom? How would it be justified? Why would nobody have come forward?
And so I've always said that there were things unexplained but that I'd
never seen an explanation that made sense. The fact that nobody has
come up with a sensible explanation doesn't mean that you rush to
embrace an absurd explanation.
Well, all of that should be put to rest now (it won't, of course --
such is the nature of human beings -- but it should). The 9/11
Commission has finally provided us the facts necessary to
understanding how the attacks could happen.
First of all, the story involves two organizations -- the FAA and NORAD.
NORAD, which is responsible for air defense for the continental United
States, is just a shell of its former self. The whole 3,000,000
square miles is defended by seven sites, each of which has two fighter
planes on call. That's right -- 14 fighter planes are the first line of
defense of the country against attack from the air. Contrast that with
the 655 U.S. fighters involved in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (not
including the numerous other planes -- bombers, etc. -- or the planes
from other coalition members) and you get a good sense of just how much
of "defense spending" goes to defense.
BTW, NORAD used to be much bigger before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Back then, many planes were needed to defend against the nonexistent
threat of Soviet bombers (in case both sides' ICBMs and
submarine-launched missiles miraculously disappeared just as the Soviet
Union miraculously decided to attack). Now, against existent threats,
apparently, we don't need defenses.
The FAA is the body that deals with commercial flights and has all the
relevant data. Every commercial flight emits a unique transponder
signal. Only the FAA picks them up. 3 of the 4 hijacked flights had
theirs turned off by the hijackers, so the only way to locate them was
by "radar returns," i.e. by radar emitted from the ground and reflected
from the planes. Both the FAA and NORAD can track these. The FAA has 22
different Air Route Traffic Control Centers covering the country, four
of which were involved on 9/11 -- handoffs from one to another mean
going to a whole new set of personnel.
I won't repeat the whole blow-by-blow, but here are some highlights:
The first hijacked flight, American 11, was identified as being
hijacked by 8:24. Word got to FAA Operations Center, by going up the
chain of command, by 8:32. NORAD was notified by 8:38. This was
actually fast -- the personnel in the Boston Air Route Traffic Control
Center didn't follow the established protocol of having everything go
up the chain of command in the FAA first, but took the initiative to
contact NORAD directly.
NORAD (all NORAD operations involved the Northeast Air Defense Sector
-- NEADS) immediately ordered two F-15's at a base 153 miles from New
York to battle stations. At 8:46 they were scrambled -- and even there
standard procedure was short-circuited to get them up more quickly.
NEADS didn't know where to scramble them to, though. They spent several
minutes trying to track down radar returns. The first plane hit the
first building at 8:46:40.
The fighters were in the air at 8:53, without a clear sense of where to
go. In order to keep them out of the heavily traveled air corridor,
they were ordered into a holding pattern in military airspace off the
coast of Long Island.
The second flight, United 175, changed its transponder code at 8:47.
The controller responsible for tracking it was the same person
responsible for American 11. She was, naturally, kind of busy at the
time. It was 8:55 before she had thought of the possibility that United
175 was hijacked and informed the New York Air Route Traffic Control
Center manager. When that person tried to inform regional managers at
8:58, the call was blocked because they were dealing with American 11.
FAA Command Center was informed at 9:01. At 9:03, United 175 hit the
It's very clear that nothing could have been done to prevent either of
these attacks. Note that NORAD wasn't even informed of the second
After that, the story gets more bizarre. Among the revelations of the
Commission is that the fighters scrambled later from Langley to fly
over Washington DC were not scrambled in response to American 77, the
plane that hit the Pentagon. They were scrambled to intercept a
phantom, American 11, which had ceased to exist 50 minutes earlier.
Although American 77 disappeared from the Indianapolis Control Center's
radar at 8:56, the FAA never asked for military assistance with the
flight, and only informed NORAD by chance at 9:36. Fighters were
immediately scrambled from Langley, but due to further errors were sent
in the wrong direction. American 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:38.
By the way, one of the staples of the conspiracy theorists is that the
fighters scrambled to protect DC came from Langley rather than Andrews
Air Force Base, which is much closer. The reason is simple: there's no
NORAD site at Andrews.
The story gets even more complicated after that. The Commission
concludes, I think correctly, that it's highly unlikely that United 93
would have been stopped had not the passengers managed to take it down
over Pennsylvania. Again, the military only learned about the hijacking
of that flight after it had crashed.
Two points stand out. First, dealing with these attacks was an
enormously difficult problem. The FAA had to take unprecedented
actions, like ordering the simultaneous grounding of all flights over
the United States -- which was executed without incident. When planes'
transponders were turned off, it had to perform a needle-in-a-haystack
search to locate them from radar returns. And it had to deal with the
standard bureaucratic processes, all of which took away precious
Second, with some things like the plane that hit the Pentagon, there
was a great deal of incompetence involved. The primary reason is the
same as the reason that NORAD had 14 planes to call on for the whole
country -- notwithstanding the rhetoric involved in talking about the
"Defense" Department and the "defense" budget, there's little
recognition anywhere that the United States could be attacked and that
it might have to be defended. The concluding paragraph of the statement
says it all:
NORAD and the FAA were unprepared for the type
launched against the United States on September 11. They struggled,
under difficult circumstances, to improvise a homeland defense against
an unprecedented challenge they had never encountered and had never
trained to meet.
It remains only to point out that, had the entire
"national security" establishment had any seriousness about national
security, this would not have been the case. There had been ample
warning, starting as early as 1995, of the threat of terrorists
hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings. But business as
usual for the national security establishment is to talk about
defending the United States but to expend all of its energy on planning
attacks on other countries.
