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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
September 30, 7:07 pm. Another slaughter of innocents in Iraq. There was a car bombing (involving two cars) of a U.S. convoy at the inauguration of new sewage plant just as children flocked around it to get candy. 35 children were killed.
This is an absolutely appalling act. It's not clear yet whether children were deliberately targeted, as in Beslan. Zarqawi's Tawhid wal Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it involved "martyrdom operations," but officials on the scene refused to confirm or deny reports that suicide bombers were involved (as opposed to just cars loaded down with bombs). This makes a difference because, of course, if actual suicide bombers were involved then it's clear that the presence of the children did not dissuade them from attacking.
This is not more barbaric than the U.S. missile attack on a crowd gathered around a destroyed Bradley Fighting Vehicle on Haifa Street on September 12. The crowd also contained numerous children and the excuse of protecting U.S. equipment -- well, what do you need to say?
But it is also not less barbaric. Tawhid wal Jihad has committed many acts that are deliberate in their grotesqueness, so this is in a sense nothing new -- unless children were deliberately targeted, in which case it's a new height even for them. Either way, Zarqawi has emerged as primary de facto PR person for the United States in Iraq.
September 30, 6:38 pm. And some bad news. Israel has begun Phase 2 of the Gaza withdrawal plan (for a little context, see a previous post).
Billed as a retaliation for the Qassam rocket killing of two children in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, the offensive, which includes an invasion of Jabaliya refugee camp, has already resulted in the killing of at least 24 Palestinians, and three Israelis.
An entire brigade of the IDF has moved into northern Gaza. It's the 12th IDF operation in northern Gaza alone in the past three months. The operation has been code-named "Days of Penitence," named for the first ten days of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah started on sundown of September 15 this year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on sundown of September 24). It's hard to think of a more inflammatory name this side of "Infinite Justice."
Amira Hass's column in Ha'aretz yesterday, What does the Turk have against us?, is very definitely worth reading.
Here's the beginning:
"Kill a Turk and rest" - a popular Israeli saying meaning "don't rush" - is not only a statement of doubtful political correctness. It is also the middle of a Jewish joke. But only the middle. In Israel it has a separate existence, which distorts the spirit of the original Jewish anecdote.Of course, this story also perfectly encapsulates the attitude of most Americans to the violence in Iraq.
September 30, 5:35 pm. An actual piece of good news, for once. Russia has finally stopped dithering and decided to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
The Protocol calls for the so-called "Annex 1" industrialized countries in aggregate to make sure that by 2012 their emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases (excluding ozone and water vapor) are 5% below their 1990 levels. The emissions of the six gases are combined by an agreed formula into a "carbon dioxide emission equivalent" and it is this number that is to be reduced by 5%. The cuts are not spread evenly across Annex 1 countries; for example, the United States is mandated to reduced its emissions by 7% by 2012.
The Protocol was planned to go into effect once at least 55 countries representing 55% of the Annex 1 countries' combined emissions signed it. When the United States pulled out, the Protocol would have been effectively dead in the water had Russia not signed. But Russia's signing now puts Kyoto over the threshold and so it is scheduled to go into effect.
The Protocol is obviously just a band-aid. The goal is to stabilize the atmospheric level of greenhouse gases, not to stabilize emissions. In order to do so at reasonable levels, the emissions level per year has to be reduced significantly (how much precisely is complicated and depends on many things, including what you think is a reasonable level). And thus some on the left dismiss it as too little, too late.
But, viewed as a stepping-stone on the way to genuine control of greenhouse gases, Kyoto is extremely important. Had it not been rescued, it's hard to imagine that more significant action would have been taken in its stead, at least not for many years.
Expect more from me on Kyoto and global climate change. Paradoxically, this most difficult issue is also one on which a way forward has opened -- at least if developments in the United States can be brought to heel.
September 29, 9:08 pm. Obsidian Wings has an important post about "extraordinary rendition" and a bill that may be on the floor of Congress as early as next week to legalize it (action suggestions at the end of this post).
Extraordinary rendition is the lovely practice the United States has of outsourcing torture. When stripping detainees naked, threatening them with dogs, beating them savagely, sodomizing them with a broomstick, or "water-boarding" is not enough to do the job, we can always send them to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Jordan to experience the full panoply of torture methods.
Currently, prisoners can be "rendered" to other countries solely on the basis of an "assurance" that they won't be tortured -- even if, as in all the cases since 9/11, it's being done specifically so that they will be tortured and both sides know the assurance is meaningless. It has, of course, been done on people, like Maher Arar, who are almost certainly innocent.
In the summer, Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts introduced a bill to close this loophole and make this disgusting practice that violates international law explicitly illegal in this country. As might be expected, the bill has only 22 cosponsors and is going nowhere.
It has, however, achieved something -- a reaction by House Republicans. In H.R. 10, the "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004," (you can find the text at thomas.loc.gov by typing in "H.R. 10" without the quotes) introduced by noted humanitarian and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, there is an attempt to legalize extraordinary rendition. Here's Section 3032:
SEC. 3032. EXCEPTION TO RESTRICTION ON REMOVAL FOR TERRORISTS AND CRIMINALS. (a) Regulations-A little explanation. The UN Convention on Torture, to which the United States is a signatory, obviously prohibits sending people to be tortured elsewhere. Section 2A of this new bill is removes that protection for aliens covered under Section 241(b)(3)(B) of the (amended) Immigration and Nationalities Act, which as of now means people that the U.S. Attorney General determines, on his own say-so, to be involved in a "particularly serious crime" -- i.e., in this case, terrorism. So, suspected terrorists can be rendered.
Section 2B(i) means that people who have already won a verdict that says they can't be sent somewhere that it's likely they will be tortured are subject to having their cases reopened. 2B(ii) means that even if whatever acts you're accused of occurred before this legislation was passed, you can still be rendered. In other words, when it comes to foreigners who John Ashcroft suspects of terrorism, neither double jeopardy nor ex post facto legislation is prohibited.
Section 3 is self-explanatory. To be protected from rendition, you must prove that you will be tortured. Presumably, this is impossible.
Section 3b says that judicial review does not apply to this law. This has regrettably become a common tactic, known as jurisdiction-stripping, practiced especially by House Republicans. They've done it on mandating use of the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance and on gay marriage in the "Marriage Protection Act of 2004." While a dangerous attack on judicial independence and clearly part of the generally impulse toward totalitarianism of the right-wing, it is somewhat debatable whether there is constitutional authorization for this practice.
With plans to put this on the House floor very soon, now is the time to act by contacting your Representative. On issues like this, congresspeople (well, Democrats at least) are very easy to sway with sometimes as little as dozens of calls and letters. They know their constituents aren't paying attention, so even a little bit of pressure to convince them to vote no often has an effect.
So, write your Representative here or call the Congressional switchboard at 1-800-839-5276 or 202-224-3121 and have them put you through to your Rep's office.
Obsidian Wings is also asking other bloggers to link to the original post.
September 28, 5:30 pm. Presumably in response to the Times editorial I cited yesterday, the Washington Post has an editorial today titled "Imperfect Elections." The Post's news coverage of Iraq, from WMD to conditions of occupation, has been far superior to that of the Times, but its editorial and op-ed pages remain hopelessly right-wing.
Here's how it starts:
OPPONENTS OF continued U.S engagement in Iraq frequently describe what they say is the misguided illusion that "Jeffersonian democracy" can be established in that country. The pitch sounds hard-nosed and pragmatic -- but Thomas Jefferson, we suspect, would not appreciate being used as a straw man. There's no question that the Iraqi elections planned for January, and any government that follows from them, will fall well short of democratic ideals. Yet it's anything but realistic to portray democracy as a system that only works when it is pure. Not only was Jefferson's democracy not entirely democratic (just ask African Americans and women), but the modern world is replete with examples of partially democratic countries -- and in most cases, their governments are better and their people freer than in the nondemocratic world.Personally, I'm sick of the terms "Jeffersonian democrat" and "Jeffersonian democracy" for what ought to be obvious reasons. On a liberal blog (Washington Monthly, by Kevin Drum) when the author put up a particularly asinine post about Hugo Chavez and Venezuela and was being skewered by commenters, one of them, defending Drum, said something to the effect that Chavez was "no Thomas Jefferson" -- to which another one replied that, of course, Chavez was in fact a much better democrat than this particular slaveowner who used his presidency to fight for the greater sway and power of slavery and what 19th-century Yankees used to call "the slave power" (see Garry Wills' book, The Negro President, or his article in the November 6, 2003, New York Review of Books).
