The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism Home ArticlesLettersArchives
Empire Notes Needs Your Help
More info: How to Help

Empire Notes

"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

Subscribe to our E-Mail List (hit "Enter")
October 26, 3:20 pm. Under the Same Sun has done some really stellar posts recently. I strongly urge readers to check it out. In particular, the recent post, Is Zarqawi Trying to Start a Civil War in Iraq, is a must-read.

Regular readers know that I have frequently written about Zarqawi's particular animus against the Shi'a and the dangers that it holds for Iraq, starting actually on February 10, when he came out with his first communique calling for a full-scale sectarian war, continuing through the Ashura bombings, the emergence into the spotlight of Tawhid wal Jihad, and most recently in Iraq, Algeria, and Civil War.

Under the Same Sun, however, has gone beyond the obvious attacks, like the assassination of Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim at the Imam Ali mosque last year or the Ashura bombings of Shi'a pilgrims, to look at the various attacks on Iraqi recruits, those applying to become police, etc., and is finding that, although often unreported, these attacks are also directed at Shi'a. So it is literally true that Zarqawi never attacks the occupying forces directly; it is simply a way to legitimize his real agenda with sections of the Iraqi resistance.

Anyway, go read it.

October 26, 3:08 pm. I sometimes read the Weekly Standard, the leading "theoretical" journal of the neoconservatives, online (not as often as I should), but I just really looked at a hard copy of one a few days ago.

It was the October 18 issue. The cover story is When a Kiss is not just a Kiss: Reality TV Comes to the Arab World. The article itself is a typically snarky neocolonialist racist/culturally supremacist product of Weekly Standard-type writers, complete with laudatory references to Christopher Buckley's absurd new book, Florence of Arabia.

But what really stands out is the cover picture:

A bunch of Arabs, all of course dressed Bedouin-style, with hooked noses, distorted faces, and bizarrely uncomprehending expressions starting at a TV, with a child that has Down's Syndrome-type features waving a flag. And in case that's not enough for you to get the point, there is, of course, a camel in the picture as well.

All in all, a picture that could have come straight out of the pages of Der Stürmer. And this is supposed to be the intellectual journal of the right wing.

October 25, 7:30 pm. For readers living in Texas, I will be speaking in Houston tomorrow on the 26th and in San Antonio on the 27th. Please let your friends and acquaintances know.


OCTOBER 26th, 8:00 pm: Houston Global Awareness, as part of Halliburton Awareness Month, presents author and activist Rahul Mahajan. Mahajan will be discussing his book, Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond, and the current situation in Iraq where he traveled to earlier this year.

WHERE: The Station. 1502 Alabama at LaBranch

OCTOBER 27th, 6:00-7:30 pm: University of the Incarnate Word, Peace Day Keynote, San Antonio.

WHERE: Marian Hall Ballroom

University of the Incarnate Word (map)

4301 Broadway

San Antonio, Texas 78209
Rahul Mahajan, author of many books and antiwar activist will discuss the occupation of Iraq and the prospects for an antiwar movement.
October 25, 11:50 am. Over the weekend, I was at the annual conference of the National Lawyer's Guild, in Birmingham, Alabama (the site chosen to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and to honor the civil rights movement).

It's the second one I've been to. Both times, I've been struck, as an outsider, by the members' fervent devotion to their purpose, which is being the legal arm of progressive movements in this country, and to their own organization and its history of important work. I always find it heartening.

I gave a talk on Iraq as a colonial war. I'll post a longer transcript up as soon as I can, but I used a shorter version as today's radio commentary for Uprising Radio.

October 24, 1:53 pm. Interesting article in the Times today by Norimitsu Onishi, Dutch Soldiers Find Smiles Are a More Effective Protection:
In a neighborhood here without lights, its pockmarked dirt streets and open sewers faintly visible under the full moon, the Dutch soldiers began a foot patrol on a recent evening. After getting out of their soft-top vehicles, the soldiers entered a street, wearing no helmets and pointing their guns down, chatting with Iraqis clustered in front of their homes.

"Hello, Mister!" some boys cried out, and they followed the soldiers to the bend in the road. Driving through the town later, the Dutch called out "Salaam Aleikum" to pedestrians. Many Iraqis, adults and children, waved at them.

Part neighborhood police officers, part social workers, the soldiers managed to practice in Iraq what the Netherlands has come to call the Dutch approach to patrolling. Scarred by national shame over the Dutch peacekeepers who proved powerless to stop the Bosnian Serbs from rolling into the United Nations enclave of Srebrenica in 1995 and killing thousands of Muslims, the Dutch have nonetheless managed to keep a soft touch, honed in Afghanistan and now on display in this small town on the Euphrates.

Instead of armored vehicles, the Dutch drive vehicles that leave them exposed to the people around them. To encourage interaction with local residents, they go bare-headed and are forbidden to wear mirror sunglasses. Making soldiers accessible and vulnerable to their surroundings increases their security, they contend. Making them inaccessible decreases it.
When I was in Iraq in January, I spoke with a Hungarian journalist who had been there since May 2003. He told me that in Samawah the Dutch went around without guns. They learned the language, shopped in the local shops, were friendly to people, and walked around like ordinary people. At long last, the mainstream media has caught up with this story.

I had assumed that the no-guns policy was a casualty of April's events and indeed the article mentions that they carry guns now, although they keep them down, not constantly swiveling and pointing at people the way Americans do when on patrol.

The article suggests that it is unfair to compare the Dutch with the American methods:
Samawa, one of the quietest spots in Iraq outside the Kurdish north, is a world away from the lawlessness that has spread across Baghdad and other cities. What the Dutch face here cannot be compared with what American soldiers must deal with in the capital or in the Sunni triangle, where they are confronted daily with a deadly resistance.

Yet, perhaps unfairly, the Americans do get compared with the Dutch here, in a way that underscores how difficult it will be for Americans to win back some of the popular support they enjoyed after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
But there is an obvious chicken-and-egg problem here. When the Americans swept into Baghdad, very few parts of the city manifested any violence toward Americans. Shi'a areas like Sadr City and Shuala had many people who hoped that the Americans would be liberators and who were grateful for the removal of Saddam Hussein. There were no attacks on Americans coming from most sectors of the city; there's little reason to believe that this would have had to change had the Americans acted like the Dutch.

Even Sunni areas like Aadhamiyah that had regular, consistent attacks on Americans starting in the summer of 2003 (actually, this is almost the only area in Baghdad of which this was true) had large numbers of local authorities and notables who were very willing to work with the Americans and only got turned off after repeated indignities.

In Samawah, the biggest security problem is the occasional American trips across the city:
In Samawa, Chief Zayad and others here said, the American convoys represent the greatest affront to Iraqi dignity. The Dutch and Iraqis say the convoys indiscriminately hit private cars and pedestrians, treating Iraqis only as obstacles to be removed. A few weeks ago, one such convoy struck a car, killing two Iraqi passengers and injuring three, the Dutch said. The convoy never stopped.
The locals clearly note these things and have a very different attitude to the Dutch:
Karim Hleibit al-Zayad, the police chief here, made a clear distinction between the Dutch and Americans: "The Dutch have tried seriously to understand our traditions. We do not view them as an occupying force, but a friendly one. The Americans are an occupying force. I agree they helped us get rid of the past regime, but they should not take away our dignity."
According to the Dutch colonel, even in peaceful Samawah, dislike for the Americans is growing. His attempt at understanding the difference in attitudes:
"Of course, an American is a different type of human than a Dutchman," the colonel said. "We have our own culture. But I think the Americans could have a way of operating with more respect and more understanding toward the population."
A British officer in Basra in April expanded a bit on this:
They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful.

The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them."
When the final histories of this war are written, look for the word "Untermenschen."

October 23, 12:25 pm. If the beheading of 12 Nepalis who came to Iraq to work as cooks and cleaners back in the summer was the height of inhumanity that some terrorist groups loosely associated with the Iraqi resistance reached, then, in a different way, the kidnapping of Margaret Hassan is another kind of height.

Although Irish in origin, she had lived in Iraq for 30 years, married an Iraqi, learned Arabic, and converted to Islam. To consider her a foreigner is to apply the standards of the Gulf despotisms that jihadis hate, where if your ancestors for generations back were not natives of the land then you are considered a foreigner.

Furthermore, of course, she spent much of those 30 years fighting to help the Iraqi people in any way she could, opposing the Gulf Wars and the sanctions.

Felicity Arbuthnot, one of the few journalists to cover Iraq extensively even in the mid-1990's , when nobody wanted to talk about the sanctions, has a personal note on Margaret Hassan that was published by BBC. In it, she says,
She never considered leaving - not during the eight year Iran-Iraq war, the 42 day carpet bombing of the 1991 Gulf war, the 13 years of the grinding deprivation of the United Nations embargo, numerous bombings by Britain and America during those years, or when last year's invasion became inevitable.