June 16, 10:50 pm
Some wheat amid the chaff of the 9/11 Commission. You can see
of the morning session
on the Post website, but there'e really
nothing worth reading. The two staff statements released today have
considerably more. A lot of media attention has been paid to Staff
, the Outline of the 9/11 Plot, which contains the
sensational revelations about Khalid Shaikh Muhammed's alleged plans to
hijack nine or ten planes on the same day, as well as the news about
repeated postponement of the final attack. There's also been a fair
amount of attention to the commission's conclusion, which is not
exactly news, that there is no evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaeda or the
9/11 plot in particular.
Actually, though, what's more interesting is some of the information in
, Overview of the Enemy. It is meant to be a capsule
history and analysis of al-Qaeda. It misses a few elementary points,
actually saying that al-Qaeda was created by bin Laden, not Abdullah
Azzam, but that can probably be understood simply as an effect of
trying to quickly gloss over a dozen years as background.
The most interesting part of the conclusions, if they can be trusted,
have to do with money. First, as the report says,
Contrary to popular understanding, Bin Laden
did not fund al-Qaeda
through a personal fortune and a network of businesses. Instead,
al-Qaeda relied primarily on a fundraising network developed over time.
Bin Laden never received a $300 million inheritance. From 1970 until
approximately 1994, he received about $1 million per year -- a
significant sum, but hardly a $300 million fortune that could be used
to fund a global jihad. According to Saudi officials and
representatives of the Bin Laden family, Bin Ladin was divested of his
share of his family's wealth.
Next, toward the end of the statement:
Al-Qaeda's money was distributed
as quickly as it was raised -- what was made was spent. The CIA
estimates that $30 million was spent annually, including paying for
terrorist operations, maintaining terrorist training camps, paying
salaries to jihadists, contributing to the Taliban, funding fighters in
Afghanistan, and sporadically contributing to related terrorist
organizations. The largest expense was payments to the Taliban, which
totalled an estimated $10-20 million per year. Actual terrorist
operations were relatively cheap.
If these conclusions can be trusted, some pretty clear conclusions
follow. If al-Qaeda was spending $30 million annually, then it is
prohibitively unlikely that it got any significant levels of support
from any state with real access to resources. As I have said now and
then on this blog, had the Bush administration actually thought there
was the slightest chance that Saddam's government would aid al-Qaeda in
any way, they would never have gone to war in the way they did. During
their year of blustering, when it was clear that war was coming, Saddam
could easily have transferred funds to al-Qaeda that would have
dramatically increased their ability to conduct attacks -- especially
since it looks as if the lion's share of their budget is tied down in
administrative expenses, leaving much less for discretionary programs
like the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the administration had to have been
confident that Saddam would never give al-Qaeda anything, or they
couldn't have taken the risk that he would enable them at one stroke to
increase their basic capacity by a factor of 10 or more.
Second, it seems to rule out significant support from any major
political players in the Saudi state. Given that the royal family is so
large and the politics so Byzantine, it is possible that bin Laden has
sympathizers, or people who want to use him as a catspaw, in the royal
family; it doesn't seem possible that any members with genuine power
are providing him with resources.
In fact, the 9/11 Commission did draw both of these conclusions; the
point is, though, that the rest of what they have to say seems actually
to be genuinely consistent with those conclusions.
June 16, 1:50 pm
Right from the first draft of what eventually became UNSCR
, there was language about turning over nominal control of
Iraq's oil revenues from the CPA, where it now lies, to the Iraqi
interim government. This nod in the direction of sovereignty was likely
part of the desperate attempts the administration had to make to
salvage its credibility after Fallujah and Abu Ghraib.
Even so, however, careful readers will have noted that part of the deal
is that the interim government is required to honor all existing
obligations. The obvious guess, then, was that the CPA would load up
the new government with lots of forward-looking obligations for further
reconstruction contracts, partly to cement the role of U.S.
corporations in the new Iraq, partly to reduce the discretionary funds
available to the new government.
And, it turns out that, according to George Soros's Iraq Revenue Watch
, this is
the CPA has done
. In a meeting on May 15, the CPA's Program Review
Board allocated close to $2 billion for a host of new, poorly accounted
and poorly documented programs. For example, this includes $500 million
more for "security," without any explanation of why the $3.2 billion
allocated by the U.S. Congress is not enough.
Perhaps most egregious of the new expenditures is $180 million to the
Iraq Property Claims Commission to "resolve real property issues
resulting from the previous regime's unjust expropriation of land."
Now, the previous regime did plenty of unjust expropriation. But this
phrase, in the mindset of U.S. officials, would apply equally well to
land reform. During the 1990's, as part of the new modus vivendi
between Saddam and a resurgent tribal hierarchy, some of the previous
land reform was undone and the traditional "rights" of giant landowners
reasserted. To undo the rest and actually turn smallholders into
tenants is probably politically untenable, but it remains to be seen
just who is given this $180 million and for what reason. For any
reporters out there: it's worth investigating what if anything will be
coming to people like Ghazi al-Yawer, who has gone from calling the
assault on Fallujah "genocide" to doing PR work for the occupation.
Cubans especially can look forward to having the "unjust
expropriations" carried out after the overthrow of Batista undone if
there is a future "regime change." Syrians too, perhaps; land reform in
Syria was probably the most comprehensive in the region, thanks to the
general agrarian orientation and left leaning of the Ba'ath Party
(especially in the 1950's and 60's).