But the Post turns that around brilliantly by saying that even such an admittedly sorry thing as Jeffersonian democracy is, in fact, demonstrably better than nothing -- a case that would be, to say the least, hard to make for Native Americans and African slaves.
In other ways, the conception of democracy of modern politicians, even including centrists and liberals, is far inferior to Jefferson's, who was afraid that any system of power could become entrenched and unresponsive to the will of the people and advocated a restructuring of the entire system every nineteen years (a number he arrived at based on reckoning adult mortality rates and the amount of time it would take for half the adult population at a given time to die).
In any case, whenever you see the phrase "Jeffersonian democracy" in the same article as the word "Iraq" you know somebody's trying to lie to you about something.
The main point of the Post editorial is to propose and support the framing of the elections as a possibly flawed attempt by the Bush administration to create elections that will not be perfect but will be a major step forward, rather than the obvious interpretation that they are to be a stage-managed sham, like every previous such process the Bush administration has overseen.
The editorial also, indirectly, tries to reinforce the idea that elections will be a blow to the "insurgents" -- "balloting in such towns as Fallujah and Ramadi, even if only partial, would deliver a major blow to the insurgents." An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor makes the point in the negative:
Imagine if the insurgents were to succeed in dissuading Iraq from holding its first election of a representative government in modern history. They would be emboldened by their victory, and redouble their efforts to scuttle the rescheduled vote.There are several interesting fantasies entwined together in this view, which has become the conventional wisdom in recent weeks. First, as expressed by Colin Powell yesterday, the resistance is fighting because it is against elections:
"And the reason it's getting worse is that they are determined to disrupt the election. They do not want the Iraqi people to vote for their own leaders in free, democratic elections."At least, he just says that's the reason the violence is worsening. Interpreted narrowly, that may be true of groups like Zarqawi's Tawhid wal Jihad, which seems to want to disrupt everything, not just elections. But it's part of a larger narrative in which the resistance is fighting not the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, with its house raids, arbitrary detentions, torture, and murder, but rather U.S. attempts to bring democracy to Iraq.
With regard to the elections, this involves an interesting reversal of causality because, of course, all elements of the resistance were fighting long before there was any timetable for elections on the horizon (the January date was imposed on the United States by other Security Council members). With regard to Iraq, such reversals are not uncommon. For example, Hussein Kamel's defection in August 1995 and subsequent testimony to UN weapons inspectors was routinely reported as the cause of their discovery of Iraq's biological weapons program, a discovery that occurred in July 1995. Some bizarre temporal discontinuity in the Middle East, I suppose.
The other part of the fantasy is that the resistance is a small marginalized group that doesn't have popular support. At best, that populations like those of Ramadi and Fallujah are "caught between" the "insurgents" and U.S. military operations. I came across this rather directly when a producer for Canadian TV called me up about three weeks ago: (rough rendering of conversation)
Producer: So, you were in Fallujah?I have little doubt that elections in al-Anbar province would return an absolutely overwhelming vote for whatever party best represented or tied in with the mujaheddin. If the Association of Muslim Scholars formed a party, it would win elections there easily. In Salahuddin province, where Samarra and Tikrit are, presumably a more Ba'athist-affiliated resistance-representing party would win (divergences now between Ba'athists and Islamists are small and almost meaningless in political terms, although they can still represent factional and personalistic differences). The South is harder, but again in a legitimate vote the question in a real election would be between an armed resistance-based party (if, say, Sadr's organization became a party) and a strongly anti-occupation but non-resistance-based party.
Some of the exile parties, like SCIRI and al-Dawa, have built up a solid base of support. Others, even with a phenomenally skewed situation in which anti-occupation parties (that are nonviolent) are difficult or impossible to organize on anything but the most trivial basis (primarily because of lack of resources), have not built a solid base. Taken all together, even with all the help in the world because they have been placed in government for a year, I don't think there's a way that a majority of people would vote for them if there were a real choice.
The Post editorial contains within it yet another strongly emerging trope, although this one is more of a cover story than a fantasy:
A second concern is the ambiguous statements of Bush administration and Iraqi officials about whether they are committed to holding elections in Sunni areas of Iraq -- and to taking the military measures necessary to make voting possible.More than a week ago, the Times had an article about plans for a post-election drive to retake Fallujah and other resistance-held areas and smash the resistance. The reason is not the wonderfully altruistic desire to give democracy to the Iraqis but rather a purely military one -- to deny the resistance its geographical base. Once a guerrilla army establishes such a base -- a "liberated area" in the common parlance -- it has taken a major step toward victory. The United States is most likely committed to using whatever amount of force proves necessary to deny it that base. The assault on Fallujah that killed 1000 mostly civilians in April strengthened the resistance; the level of violence necessary to weaken or destroy it (temporarily) will likely be significantly greater.
But as long as American casualties are kept down and there is plenty of cant about the need to do this to ensure democracy in Iraq, the administration (either one) will gamble that there will be no significant public dissent in this country.
Despite all these fantasies and the disturbing agenda being obliquely supported, the Post editorial shows that this issue of sham democracy is starting to penetrate (with the help of a new TIME Magazine story about potential CIA plans to help "candidates favored by the White House"). It was, for example, forced to admit that the unified slate could be problematic.
The CIA plans were scrapped, but other alternatives have not been. Just check out Scott McLellan's statement on the matter (in the TIME article):
In the final analysis, we have adopted a policy that we will not try to influence the outcome of the upcoming Iraqi election by covertly helping individual candidates for office.No covert helping of "individual candidates," but then the unified slate idea helps whole parties, not individual candidates. With the pressure on it now, that plan may be scrapped as well. The administration is scrambling to try to rig the election but if it continues to be denied the use of its stratagems, it's just possible that it will eventually be boxed in.
September 27, 10:40 am. Yesteday, the Times ran what is, all things considered, a remarkable editorial, Iraq's Disappearing Election. It makes the points that I made a few days ago. Not only does it mention "Mr. Rumsfeld's curiously undemocratic remark that if some substantial portion of Iraqis cannot vote, 'so be it,'" far more surprising, it even says,
Yet the six political parties that Washington has promoted all along are not making that [legitimate elections] any easier. These parties, which are rooted among the exiles who left Iraq during the Hussein era and lack broad popular support, are now discussing a plan to run as a single unified ticket rather than competing among themselves on the ballot. That could create essentially a one-party election unless Iraq's fragmented independents manage to organize themselves into an effective new political force. Otherwise, Iraq's first free election may look uncomfortably like the plebiscites choreographed to produce 98 percent majorities for Saddam Hussein.Probably the reason that it can point things out so straightforwardly is that the onus is put on the U.S.-backed parties rather than the Bush administration. Left unstated is the obvious point that such things are done with clear collusion, and that the Bush administration is heavily invested in having parties win that will continue to collaborate with the occupation.
Because that collusion is so carefully unmentioned in the U.S. media, in fact, this kind of exposure, if repeated and magnified (in part, at least, through the efforts of people like the readers of Empire Notes), could easily cause the administration to come out against the consensus slate plan.
The main point, however, is that this is an issue on which change can definitely be pushed through. Expect me to focus like a laser beam on it.
The first point to hammer is the upcoming Afghanistan presidential election and the tampering by U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Since it's on October 9, substantive change is not likely. It's important, however, to register this in the consciousness of the media in preparation for the January elections. With at least three months to go, there's a huge window to push for more openness in the elections.
Letters to the editor, both of your own newspaper and of national newspapers like the Times, Post, and LA Times, are particularly important; so are op-eds in local papers. And, readers who blog, please consider blogging on this issue.
I've updated my piece, Bush, Iraq, and Demonstration Elections, to reflect developments over the weekend. I've also posted today's Uprising Radio commentary, on the same subject.
September 25, 11:16 pm. There's something about Donny. In periods when he retreats to the background and Rice, Cheney, Bush, Myers, Sanchez, etc., come to the fore, our culture is the poorer for it.
Who could forget, for example, the Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld, of which his publisher, Hart Seely, so justly said, "His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams'?" Although you should decide for yourselves whether it's more like Williams or merely a parody thereof.