Instead, she fought for the people and country, of which she had become a part.

She went to the UN in New York in January 2003, briefing the Security Council and UN Agencies that the majority of Iraqis were staggering under the weight of the embargo and the collapse of the infrastructure, due to prohibition of imported parts.

She briefed the British Parliament: "The Iraqi people are already living through a terrible emergency - they do not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action."
She fought in particular, says Arbuthnot, for the "lost generation," Iraqi children and young people stunted and destroyed by the sanctions and, unlike so many others, understood that the war and occupation would mean a second lost generation.

Even those few souls intrepid enough to go to Iraq now can't dream of going to Fallujah. With signs pointing to a massive assault on Fallujah soon to come, there will be no one to document the atrocities in English; this cruel and inhumane policy of abductions and beheadings is harming the people of Iraq more than anyone else -- not that the groups doing it necessarily care about that.

October 22, 11:48 pm. Well, if this doesn't warm the cockles of your hearts, nothing will. I've been on the State Department's US-IRAQPOLICY e-mail announcement list for years, although since the regime change there's been such a flurry of briefings, Q&A's, and press releases that I can't really get to them all.

But sometimes they come up with such a gem you have to sit up and take notice. Here's the text of their latest post:
Text: United States Allocates $871 Million to Support Iraqi Elections (Funding reflects $180 million increase from amount initially budgeted) (230)

Following is the answer to a question taken at the State Department's daily briefing October 21:

(begin text)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman October 21, 2004


Iraq: Elections And Democracy Promotion Assistance

Question: How much are we spending on elections and democracy promotion in Iraq?

Answer: Altogether, a total of $871 million in FY 2004 Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) resources are allocated to support democracy, governance and elections programs in Iraq. This level reflects an increase of $180 million based on the Administration's recent strategic review of IRRF spending priorities. The increases include:

-- $40 million to ensure the Iraqi Electoral Commission has the technical capacity to run and certify free and fair national elections;

-- $20 million for a nationwide elections monitoring program, bringing the total for this activity to $45 million;

-- $100 million to support local and provincial government institutions, bringing the total for this activity to $234 million; and

-- $20 million to support Iraqi Interim Government national institutions, bringing the total for this activity to $41 million.

The $871 million also includes $30 million for the National Endowment for Democracy to provide technical assistance and training for moderate and democratic political parties in Iraq.
So, $871 million, of which $60 million is for basic infrastructural stuff; $120 million is for "support" for local, provincial, and national government institutions, which could mean infrastructure or meddling with the elections by propping up previously U.S.-selected governments.

This leaves a mere $591 million unaccounted for, excepting the $30 million for the NED to help "moderate" political parties, meaning meddling with the elections to help political parties that collaborate with the occupation. And call me a skeptic, but I'm guessing a big chunk of the $561 million left over for which there isn't even the barest verabal accounting in this message will also go to election tampering.

Other countries may do this kind of thing. Only the United States brags about it.

October 22, 2:46 pm. Those of you who follow William Pfaff know that, under the whip of Bush's Iraq policy and open declaration of the United States as a rogue state, he has evolved into a fairly harsh critic of the new imperialism (although not from a left perspective).

He's written some decent stuff, although none of it particularly profound. His latest commentary, published on Sunday in the Observer, is an attempt to go a little deeper.

It starts out as an attempt to decry the growing communication gulf between Western and Islamic societies and the apocalyptic language always used in the West to describe the threat of Islamic radicalism. And then tries to suggest to Muslims that Islamic radicalism/revivalism has nothing to offer them.

In moral terms, I don't disagree with him. But his political analysis is ridiculous:
The new radical Islamism is a success in the moral and psychological damage it has inflicted on the United States and its allies. For the Islamic world it will inevitably prove still another failure. No great caliphate is going to be re-established. Even if all Islam were converted to the law of Sharia and the Taliban pattern of society, this would produce no great revival in terms relevant to the modern world.

The quest for the lost golden age is a fool's mission. The peasant leader of the anti-Western T'ai P'ing uprising in 19th-century China, which killed mil lions, preached land distribution and egalitarianism, thought that he could produce a magical synthesis of Western and Eastern religion. He promised his followers a universal empire, but he was gone within a decade.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 - the 'Sepoy Mutiny' - which lasted for nearly two years, proclaimed a revival of the Moghul Empire when it reached Delhi. It was soon conquered, by mostly Indian forces. The great Boxer uprising in China in 1900 made its slogan 'Cherish the Dynasty - Exterminate the Foreigner!' The Empress indirectly encouraged it, but Western intervention crushed it.
I think he's basically right in the first paragraph. But look at the way he argues for it.

The T'ai P'ing was perhaps the greatest peasant uprising of all time and shook the moldering Manchu empire to its core, before the empire finally put it down, killing probably tens of millions. The Boxer rebellion followed in a few decades and was put down by outside intervention. And 12 years later, the Manchu empire was gone, 25 years later China was an independent republic under Sun Yat-sen, and 49 years later all vestiges of foreign domination were expelled.

The Rebellion of 1857 was far more than a sepoy mutiny and also involved far more than restoration of the last pitiful Moghul emperor. It was mostly feudalist, yes, but it was also anti-colonial; it was followed in three decades by the formation of the Indian National Congress, in five decades with the first mass popular unrest against colonialism (for swadeshi and against the partition of Bengal), and in nine decades by independence. In particular, it, more than anything else, birthed the concept of Indian nationalism, an indispensable prerequisite for an anti-colonial movement.

Only a fool would think that there is no connection between these first revolts and final independence. And what Pfaff wants to suggest as examples to dissuade Islamic radicals, if read correctly, is actually an inducement to them.

Given the greater speed of everything now, it's reasonable to imagine that a process that took 9 decades a century ago would take about one now.

Imagine telling Islamic radical organizations, "Give up! It'll take a whole decade to achieve freedom from Western domination."

Still, his main point is not wrong:
Today's militant Islamic revival has seemed a success because it is taken so seriously in the West. Al-Qaeda's attack on the United States have produced three years of frenzied and quasi-paranoid reaction by the American government. The rest of the world has been pushed to follow the American lead, convenient for many leaders with troublesome separatist or subversive minorities easily redefined as international terrorists.
And, of course, that reaction has made al-Qaeda into a real success, not just a seeming one. The obvious conclusion for what the United States should do is still not, it seems, being drawn by anyone in a position of political influence.

P.S. Sayyid Qutb, who provides the theoretical inspiration for much Islamic radicalism, was not, as Pfaff says, a 19th-century figure. He was born in 1906 and executed by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966.

October 21, 9:45 pm. Paul Nitze is dead. You can read all about it in the Times.

Undoubtedly his most important work was the drafting of NSC-68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security. Written and submitted for approval by Truman in February 1950, this document, which remained classified for 25 years, is, in a sense, the founding document of the "Cold War," even though it came a few years late (and the "Cold War" itself was a continuation of something that started in 1917).

Couched in severely theological terms with which the Bush administration would be very comfortable, it theorizes the world as a battleground between the "free society" and the "slave society." I'll leave you to guess which is the United States and which the Soviet Union.

Here's a nice quote:
The Kremlin regards the United States as the only major threat to the conflict between idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the Kremlin, which has come to a crisis with the polarization of power described in Section I, and the exclusive possession of atomic weapons by the two protagonists. The idea of freedom, moreover, is peculiarly and intolerably subversive of the idea of slavery. But the converse is not true. The implacable purpose of the slave state to eliminate the challenge of freedom has placed the two great powers at opposite poles. It is this fact which gives the present polarization of power the quality of crisis.


The antipathy of slavery to freedom explains the iron curtain, the isolation, the autarchy of the society whose end is absolute power. The existence and persistence of the idea of freedom is a permanent and continuous threat to the foundation of the slave society; and it therefore regards as intolerable the long continued existence of freedom in the world. What is new, what makes the continuing crisis, is the polarization of power which now inescapably confronts the slave society with the free.
I trust that the parallel between this and the ever-popular "they hate us for our freedom" mantra is clear enough.

Much of the paper is a sober analysis of the relative economic and military strengths of the Western and Soviet military blocs. Even though the selection of data is slanted, as Nitze admits, to make the Soviet bloc look stronger and the Western bloc look weaker, it still concludes that the overwhelming advantage lies with the United States and its allies.

The corollary of this, for Nitze, is the doctrine of rollback -- actively fighting communism wherever it shows its ugly face, including when possible in existing communist countries, all the while working more subtly toward destroying the Soviet Union. This attitude, which became official policy with the adoption of NSC-68, played some role in the eventual fall of the Soviet Union, although virtually all American narratives place far too much emphasis on U.S. military adventurism and far too little on internal political liberalization in that fall. It also led to the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other avoidable uglinesses.