June 14, 10:10 pm
Yet more on the Iraq Sovereignty Watch. Check out this Post
Immunity a Divisive Issue
. According to the article, soldiers in
the "multinational force" authorized by the recently-passed U.N.
Security Council Resolution 1546 enjoy immunity from prosecution in
Iraq by virtue of the provisions of the resolution and the attached
letters (one from Ayad Allawi, one from Colin Powell) -- although it's
very hard to see that from reading the actual text
However, the resolution does not deal with the status of the "civilian"
contractors who play such a crucial role in the occupation. The
"sovereign" Iraqi government-to-be has the strange idea that allowing a
bunch of foreigners in your country complete legal impunity is not only
a bad idea but an abrogation of sovereignty. The United States, in its
great respect for Iraqi sovereignty, is pushing the government to
provide civilian contractors the same extraterritorial immunity
supposedly already granted to U.S. and other foreign soldiers.
On a related note, Moqtada al-Sadr is forming
a political party
, hoping to contest the elections that are
supposed to be held by next January. Unless something changes, however,
he would be barred from running for election because of an imperial
edict promulgated by L. Paul Bremer III just last week (his order bars
those with "illegal" militias from running for office), even though one
would imagine the sovereign government of Iraq would have had plenty of
time to consider that issue between June 30 and January.
June 12, 5:15 pm
Interesting news from Britain. On Friday, they held local
elections and the reigning Labour Party came
. The Tories got 38% of the vote, the Liberal Democrats
29%, and Labour 26%. According to the Independent, "it is believed to
have been the first time the governing party has come third in the
Tony Blair acknowledged that Iraq was the primary reason for the
debacle: "The Liberal Democrats have fought a campaign basically around
Iraq. Iraq has been a shadow over our support." He also apologized to
the 548 Labour politicians who lost their seats in the elections (84
gained new seats).
It's not clear how much these results foreshadow for national
elections, but they can't exactly be a good sign.
So far, Blair's re-election strategy has been his own variant of
Margaret Thatcher's famous TINA -- There Is No Alternative. Sure, he's
thoroughly annoyed the left within Labour, the grassroots, and normal
people who are repelled by his shedding crocodile tears for the world's
poor in service of a rebirth of Western colonialism in the Middle East.
But what are those people supposed to do? Vote for the Tories? Not
bloody likely. Or so the reasoning has gone.
Blair has felt that his only challenge is to hold onto leadership of
the party. Even that is not a sure thing -- the calls for his head from
the back benches and even from former cabinet members like Clare Short
(who resigned over the Iraq war) are growing louder.
These results should be a wake-up call to the members of Labour who
still believe in some of its founding ideals. Continuing to line up
behind Tony Blair because of tribal affiliation and because he can
properly triangulate the electorate may get them thrown out on their
collective ears. Pragmatism is not always the most pragmatic choice, if
you know what I mean. Come to think of it, maybe it should be a wakeup
call for some others as well.
June 11, 5:35 pm
It seems as if the State Department is just as arithmetically
challenged as the Defense Department. Remember Paul Wolfowitz telling
us that Iraq could finance reconstruction out of its oil revenues,
which, as it turns out, barely cover day-to-day operating expenses? Or
telling us that roughly 500 U.S. soldiers had been killed when the true
number was edging toward 750 (it's now over 830)?
Well, check out this article, U.S.
Wrongly Reported Drop in Terrorism in 2003
, in the Times. It
starts like this:
The State Department acknowledged Thursday
that it was wrong in
reporting that terrorism declined worldwide last year, a finding the
Bush administration had pointed to as evidence of its success in
Instead, the number of incidents and the toll in
victims increased sharply, the department said.
In April, they made a big deal out of what was reportedly a minuscule,
hardly noticeable drop in the number of terrorist incidents:
J. Cofer Black, coordinator of the State
Department's Counterterrorism Office, cited the 190 acts of terrorism
in 2003, down from 198 in 2002, as "good news" and predicted the trend
would continue. Richard L. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state,
said at the time, "You will find in these pages clear evidence that we
are prevailing in the fight."
Pretty lofty conclusions from a decline of about 4%. But
actually there were numerous errors and the final result is a
significant increase both in number of acts and in number of victims.
Part of the problem:
Among the mistakes, Mr. Boucher said, was
only part of 2003 was taken into account.
I'm no expert on statistics, but it seems to me that comparing the
number of incidents in an entire year with the number in part of a year
is a pretty basic error.
Now, of course, there might be some of you out there who wish to defend
the arithmetical ability of both State and Defense by pointing out that
whenever they make "errors," the errors always tend in the same
direction, to make the administration look better. You might even
produce arguments to show that the likelihood, if the errors were truly
random, that all of them would pile up on one side, is negligible.
But if you make those arguments to Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Armitage be
sure to speak very slowly and draw lots of pictures.
June 10, 5:36 pm
The Center for Economic and
has a new report out called Beyond Torture: U.S.
Violations of Occupation Law in Iraq
. It is a broad survey of the
different realms of international law being violated, rather than an
in-depth analysis of any particular area.
CESR is a human rights organization dedicated to working against
another one of the aspects of the Reagan legacy -- his attempt to
redefine human rights as civil and political only, the so-called "core
human rights." CESR works to give economic and social rights, which are
just as prominent in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, equal
standing in real political situations.
CESR was founded by people who put together the famed Harvard Study
Team, a group of medical and technical experts who went to Iraq in
April 1991, surveyed the situation, and predicted that something on the
order of 170,000 children might die that year as a result of the
destruction of infrastructure and the harshly punitive sanctions that
were reimposed on Iraq that month. In the years to follow, that figure
was left far behind.