His latest pronouncement is deceptive in its lyrical simplicity. It should be read aloud, preferably with a friend, for full effect:
"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," Rumsfeld said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.No points for anyone who comes up with a Florida-based analogy. I'm sorry, it's just too obvious.
But, in terms Donny could understand: An election with 20 or 25% of voters disenfranchised is like a haiku with 13 syllables. It's not a partial version of the thing desired, it's a travesty and a destruction of the form.
Nero, like Rumsfeld, was a frustrated aesthete. He recited from the Aeneid as he burned Rome to the ground. It's an open question whether Virgil or Williams makes a better accompaniment.
September 25, 2:43 pm. No sooner had I written my piece on Bush and his demonstration elections than this story appeared in the Los Angeles Times -- U.S. Hand Seen in Afghan Election.
Mohammed Mohaqiq, an Afghan presidential candidate who is a Hazara (a Shi'a ethnicity, one of those traditionally placed at the bottom of the social ladder and treated with contempt and worse by other Afghans), has been pressured by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (a crony of the University of Chicago neoconservative kinship group under Albert Wohlstetter -- it includes Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and probably Ahmad Chalabi) to quit the race and throw his endorsement to Karzai.
The article makes it clear, in an understated way, that there is some combination of coercion and bribery at play here. Certainly, there are few if any other presidential candidates who would seem to offer the Hazara anything, so a Mohaqiq endorsement of Karzai would probably bring in a Hazara bloc vote.
Also according to the article, Younis Qanooni, one of the old-school mujaheddin and Karzai's leading rival, is calling a meeting to be attended by 13 other presidential candidates (thus 14 of the total 18) that is all about Khalilzad's meddling, which has not been restricted to Mohaqiq.
Qanooni has little or no chance to win, but is the candidate who could force things to a runoff (apparently, no Instant Runoff Voting in Afghanistan, either). So Khalilzad is employing a two-pronged approach: pressure Qanooni to withdraw and attempt to co-opt his ally Burhanuddin Rabbani, the closest thing to the grand old man of the Afghan mujaheddin, and bring him into Karzai's camp.
So the one-candidate paradigm marches on. Apparently, the notion of democracy in this country has become so debased that there are two basic reactions to all of this:
September 24, 7:33 pm. A friend just sent me this link to what is dubbed the "Fallujah Video Massacre." A quick search has turned up nothing on the provenance of the video, but it looks very military. The town being bombed looks exactly like Fallujah, with wide low buildings and broad roadways, but again I can't say for sure that it is.
The audio is very bad, so listen with the volume all the way up. You can see the pilot observing a group of people on the road, then saying, "I've got numerous individuals on the road. Do you want me to take them out?" and getting the answer, "Take them out." The people inch down the road, unaware of the fate that is about to meet them.
The pilot does not say fighters, armed people, anything of the sort, just "individuals." And, indeed, there's no way they could be fighters, even of the most inept kind. They move slowly down the center of the road, avoiding all the buildings that could provide cover and, most telling, they clump together so that in the end a single bomb wipes them out. Maintaining distance is one of the first principles of moving around in modern warfare.
Listen for the pilot's "Aw, dude!" at the end. I read it as some combination of "Oh, the humanity!" and "Yee-hah!" Not sure about the relative ratios.
September 24, 1:55 pm. I've just posted an article called "Bush, Iraq, and Demonstration Elections." The article is occasioned by the extremely disturbing news that the main U.S.-affiliated Iraqi parties are working on a "consensus slate" for the January elections. I see this as a clear sign that the elections will be simply the latest in a series of blatant sham elections orchestrated by the Bush administration since 9/11. Read it and see if you agree with me.
This is a particularly important issue because it's one that conceivably people could mobilize to affect.
September 23, 5:28 am. I've posted some notes on Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly.
September 22, 6:03 pm. An intriguing reassertion of economic sovereignty in India. According to the Financial Times,
Foreign aid officials on Wednesday offered to resign as advisers to the Indian government following mounting communist criticism of New Delhi for allegedly having compromised the country’s sovereignty.It's a long way from this to seriously resisting the structural adjustment dictates of the IMF and World Bank, but it may be a start.
Interesting juxtaposition: On Monday, Rodrigo Rato, managing director of the IMF, said the United States needs to do a lot more to cut down its fiscal deficit and its current account deficit (of which the major component is the trade deficit). The IMF has already criticized the Bush administration's so-called deficit-reduction plan as inadequate.
He also had prescriptions for the EU and Japan. Paul Volcker, formerly chairman of the Fed (the man who gave us the "Reagan recession"), noted that it would take "a certain amount of courage" for the IMF to take on the First World countries.
No bets on whether IMF economists will be sitting in a "consultative" role on U.S. government meetings any time soon.
September 22, 2:10 pm. There's a nice commentary on Salon.com about the Bush administration's media strategy as based on the information warfare model (Salon is a subscription-based site, but you can get a free day pass -- go to http://www.salon.com and follow the directions, then click on the above link). Here's an excerpt on the main thesis:
The Army Field Manual describes information operations as the use of strategies such as information denial, deception and psychological warfare to influence decision making. The notion is as old as war itself. With information operations, one seeks to gain and maintain information superiority -- control information and you control the battlefield. And in the information age, it has become even more imperative to influence adversaries.There was a great article about this in the Guardian back in January, and I blogged about it in February (in the context of the amazing decision by the Bush administration to award the contract for the operation of the Iraq Media Network, set up by the United States after the war, to Science Applications International Corporation, who expertise is not in media but in information warfare).
As I pointed out then, although clearly in that case the "adversary" is the Iraqi people, other Bush administration media efforts clearly identify the adversary as the American people -- the thesis of the Salon article.
September 21, 11:40 pm. In the Times today, scary new results regarding the spreading of genes from genetically engineered plants. Monsanto and another company called Scotts have developed a strain of "creeping bentgrass" that is resistant to Monsanto's ubiquitous herbicide, Roundup, for use on golf courses. EPA scientists did a study in which they
found that the genetically engineered bentgrass pollinated test plants of the same species as far away as they measured -about 13 miles downwind from a test farm in Oregon. Natural growths of wild grass of a different species were pollinated by the gene-modified grass nearly nine miles away.This is a far greater distance for flow of altered genes than had been found in previous studies. One of the reasons is that the sample used was much larger -- 400 acres with thousands of plants. Of course, once genetically engineered crops are actually used commercially, they are grown in much larger numbers than they are in scientific studies -- and so the conventional wisdom on how far gene flow goes may be seriously off.
According to one scientist quoted, therefore, this is the first realistic study.
Read the article for caveats -- bentgrass genes are much more likely to be excessively mobile than those in standard GM crops like soybeans. It's still an unpleasant reminder of the vast and mostly unknown, even incalculable, dangers that we are allowing biotech and agribusiness corporations to subject us all to.
September 19, 6:50 pm. If the Republicans win in November, all homosexuals will be rounded up and put in concentration camps and all science textbooks will be replaced with the Bible. Really.
OK, so I'm lying. But check out what an RNC mailing in West Virginia is telling voters -- that, if liberals win in November, they will "ban the Bible" (what do they or their audience even think they mean by this?) and force all states to allow gay marriage.
Reminds me of the article, initially appearing in the Onion, quite aptly subtitled America's Finest News Source -- Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders All Citizens To Gay Marry.
Heartening news for those of you who were afraid this campaign couldn't get any dumber.
If this "democracy," can we have a look at the alternatives again?
September 17, 10:50 pm. From the AP -- Army: Nerve Agent Disposal May Take Time:
Destroying a deadly nerve agent stockpiled in western Indiana could take a lot longer than the Army originally anticipated, military officials said.Iraq seemingly has no VX nerve agent, despite all the king's horses and all the king's men. But Newport, Indiana, alone has 1269 tons of the stuff.
Let's do a little calculation of the kind so often applied to Iraq. Apparently, the LD-50 (the dose that would on average kill half the subjects) of VX for humans when simply spread on the unbroken skin is .142 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram of body weight). If we take the average weight to be, say, 60 kg, then the LD-50 would be 8.52 mg. So the Newport facility contains 135,119,307,042 LD-50 doses, thus, enough to kill over 67.5 billion human beings, over ten times the population of the planet.