Rollback then leads to various obvious deductions, like the need to raise military spending. Indeed, Nitze has an 11-point program:
  1. The development of an adequate political and economic framework for the achievement of our long-range objectives.
  2. A substantial increase in expenditures for military purposes adequate to meet the requirements for the tasks listed in Section D-1.
  3. A substantial increase in military assistance programs, designed to foster cooperative efforts, which will adequately and efficiently meet the requirements of our allies for the tasks referred to in Section D-l-e.
  4. Some increase in economic assistance programs and recognition of the need to continue these programs until their purposes have been accomplished.
  5. A concerted attack on the problem of the United States balance of payments, along the lines already approved by the President.
  6. Development of programs designed to build and maintain confidence among other peoples in our strength and resolution, and to wage overt psychological warfare calculated to encourage mass defections from Soviet allegiance and to frustrate the Kremlin design in other ways.
  7. Intensification of affirmative and timely measures and operations by covert means in the fields of economic warfare and political and psychological warfare with a view to fomenting and supporting unrest and revolt in selected strategic satellite countries.
  8. Development of internal security and civilian defense programs.
  9. Improvement and intensification of intelligence activities.
  10. Reduction of Federal expenditures for purposes other than defense and foreign assistance, if necessary by the deferment of certain desirable programs.
  11. Increased taxes.
Except for #11, of course, this sounds a lot like the Bush administration's "war on terrorism" (even #4; Bush has significantly increased the foreign aid budget). The fact that Bush actually substituted a tax cut for point 11 shows that even a nutty military fundamentalist can appear quite sane next to Bush.

The Times obituary mentions some of the concerns raised in others by NSC-68 but without any specifics. Strangely, it does not mention his participation in the Strategic Bombing Survey, which, among other things, concluded that Japan could have been forced to unconditional surrender without use of nuclear bombs.

Of course, the larger significance of Nitze's work cannot be divined from the obituary. The adoption of NSC-68 as policy (it is often claimed that this adoption was a response to the nominal beginning of the Korean war on June 25, 1950, but in fact it had been authorized in principle much earlier and the NSC was working out cost estimates. NSC-68 was part of a deliberate, larger strategy to formalize the militarization of the state and the creation of a "national security" apparatus that would swamp all domestic decision-making bodies (including Congress).

This offensive led to a recalcitrant Congress that had earlier been skeptical about approving any kind of military spending, tripling the U.S. military budget on a long-term basis, with the obvious concomitant rise in militarism. Nitze played as big a role as any in creating the structure of modern-day U.S. imperialism.

Paul Nitze died at 97. The good die young.

October 21, 4:55 pm. Teresa Heinz Kerry has done it again, suggesting that Laura Bush has never had a "real job." Given the absolute tin ear she has for American politics, it's amazing to me that the Republican attack machine has not been able to capitalize on her the way they did on Hillary Rodham Clinton back in the good old days.

Ever since Hillary's unfortunate reference to Tammy Wynette, it's been clear that women who want to help their husbands' presidential campaigns must do the subservient, gracious "stand by your man" thing. The American electorate won't tolerate anything else; in fact, when the media, the pundits, the DNC, the Republicans, and everyone short of Kim Jong Il were targeting Howard Dean's candidacy, no less exalted a personage than Maureen Dowd slammed him and his wife because of the fact that she simply went about her business of treating patients instead of simpering at him on camera for the benefit of patriarchy.

Well, Mrs. Heinz Kerry understood this point and tried to do it, but she was a miserable failure at actually doing it. Watching her on TV cutting John Kerry off, subtly denigrating him without intending to, and generally acting like much more of an alpha male than he could manage to be was amusing, but I had to wonder what exactly Kerry's campaign handlers were thinking.

The latest gaffe is, of course, as the Bush campaign pointed out, divisive and shows a complete lack of understanding of the difficult position most women are in, torn between having to work and having to run a household and have a family and between traditionalist and modernist expectations.

It also betrays Mrs. Heinz Kerry's appalling lack of ability to reflect on herself, a lack she has betrayed several times now in this campaign; the fact of the matter is that, except for a couple of years as a translator at the UN, Mrs. Heinz Kerry has never held a "real job." She married John Heinz in 1966 at the age of 28 and has ever since held a series of rich wife "volunteer" and "philanthropic" positions.

Even Laura Bush's scant experience of working several years as a teacher and then several more as a librarian stacks up well by comparison.

Teresa Heinz Kerry set my teeth on edge much earlier, though, with her constant references to herself as an "African" rather than the overprivileged daughter of a white Portuguese colonialist.

In this case, as it turns out, there's a lot more going on than lack of self-knowledge; there's deliberate deception as well. In her speech at the Democratic National Convention, for example, she invoked the great love of democracy that living oppressed under a dictatorship gave her and her father:
As you have seen, I grew up in East Africa, in Mozambique, in a land that was then under a dictatorship. My father—a wonderful, caring man who practiced medicine for 43 years, and taught me how to understand disease and wellness—only got the right to vote for the first time when he was 71 years old. That’s what happens in dictatorships.
The truth, however, is that the dictatorship she grew up under was a dictatorship of white colonialists and that she and her father both benefited from it and were later unhappy with its overthrow:
Heinz Kerry’s father moved back to Portugal with his wife after the Socialist regime of Samora Machel came to power in Mozambique, in 1975, and the country became independent. Machel nationalized private property. “My father wanted to die there,” she told me with bitterness. “He didn’t come to make money to take back to Portugal. He had nothing in Portugal.” But, as crime rose and the economy crumbled, white nationalists who had supported frelimo felt, she said, increasingly embattled and marginalized. “The Portuguese colonials were not bad people compared to the crooks who took over,” she told a reporter in Fort Lauderdale last March, and added that she could empathize with the Cuban exile community in South Florida because her parents had also “lost everything to the Communists.”
The last thing her sainted father wanted to do was to stay in Mozambique and exercise merely the same degree of rights as Heinz Kerry's beloved Africans who took such good care of her when she was growing up.

She also tried to take credit for the actions of people better than herself by suggesting that she struggled against apartheid:
As a young woman, I attended Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, which was then not segregated. But I witnessed the weight of apartheid everywhere around me. And so, with my fellow students we marched against its extension into higher education. This was the late 50’s, the dawn of the civil rights marches in America. As history records, our efforts in South Africa failed and the Higher Education Apartheid Act was passed. Apartheid tightened its ugly grip, the Sharpsville riots followed, and a short while later Nelson Mandela was arrested and sent to Robin Island. I learned something then, and I believe it still. There is a value in taking a stand whether or not anyone may be noticing and whether or not it is a risky thing to do. And if even those who are in danger can raise their lonely voices, isn’t more required of all of us, in this land where liberty had her birth?
The truth, according to Alf Stadler, a student at the time and later a professor there, is that she participated in one fashionable protest, which was authorized by the university:
Stadler maintains the protest in which Heinz Kerry was involved drew virtually the whole campus. "Everyone was on it, it was the formal protest of the university."

The protest, for which permission had been granted by the authorities, was led by the university’s vice-chancellor, W G Sutton, a man Stadler claimed was so cautious he virtually would not "leave his office without permission".
More from Stadler:
"A lot of students got clobbered," said Stadler, remembering some of the anti-apartheid protests on campus. But "not as many were involved in what eventually became known as ‘the struggle’ as pretended to be," he chuckled.

He said of Heinz Kerry’s references to her participation: "She’s trying to make some kind of personal role... but it’s not working." "I don’t remotely see this lady as having indulged in that kind of thing," said Stadler, referring to a range of anti-government protests by students.
Mrs. Heinz Kerry's deep connection with Mozambique is not deep enough to have made her visit the country in the past 45 years -- as she told the Baltimore Sun, "I have basically not wanted to go back home since, because I just didn't want to see all the kind of changes." Imagine the trauma of going back to find that there were no doting mammies and a severe lack of gravely deferential natives, and that, in fact, some of them now think they can run the country. And back when Salazar made Africans in Mozambique do forced labor, the streets were much cleaner than they are now.

Apparently, her much-noted philanthropy is also in short supply when it comes to her beloved native land.

All in all, her claim of being an African is roughly as grotesque as a right-wing Israeli settler's claiming to be Palestinian.

October 20, 3:10 pm. An update on the Afghanistan elections. With 41% of the votes counted, including some from all 34 electoral districts, Karzai has 61% of the vote, compared to about 17% for Yunus Qanooni, his most significant challenger. Official opinion seems to have decided that any claims about problems with the election have now been settled and that everything is just fine.

Qanooni has claimed that ballot boxes were stuffed with votes for
Karzai in at least 4 different provinces and Mohammed Mohaqiq, the Hazara candidate, says that 15% of Karzai's support came from "multiple voting and men casting ballots for wives and daughters."