June 9, 4:36 pm
It's now official, because it's in the Times today. In
addition to frequent attacks on Iraq under cover of enforcing the
illegal "no-fly zones," illegal covert operations in northern Iraq, and
harshly punitive sanctions (made particularly deadly by the way the United States
), the United States also, through the CIA, sponsored
terrorist attacks in Baghdad
in the early 90's.
And Iraq's new Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, was at the heart of the
Now, let's get this straight. We had to attack Iraq because of the
threat of terrorism. Even though the State Department's 2000 Patterns of
Global Terrorism Report
said very clearly, "The regime has not
attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since its failed plot to
assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait." And even though
Seymour Hersh adequately debunked
the U.S. case
regarding the alleged assassination attempt back in
And now we admit on the pages of the Paper of Record that we, not Iraq,
were the terrorist threat.
June 8, 10:00 pm
The Bush administration plans to pull
12,500 troops out of South Korea
, one third of the 37,000 that are
currently stationed there. This is hardly a surprise, given how much
the occupation of Iraq has overstretched the capacity of the U.S.
This particular development is often presented by liberal opponents of
the administration as the claim that the occupation of Iraq is
imperiling our security by forcing us to divert resources from bigger
threats like North Korea.
There is no doubt that the administration's repeated threats to North
Korea -- its inclusion in the "axis of evil," the leaking of part of
the classified Nuclear Posture Review in which nuclear attacks on North
Korea are contemplated, and of course the development of Operations
, which calls for a series of escalating provocations by
the United States in order to lead to war -- is not only immoral but
incredibly reckless. There is also little doubt that North Korea's
forcing of the nuclear issue, withdrawal from the Nonproliferation
Treaty, etc., is a response to these increasingly bellicose signals
from the Bush administration. This is playing with fire -- unlike
Saddam's regime, North Korea can defend itself.
But all of this seems to confuse people about the central point. North
Korea is no more likely to attack -- either the United States or South
Korea -- than Iraq was, than Iran is, than Syria, Libya, or whoever
else is. No state has attacked the United States since Pearl Harbor. No
state is planning to. There is thus no imaginable reason to go to war
with North Korea.
If there is a genuine threat of North Korea giving nuclear weapons or
ballistic missile technology to stateless terrorist organizations that
might contemplate attacking the United States -- and there is currently
no evidence that North Korea is contemplating this -- then it is a
threat that would be exacerbated by a buildup to war. And even more so
during the actual war, which would cause mass destruction not just in
North Korea but in South Korea. Obviously.
This is yet another issue on which Kerry is hard-pressed to
differentiate himself from Bush. About all he can say is, "I would
negotiate too -- but I'd do it better." In fact, in a Washington
Post op-ed about North Korea
that he wrote last year, he closes by
explicitly holding out the "military option" as a possibility.
June 7, 11:30 pm
At this point, the outcome of the new draft resolution on
Iraq is a foregone conclusion. By Monday, the resolution was already on
its fourth draft. It will come to a vote
At long last, the text of the
The United States was forced to add language about expiry of the
mandate for the occupying forces, which didn't exist in the first
draft, and add language specifying that the mandate expires in January
2006 -- although it can be continued at the "invitation" of the new
Iraqi government. It was forced to allow the Interim Government
the legal authority to terminate the mandate at any time. It was forced
to specify that the Interim Government would have nominal control over
the Iraqi security forces.
Even before the submission of the first draft to the Security Council,
political developments had been such that the United States had needed
to give over nominal control of Iraq's oil revenues to the Interim
Government. The latest draft adds additional language specifically
stating that the Interim Government takes over the responsibilities of
the Oil for Food program from the CPA.
What the United States did not cave on was the truly crucial point.
Although initially France and others insisted that the Interim
Government have some level of veto power over U.S. military operations,
finally a deal was worked out with some flowery, noncommittal language
about "coordination" and the need for "operational unity." Of course,
the result is that the United States has affirmed its right to direct
the actions of the occupying forces, which means that the Iraqi
government's "sovereignty" is exercised at the pleasure of the United
More on this later, but it looks as if the United States is going over
to the more sensible (from an imperialist standpoint) minimalist route
espoused earlier by State and the CIA -- don't try to build a colonial
administration from the ground up, just prop up a corrupt puppet
administration that will do your bidding on important matters like
foreign policy, oil, and even lesser matters like arms contracts, but
has full responsibility over garbage collection.
June 6, 11:50 pm
Lots of news today, but first another anniversary post. This
is the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy by the
Americans, British, and others, which opened up a Western front for the
Nazis to have to fight on.
The most salient fact about D-Day is one that is not often mentioned,
except in detailed scholarly accounts. It certainly got short shrift in
C.L. Sulzberger's absurd picture history of World War 2, which is where
I first learned about the war. But I remember it occurred to me even at
the age of eight.
Why was D-Day so late? June 6, 1944, is a mere 11 months before V-E Day
(May 8, 1945). And yet Western Europe had been occupied as of May 1940,
four years earlier.
The basic answer is extremely simple, although it is almost entirely
unknown in the United States except by war buffs. The United States was
happy to let Europe remain under Nazi occupation while the Nazis bled
the Soviet Union. Almost the entire brunt of fighting the Nazis was
borne by the Soviet Union. The Americans and British, before D-Day,
deliberately engaged primarily in comparatively small battles in North
Africa and southern Italy, fighting the Italians as often as the
Germans (of course, it was more complicated than this, because World
War 2 was much more truly a world war than the first, but for the
purposes of analysis this isn't far wrong).