In Colin Powell's famously dishonest February 5, 2003, speech to the U.N. Security Council, he said, "It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve aggent VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons." This was of a piece with the dishonesty of the rest of the presentation -- in fact, the Amorim report (S/1999/356), the definitive summing-up of the UNSCOM inspections that ended with the inspectors' withdrawal in preparation for the December 1998 Desert Fox bombing, says that what is unresolved with regard to Iraq's VX is simply this:
Iraqi declarations on the production and weaponization of the chemical agent VX, in particular with regard to the military plans for the use of VX during various periods, the different precursors available and the synthetic routes pursued.In other places, it gives specific numbers (i.e., 550 mustard-filled artillery shells unaccounted for), so it's quite clear there were no 4 tons of VX unaccounted for.
But imagine Powell's claim had been true. Newport, Indiana had over 317 times as much VX as Iraq was accused of having.
Over the years, the United States has systematically sabotaged any attempt at reasonable international arms control treaties. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which gives special status to the Nuclear 5 (also the permanent members of the Security Council), also contains a clause, Article VI, that requires nuclear nations to gradually eliminate their stockpiles -- or, more specifically, to "[undertake] to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
Needless to say, aggressive efforts by the United States to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear arms are hardly seen as good-faith anti-WMD efforts when the United States makes it clear that it will retain its arsenal in any way it pleases. In this, of course, it is joined by the other nuclear powers, although most of them avoid the extreme hypocrisy shown by the United States here.
Furthermore, although not explicitly included in the treaty, one of the cardinal principles is that nuclear states will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear enemy (unless it is attacking in alliance with a nuclear state). The United States, with its aggressive first-strike policies over the years, had undermined whatever trust existed when the treaty was signed.
On biological weapons, the international treaty (the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention) is even-handed, outlawing biological weapons for all signatories. When passed in 1972, it contained no enforcement mechanism. Starting in 1995, the over 140 signatories began negotiations on such a mechanism; over the course of 1995-2001, the United States singlehandedly managed first to eviscerate and then to eliminate said mechanism, rendering the treaty meaningless. One of the concerns mentioned frequently, especially by the Bush administration, with regard to inspections, was that they might involve leaking of proprietary knowledge of U.S. biotech companies and thus hurt their profits -- surely a far greater concern than the vulnerability of six billion human beings to these terrifyingly uncontrollable weapons.
The Chemical Weapons Convention, happily, combines the evenhandedness of the BTWC with the enforcement/inspection mechanisms of the NPT, and ought to be, one presumes, a model for how international WMD control ought to progress.
There's just this one fly in the ointment. The convention, first signed by the United States in 1993, was finally ratified by the U.S. Senate on April 24, 1997, five days before it was scheduled to come in effect because of the signing on of a critical mass of nations.
Unfortunately, it was ratified with a rather crucial reservation:
When the U.S. Senate ratified the CWC, it implemented a mandate, Condition 18, which states that no sample taken on U.S. soil shall leave the U.S. for analysis during an OPCW inspection. However, it is an OPCW requirement that two OPCW-accredited laboratories must analyze the samples and provide independent correlation.Effectively, of course, this means that, although inspections are fine for other nations, they will not apply to the United States (imagine Iraq insisting that analysis of samples taken be done only by Iraqi scientists in Iraqi labs).
When the United States signed the convention, it undertook to "dispose of its unitary chemical weapons stockpile, binary chemical weapons, recovered chemical weapons, and former chemical weapon production facilities by April 29, 2007, and miscellaneous chemical warfare materiel by April 29, 2002."
With this latest news, disposal of VX stockpiles alone, instead of taking 2.5 years will presumably take 6.25-9.25 years, thus making sure that even the 2007 date is not achieved. And thus the United States continues to undermine the CWC as well.
The Bush administration has frequently stated openly what has quite clearly been the actual U.S. attitude all along -- not that such weapons should be eliminated but rather that they should be held as a monopoly by the United States and close allies (and enemies that can't be stopped, like China and France). That's what the much-ballyhooed Proliferation Security Initiative is all about. In keeping with their rewriting of language to transform and control the terms of the debate, the Bush administration has moved the focus of international WMD control from disarmament (at least as a theoretical goal) to multilateral export controls -- the haves continue to have but band together to keep out the have-nots. See for example the "Statement of Interdiction Principles," adopted in Paris on September 4.
This is an approach that can even, in bizarre circumstances, have temporary successes -- witness Libya (where long-standing sanctions crippled its oil industry). In the long run, however, such an approach is terribly unstable and almost necessitates that other states do everything in their power to develop or obtain WMD -- something we know is pathetically easy to do for every country except Iraq.
September 17, 12:35 am. Douglas Jehl had an article in the Times yesterday, "U.S. Intelligence Shows Pessimism on Iraq's Future." This continues the venerable history of the Times as the preferred place of leaking for disgruntled government officials.
Apparently, a (classified) National Intelligence Estimate regarding prospects in Iraq was prepared for Bush in late July. Because government officials "declined to discuss the key judgments," and of course reporters didn't get to see the original report, there's not much meat here.
Still, we are told that ""There's a significant amount of pessimism," possibly an encouraging piece of news for those who were wondering whether the government was inhabiting some alternate dimension.
The administration, of course, continues to inhabit said dimension. As the article delicately points out,
As described by the officials, the pessimistic tone of the new estimate stands in contrast to recent statements by Bush administration officials, including comments on Wednesday by Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, who asserted that progress was being made.This will be a real shocker. When Bush was scenarioing us so rosily at the Republican National Convention, he was -- ahem -- lying.
The most concrete piece of information in the article is as follows:
The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms.A few words on this whole "civil war" business. This trope is now so firmly established that it seems unshakable. Even during the unprecedented period of Shi'a-Sunni unity in April, when both were under assault by the U.S. military and public opinion (among Arabs) unified not only against the occupation but behind the resistance, "civil war" was still the constant refrain.
I don't want to minimize it. There is a serious divide between Arabs and Kurds -- and, if anything, the events of April deepened that divide. There is a divide, retrievable but not easily so, between Shi'a and Sunni. And there are also numerous other divisions, between those, like Moqtada al-Sadr, who want a theocratic state, and those, like Sistani, who don't. There are the further divisions of class and elite status under the old regime -- the persistence of informal power in the hands of some elements of the ancien regime is one of the most untold and unknown (except to Iraqis) stories.
In fact, such divisions have always been necessary to colonialism, not only in its ideological justifications (we have to stay in order to protect minorities or prevent internecine violence) but in its ability to establish and perpetuate itself. Divide et impera is a highly effective strategy, but it is difficult or impossible to apply unless there are some divisions to exploit. Hindu vs. Muslim, Arab vs. Kurd, Zulu vs. Xhosa, subject tribes vs. Aztecs, etc.
But I think there are two additional things to say. First, in many ways, continuing U.S. operations in Iraq are helping not exactly to heal those divisions but to submerge them, at least temporarily, in the struggle against the occupation -- always excepting the Arab-Kurd divide, which is a much tougher nut. The events we are seeing, for the most part, have nothing to do with "civil war" and everything to do with uniting to oppose a foreign oppressor.
Second, the United States generally operates to create an indigenous faction that is opposed to the majority, thus creating the potential for some flavor of civil war. Korea and Vietnam, for example, were never really civil wars. Many liberals criticize U.S. intervention in Vietnam as intervention in a civil war -- for example, John Kerry in his famous 1971 speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But that really isn't true. The Vietminh was the force that opposed the Japanese and then the French occupation, and the vast majority of the country, except for colonialist collaborators, supported it. Those collaborators were propped up by the French and then by the United States, and division was imposed on the country, the collaborators being given control of one half of it. But the vast majority of South Vietnamese supported the Vietminh as well.
In the case of Korea, it was the same, except you remove the French and put the Soviets in charge of the North just as the United States occupies the South, treating a country that rose up to expel the Japanese occupiers as a defeated enemy. Again, the civil war was manufactured.
In Iraq, the dynamic is different. The United States is persistently failing in its attempt to create a group in Iraq with any kind of social weight that supports its policies. The Allawi government might have worked, but then it got associated in the minds of Iraqis with the phenomenally bloody assault on Najaf, in which, Donald Rumsfeld said, "coalition forces have probably killed 1,500, 2,000, 2,500 former regime elements, criminals, terrorists" and in which Dr. Amer al-Khuzaie, Iraq's deputy health minister, estimates that "in Najaf 400 civilians were killed and 2500 wounded in the fighting last month."