Of course, Karzai is on record as encouraging this, in a joint press conference with Donald Rumsfeld a couple of months ago:
With regard to multiple registration of voters, we don’t really know if 1,000 people or 2,000 people or 3,000 people or 100,000 people have two registration cards.  And as a matter of fact, it doesn’t bother me.  If Afghans have two registration cards because they like to vote twice, well, welcome.  This is an exercise, then let them exercise it twice.  But it will not have an impact on the election.  We simply [Inaudible] our cards.  If somebody gives us three cards, I’ll take it and we’ll go and vote.  But my choice in voting will be the same.  If I like this gentleman…
The only thing I can make of this bizarre statement (without assuming that Karzai was channelling the spirit of the late Richard Daley) is that Karzai knew he would win the election, was unconcerned with the particulars, and felt irritated that reporters would ask questions about such a non-issue.

As I've written about before, the whole process was set up so that nobody could plausibly challenge Karzai; his election was guaranteed. But it does seem that without widespread voting fraud and voter intimidation, Karzai might not have gotten 50% of the vote, a figure of obvious symbolic significance.

October 19, 10:45 pm. First, something from the weekend's backlog. The unlearning of the lessons of Vietnam is now complete. The presidential campaign was for at least two months dominated by an absurd discussion on the subject, in which the only "moral" issue was, apparently, how many Vietnamese Kerry had killed and how tough the ones he killed were. ABC's Nightline finally put the icing on the cake by going to consult the other witnesses to Kerry's action or nonaction -- the Vietnamese.

Here's some testimony from the Vietnamese villagers who lived through it:
"Firing from over here. Firing from over there. Firing from the boat," Vo Thi Vi told "Nightline."

She was only a couple hundred yards away when a Swift boat turned and approached the shore, she said, adding that the boat was unleashing a barrage of gunfire as it approached.

"I ran," she recalled, "Running fast. ... And the Americans came from down there, yelling 'Attack, Attack!' And we ran."

Her husband, Tam, said the man who fired the B-40 rocket was hit in this barrage of gunfire. Then, he said, "he ran about 18 meters before he died, falling dead."
Nightline was specifically concerned to establish the bonafides of Kerry's medal citation:
Was the man killed by Kerry or by fire from the Swift boat? It was the heat of battle, Tam said, and he doesn't know exactly how the man with the rocket launcher died. But he knows the man's name -- Ba Thanh. He was one of the 12 reinforcements sent to the village by provincial headquarters, and after he died, the firefight continued, according to Tam.

"When the firing started, Ba Thanh was killed," Tam said. "And I led Ba Thanh's comrades, the whole unit, to fight back. And we ran around the back and fought the Americans from behind. We worked with the city soldiers to fire on the American boats."

According to the after-action report, after beaching the Swift boat, Kerry "chased VC inland, behind hooch, and shot him while he fled, capturing one B-40 rocket launcher, with round in chamber."

None of the villagers seems to be able to say for a fact that they saw an American chase the man who fired the B-40 into the woods and shoot him. Nobody seems to remember that. But they have no problem remembering Ba Thanh, the man who has been dismissed by Kerry's detractors as "a lone, wounded, fleeing, young Vietcong in a loincloth." (The description comes from "Unfit for Command," by Swift boat veteran John O'Neill.)

"No, this is not correct," Nguyen Thi Tuoi, 77, told ABC News. "He wore a black pajama. He was strong. He was big and strong. He was about 26 or 27."

Tuoi said she didn't see Ba Thanh get shot either, but she and her husband say they were the first to find his body. They say they found him a good distance from his bunker, though she could not confirm that Kerry -- or anyone else -- had pursued him into the bush.

Her husband, Nguyen Van Ty, in his 80s, had a slightly different account of how Ba Thanh died.

"I didn't see anything because I was hiding from the bullets and the bombs," he said. "It was very fierce and there was shooting everywhere and the leaves were being shredded to pieces. I was afraid to stay up there. I had to hide. And then, when it was over, I saw Ba Thanh was dead. He may have been shot in the chest when he stood up."

He also said the Swift boats were coming under attack from the Viet Cong fighters on shore. "We tried to shoot at the boat," he said, "but we didn't hit anything."

Kerry's citation says he "uncovered an enemy rest and supply area, which was destroyed," but according to the villagers, the Americans missed the military supplies. In fact, Vo Ti Vi said, just a few weeks after the attack, the Viet Cong raided a U.S. base stealing weapons and ammunition. The weapons remain in Nha Vi all these years later, she says, buried under her garden
The Swift Boat people also visited this village and did the Nightline producers one better in their questioning:
Back in Tran Thoi, villager Nguyen Van Khoai said that about six months ago he was visited by an American who described himself as a Swift boat veteran and told him another American from the Swift boats was running for president of the United States. Nguyen said the man was accompanied by a cameraman.

"They say he didn't do anything to deserve the medal," Nguyen said. "The other day, they came and asked me the questions and I said that the recognition for the medal is up to the U.S.A."
I'm always struck by the graciousness of the Vietnamese in discussing the war. It certainly far exceeds the graciousness of Americans in forgiving the Vietnamese for the damage the United States inflicted on Vietnam.

It's difficult to communicate how disgusting and macabre this is. It's like questioning the family members of a murder victim in order to figure out whether the killer deserves a medal. Imagine the reaction of the average American being questioned on whether a particular Iraqi resistance member deserves a medal for personally killing some American soldier or whether the soldier was merely killed in an explosion. And the Iraqi resistance is fighting in its own country to expel foreign invaders, not occupying and destroying another country, as the United States did in Vietnam.

It's very sad that, one one of the rare occasions in which Vietnamese voices are inserted into the American dialogue about the war, it is done in this obscene manner.

October 18, 1:31 pm. Ron Suskind, author of The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, had a long piece yesterday in the NY Times Magazine called Without a Doubt, about the faith-based Bush presidency. Even at over 8000 words, it's well worth reading, but by far the most remarkable thing in it is the following quote:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
There you have it. The solipsism of empire. One of the reasons that absolute power corrupts absolutely, even when wielded by people lacking in baser motives (I don't include George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein in this category, obviously) is that very solipsism.

No other actors are quite real, because you always have the power, or think you do, to efface their reality and remake it to your own liking. And so no other person's analysis of those other actors can be real either.

Might makes right, not just in a moral sense, which is the way this fascist maxim is usually interpreted, but literally; if your perception of reality is incorrect, the exercise of your might will alter reality to fit your perception and thus at the end of the day you will be correct -- and, with the help of Fox News, in fact, reality will be retroactively altered so that you were always correct.

Of course, in human affairs power never is absolute and this kind of solipsism often leads one to bad ends. Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

October 18, 11:37 am. My latest radio commentary, Saudi-Bashing and Liberal Racism.
October 15, 6:07 pm. Apparently, an Army Reserve platoon, part of the 343rd Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, South Carolina, is under arrest for refusing to obey orders to go on what they considered a suicide mission.

Stationed at Tallil Air Base south of Nasiriyah, they were ordered to do a fuel resupply run up to Taji, north of Baghdad. Fuel convoys in the "Sunni Triangle" nearly always come under fire; one soldier reportedly claimed that the chance of being attacked was "99 percent."

The platoon considered their trucks to be extremely unsafe; some were not able to go more than 40 mph, and would be sitting ducks. They ordinarily get an escort of armed Humvees and helicopters, but an escort was not available for the mission.

This actually points to the difficulty the United States would face if it tried to put in significantly larger numbers of troops, as John Kerry seems to want (he doesn't say he'll send more troops to Iraq; he says more troops are needed to do the job,  that he intends to do the job, and that he'll increase the combat forces by 40,000 -- you do the math). It's already difficult to find enough escorts for resupply operations; that difficulty will be compounded the more combat troops are put in (because the need for fuel will increase along with the number of troops in the field).

You could increase the number of logistical and supply troops proportionately, maybe, but then you have more and more people to be easily killed by the resistance.

The story's still developing, but the soldiers could be charged with the willful disobeying of orders, a "crime" that carries fairly serious consequences.

This is potentially a very significant development. Up to now, the U.S. military in Iraq has had a very clear policy that certain provocations by the resistance must be met with by major attacks; the dragging of the mercenaries' corpses in Fallujah followed by the siege and bombardment of the town, the refusal of Sadr's forces to capitulate followed by the siege and bombardment of Najaf, and now the attacks in the Green Zone followed by a premature offensive on Fallujah.

The logic is clear. The Iraqi people are a potential enemy and the virus of resistance must not be allowed to spread. It must be crushed before it can. The logic hasn't worked; quite the reverse. But that is the logic.

The question now is will the U.S. soldiers on the ground also be treated with the same logic. Will they feel the need to stamp out the virus of fear and disobedience by making an example of these soldiers? If they cross that line into treating the soldiers as a potential enemy too then things may start to look a lot more like the Vietnam War than they do even now.