Even with the eventual opening of a Western front and heavy fighting
first at Normandy and later at the Battle of the Bulge, a common
estimate is that 80%
of German military casualties were sustained
on the Eastern front
with the Soviet Union (and virtually all of the casualties of the
"satellites" like Romania). And current estimates of the number of
Soviet dead put it in the neighborhood of 27 million.
The timing is actually a little more complicated than that. If, for
example, you read Gabriel Kolko's seminal book about World War 2, The Politics of War
, you will find
from the various diplomatic communiques running around that the
Americans were furious over the British maneuvering to delay D-Day
while pushing for a Balkan invasion strategy.
In fact, the Americans had two considerations that were partly in
conflict. They wanted the Soviet "greatest generation" to bear the
casualties and kill the Germans for them, so they could sweep in with
minimal casualties; at the same time, they wanted to take over as much
territory themselves as possible and in particular to make sure the
Soviets could not occupy the heavily industrialized Western regions of
In the event, the Americans did rather well, having the Soviets do most
of the fighting while they took most of the important territory. Even
Eisenhower's decision not to drive toward Berlin, much derided by the
American right, was an excellent decision in light of these two
conflicting imperatives. The Soviets lost as many as 300,000 in the
final assault on Berlin, and Eisenhower was able to take
Schleswig-Holstein and seal off Scandinavia from the Soviets.
Individuals from countries around the world gave their lives to defeat
fascism. 300,000 of them were Americans. Every one of them deserves to
be honored for his or her sacrifice. And I do honor them. But to claim
this as the province of one country the way so many Americans do is
reprehensible. It's also illogical.
We are constantly treated to propaganda about how the world owes
America so much because of the sacrifices it made for freedom. The fact
that freedom was not what we were fighting for is irrelevant to these
claims because the apologists for American policy like to say, "Well,
we were better than the Germans, the Japanese, the Soviets." Today, the
fact that America is not fighting for freedom for Iraqis but against
that freedom is irrelevent because "we're better than Saddam."
If we take this kind of reasoning seriously and laud the United States
for the fact that it put in place in Germany and Japan regimes better
than those of Hitler and Tojo and may conceivably put in place in Iraq
a regime better than Saddam's (so far, the record is mixed -- less
repressive but far worse at providing basic needs), then the obvious
corollary is this: The Soviets sacrificed far more, did far more to
stop the Nazis, and thus are a far greater defender of freedom than the
United States ever was.
Oddly, one doesn't hear this reasoning very much. Of course, I don't
reason this way, and I think the crimes of the United States and of the
Soviet Union have been inexcusable. But the people who do reason this
way should at least be consistent, right? Don't they owe that to those
who died on Omaha Beach?
June 5, 11:50 pm
37 years ago today, Israel launched the Six-Day War, in which
it badly defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and
as a result of which it occupied the Golan Heights (Syria), the West
Bank (Jordan), the Gaza Strip (Egypt), and the Sinai (Egypt). As a
result of the 1978 Camp David accords, Israel withdrew from the Sinai
in exchange for Egypt's washing its hands of the Palestinians' plight
and declaring a peace that allowed Israel to ratchet up its aggression
against other countries on its borders, including Lebanon, without fear
of serious consequences.
But you know all of that. What I want to focus on here is not the
suffering of the Palestinians, the effect of 1967 on the Arab world, or
anything like that, but the problem that 1967 created for Israel -- and
how the recent plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza relates to that
The ethnic cleansing of 1948, in which, through a campaign of terror,
roughly 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land (as with any
event like this, exact figures vary), and in which Israel fought off a
challenge to its existence from several Arab nations, caused some
problems. In particular, Israel became a nation surrounded by enemies,
which is never nice. But internally the problems were minor because
non-Jews were a minority. In fact, had the ethnic cleansing been more
thorough, the internal problem would have been smaller. It's very
likely that, had Israel changed its policies after 1948, it could have
outlived the consequences of its actions (by 1953 or 54, this was
becoming unlikely, and after its participation in the 1956 Suez
invasion, it was extremely unlikely).
1967 was very different. In addition to the external problems of
dealing with once again hostile nations and the added burden of
occupying the territory of other sovereign states, it took on a massive
internal problem -- the "demographic problem."
Israel is created as a Jewish state. It is also set up internally as a
partial democracy -- non-Jews can vote and hold office, but there
are legal discriminations against them and they are not equal citizens
either de jure or de facto. Still, a non-Jewish majority with the
right to vote means a fundamental problem for the continuation of the
When Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, it could not simply annex
them, because there would then be too many non-Jews as citizens and the
potential for a demographic problem would be created (they wouldn't
have been 50%, but would be a huge minority with the potential over
time to become a majority). So there was a question of what to do.
The Labor Party accepted and understood the demographic problem right
from the beginning and crafted a policy response early on. In 1968, for
example, the Allon plan called for Israel to annex roughly 40% of the
West Bank, so as to get enough of the resources of the West Bank (water
and agricultural land) without getting too many of the people. In its
inception, Oslo was largely about getting the Palestinians to acquiesce
to implementation of the Allon plan -- with some arguments about
whether one would go for Allon or Allon plus or even a little more.
The Likud, on the other hand, resolutely stuck its head in the sand and
refused to acknowledge the demographic problem. They didn't want to
give back an inch of the West Bank (nobody has ever been particularly
keen on keeping Gaza), nor did they want to compromise the Jewish
nature of the state, nor, in their official pronouncements, did they
want to get rid of all the Arabs who were inconveniently living on
Now, large parts of the Likud have for years been talking about
"transfer," the genteel euphemism for some policy of mass expulsions of
Palestinians (and the way it's been tried since 2000 is by
progressively making life impossible, as I've posted on before). This
is at least an imaginable response to the demographic problem, although
these discussions always had the status of an "open secret" --
everybody knows about them but only extremists actually avow them.
