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"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.

"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

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June 30, 10:30 pm EST. An important article by Mohamad Bazzi of Newsday (which unfortunately has a rather silly headline).
On the very day that the 25-member council dissolved itself, 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 Council.


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 EST. Finally, we see the mainstream media use the l-word in relation to Bush -- in a Nicholas Kristof column 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 confusion."

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 EST. You gotta love the mainstream media. Check out this AP report 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 drives this 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 potential.
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, these two governments are natural allies. It's a shame it took them so long to see that.

June 28, 3:35 pm EST. The big news today is that, without any prior announcement, the United States moved up 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 be clear.

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 EST. One more example of the lying ways of the Bush administration, 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 EST. 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 public opinion.

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 article, Foes 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 months now):
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 said.
Interestingly, even the armed resistance participated in this exercise:
In a similar vein, a group of masked fighters in Fallujah 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 these acts:
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 reported 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 political space.

June 25, 6:05 pm EST. After a little discussion with Justin Podur of The Killing Train, I've 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 politically. 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 EST. 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 the attack. You be the judge.

All of this takes place in an atmosphere of a Marine loss of patience 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 assault.

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 mutilating four 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 Marines in April have been surrendered.
  • The brigade has not been able to produce foreign terrorists 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 EST. Very sinister developments in Iraq recently, especially today. Over 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 Mosul.

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 impression.

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 politically.

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 groups.

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 considered kafir.

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 EST. 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 naive. Latin 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 EST. 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 17, 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 EST. 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 TV.

A sad state of affairs when there's more news in comedy than in the news.

June 22, 11:50 pm EST. 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 Iraqi Projects, 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 best.

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 EST. 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 F-).

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 out against 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 Thursday.

"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 resolution.

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 EST. 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 says, "That 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 the lie that "Hussein kicked U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq in 1998."

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 story).

Please join me in flooding 60 Minutes with letters calling for a retraction of this so-venerable lie. You go to the 60 Minutes site 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 EST. 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 EST. More regarding the amazing double standard that comes out in virtually all commentary on Chavez. The Post article mentioned earlier today, Embattled 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 country's revenue."

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.
And again:
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 strike).

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 profit.

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 EST. 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 constant dollars, 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 EST. 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 riches.

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 EST. The 9/11 Commission's report promulgated this morning, Staff Statement 17, 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 lesser incidents.

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 second tower.

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 plane.

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 minutes.

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 of attacks 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 EST. Some wheat amid the chaff of the 9/11 Commission. You can see a transcript 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 Statement 16, 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 Staff Statement 15, 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 EST. Right from the first draft of what eventually became UNSCR 1546, 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 precisely what 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 EST. Yet more on the Iraq Sovereignty Watch. Check out this Post article, Contractor 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 EST. Interesting news from Britain. On Friday, they held local elections and the reigning Labour Party came in third. 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 local elections."

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 EST. 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 countering terror.

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 that 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 EST. The Center for Economic and Social Rights 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 EST. 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 administered them), 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 planning.

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 1993 itself.

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 EST. 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. military.

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 Plan 5030, 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 EST. 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 on Tuesday.

At long last, the text of the new draft is available.

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 States.

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 EST. 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 Germany.

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 EST. 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 problem.

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 Jewish state.

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 Israel's land.

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 Guardian article 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 non-Jewish state."
And more:
Olmert understands that the demographic calculation is 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 Jewish state.

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 years".
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 EST. 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 article, 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 World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands, no one took the fall in the Bush administration.

When 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 fall, either.
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 Tenet/Chalabi affair.

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 out now.

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 EST. 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 comparison.

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 EST. Preliminary reports indicate 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 one.

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 plotters 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 opinion piece 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 EST. 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 we'll see.

I'm keeping expenses for this trip down, but if you want to support my intrepid reporting, it's much appreciated.

For those of you in the DC area, I'm also speaking on Friday in the evening.

June 2, 10:00 am EST. Check out this interesting dispatch from Dahr Jamail about the new president of Iraq, Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar.
June 2, 9:45 am EST. Check out the text of the revised draft resolution. 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, 5:25 pm EST. The website Swans has just posted a review of my last book, Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond.

June 1, 5:15 pm EST. 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 priest":
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 restoration.

When decrying the occupation of Iraq, let us not forget the equally despicable "regime change" in Haiti.

June 1, 5:05 pm EST. 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.

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