October 14, 6:26 pm. Well, turnabout is fair play -- or it would be in a world where we didn't have one country (two countries?) that set itself above the standards it always applies to others. The Times today has an article headlined Saudis Blame U.S. and its Role in Iraq for Rise of Terror.

Now, the claim is at this point hardly astonishing. It is in fact so obvious that even Hans Blix has recently said the same. As we know from his reporting on Iraq's WMD before and after the war, Blix is a man who likes to speak up only at least six months after the issue has become obvious to anyonone following it.

What's interesting, of course, is the claim's provenance. Saudi Arabia has lost over 100 people in the last 17 months to a new terrorist campaign. Scale it up to the U.S. population and that would be 12-1300 people. And, of course, the campaign is far from over.

As the article points out, although terrorist attacks have plagued Saudi Arabia in the past, a major transition point came in May 2003 with attacks on three residential compounds in Riyadh, killing a variously reported 25 to 34 people. Since then, attacks have been far more frequent and the Saudi government has been engaged in an actual "war on terrorism" (or, more sensibly, a police action), unlike the rhetorical war on terrorism fought by the Bush administration.

It doesn't take a genius to note the timing of the transition. The war on Iraq changed many things. One thing it did was take a Saudi government already on a precarious perch because of its strong alignment with the United States (and the increasingly fervid U.S. support of Israel's occupation) and because of the excesses of its royal family and destabilize it further.

Saudi-bashing has become the favorite sport of liberals. Fahrenheit 9/11 was originally intended to be all about that. Mercifully, other material was added, but it still bears all the stigmata of its origins. Moore's photo montage of oily, hook-nosed Saudis early in the film was blatant anti-Semitism; had it been oily, hook-nosed Jews (a staple of 19th-century anti-Semitic literature and, of course, of people like Julius Streicher) Moore would have been run out of the country on a rail.

His suggestion that Bush is a servant of the al-Saud family and that is why he prosecuted a war on Iraq that the Saudis desperately wanted him not to is laughable, of course, but the racism underlying these attacks and the racism that it appeals to are not.

John Kerry does the same thing, although much more subtly and less offensively. He constantly talks about putting our energy policy in the hands of the Saudi royal family. One of his commercials, Innovation, concludes with the line, "I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family. I'm John Kerry and I approve this message because no young American should be held hostage to our dependence on Mideast oil."

Reducing America's dependence on oil, domestic or foreign, is a great idea. And I'm glad that political developments have opened space for Kerry to talk about it. But the United States has no specific dependence on Saudi oil. Even in July 2004, with Iraqi oil production still severely impacted by the regime change, Saudi Arabia accounted for about 14% of total U.S. oil imports. Middle East oil in total was less than a quarter.

Both Japan and Western Europe are more dependent on Middle East oil. Western Europe usually gets about 40% of its imports from the Persian Gulf, although that share is dropping closer to 30% under the impact of the Russian oil industry; Japan gets 70 to 80% of its oil from the Middle East. Oddly, this dependence doesn't force the EU and Japan to invade countries and force regime changes in the Middle East (the explicitly colonial role of Britain in the area ended with its withdrawal of forces in 1970; that of France ended with the Suez crisis of 1956).

But somehow, according to Kerry and many others, the much lesser share that we import requires these adventures. The fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world and thus its oil is crucial to the entire world market, unless numerous countries seriously cut their oil consumption. This is independent of any relationship between the U.S. government and the Saudi government.

There is, of course, such a relationship; contrary to much Saudi-bashing, the Saudis have usually adjusted their production to serve U.S. interests. This was particularly striking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The Venezuelan oligarchy was striking at Chavez with an oil company shut-down, and there were fears that jittery speculators would drive oil prices through the roof if the regime change in Iraq appeared to be protracted in any way. Conveniently, the Saudi regime announced in January 2003 that it would throw its full spare capacity, an extra 1.5 million barrels per day, into the mix; this largely took care of the expected shortfall in Iraqi exports. This is one of many such instances.

The other facet of the Saudi-bashing is the claim, or usually the hint, that the Saudi government attacked the United States on 9/11. There is no evidence of this, although it is of course true that the United States has not looked very hard for evidence. It is a stunningly unlikely claim, except in the quite plausible sense that dissident members of the royal family, who believe in Wahhabism rather than decadent excess, may have covertly given money and other aid to bin Laden. There is no serious reason to believe that those in power in the government were involved. Most of the evidence actually given involves ties with groups like the Taliban that the United States did not oppose until 1999 and that grew naturally out of the joint U.S.-Saudi venture in Afghanistan in the 1980's. Pakistan's ISI, sometimes claimed as a link, was again a U.S. ally.

On the other hand, a claim by the Saudi government that U.S. policies are giving it a major terrorist problem is far more plausible. It is true that the Saudis have been extremely dilatory in cooperating with U.S. efforts to uncover more of al-Qaeda. The reason is that the United States makes Saudi cooperation politically dangerous because of the extremely inflammatory Israeli occupation of Palestine and now the equally inflammatory American occupation of Iraq. The Saudi royal family cannot capitulate fully even if it wanted to because of the pressure of Saudi public opinion and more particularly because of the power of organized Wahhabi groups in the country.

It's impossible to defend the Saudi royal family; they are indefensible. But bashing them in the way that many Democrats are doing right now is exactly what the neoconservatives want. Richard Perle and Michael Moore agree completely on this. The reason is that the neoconservatives want to implement their absurd neocolonial plans everywhere in the Middle East, and most definitely in Saudi Arabia. It's not likely to happen, not because of the perspicacity or the morality of the opposition, but simply because of the neocons' own severe incompetence.

October 14, 4:57 pm. Today's attack inside the Green Zone represents, at least symbolically, a qualitative development in the Iraq war. People with bombs infiltrated the compound and then detonated them, killing 10 people, including 4 Americans. Initial reports said they were suicide bombers, but a later written statement indicated they had simply placed the explosives there.

Tawhid wal Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they actually did it. They have likely claimed responsibility for more attacks than they are theoretically capable of carrying out. It is very easy to claim credit for the attacks carried out by the well-organized military resistance that originated with high-level ex-army officers; their strategy is usually to attack and say little or nothing about it.

Actual Tawhid wal Jihad attacks seem concentrated on Shi'a, with American soldiers at best as collateral damage.

Be that as it may, if anyone can actually get into the Green Zone, kill people, and get out again, then the United States has completely lost control of the only area in Iraq, outside of military bases and the north (under Kurdish control), that it could claim to have control of (although, of course, since the Green Zone is in the middle of Baghdad they were always vulnerable to mortar fire and to suicide attacks at outside checkpoints).

October 13, 10:31 pm. It gets really annoying to hear Kerry end each closing statement with his "stronger at home and respected abroad" thing. But then, on both sides, repetition has been the watchword of this campaign.

I'm calling this one a tie. Kerry's promise of an abortion litmus test for future judicial appointments may cause him some problems. Bush said there would be no litmus test; presumably, he was lying, but Kerry didn't point that out effectively.

So now it's down to the battle between left of center organizations doing get out the vote campaigns and ads denouncing Kerry for his antiwar activism (although you shouldn't completely discount the Republicans' ground campaign).

Of course, Iraq came up many times. Kerry is fortunate that he finally shook off Clinton's incredibly foolish advice to keep his head down on foreign policy. Otherwise, he'd be out of it already.
October 13, 10:24 pm. In the first debate, the audience actually was silent. It seemed like they had all been drugged beforehand (or maybe some tranquilizing gas was borrowed from the Russian government ...). This time, though, they've laughed at a few things. Bush has done better at getting them to laugh than Kerry has.
October 13, 10:06 pm. Kerry was just asked about whether he would end the "backdoor draft" -- stop-loss orders, calling up people who were effectively retired from military service, and so on.

As you might expect, he didn't answer the question, but recycled some old criticisms of Bush. He didn't answer it because, of course, with his "plan" to "win" the war on Iraq, he'll need to keep all the troops he can get.
October 13, 9:56 pm. Kerry just promised to get tough on illegal immigrants and those who hire them.
October 13, 9:54 pm. Kerry just said that without Bush's tax cut, Social Security would have been good "through 2075." He missed the chance to point out that almost all of the hoopla about Social Security's impending bankruptcy is severely overblown.
October 13, 9:35 pm. Methinks Kerry doth protest too much. He goes on and on so much and is so wooden when he's trying to say religion is important to him that it 's hard to imagine he convinces anyone. Oddly, this is the only issue on which Bush doesn't sound brittle and defensive.

Whoever had Kerry quote a passage from the Bible without giving chapter and verse should definitely be fired.
October 13, 9:25 pm. Quick reaction. Kerry's position on outsourcing doesn't hold up. He's right that some degree of outsourcing can't be stopped. But his notion that he can create a "level playing field" that will deal with the bulk of the problem is just silly. American workers are not ten times as skilled or productive as others; give others the right capitalization in their workplaces, and American workers have no advantage. So the way to "level" the playing field to deal with outsourcing is to let the wages of American workers fall to the same level as in Third World countries. Bush is more on track to do that than Kerry.