Insofar as the Likud was willing to discuss the demographic problem, it
was to call for a maximalist, no-compromise position that might well
invite an entirely new level of international opprobrium.
Well, sometime last fall there were signs that the Likud, at least
parts of it, were willing at the same time to aknowledge the
demographic problem and to say that a maximalist solution to it was not
possible. In particular, Ehud Olmert started saying it loud and clear.
This was also around the time that Ariel Sharon started using the term,
"Palestinian state" -- a major break for him, since his position has
always been, "Jordan is Palestine."
And now, let's finally get to the point. Check out this recent
by Jonathan Freedland. Here's an excerpt:
Does this mean Sharon is genuine about pulling
out of Gaza?
Those around him insist he is. One blue-tongued member of his inner
circle told me last week that Sharon "wants to get the fuck out of Gaza
- with all his heart. He needs it the way he needs another arsehole."
Which is not to say the old man has undergone a late conversion,
turning peacemaker in his twilight years. Sharon has his own pragmatic
reasons for wanting to get out.
Those are best articulated by Sharon's deputy, the
vice-prime minister Ehud Olmert. Unpopular with the Likud
rank-and-file, he has become an outrider for the PM, going further and
faster than Sharon ever could - but thereby revealing his boss's true
direction of travel.
When I spoke to him yesterday, he was pretty explicit about
the strategic thinking behind the Gaza plan. It is all about
demographics. Within a few years, he explained, there will be an equal
number of Arabs and Jews living between the Jordanriver and the
Mediterranean Sea - the combined area of Israel, the West Bank and
Gaza, all currently under Israeli control. In 15 years, thanks to their
faster birthrate, the Palestinians will be a majority. "I want to live
in a Jewish state," Olmert told me. "I don't want to live in a
Olmert understands that the demographic
beginning to enter Palestinian thinking, too. Aware that they are fast
becoming a majority in historic Palestine, the Palestinians are poised
to shift their struggle from what Olmert calls an Algerian model to a
South African one. Instead of demanding an end to occupation and
national self-determination, he reckons the Palestinians are set to ask
for nothing more than one-person-one-vote in all of the territory
Israel now governs: the West Bank, Gaza and Israel itself.
If they get their way - and Olmert knows that international
opinion could hardly oppose such a demand - they would soon have
majority rule in a single entity and Israel would cease to exist as a
This sounded the alarm for him and, it seems, Sharon too.
According to David Landau, editor of the liberal daily Haaretz, the PM,
afraid of being remembered as the man who lost the Jewish state by
sheer inaction, "went for the simplest, crudest solution: to dump Gaza
and its 1.3 million Arabs in the hope that that would 'buy us' 50 more
Basically, Gaza has too many Arabs and not enough of anything that
Israel wants, and is an easy sacrifice in order to continue with
expansion into the West Bank and continuing the creation of Eretz
Yisrael without coming to terms with any fundamental issues.
This is all assuming that the Gaza withdrawal is a real plan, like
giving back the Sinai, and not for show, like the Oslo negotiations.
I'm not sure of Sharon's motivations, but I think Olmert has been
pretty convincing about the fact that he recognizes the demographic
problem -- a mere 37 years after the fact.
June 4, 5:40 pm
More thoughts on Tenet. As I said yesterday, my take on the
Bush administration is that they don't fire people for incompetence or
failure but only for perceived disloyalty to Bush. And the only area I
could even imagine where Bush might feel disloyalty from Tenet (who
fell on his sword over the 16 words last summer and even allowed
himself to be portrayed in Woodward's book as the one who sold Bush on
Iraqi WMD) was over Chalabi.
There is a lot to be said about the specifics of the Chalabi charges,
but, to be sure, the whole incident smells very
rotten. If you haven't read this
, check it out. One of the new allegations is that Chalabi
told the Baghdad station chief of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and
Security that the United States was able to read all their
communications -- and that the station chief, informed that his
channels of communication were compromised, then informed Teheran on a
compromised channel. As Richard Perle points out (he's quoted in the
article), this is a ridiculous error for such a person to make.
Now, back to Tenet. A good place to begin is an article in the Post
today by Glenn Kessler, For
Personal Reasons, or Is He the Fall Guy?
The article begins,
When three hijacked planes crashed into the
Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands, no one took the fall in the
nation went to war in Iraq on the basis of intelligence about weapons
of mass destruction that turned out to be wildly wrong, no one took the
Add to that the fact that neither Rumsfeld nor any senior military
commanders seem to be in much peril over the Abu Ghraib abuses, which
have been such a major political setback for the United States.
To believe that Tenet was forced to resign because of CIA failures,
even with an impending public release of the Senate Intelligence
Committee's report, one has to believe that the ultimate blind
ideological "stay the course regardless of the facts" administration
has suddenly fundamentally changed its modus operandi.
In the world of Washington groupthink, it's difficult, as Paul Krugman
mentioned in the introduction to his last book, for people to adjust to
the thinking of a genuinely new and revolutionary group like that at
the heart of the Bush administration. And so one gets the bizarre
result, as Kessler says, that
While defenders accepted the official
explanation, those eager to
tarnish the administration saw the departure as proof that somebody was
finally paying the price for the assorted intelligence failures.