The United States is, however, creating by its presence another force that could wreak havoc in Iraq, even if, as I think is eminently possible, major political forces can agree to settle things by elections and power-sharing rather than violence. That force includes, but is probably not limited to, Zarqawi's al-Tawhid wal Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War), which is obviously willing to stop at nothing in carrying out acts of random terrorism but which is, it seems, gaining support in some areas of Iraq because it is seen as an effective anti-occupation force. If this kind of cancerous organization can gain a toehold in Iraq, then civil war or worse is a possibility. Of course, even so, the continued U.S. presence just increases the chance that that will happen.
September 17, 12:05 am. Here's something from the in this case aptly-named Daily Mislead, a service, if I remember correctly, of MoveOn.org:
REPORT SHOWS CHENEY WENT ABROAD TO ATTACK AMERICACheney is an unbelievable hypocrite, yes. And, as has long been known, he lobbied against sanctions on Iran. This is a policy that harmed the "national security" of the United States -- defined in the traditional manner as ability to exert hegemony over other countries. Because the sanctions were unilateral, they had the simple effect of giving the countries of the EU (and Russia) a huge head-start in the race to invest in new exploration in Iran.
Although there are profound strategic reasons for the United States to support Israel the way it has since 67 (the reasons for support in the last couple of years are murkier), and said support is not simply a product of the power of AIPAC and the wider pro-Israeli lobby (which now includes the Christian right), in the case of the Iran sanctions, the verdict seems to me pretty clear. Iran was not a major strategic consideration for the Clinton administration (at least in 1995 and 1996 when the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was passed) and thus it was happy to accommodate congressional pressure and direct pressure from the Israeli lobby -- even though it didn't take a genius to figure out that the United States was simply cutting itself out of a soon-to-be-vital area.
It's hard to argue that Halliburton's involvement in Iran imperils U.S. national security in any version (hegemony or genuine security), because of the obvious fact that those oilfield services would be supplied by EU countries otherwise.
Yes, Cheney lied about his "firm policy." Yes, Halliburton supplied oilfield equipment to Iraq. Iraq's oil industry was shattered by the effects of the Gulf War and years of sanctions. It started pumping oil for export again only in 1996. In December 1999, when the U.N. cap on Iraqi oil exports was removed (by UNSCR 1284), Iraq was unable to take full advantage of that removal because of the decayed state of its industry. 1284, incidentally, also expedited procedures and created new allowances for the import of oil industry equipment. I don't know if Halliburton's operations in Iraq before December 1999 violated the sanctions, but certainly even before then there was no blanket ban on equipment -- just a strong, consistent U.S. policy of allowing minimal equipment, infrastructure, or industrial plant of any kind to be imported.
So, legal or not, Halliburton's exports to Iraq helped Iraq obtain the money to start buying food and medicine for the people of Iraq.
Also, although the American Prospect article quoted clearly states that Cheney, though he lobbied against Iran sanctions, was always clearly in favor of sanctions on Iraq, the Daily Mislead above sure seems to imply that he was against sanctions on Iraq along with other "terrorist countries," doesn't it?
And if attacking or undermining sanctions on Iraq was opposing "America's counterterrorism efforts in the 1990's," doesn't that mean that the Bush administration is correct in saying that Iraq is part of the "war on terrorism"?
September 16, 3:25 pm. On Monday, Colin Powell told lawmakers that he considers it "unlikely that we will find any stockpiles" of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As Under the Same Sun points out, it would have been nice to see about 1/1000th the critical scrutiny afforded to the earth-shaking question of whether Bush was ever disrespectful to his superiors and irresponsible about attendance during his days as an alcoholic cokehead skirt-chaser in the Air National Guard focused on the "evidence" of Iraq's WMD.
But my first thought was a different one. Somehow, God has once again proved himself a Bush supporter. Aren't these guys unbelievably lucky?
After all this buildup, it turns out that Iraq has even fewer battlefield chemical or biological weapons (it clearly never had nukes) than even any of us who opposed the sanctions for years actually believed. Had there been any such stockpiles -- say, of mustard-gas-filled artillery shells (UNSCOM inspectors were unable to account for 550 by the time the U.S. forced them to withdraw in 1998) -- and given the total lack of a plan for U.S. forces to secure these so-dangerous weapons -- who do you imagine would have found them?
Well, perhaps the same high-up people in Iraq's military and security forces who formed the nucleus of the original resistance that emerged in the summer of 2003.
I can attest to the fact that, even on operations in the field, U.S. soldiers do not wear their bulky chemical protection suits. If there were any mustard-gas shells in the hands of the armed resistance, there would certainly be at least the potential for much higer U.S. casualties.
But somehow, so surprisingly to us all, it turns out that there really is nothing. One might almost think it was planned that way, that the administration knew it could safely attack because of Iraq's lack of weapons with which to defend itself.
September 15, 11:55 pm. The oily Dick Allen, Reagan's first National Security Adviser, has an op-ed in the Times today about North Korea. It's a response to Kerry's recent hammering on the issue as an example of the unsoundness of the Bush administration on national security.
Even last year, in a Washington Post op-ed, Kerry said the administration had "ignored the threat" (to be fair to him, in that piece he acknowledged that any resolution had to involve recognition of "North Korea's concerns about security and economic development").
More recently, of course, in keeping with his bizarre decision to run as the guy who is better at war than Bush, he has been a bit more inflammatory. Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August, for example, he said,
For example, why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea – a country that really has nuclear weapons?The obvious implication being that the way to deal with North Korea's weapons was to be able to threaten them with the maximal number of troops. And in general he makes it a staple of his analysis that Bush has "underestimated" the threat from North Korea and Iran.
It's actually become quite a common refrain among liberals. Sometimes they imply we should have gone to war against Saudi Arabia rather than Iraq; sometimes that we should have gone to war against North Korea instead.
Allen writes to vindicate the Bush administration. But his historical review of what led up to the crisis is one that is accepted across the "legitimate" political spectrum:
Many Republicans, including Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had supported the 1994 "agreed framework" between the United States and North Korea that was the cornerstone of the Clinton policy. Under the agreement, which was carried out by an international consortium, North Korea pledged to freeze its nuclear program, open its borders to international inspections and substitute two Western-built and financed light water reactors for the much more dangerous graphite reactor then under construction. In addition, the agreement called for large quantities of heavy fuel oil to be supplied to the North.He then adds in his praise of the Bush administration for its "refusal to be intimidated by the recklessness of the North."
In truth, North Korea is a country built around a reaction to the massive trauma that was the Korean War, when the United States (with an international coalition) bombarded the North ceaselessly and systematically. Observers wrote of whole cities depopulated, as refugees fled from merciless napalm bombing (the Korean War marked the debut of this terror weapon); dams along the Yalu River were destroyed, leading to famine from flooding and massive starvation. Even the minimal restraint shown in the bombing of North Vietnam was not shown in North Korea. An estimated 3 million Chinese and Koreans were killed.
That war has never been declared over; officially, the United States is still at war with North Korea (by the way, this is the reason that North Korea insists on bilateral talks and that, perhaps purely to be contrary, the Bush administration goes against all of its standard operating procedure to insist on multilateral talks -- the U.S. government doesn't want to be pressured to end this state of war formally).
The shattered society pulled itself together and rebuilt itself on the basis of trusting no one and being ready to defend itself against overwhelming power. Skipping a few twists and turns, we get to the 1994 crisis and the Agreed Framework. Since I'm feeling lazy, let me quote myself from "Full Spectrum Dominance:"
In 1994, when North Korea threatened to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and start work on a nuclear bomb, the Clinton administration managed to make it back down in return for an agreement, known as the Agreed Framework. In return for North Korea’s remaining a non-nuclear state, the United States and other countries would ship it fuel oil, the United States would provide it with two light-water nuclear reactors by 2003, and the United States would undertake not to make a nuclear first-strike on North Korea. Desperately in need of energy sources and too poor to buy oil on the world market, North Korea claimed it had little alternative to nuclear energy.Far from the narrative that Republicans and Democrats agree on, it was the Bush administration, not North Korea, that provoked this crisis. North Korea is a less-than-admirable state internally, but it has no interest in a suicidal confrontation with the United States. It just understands that weakness is not the best way to keep the United States from attacking you:
One of the most absurd moments in a very absurd post-9/11 world came on April 9, 2003, when John Bolton, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, used the war on Iraq to warn Iran, Syria, and North Korea: “With respect to the issue of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the post-conflict period, we are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest.”Now, of course, the Bush administration is hoist on its own petard. It's difficult to imagine, under any circumstances, that anyone can attack North Korea now. But don't worry. North Korea's not a "threat" to the United States, any more than Iraq was.