Of course, the impact of outsourcing is dramatically overstated. There are, in fact, many industries where labor costs are such a small part of the total that the incentive to outsource is minimal -- this is why countries like Germany, with higher worker wages than the United States, still have so much manufacturing.
October 13, 9:21 pm. Kerry's handlers have made a mistake in priming him to keep on attacking Bush. He's made his points, some of them in all three debates, some of them more than once per debate. He's won over the people he'll win over by attacks. He needs to say a little more about what he'll do.
October 13, 9:08 pm. Chris Suellentrop has a column on Slate that argues the third debate should also be on foreign policy. I agree. The first two unfortunately did little to elucidate the real questions facing us, rather than to elucidate the foolish strategies being proposed by Bush and Kerry. Whenever Iraq and the war on terrorism come up, the strategy is hunt down and kill our enemies. Bush says Kerry won't do it, Kerry says Bush hasn't done well at killing them so far.

Real strategies to deal with the threat being created anew every day by U.S. operations are not even being discussed.
October 13, 5:15 pm. Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution has written up an excerpt from a Seymour Hersh speech about another massacre in Iraq, one that if true is far more heinous even than the one shown in the video I mentioned.  Check it out.
October 12, 10:54 pm. A few weeks ago, I posted about the "Fallujah Bombing Massacre" Video. The original link to the video is outdated, but you can find it here.

This video has been going around the world and the Pentagon has confirmed that it is genuine. It was one of the subjects of CNN's Newsnight with Aaron Brown yesterday. Here's part of the transcript:
We begin in Iraq with a rare look at a U.S. air strike as seen from inside a fighter jet. It is a piece of tape that tells us some things and leaves other things unanswered. It shows us in graphic detail, we warn, how deadly weapons of war are. It tells us with equal detail how accurate they can sometimes be.

What it does not tell us is whether it was a legitimate strike on people who would kill our sons and daughters in Iraq, or a mistake, the killing of innocents, as some claim.

From the Pentagon tonight, CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Saturday, April 10, capped a bloody week in Fallujah. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed by U.S. Marines, who were still pushing into the insurgent stronghold, even as members of Iraq's governing council were negotiating a cease-fire.

U.S. Air Force F-16s dropped more bombs in support of the Marine offensive that Saturday than on any day that week.

A cockpit video of one such engagement, never officially released, has circulated on the Internet for months. CNN has confirmed it's authentic. The 53-second clip provides a rare look at how the U.S. uses what it calls precision air strikes in urban areas to support ground operations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got numerous individuals on the road. You want me to take those out?


MCINTYRE: According to a U.S. military account, the order to "Take them out" is from a forward air controller, on the ground with the Marines, whose job is to confirm the targets are hostile before calling in the bombs.

The original target was said to be a nearby building, where Marines had been trading fire with the insurgents before they allegedly fled into the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten seconds. Roger.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. says the ground controller could see the situation before he cleared the pilot to drop a 500-pound bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impact. Ho-ho, dude.

MCINTYRE: Experts who have reviewed the tape at CNN's request say whether the strike was legitimate hinges entirely on whether the controller was right.

JIM CARAFANO, MILITARY LAW EXPERT: And the challenge there is for the guy who has his eye on the target, it's his responsibility to identify the target to the aircraft.

LT. GEN. ROBERT GARD (RET.), U.S. ARMY, MILITARY ANALYST: My first reaction to it was, I wondered where the air controller was and whether he could identify that as a group of insurgents, or whether he was somewhere remote from that area and didn't know for sure.

MCINTYRE: In an interview with Channel 4 television in the U.K., a doctor who says he was at the hospital in Fallujah in April claimed the dead were innocent civilians. At the time, fierce fighting across Fallujah was filling the local hospital with numerous casualties, including women and children.

And some wonder whether it's logical for insurgents to move in a large group that would make them vulnerable to air strikes.

GARD: The only questionable thing is whether or not well- disciplined and competent insurgents would pour out of a building onto a wide street without any cover. On the other hand, we do know that there are a number of insurgents who are poorly trained, who out of anger or frustration have taken up arms, and it's quite possible that they were insurgents.


MCINTYRE: Now, even the most precise air strike can result in unintended civilian casualties. But the Pentagon insists that this strike was conducted by the book, in strict accordance with the rules of engagement that are designed to minimize the risk of civilian casualties but not totally eliminate them, Aaron.

Now, we, this tape actually has been out there for some weeks. It's been seen in large parts of the world. We've had our hands on it for a while. Talk for a moment about the process, I guess, that we went through to vet it and to make the decision to go to air.

MCINTYRE: Well, we, as you said, we got this tape some time ago. It has appeared to raise some questions about who was on the tape and how the pilot would have known who he was striking.

We got some initial indication that it was possibly a legitimate strike back in April, but we didn't have the full details on what had happened. It wasn't until British television aired the tape and suggested that this was a massacre of civilians that the U.S. military came forward with additional documentation and details to give their side of the story, that they believe that this was, as a result of action that took place after a fire strike.

So, after a considerable number of days of checking and rechecking, we're pretty confident that we've gotten the best information we can. But even then, these kinds of incidents are always inconclusive. It's always a chance that somebody made a mistake, that there were innocent civilians mixed in among the legitimate targets, or that somebody's even covering up something.

But at this point, all the evidence suggests that it was, in fact, as the U.S. describes it, a legitimate military strike. And in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we really can't draw any other conclusion.

BROWN: I agree with that. It, can you just in 15 seconds, do you have any idea how this tape got out?

MCINTYRE: Most likely scenario, a pilot saved it because it was, quote, "cool video," gave it to somebody, gave it to somebody, showed up on the Internet. That's sort of how it gets out.

BROWN: Unreal, the times in which we live. Thank you, Jamie. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon tonight.
Unreal, indeed. If you watch the video, it's crystal clear. The pilot identifies the targets just as people, not as fighters, but still gets clearance to take them out. The people shuffle down the middle of the road, clumped together. They're not in any hurry, there's no skulking. There is abundant cover on the sides of the street, but they walk down the middle.

The standard CNN military analyst knows that no fighters would ever act this way, least of all when fighting the United States, with its devastating aerial bombing. But, he speculates, perhaps they're very poorly trained.

Of course, at this level, it's just common sense. I can tell you from experience, completely untrained people in a combat zone automatically take cover when they're moving. And, if even one of them had ever fought U.S. forces in his life, he would have known to have the people spread out.

But, apparently, there is "evidence" that this was a legitimate military strike ("legitimate" meaning against actual fighters, though still in the service of an illegitimate war), although the evidence seems simply to be the say-so of the U.S. military.

We gain more insight into the strategy behind this from an article in today's Times, Terror Command in Falluja is Half Destroyed, U.S. Says. Talking about the ongoing bombing campaign against Falluja and lauding the shift from 1000- and 2000-pound bombs to kinder, gentler 500-pound bombs (with a blast radius of 400 meters, a quarter of a mile), the article goes on to mention numerous civilian casualties, then says,
Senior administration, Pentagon and military officials said the air campaign was in part intended to present a stark choice to the people of Falluja, especially those who may be supporting Iraqi insurgents or the foreign fighters' network.

"If there are civilians dying in connection with these attacks, and with the destruction, the locals at some point have to make a decision," one Pentagon official said. "Do they want to harbor the insurgents and suffer the consequences that come with that, or do they want to get rid of the insurgents and have the benefits of not having them there?"
The bombing is also supposed to drive a wedge between foreign fighters and indigenous insurgents:
There may be "people in Falluja who don't necessarily like us or the Iraqi government," the official said, but they "also are not particularly keen on blowing up women and children."
Or on having them blown up by U.S. bombs.

October 11, 9:54 am. Here's the text of my latest radio commentary, Iraq, Algeria, and Civil War.
October 10, 4:15 pm. Two of the 15 Afghan presidential candidates (Karzai was the 16th) who said they wouldn't recognize the election results backed off of that position and said they would accept the findings of an independent commission set up to evaluate it (Mohammed Mohaqiq, the Hazara candidate, and Masooda Jalal, the only female candidate, were the two). And, in fact, such a commission will be set up. Good news, although one suspects that the commission's conclusions have already been determined.

Entities with such diverse political viewpoints as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Republican Institute (which brought us the coup in Haiti), U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (the arm-twister who tried to get all the major candidates to resign), and Hamid Karzai (the once and future president) have affirmed the fairness of the election and/or denounced the 15 candidates for complaining. Most significantly, George W. Bush, the ultimate democrat, also believes the election was fair.