Let's run that by in slow motion again. Those "eager to tarnish the
administration" are claiming that the administration has finally
overcome its besetting vice and learned to admit failure and change its
course, while defenders are claiming that the administration has not
learned from its failures. Go figure.
Now, let me spin for you my tentative interpretation of the whole
First, Tenet has been wanting to resign. Again, as Kessler says, "Tenet
had sought to leave at several points last year, but President
Bush had persuaded him to stay, as administration officials told it."
This is perfectly plausible, even though administration officials are
saying it. Tenet is not an insane solipsistic ideologue of the type
that characterizes this administration, so may not be happy over being
the butt of so much criticism, some of it undoubtedly deserved.
Second, Bush has been pressuring him not to quit, for the very obvious
reason that his resigning for any reason would be seen as an
administration admission of failure, which is something that is never
to be done (remember Bush, put on the spot by a reporter, unable to
think of a single mistake he had made).
Third, some group of important people, no doubt including many in the
CIA, decided that the administration's push to put Chalabi in charge
after the "transfer of sovereignty" was a disaster. So this campaign
claiming that Chalabi is an Iranian spy was launched -- at the moment,
I remain agnostic over the actual claims, but the point is that it came
There are two clear reasons for the anti-Chalabi campaign.
The minor one is that Chalabi, after Bush and Sharon, is the most hated
man in Iraq, and thus a political liability for the administration. Far
more important from the point of view of the foreign policy
establishment, Chalabi was vehemently opposed to the administration's
recent turn towards recruiting senior Ba'athist figures to re-establish
some ability to control Iraq after the debacle of April. Fallujah is
harmless when patrolled by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, but a major
threat to U.S. power in Iraq when American troops were invading.
Chalabi's opposition is dangerous because it's not just about words --
he has the files on important Iraqi figures and would be in a position
to threaten any U.S. plans unless he was scared with a
personally-targeted attack like the raid on his house.
Fourth, the neoconservatives are furious at this assertion of CIA/State
Dept/establishment prerogatives and go to Bush demanding Tenet's head.
Tenet is already a pain, since Bush has to keep cajoling him to stay in
office, so the burden of convincing Bush is easier to meet.
June 3, 9:10 pm
Tenet's resignation is a big question mark. Somehow, I think
nobody over the age of about three believes that he resigned(effective
July 11) in order to spend more time with his family.
But why? Until now, I'd have said I understood the Bush administration
policy on resignations. Have people who demonstrate disloyalty -- Paul
O'Neill, for example -- resign. But stand by anyone who shows loyalty
-- Tenet, Rumsfeld -- no matter how much they have screwed up.
There is no sign, however, that Tenet has shown any disloyalty. I'm
still reserving judgment, but the obvious conjecture is that this is
fallout from Chalabi in some way. If the break with Chalabi could get
the Times to apologize, getting a CIA director to resign is nothing in
More on this as it is revealed to me. And coming soon: reporting from
the Take Back America conference, attended by 2000 people, and a
special short interview with rogue ex-CIA analyst Mel Goodman.
June 3, 8:30 pm
that anti-Chavez forces have finally succeeded in
their attempt to obtain a recall referendum on Chavez. Needing about
2.44 million authenticated signatures, apparently they got 2.45 million.
Chavez has faced a three-stage orchestrated regime-change strategy,
with each stage having a greater veneer of legitimacy than the previous
First, was the straight-up military coup on April 11, 2002 -- hailed
by the New York Times
as a victory for democracy (even though the
first act of Pedro Carmona Estanga, the "responsible businessman" who
replaced him, was to dissolve the National Assembly). Within days, it
transpired that the National Endowment for Democracy had
funneled $877,000 to anti-Chavez
forces and that key Bush
administration officials like Otto Reich had met with coup plotter
before the coup.
Then, in late 2002 and early 2003, there was the "general strike." This
was not actually a general strike by labor, but a combination of a
strike by the managerial and some of the technical elite at PDVSA, the
state oil company, and a lockout by employers like small business
owners. Venezuela's economy was hit hard, oil wells were shut down with
likely permanent damage to their production capacity, and the country
was on the verge of dissolving into chaos.
Finally, in 2003, there was the recall referendum, launched by the same
oligarchy that has been spearheading the anti-Chavez campaign. The
National Electoral Commission called attention to numerous problems,
including 375,000 faked signatures and 800,000 in similar handwriting
(staff workers paid by the anti-Chavistas filled out the forms "for"
people). The Commission decided that a period for "rectification" of
signatures would be provided, and the oligarchists managed to succeed.
Chavez maintains his complete willingness to be subject to the decision
of the Commission and, if necessary, to a recall election. He recently
had a remarkable
published in the Post.
The outcome of this whole business is a matter of critical importance
to the world order.
June 2, 10:05 am
Your faithful correspondent is going down to Washington DC
today to cover the Take
Back America conference
. MoveOn, Howard Dean, Robert Reich, Jesse
Jackson, and much more. You get the scoop on the strategy of the
slightly left of center Democrats in this exciting election season. I
note already that in three days packed with sessions, there is only one
workshop (part of four parallel sessions) on "Real
Security and the Iraq Debacle."
Given that Iraq is the pivotal issue of the election, this is not a
good sign. But
I'm keeping expenses for this trip down, but if you want to support my intrepid
, it's much appreciated.