September 14, 11:45 pm. Under the Same Sun has an excellent post about the monstrous Haifa Street attack in which a U.S. helicopter fired into a crowd of civilians around a destroyed Bradley, killing 13, including yet another journalist (it's far more dangerous to be a journalist in Iraq than a soldier, and so far the lion's share of the risk comes from U.S. forces, especially for Arab journalists).
I also note that Fallujah has once again become a site for significant U.S. violence, presumably in part because of the car bombing that killed seven Marines on September 6 (the link is to the Fox News website -- note how they've amended the original copy of the AP story to use the incredibly silly term "homicide bomber").
This has become a pattern in the past three and a half months or so. Aerial bombings on "suspected Zarqawi safe houses" abound. Going back and digging a bit, I find 20 killed on June 19, 5 to 15 on July 5, 13 on July 31 (here U.S. forces said they were killed in "clashes," while an Iraqi hospital official said the dead were civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes), 43 killed in Fallujah and Tall Afar on September 9, and 20 dead on September 13 (have I missed any?).
Including Tall Afar, we're looking at over 100 people killed just by this method. The only thing certain about the people killed is that some were innocent civilians -- some were even children.
Even were the occupation legitimate, which of course it is not, there is no argument to be made for these methods. If you have the right to police a population, then you police it. When an informant gives you a tip that members of Tawhid wal Jihad (Zarqawi's organization) are staying somewhere, you act like police -- try to corroborate, surround the house, knock on the door, take people into custody. Whatever this organization is, it doesn't have the military capacity of a real army, so there is no reason that such operations should be impossible to carry out.
Instead, the United States fires bombs from the air into civilian neighborhoods, killing whoever happens to be there, seemingly at random. These are not police operations, legitimate or otherwise -- they are simply state terrorism.
September 13, 2:10 pm. Here's my latest radio commentary for Uprising Radio. This one is on the Republicans, the Democrats, and fascism.
September 12, 10:53 pm. Apologies for the long silence. Several days ago, I experienced a severe computer meltdown. It's taken me some time to sort out all the problems arising therefrom -- and to buy a new computer.
Check out this story from the LA Times -- Bomber Kills Police Chief and 2 Others in Baghdad. It's just a bread-and-butter story about a suicide bomber killing three Iraqi policemen in the Amariya (Amiriyah) neighborhood of Baghdad.
But, perhaps in reaction to the persistent criticism that the news media don't give us the context to enable us to understand what is being reported, the writer decides to take it upon him- or herself to "explain" why there might be anti-American feelings in Amariya:
The Amariya neighborhood is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, and many people from the restive cities west of Baghdad, including Fallouja and Abu Ghraib, where the anti-U.S. insurgency has been intense, have taken refuge there.See, it's all so simple really; the Sunnis are the ones opposed to the occupation. The role that the Serbs played for the media in coverage of Bosnia during the 1990's Sunni Arabs play in Iraq of 2004.
And, of course, Amiriyah is even worse, because so many people have taken refuge there from "restive" cities where insurgency has been "intense."
There is not the slightest hint of why there might be refugees from Fallujah, nor why anti-American feeling might be running high in Fallujah -- the murderous assault in April in which roughly 1000 Fallujans were killed, the vast majority of them civilians. Nor does Abu Ghraib occasion any background explanation.
With all these blinders on, there's certainly no chance the reporter is going to explain the real reason for very long-standing anti-American feeling in Amiriyah.
I well remember on my trip in January of this year, a time when most of Baghdad was relatively pacified (always excepting hotspots like Aadhamiyah), the palpable anger we felt in Amiriyah (not quite directed against us but very much directed against the ubiquitous U.S. troops on patrol).
Why was it present? And why did we go to Amiriyah in the first place?
Because, on February 13, 1991, two-thirds of the way into the massive aerial bombardment of Iraq commonly known as the Gulf War, two extremely smart bombs, deliberately targeted, hit the main bomb shelter in Amiriyah. The first bomb punched all the way through 10 feet of hardened, reinforced concrete (you can still see the twisted thicket of steel re-bars), opening a hole for the second bomb to enter. It exploded, blowing apart a couple of boilers and bathing the entire shelter in superheated steam. Over 400 women and children were killed, rendered largely into a sort of scum of human flesh on the walls, floor, and ceiling -- for this reason, estimates of the number killed vary.
A local woman who lost eight of her children in that bombing took it upon herself to make the desolate shelter into a museum. Her eldest daughter, who died in the blast, was named Raida, so she called herself Umm Raida. She oversaw the museum for years on her own initiative (the Iraqi government realized it was useful and spent some money on creating a monument outside the shelter and on basic upkeep).
That museum was just one of the casualties of the occupation. Walking around in the darkness, the 400 deaths and the twelve years of educating countless visitors about this crime reduced to a few pictures and bouquets of flowers scattered about on the ground, the only light shining down frodm above, through the hole made by the first bomb, was one of the more surreal experiences I've ever had.
At the time the carnage was unearthed (almost one of the only stories the U.S. media ran about Iraqi civilian deaths during the Gulf War), the administration admitted that the shelter was deliberately targeted, supposedly because it was a "command-and-control center" for the Iraqi military. Although there's certainly no evidence of that any more, it's conceivable. It is absolutely inconceivable, however, that the United States didn't know it was used as a bomb shelter -- satellite photography would have shown the constant influx of civilians.
When the news came out, U.S. officials turned the blame on Saddam, claiming that he was using civilians as "human shields" and blathering endlessly about how despicable he was for doing it. Nobody bothered to point out what exactly the failure of the "human shield" strategy said about the humanity of the enemy -- after all, the whole idea is predicated on the notion that your enemy will actually balk at killing the civilians being used as shields, something that hardly occurred to the United States to do.
So that is why there's just a smidgen of anti-American sentiment in Amiriyah (it's worth noting that over 100 civilians were killed in Fallujah when U.S. missiles hit a marketplace during the first Gulf War). Or, to paraphrase, it's because they're Sunni.
September 6, 3:04 pm. From the Guardian, Iraq extends al-Jazeera ban and raids offices. Allawi had closed it temporarily in August, but al-Jazeera ignored the ban, so it is now an indefinite ban. Iraqi security officers raided the office and sealed it with wax. This comes on the heels of serious efforts to intimidate the press during the assault on Najaf.
Well, the path to democracy is a thorny one. Fortunately for the al-Jazeera employees, the Allawi government has not yet become a true democracy like the United States.
September 6, 3:04 pm. For those of you who haven't seen it, the Republican National Committee has actually produced some must-see TV this year. Go to their website and you will find, front and center, and you will see the advertisement for Kerry on Iraq, with a breathless headline proclaiming that 6 million have seen it, apparently more than saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on its opening weekend.
Anyway, regardless of the video's provenance, it's worth viewing. It's simply a trip through time with various clips of Kerry talking about Iraq -- before 9/11, between 9/11 and the the Iraq war, during the primaries when Howard Dean challenged him by galvanizing huge antiwar energy, and finally after he had the nomination sewed up.
One of the clips is -- this will be a shock for those of you who are familiar with the probity of the Republican National Committee -- clipped so as to distort Kerry's views. It shows Kerry answering Chris Matthews's question, "Are you one of the antiwar candidates?" by saying, "I am. Yes." What he actually said was, "I am. Yes. In the sense that I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes. Absolutely." In other words, no -- he is, in fact, implying that he would have gone to war too. His answer was slippery and disingenuous, trying to gain credit for being antiwar while leaving a backdoor open, but that's normal for politicians.
There's another distortion regarding his much-discussed "No" vote on the $87-billion war appropriation. They show a clip of him saying he doesn't want to "cut and run" from Iraq and that naturally nobody opposes spending money to equip the troops who stay. Then they show that he voted against the final resolution. What they don't say is that he always supported the spending on the war, he just opposed spending so much on reconstruction without making the Iraqis pay America back for its so-great generosity (and then later proposed an alternative in which the reconstruction was an outright grant but was offset by slightly higher taxes on the richest Americans) and that he voted against the resolution to register symbolic displeasure while knowing and approving of the fact that it would pass.