I was on CBC this morning to talk about the rigging of the Afghan election. I have no complaints -- you always know the conversation will be basically civilized, unlike with American networks.

But there was an interesting moment when my interviewer said basically (very rough rendering), "News reports show that numerous Afghans are overjoyed at being able to vote, ready to make the sacrifices democracy requires. Aren't you denigrating them by claiming the elections are rigged?" I quoted a similar remark of Karzai's in yesterday's post:
"Who is more important, these 15 candidates, or the millions of people who turned out today to vote?" Karzai said. "Both myself and all these 15 candidates should respect our people - because in the dust and snow and rain, they waited for hours and hours to vote."
This is an absolutely fascinating rhetorical ploy. People want democratic elections, so by pointing out that the elections they're participating are not democratic and saying they should have the right to genuinely free and fair elections you are denigrating them and setting yourself at odds with their interests.

Actually rigging the elections so that people are deceived into thinking they're fair, of course, does not denigrate their aspirations.

And it's astonishing how lightly this kind of thing trips off the tongues of those who shape the public discourse.

October 9, 11:05 pm. Apparently, insult is now being added to the injury that is the Afghan presidential election. After all that's been done (some of it encapsulated here, here, and here), now we find that some of the voters's thumbs were marked, not with indelible ink, but with easy-erase ink.

This is significant because, of course, the 10.5 million voter registration cards included huge numbers of doubles and multiples, so the indelible ink was the way to keep holders of multiple cards from voting more than once. Except that, at least at some of the polling stations, those people could, in fact, vote multiple times.

Opposition candidates called for the voting to be stopped because of the problem, but the Karzai and U.S.-controlled "joint U.N.-Afghan election panel" decided to go ahead -- in the face of threats from the other 15 candidates that they would not recognize the results and would boycott the political process afterwards.

Karzai, Mr. "Vote Early Vote Often," came up with another brilliant way to justify the decision. He said the elections were free and fair and then decried the other candidates for protesting:
"Who is more important, these 15 candidates, or the millions of people who turned out today to vote?" Karzai said. "Both myself and all these 15 candidates should respect our people - because in the dust and snow and rain, they waited for hours and hours to vote."
So a dispute about whether the will of the millions of people who vote is accurately represented is turned by Karzai into a dispute about whether the righs of 15 people (who just happen to be candidates) are more important than those of millions.

This is very clearly the same rhetorical strategy the Republicans, especially Bush, use all the time. What a coincidence.

October 8, 6:50 pm. After dealing with democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan recently, a few remarks on the mature, well-developed democracy we have in the United States.

From a piece in the Post today, Bush's Isolation from Reporters could be a Hindrance:
During a campaign forum in the Cleveland suburbs last month, President Bush was asked whether he likes broccoli, to disclose his "most important legacy to the American people" and to reveal what supporters can do "to make sure that you win Ohio and get reelected."

The "Ask President Bush" forums, which on television look like freewheeling sessions with the commander in chief, are tightly managed by the Bush-Cheney campaign, with the president calling mainly on people sitting in sections filled with his most loyal supporters. At one such event, a veteran's question was whether Bush would permit him "the honor of giving our commander in chief a real Navy salute, and not a flip-flop."
The article goes on to suggest that this isolation could be a problem when Bush debates Kerry, who is used to fielding much tougher vegetable-related questions:
The debates, which will conclude Wednesday in Arizona, have brought new scrutiny to Bush by tens of millions of people who are accustomed to seeing him only in brief clips or formal settings. Bush received poor ratings in polls after television shots from the first debate showed him fidgeting and grimacing under challenges by Kerry, and his remarks became repetitious and at times peevish.

Wayne Fields, a specialist in presidential rhetoric at Washington University, said the first debate showed Bush had been overprotected. "If you don't talk to the press and deal with audiences with some degree of skepticism, you can't build understanding so people have confidence in you in hard times," Fields said. "His handlers think they're doing him a favor, but they're not."
Finally, in the context of comparing Bush with another figure of potential power, John Kerry, the press can partially overcome its fears of lese majeste to mention obvious points like Bush's insecurity and extreme repetitiveness (he was worse on Tim Russert back in the spring without occasioning half the critical scrutiny).

But the entire article treats the issue simply as a matter of how well it prepares Bush to debate. The thoroughly anti-democratic character of the way Bush is handled doesn't even come up. It's not in the public consciousness. And yet, it's very clear that, with regard to totalitarian tendencies, Bush concedes nothing to Saddam Hussein, who also no doubt fielded many questions about broccoli and legacies.

Of course, the institutional structures of U.S. politics and society and Iraqi politics and society are so different that similarly totalitarian natures manifest very differently. It is actually true that, at a certain primitive level, we do have strong democratic structures and that they are very hard to assault frontally -- although Bush has done so much to assault them that he is in company with people like Nixon, McCarthy, and Woodrow Wilson.

But the tendency is clear. Bush would be a totalitarian if he could, and he's doing his best to enable himself to be. In fact, I judge him, as I said, on a par with Saddam and way behind, say, Hafez Assad, who understood that in order to govern effectively he needed to have some people he could trust who would tell him the truth (BTW, Hanna Batatu's book on Syria is excellent, although it's pricey enough you'll probably want to hit the library).

And it's more than just Bush, of course. There's a decay in the the general notion of democracy in the culture at large. Check out the rules for tonight's "town-hall" debate, a dangerous forum because there might be contact between the candidates and the American people -- or, as Peter Slevin called it in the Post, the "least predictable of the three presidential debates." First, of course, only "soft supporters" of Bush or Kerry will be allowed. You can only attend if there is a possibility that the answers might change your mind about who to vote for. And here are the rules for questioners:
Only questions submitted to Gibson in advance will be permitted. There will be no follow-ups. In fact, the questioner's microphone will go dead once the question has been asked. Deviations will not be allowed.

Gibson has instructions to cut off a questioner who "poses a question or makes a statement that is in any material way different" from the original question. He will tell the audience that "non-reviewed questions" are banned.
All they've left out is a knock on the door from the secret police if you step out of line. But, then, they don't need that, because people will go along with this travesty of democratic participation. Do remember that this ridiculously scripted and controlled event is the closest that ordinary people get to intervening in the public dialogue over the election. Imagine what would happen if the great unwashed got to ask the candidates real questions.

Hugo Chavez, I'm told, answers callers on his weekly TV show. But then, autocrats do the strangest things.

October 7, 6:30 pm. Today is the third anniversary of the war on Afghanistan. On the one-year anniversary, I wrote an article summing up the effects. Depressingly, every one of the major points is at least as true today as it was then.

On Saturday, Afghanistan will have a "free" "election" for president ("president" -- the United States will still run those things it wants to run). Here's an excerpt from a piece by Justin Huggler of the Independent on the upcoming election:
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report says it has widespread evidence of intimidation by the warlords to get Afghans in the areas they control to vote for their preferred candidate. "It's not necessarily those who are perceived as 'bad guys' who benefit," John Sifton of HRW, says.

"Some of them are telling voters to vote for Karzai." Some Pashtun commanders in the east had even warned voters they would burn their houses unless they voted for Mr Karzai, who tried tried to laugh it off, saying it was just a tradition.

Mr Sifton says: "We are finding the majority of the voters either do not understand the secrecy of the ballot, or do not believe in it. That makes them vulnerable to intimidation." HRW has also warned that in many areas, Afghan women are being threatened and intimidated into not voting.

It is an open secret in Afghanistan that the warlords are planning to bully and cajole voters in the regions they control. What election really amounts to, if voters stick to the script and Mr Karzai wins, is jockeying for position among the same old warlords.

The problem is that Mr Karzai's direct rule does not extend beyond Kabul and the few other provinces where it is guaranteed for him by the international forces of Isaf. He has complained the charge that he only controls Kabul is out of date, but the main way in which he has extended it is by making deals with the warlords with the backing of the US, which was cutting its own deals with them from the start. Like so many before him, Mr Karzai rules Afghanistan by consent of the warlords.

The Americans appear to be depending on the Pashtuns of the south to vote for Mr Karzai as the only viable Pashtun candidate, and him to get votes as the only nationally recognisable name. The warlords are assuming Mr Karzai will win and they want to get vote blocs with which they can demand more from him. They are playing the ethnicity card. Andrew Wilder of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, says: "Dostum's strategy is to do as well as he can in Uzbek areas and then say to Karzai, 'I represent the Uzbeks and you can't ignore me'." It is the same with Mr Mohaqiq and the Hazara, and Mr Qanooni and the Tajiks. "We created this problem," Mr Wilder says. "We brought these people back into power."

To deliver those voting blocs, a little voter intimidation will come in decidedly handy. The problem has been compounded by international organisations' refusal to monitor the election fully. Both the OSCE and the European Union at first refused to send monitors. They said it was too dangerous - hardly an endorsement of security in the new Afghanistan - and, remarkably, said they did not want to monitor the election for fear they would have to publicise its failure to be free and fair.