For those of you in the DC area, I'm also speaking on Friday in the
June 2, 10:00 am
Check out this interesting dispatch
from Dahr Jamail
about the new president of Iraq, Ghazi Ajil
June 2, 9:45 am
Check out the text of the revised
. You can notice that the critical clause about
duration of the occupying forces' mandate has been changed:
10. Decides further that this mandate for the
multinational force shall be reviewed at the request of the
Transitional Government of Iraq or twelve months from the
date of this resolution, and that this mandate shall expire
upon the completion of the political process set out in
paragraph three above and declares its readiness to
terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the elected
Transitional Government of Iraq;
So now there is once again explicit language about expiry of the
mandate, likely by January 2006 (the conditions in paragraph 3 include
formation of the Interim government, elections to the Legislative
Assembly, no later than January 2005, and convening of a national
conference on creating a constitution).
It also explicitly states that the Iraqi government will have control
over Iraqi security forces. Of course, the main issue is still not
addressed -- that the "sovereign" government, which was picked by a
foreign occupier (the Interim government looks
almost identical to
the Governing Council government), also has to
deal with the continuing presence of a military occupying force,
subject to no constraint in its actions, with full extraterritorial
immunity for every person in that force.
The latest developments have revealed some ugly things about the
political situation in Iraq.
In a nutshell: The people are completely frustrated with the occupation
(in the center and south -- the north basically runs itself and the
occupation is very minimalist, so public opinion is different there)
and overwhelming majorities want the United States to leave. At the
same time, except for the armed resistance, political parties with
popular support express criticism of the United States in public to
keep their support while in private they feel forced to deal with and
acquiesce to continuing manifestations of U.S. control. This is a
recipe for corruption and abuse of power. It also heralds the potential
creation of a government that, even if there are real elections, is
heavily beholden to the United States and ignored public opinion
(except to manipulate it).
Not exactly democracy.
Note that once again the feeling of a need for a U.N. imprimatur forces
the United States to, very slightly, rein in its demands. The biggest
thing, which happened even before the draft resolution was promulgated,
was that, to avoid international opprobrium, the United States was
forced to stipulate that after June 30 Iraq's oil revenue has to be
disbursed and controlled by the Iraqi government (subject to existing
obligations to Halliburton and Bechtel).
It's not much, but right now there are very few forces, except for the
armed resistance in Iraq, that can trim back even by a hair America's
imperial ambitions. Insofar as the United Nations is a forum that the
United States uses to gain legitimacy, that legitimacy often comes at a
certain cost -- however small.
At the same time, there's no denying that on, for example, Haiti, the
Security Council caved shamefully without imposing any conditions.
June 1, 5:15 pm
From the Times -- The
Price of Rice Soars and Haiti's Hunger Deepens.
As the article
says, for many Haitians the price of rice is a bigger concern even than
the recent flooding that killed over 1000 people:
Many Haitians eat one meal a day. The main
course is rice, and the price of a 110-pound sack doubled, to $45 from
$22.50, between late January and early May. That price has dropped to
about $37 in the past few weeks...
True to the imperatives of the Times, somehow, even the fact that rice
was cheaper under Aristide gets turned into an indictment of said "slum
But Haitian businessmen say Mr. Aristide's
government kept the price of rice down through corruption.
One leading importer said an Aristide crony received a near exclusive
concession on rice imports and evaded customs duties. That evasion
allowed the rice concessionaire to cut about $3 a bag off the market
price, pass some of the savings on to the market and pocket the rest.
With a change in price as high as $22.50 per bag, they choose to focus
on some unspecified portion of $3 per bag for the rice provided by one
importer. And if there is less of this corruption now (no reason to
assume this), does this mean that government customs duties have
skyrocketed? Pardon me if I ask for some concrete figures.
We also get treated to the Times' typical "deep background" work:
Haiti used to grow its own rice. But its
agriculture has collapsed in the past two decades, crushed by poverty,
environmental destruction and foreign imports.
This tells us everything except what we need to know: the causes of any
of these things. In particular, the rise in imports of American rice
can be directly traced to the "structural adjustment" Aristide was
forced by the United States to impose from 1994 as a condition of his
When decrying the occupation of Iraq, let us not forget the equally
despicable "regime change" in Haiti.
June 1, 5:05 pm
Thanks to all the people who wrote me "happy birthday" posts.
The wishes are much appreciated.
I want to clarify something. Whenever someone talks about impending
environmental collapse, the right wing loves to jump in and talk about
the previous apocalypse-mongering and how woefully incorrect it has
turned out -- from Malthus to the Club of Rome's 1971 report, "The
Limits to Growth."
And, indeed, these days only a fool makes specific predictions -- i.e.,
in 30 years industrial civilization will collapse because of lack of
oil. Indeed, one can almost say that any specific prediction is likely
to be wrong. At the same time, there are so many gathering,
proliferating threats, with attendant uncalculatable synergistic
effects, that even if specific predictions are wrong a general
prediction of catastrophic events in the near future is very unlikely
to be wrong.
We should also be clear about what this means. It's fair to say that
large parts of the world are today living through major catastrophes.
22 million people, mostly in Africa, have died of AIDS. In some African
countries, the incidence of HIV infections is over 25%. According to
some estimates, global warming has already killed hundreds of thousands
or more because of famine and general drops in productivity.
Future catastrophes will look like instensifications of these kinds of
trends, with effects reaching into the First World as well. They most
likely won't look like a sudden tidal wave engulfing New York -- at
least not for quite some time.
from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and U.S. War Crimes "Report
from Baghdad -- Winning Hearts and Minds"Report
from Fallujah -- Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it"Report
from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell"War
on Terrorism" Makes Us All Less Safe Bush
-- Is the Tide Turning?Perle and
vs. Dean SOU
2004: Myth and