Everything else, though, and there are many clips of Kerry, seems perfectly representative and undistorted. And it paints what is to me a very damning picture, of Kerry as a consistent warmonger.
There's a clip from as far back as December 11, 1997, of Kerry criticizing France and Russia for not being as committed to bombing Saddam as America was, and another from February 22, 1998, where he talks about the need for "regime change" and willingness to put ground troops in Iraq if necessary -- in this last one, he agrees with George Will's assessment that he is "way ahead of the commander in chief."
It shows him on September 17, 2003, saying, just as he did this August, that he thinks the president should have the power to go to war no matter what. And generally it shows him saying almost the same things in the runup to the war that he's saying now. In the clips from the primary season, the emphasis is slightly different, but he consistently says that he supports the war, just not the way it was done.
There is a great deal of dishonesty in the clips. Kerry, of course, is almost certainly a liar -- while Bush may be so detached from reality that he doesn't know what whoppers he's telling, Kerry knows very well that his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 was all true, even as he now recants it.
And you have him here claiming that the war resolution he voted for didn't authorize regime change when in fact the relevant clause says
AUTHORIZATION- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order toIn other words, the president is the sole arbiter of what is "necessary and appropriate" to "defend the national security of the United States." If that includes regime change, so be it -- and, indeed, in the "whereases," the resolution explicitly mentions the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act and its call for regime change.
So, anyway, I think it tells you a lot about Kerry, including a sort of cautious consistency in which he is always careful to keep plausible deniability even as he very transparently adjusts his positions to suit his audience.
But Republicans have become so stupid and their propaganda so crude that the theme of this paean to Kerry's consistency (in fact, I think the clips slightly exaggerate it) is that he's a flip-flopper, complete with a a few lines from the theme song to the TV show "Flipper."
September 5, 7:20 pm. The blog Into the Middle East has some remarkable testimony, gathered by Israeli refuseniks, about standard operating procedure among IDF soldiers enforcing the occupation. The material is not in the least surprising, but it is shocking.
Here's an excerpt on rules of engagement in the Balata refugee camp:
I: No? Because in Balata [refugee camp, near Nablus] they also have authorization to shoot. You shoot them in the legs. The scouts. A person standing on a roof with a cellphone during activity or something like that and the snipers see him looking down at least twice, something like that, looks a bit suspicious, you ask the regiment commander for permission to shoot such a person in the legs.These things happen. What can you do?
And, just in case you thought there was no accountability in the IDF,
I: It's when you have a specific alert that there's going to be a transfer of weapons inside the city, inside Balata…if someone wants out, so they focus attention at us, we just drive a lot, make a commotion inside the city, throw a lot of stun grenades, lots of gas, just to give the impression that there's a large force, and make them scared of getting out. The idea is to make them come out to us and cause riots. When there are riots, you get permission to shoot at the legs of kids who throw bricks, and if I happen to shoot, and I’m just a shooter [not a sniper], and I aim at the knee...So, you go in to try to cause a riot. When there is a riot, you can shoot kids in the legs. Sometimes, by the most predictable kind of accident, kids get killed.
But don't worry. You get fined 100, 200 shekels easy -- that would be 22 to 44 dollars.
September 4, 11:15 pm. In response to my article on Bush's speech to the RNC, Andrzej writes,
I agree with most of your analysis of G. W. Bush's speech delivered yesterday in New York City. As a Pole, I share your view that Polish political establishment was bribed into Iraq's military venture (or, to describe it with more precision, lured by a mirage of a flow of benefits that did not materialize) . I fundamentally oppose that war.I was writing about Poland and NATO expansion purely from the point of view of the United States. I am sure Andrzej is correct that, fresh from the experience of the Soviet empire and fearing a new Russian expansionism, the countries of Eastern Europe, and in particular, Poland, were very ready to embrace the Western alliance as a matter of protection. I hope I didn't give the impression that it was purely out of venality, although that is certainly playing a role in the continuing dealings with the United States.
But for the United States, NATO expansion was not some altruistic measure to protect other countries but rather a way to expand the military-imperial network it has been building ever since the middle of World War 2 into a hitherto inaccessible area. That initiative, undertaken in the mid to late 90's, has had much to do with the creation of what Donald Rumsfeld likes to call "new Europe." And it's one of the points where divergence from the Clinton administration's second-term policies from those of the neoconservatives was relatively small.
Another was sidelining the Security Council, backsliding from the great propaganda victory of the first Bush in getting the SC to authorize use of force in the first Gulf War -- Desert Fox was done, in violation of the express will of the Security Council, while it was actually in session and the war on Yugoslavia was never even taken to the SC.
September 3, 2:15 pm. More from my favorite product-marketer, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Speaking to Republican delegates from Maine and Michigan, he said,
"It struck me as I was speaking to people in Bangor, Maine, that this president sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child," Card said. "I know as a parent I would sacrifice all for my children."John Kerry's response that this was "condescending" is a raving understatement. This notion of the people as children to be protected, sacrificed for, etc. by their fatherly Maximum Leader, is a hoary conceit, but one almost universally associated with authoritarian regimes.
Card's rhetoric goes a bit far, but it's very in keeping with the tone of the convention. Look at this bit from Arnold Schwarzenegger's much-praised speech:
Ladies and gentlemen, America is back! Back from the attack on our homeland, back from the attack on our economy, back from the attack on our way of life. We're back because of the perseverance, character and leadership of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush.
Apparently, America's recovery is entirely dependent on one
man, George W. Bush. The rest of us are just 294 million ciphers. This
the Fuhrerprinzip (something we know Arnold has always been
translated into English.
It's just one step further to "We sacrifice our souls, our blood for you, Saddam."
Where the Republicans differ from the centrist Democrats most
vividly is right here: the Republican right (and increasingly the
forlorn parts of its center who want to remain relevant) aspires to
fascism. Here, I am handicapped by the lack of any appropriate term --
I don't mean fascism, but the parallel phenomenon in a country
overflowing with material wealth rather than afflicated with a
breakdown in capitalism, a country on top of the world instead of
feeling put upon and oppressed, a country with no mass organized
workers' movement to
crush. A country very different from Germany in the 1930's, to say the
least. Thus, this new phenomenon looks in detail vastly different from
fascism even though the basic principle is strikingly similar. But if
there were a term for it, that's what I would be talking about. Instead
I'll use this incorrect term, even though it helps to perpetuate the
notion that history really can repeat itself.
This is a place someone like John Kerry would not go by
himself. The mainstream of the Democrats has no such aspiration. But,
just as we saw in other contexts, not being a fascist doesn't
necessarily make you a good opponent of fascism. And Kerry is not,
Indeed, on the rhetorical plane, he has become more and more the macho
father-figure as the campaign has progressed.
What's bizarre is that the above utterance of Card's was not even the most shocking thing he said to those delegates:
Card made little mention of the war in Iraq but told of his trip accompanying Bush to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where injured soldiers have been treated.That's right, boys and girls. Never once. Every single multiply-amputated soldier speaks like a bad caricature of a bad character in a bad 1940's movie. Not one of them fails to thank the man who got them into this mess for his amputation.
This is propaganda reminiscent of Stalinist Russia. It is no more sophisticated or believable. Yes, of course, one, two, maybe even a handful of soldiers might actually say something like this -- if so, it would, of course, be a testament to the power of brainwashing in the military, and hardly something to crow about. But to say that every single soldier said it is just a transparent lie. It makes me wonder if he's even talked to one of the soldiers he apparently visited.
The fact that a schemer and marketer like Card, hardly a detached-from-reality ideologue, thinks nothing of Stalinist propaganda like this is terrifying. The fact that so many of the true believers in his party will accept it without question is even more so.
September 3, 1:40 pm. I've just posted an excerpt from my book, "Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond," that deals with the 1998 Desert Fox bombing as an attempted "regime change."
Also, my annotation/response to Bush's speech is now in final form.
September 3, 9:45 am. I've just posted a lengthy annotation/response to Bush's RNC acceptance speech last night. Since the speech was so godawfully long, I picked it up from the point that he started talking about foreign policy. Over the course of the day, I'll add further links and perhaps more point-by-point responses.