In a compromise, the OSCE and EU sent about 60 monitors, who will be confined to Kabul and ordered to stay away from polling stations for their own safety, in case of Taliban attacks.

President George Bush held up voter registration figures of 10.5 million as a major success. The only problem was that they were fuelled by huge numbers of Afghans registering more than once. Mr Karzai had an embarrassing moment when he was asked about it at a press conference and blithely replied: "It doesn't bother me. If Afghans have two registration cards and if they would like to vote twice, well, welcome." A clarification was hastily issued.

I agree that the "Karzai is the mayor of Kabul" line is seriously outdated. The removal of Ismail Khan as governor of Herat shows this. Although most media coverage has suggested he was removed for "warlord"-type abuses, this is clearly not the case. Although he seems to have been growing a bit more hardline than his earlier reputation suggested, he was still a far better and less brutal rules than, say, Abdul Rashid Dostum, a firm U.S. ally. The truth is that it was a showdown with the central government over military matters -- Amin Tarzi of Eurasianet has a good review of what happened.

Ismail Khan showed too much independence (and there were always concerns about his ties with Iran) and Karzai slapped him down.

How did Karzai slap him down? Of course, he had to use the long arm of the United States. His struggle in becoming more than the mayor of Kabul has been all about convincing the United States to expend more effort controlling and running Afghanistan, instead of just focusing on roving search-and-destroy missions.

Karzai was not a "warlord" and has until now had relatively clean hands. He also never gained any legitimacy with the population by fighting the Soviets and had no popular base. But it was possible to believe that he was one of many educated, "technocratic" Afghans who sincerely wanted a better future for Afghanistan and saw it emerging only through a commitment from the United States to make sure there is funding for reconstruction and to make sure that a new government can emerge that can actually govern the country. In order to do that, they were willing to allow that future government to be heavily U.S.-aligned and even to be a military pawn in the neoconservatives' imagined Eurasian endgame.

While a leftist in the United States might oppose such a decision on principle, the Afghans are in such a wretched state that it is difficult to fault an Afghan leader or potential leader for making such a choice. Unfortunately, they failed to reckon that they were not dealing with enlightened imperialists of the post-World-War 2 mode, but reactionary, free-market fundamentalist, force-worshipping religious fundamentalist imperialists.

The result: the United States has yielded to some of Karzai's importuning, but it is setting him up as a new "warlord." The fact that people are being intimidated to vote for Karzai and that Karzai is happy with the "vote early and vote often" notion of democracy shows this. Association with the United States and its imperial aims, especially in this age, is inevitably corrupting.

Instead of mayor of Kabul, Karzai is warlord of Kabul, maybe even soon to become warlord of Afghanistan.

I wonder if he's happy with his victory in getting the United States to back him. He should take a leaf from Pyrrhus of Epirus, who said, after a victory over Rome, "Another such victory and I shall be ruined."

I don't know if Karzai's road to hell was paved with good intentions or not. I merely speculate, but I think my story is very plausible.

October 5, 8:50 pm. A quick prediction on the Cheney-Edwards debate: Cheney will spank Edwards.

Of course, if Edwards hammers on Cheney's very overt lies about Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda and about Iraq's nuclear program, he should find it very difficult to lose. But I'm not at all sure he will.

And if things range broader than that, the fact that Edwards is a lightweight with seemingly no knowledge of foreign policy will be telling. Remember his response during the February 26 Democratic candidates' debate when a question came up about the coup in Haiti:
What I would do is, ultimately we have to have a political solution for this problem. And what I would do as president of the United States is pick two or three respected world leaders, like President Clinton did back in the ’90s with Jimmy Carter and Sam Nunn, and, I believe, Colin Powell, if I’m not mistaken.

KING: Right, those three.

EDWARDS: Send them to the region. Work on a political solution. You know, the framework, I think that probably makes the most sense is some…

KING: It might be too late.

EDWARDS: Maybe. Maybe. But if we can stabilize the situation first, work on a political solution, and I think the framework of that political solution is some shared authority, and then setting a real timetable for a democratic election. I think that’s the frame that needs to be in place.

But can I say one other thing about this? We should not be in this place. We are in this place because this is so typical of this president’s disengagement in this entire hemisphere. In fact, he’s done it all over the world. But this is a perfect example. What he’s done in Mexico, what he’s done in Haiti. The reason we’re in this place is because this president has not been involved, not been engaged. He’s had complete…
In other words, he didn't have the faintest idea of what the Bush administration had done with regard to Haiti. He'd read a few newspaper articles about Bush's disengagement on Mexico and maybe his "disengagement" on Israel/Palestine and figured that disengagement was the problem with regard to Haiti was well.

Kerry, who is not profoundly ignorant, merely repellently calculating and dishonest and a political coward, actually made some illuminating remarks about the administration's "ideological and theological hatred for Aristide" and the "equation" it had set up whereby the anti-Aristide forces basically were given the power by the administration when it made aid conditional on negotiations with them. He didn't, of course, delve into things that should not be said by mainstream political candidates, like the support and planning for the coup carried out by groups like the International Republican Institute. That one wouldn't expect. But anyway he pretty clearly won that exchange.

A debate is not a wonk-fest. In fact, Kerry made some elementary slips in the debate (my favorite was claiming that KGB headquarters was on "Treblinka Square" -- Treblinka was a Nazi death camp and the Soviets were not exactly in the habit of naming anything after Nazi death camps) and Bush actually pronounced Alexander Kwasniewski's name correctly.

But these debates are also not about who can be more puppyish, boyishly disarming, and cheerful. These are "who's-your-daddy" debates. They are about who can protect us from threats and about who will kill more terrorists with their bare hands. Kerry, 5 inches taller than Bush, well composed, came off well when he promised to hunt down and kill everyone who might ever be a terrorist. Bush, waiting for Kerry to finish, looked like a spoiled child -- and, of course, sounded incredibly stupid.

At the same time, Kerry left holes you could have driven a truck through -- if, as is the case with Bush, your license hadn't been suspended for excessive cocaine use in your youth.

Cheney doesn't have these problems and Edwards doesn't have Kerry's assets.

Anyway, that's my call. Prediction is a game for fools, but I'll play.

October 4, 1:01 pm. Here's my latest radio commentary, on the collapse of the antiwar movement.
October 1, 5:00 pm. 5000 troops, 3000 American and 2000 Iraqi auxiliaries, have stormed Samarra, a town in Salahuddin province that had become a rebel stronghold by the end of May.

Over 100 Iraqis have already been killed in the attack. To the New York Times, they are all "insurgents," but of course every time that claims of civilian casualties made by Iraqi doctors on the ground treating the wounded have actually been tested against the claims of Pentagon spokespeople far away that everyone killed is a fighter, the doctors have been proved right.

It's too early to tell whether this will turn into something like the assault on Fallujah in April or Najaf in August. Preliminary reports indicate that the United States is sweeping through Samarra pretty quickly, but it's not as clear whether it can hold territory it has taken.

If it starts to turn into a siege like those two, we now know what they involve. 900 to 1000 people, mostly civilians, killed in Fallujah, a whole town victimized for over three weeks with electricity cut off, the main hospital closed, and no normal life possible. Up to 2500 people killed in Najaf, at least 400 of them civilian (possibly many more; the only ones who keep track are the Iraqi Ministry of Health and individual doctors on the ground) and a whole town victimized for three weeks, with large parts of the city center a no-man's-land. In both cases, lots of  indiscriminate firing from U.S. snipers, in many places killing almost everything that moves.

If this is what is settles down to in Samarra, nobody should be fooled by a lack of coverage of civilian casualties, ambulance shootings, and hospital closings. These things are all standard elements of a U.S. assault -- mix and match, pick four out of five elements, and you have an attack.

Kerry has, of course, distinguished himself from Bush by saying he should have gone into Fallujah harder and stayed longer and suggested that he will do so if elected president. If that happens, it will make the April siege look like a children's game.

Here's one thing to keep in mind in all of this. If a "smart" bomb functions as it's supposed to, it's moderately accurate, usually to a radius of about 10 meters (about 33 feet). But a 2000-pound bomb has a blast radius of roughly 4000 feet (another figure: a 500-pound bomb has a blast radius of 400 meters).

If you use a 500-pound bomb on a residential area in a town (which is precisely the modus operandi in these assaults) -- well, you do the math.

Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and BeyondBush, Iraq, and Demonstration Elections Notes on Bush RNC Speech"Report from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and U.S. War Crimes "Report from Baghdad -- Winning Hearts and Minds"Report from Fallujah -- Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it"Report from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell"War on Terrorism" Makes Us All Less Safe Bush -- Is the Tide Turning?Perle and FrumIntelligence Failure Kerry vs. Dean SOU 2004: Myth and Reality