September 2, 2:15 pm. Good news for all of those still reeling from John Kerry's constant assault on the notion that there is a meaningful difference between Kerry and Bush on foreign policy (at least a difference that is in Kerry's favor, given his repeated criticism of Bush from the right). In a letter to the Armenian National Committee of America, which invited him to Armenstock, a day-long music festival in support of Kerry, Kerry promised that his administration would recognize the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide:
I want to assure you that, as President, I will continue to fight against the denial of the Armenian Genocide. My administration will recognize April 24, 2005 as the 90th Anniversary of this atrocity and will work to ensure that the lessons of this crime against humanity are used to prevent future genocides. There can be no compromise on the clear moral imperative to end genocide.George W. Bush has resolutely refused to recognize said genocide during his entire term in office, so this seems like progress.
But, oh, wait, it turns out that every presidential candidate promises to recognize the genocide in order to get the votes of Armenian Americans, who considerably outnumber Turkish Americans, and then reneges on the promise (with the aid of the formidable AIPAC, which believes there has only ever been one genocide and, indeed, that there can ever only be one genocide -- and, of course, the Turkish government opposes recognition as well). Clinton did it and so did George W. The article in the Turkish daily Hürriyet from which I learned this drily observes that said practice is "not unknown."
Forgive me if I don't quite see Kerry as the man to buck AIPAC on an issue like this.
Of course, the chance that Kerry will recognize the Armenian genocide is much greater than the chance that Kerry will recognize just one -- any one -- of the numerous massacres of civilians that the United States has committed in Iraq
September 1, 9:03 pm. More escapades from the Allawi government -- given the importance of framing and of semantics in general to politics, I think one should strenuously avoid calling this creation of the United States the "Iraqi government."
Check out the latest from the Times, Talks to Disarm Rebel Shiites Collapses in Iraq. Leaving aside questions of grammar, note that the headline ascribes the collapse of the talks to no specific agent. To anyone who has read an American newspaper, this is a clear red flag that the side favored by the U.S. government, i.e., the Allawi government, is responsible for the collapse (just the way Palestinians are killed by mysterious forces known as "clashes" or "crossfires" -- when things get really hairy, sometimes they're killed by"security operations" or even "incursions" -- but Israelis are always killed by clearly defined human agents).
Read the article and you will indeed find that it was Allawi who canceled the peace talks. Although he gave no reason why, the Times reports the secondhand explanation given by Yusuf al-Nasiri, head of the Mahdi Army in Sadr City:
Mr. Nasiri said he had been told by one of the government's negotiators, Qassim Daoud, the minister of state, that Dr. Allawi had objected to the restrictions placed on Americans soldiers operating in the area. Under the agreement, the Americans would be limited to performing reconstruction work; anything more aggressive than that would require the permission of the Iraqi government.This is almost bizarre enough to be true -- Allawi cancelled peace talks because the agreement would have given too much discretion to Allawi's government. Whatever.
Of course, although maintaining his subservience to the United States is certainly part of what's going on, there's much more:
But an Iraqi source said Dr. Allawi had decided to take a harsher approach toward Mr. Sadr and the Mahdi Army, possibly including the use of military force. The source said Dr. Allawi appeared to be motivated by disappointment with the agreement in Najaf, which ended the bloodshed there but left the Mahdi Army intact and made Mr. Sadr stronger than ever, in the eyes of many Iraqis.All of this makes perfect sense. Contrary to the nonsense usually put about that the United States welcomes Moqtada to participate in the "political process" (a code phrase for the U.S.-created process in which the occupation cannot be meaningfully challenged and in which all parties are supposed to go along with shams like the recent national conference in which delegates were presented with a pre-approved slate of nominees to the transitional assembly to rubber-stamp), in fact the Allawi government and the Bush administration (if it has sense) are terrified of actually having to compete in the court of public opinion with Sadr and his organization.
This problem was severely exacerbated by the assault on Najaf, which won Sadr national and international credibility and some level of support even from people like the more or less comfortable burghers of Najaf who despised him before -- Arabs have this cultural peculiarity that when bombed and besieged they often put the blame on the party bombing them, not the party being bombed. Not something we rational Westerners can really understand. And, of course, in the slums of Sadr City and the sewage-laden streets of Basra where people thirst not just for justice but for water, Sadr is riding higher than ever before.
The Times article also cites an unnamed Western diplomat who lays out the reasoning of the United States about the question of peace talks:
The diplomat suggested that Mr. Sadr, who has not taken part in the negotiations himself, is probably trying to buy time as he replenishes his ranks, which were badly depleted by the Americans during the fighting in Najaf. The appropriate response, the diplomat suggested, was to keep up the pressure.Ignore the babble about "entering the political process," which is contradicted by the whole rest of the article.
Ignore the catchphrase about forswearing violence. We have in Iraq a foreign military occupation that does as it pleases, and thinks nothing of bombing a house because somebody somewhere said it might have something to do with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- yet another 17 people were just killed in yet another bombing of a "Zarqawi safehouse" in Fallujah (what exactly makes these "safe" houses?), at least nine of whom are confirmed civilians.
And we have a foreign-installed puppet government that is a police state, is comfortable with reports that its head executed six people in cold blood, intimidates and harasses journalists in Najaf who might actually report on what is going on (and had earlier told them to leave Najaf or risk being shot), and generally aspires to be a low-fat, less-filling Saddam-lite government.
This is no more or less than the wolf asking the sheep to disarm.
But do remember the rest of it. The Mahdi Army is bleeding and nameless "Western diplomats" think the thing to do is to bleed it harder. And thus, paradoxically, the independent Prime Minister of a free Iraq calls off peace talks.
A little side note, unrelated to the rest: I've noticed an increasing tendency in the press, as in the article above, to refer to Sadr as a "street cleric." Just as they were so fond of calling Aristide a "slum priest." As far as I can tell, this means a person who preaches to the people, in particular to the poor. And yet it sounds like a bad thing, doesn't it?
Juan Cole, whose blog on Iraq is an invaluable resource, likes to say that Sadr speaks and perhaps even preaches in "gutter Arabic." As far as I can tell, this means that he speaks the language of the people to whom he preaches. Classical Arabic, the language of the Koran, is the language that a certain group of people in the heart of Arabia spoke in the seventh century. It is not the language that any modern group of Arabs speaks in any country. Some of the super-educated actually speak classical Arabic (at least for highbrow issues) better than they speak their mother tongue, but the vast majority of the populace does not.
It is interesting to see the naked class prejudice in these characterizations. After all, in the Third World the poor are the majority of people -- what's wrong with religious figures preaching to them and doing it in a language they understand?
There's still a lot of talk in some circles about a street cleric and slum priest who, two thousand years ago, used to preach in "gutter Hebrew" -- or Galilean Aramaic, to be precise.
September 1, 9:40 am. Over the past couple of months, I have been posting infrequently. Apologies to those who wrote to me saying they wanted more. Now that September has rolled around again and, as Andrew Card would tell us, it's a good time to launch new products, I'll be going back to daily posting.
Let's start with the most amazing news of the day -- although there are many close contenders. Muammar Gaddafi has taken his self-appointed role as the maverick of the Arab world to new heights. A propos of celebrating the 35th anniversary of the bloodless coup that brought him to power, Gaddafi spoke in favor of compensating those Jews who were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries and go to Israel during the tumultuous birth of that nation. Specifically, he said
Any Jew whose home had been taken away has to be compensated or given his home back on the condition that he had not taken away the home of a Palestinian in Palestine.That's an extremely fair statement. In fact, it's more than fair, because, of course, none of the Jews who were forced to flee at the time are living today in enforced squalor and misery, like so many Palestinians in refugee camps. On the other hand, Jews owned an estimated 7% of the territory of Palestine at the time of the U.N. partition plan in 1947 (in which the nations of the world generously gave about half of the land that Palestinians were living on to the new Jewish state they created -- 55% of Palestine was to go to Israel, a big increase from 7%). So the vast majority of Jews are living on land that was taken from Palestinians in contravention of basic notions of the right of private property (enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). One could certainly claim then that the majority of those Jewish refugees did in effect take away the homes of Palestinians, although my guess is he means compensation should be denied only to those who literally personally stole land.
Whether this is a rhetorical gesture or not is unclear. Gaddafi is certainly fond of them. What is clear, however, is that we will not see even a rhetorical response from the Israeli government in the direction of compensation for Palestinian refugees of 48 and 67.
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