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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Dirty Little Big War 

It's become apparent that the Bush administration is planning a partial withdrawal of the American forces currently occupying Iraq. The nature of this withdrawal is still an open question with most commentators on the left speculating that we should expect a token redeployment designed to bolster the chances of Republicans in the 2006 elections. Many read Seymour Hersh's latest missive as supporting this position. While I don't doubt that electoral concerns are a powerful background factor informing all major policy decisions -- and, in particular, this policy decision -- I am skeptical that viewing recent developments in such a manner captures the complexity of the current situation.

The corporate press and other mainstream commentators tend to view all policy decisions as part of an unfolding story in which Republicans battle Democrats for poll numbers and election victories. It is easy to forget that the United States often does what it does for reasons that have nothing to with the popularity of its actions among American voters. One reason for the invasion of Iraq was, indeed, to paint a man viewed as simple-minded and incompetent as a valorous war president -- this was the reason the Karl Roves and Andrew Cards of the world were interested in ousting Saddam Hussein; however, it was not the primary reason why Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, et al., obsessed over the idea for more than a decade. Many believe that the agenda of those seeking Republican dominance of American politics and the agenda of the neoconservatives were strongly aligned for the early part of this decade but that recently the alliance has become tattered. This conflict among the various factions within the conservative world is real and is not an altogether new phenomenon: we already witnessed manifestations of it in, for instance, Bill Kristol's call for Rumsfeld's resignation last year and in Karl Rove's ill-fated election year mantra "No War in '04'". However, I am not as convinced as other commentators that these rumors of withdrawal should be interpreted strictly as another example of this hypothesized break. If there were two sorts of reasons for starting the Iraq project, are there not two sorts of reasons for ending it? The subtitle of Hersh's piece is "Where is the Iraq war headed next?" We know how Karl Rove would like to answer that question -- it is headed towards a state that can be spun to look like a victory and that's not mentioned much by the media -- but where would Richard Perle like the Iraq War to be headed next?

The answer to that last question requires an honest consideration of the way in which the war hawks expected the Iraq War to unfold. It is often said that there was no plan of any kind for post-Hussein Iraq. I disagree with this statement. I think among those who dreamt of this war through all the long years of the Democrat-infested White House -- who wrote letters to Clinton pleading for it, who built the network of bogus intelligence assets based on whose lies the thing was eventually sold -- there was a plan for conquered Iraq so obvious that it didn't even need to be expressed: replace the deposed tyrant with an American puppet and use the country as a gigantic military base situated in the heart of a region of the world of tremendous strategic importance. Such a plan was, of course, optimistic to the point of idiocy given the cultural and political complexity of Iraq -- not to mention its sheer size -- but it's not hard to imagine where such a plan might have come from. Critics of the war like to compare the debacle to the Vietnam conflict and Seymour Hersh's revelations about the coming reliance on massive bombing campaigns certainly support such a comparison. But it is perhaps more illuminating to compare the Iraq project to successful American colonial wars rather than to the king of the failures; after all, successful projects are probably the models the planners of the Iraq war had in mind.

El Salvador, Nicaragua, Granada, Panama, dirty little wars fought either directly or with hired thugs and vicious client states, have much to teach us about the nature of the Iraq conflict -- and, of the four, the relevance of Panama stands out. There are many parallels between the invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Panama in 1989. Like Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega was a brutal dictator whose record of human rights violations was ignored for literally decades while he was a favored ally of the United States and, in fact, working for the CIA. Noriega became a monster in the mid-eighties because he began to less enthusiastically support the US's project of overthrowing by proxy the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and was no longer necessary for propping up a murderous terror-state in El Salvador. Like Hussein, Noriega was also the dictator of a country of considerable strategic importance to the US: the Carter-Torrijos treaties were set to expire in 1999 at which time the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone would revert to full Panamanian control. The US invaded to replace Noriega with a puppet, Guillermo Endara, who would acquiesce to American interests regarding its sovereignty over the canal.

The invasion itself should be pretty familiar to anyone who was watching CNN in March of 2003. The Panama Invasion was an early use of a couple of military techniques that are currently in vogue and strongly associated with the Bush White House and the Rumsfeld Pentagon: the doctrine of "Shock and Awe" and its superset, the doctrine of "Rapid Dominance". According to its inventors, the "Rapid Dominance" strategy attempts to "affect the will, perception, and understanding of the adversary to fit … strategic policy ends through imposing a regime of Shock and Awe" and to "paralyze or so overload an adversary's perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy [is] incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels"-- where "Shock and Awe", of course, refers to the spectacular display of power and destruction, the brutal and asymmetric use of overwhelming firepower against a relatively defenseless enemy. It is ironic that the official explication of the doctrine of rapid dominance sounds a lot like what al-Qaeda-style international terrorists must have in mind regarding their favored method of political action -- affecting the will and understanding of a hated enemy through the indiscriminant use of mass destruction.

Tiny Panama, a third-world country basically without an air force, was the first grave threat to America to find itself on the receiving end of an assault featuring Stealth bombers and Apache attack helicopters. According FAIR, after the initial attack, the barrio of Panama City, El Chorrillo, became known to locals as "Little Hiroshima". In a June 18th, 1990, Times op-ed piece Tom Wicker described Little Hiroshima as follows:

Not only were Apaches used in the assault; so was the new Stealth bomber, though organized resistance was so feeble that only about 50 Panamanian military personnel were killed. At least 202 civilians died, by U.S. admission, though many estimates - including those of the Catholic and Episcopal Churches - put the toll substantially higher, some in the thousands.

A total of 422 bombs fell on Panama City in 13 hours - something like a bomb every two minutes. In Chorrillo, a barrio of wooden structures, where U.S. tanks rolled through the streets, ''the invasion hit like a little Hiroshima,'' Raul Leis wrote in the April issue of Report on the Americas, a publication of the North American Congress on Latin America.

''There were no shelters, no civil defense . . . The invading troops were concerned only with minimizing their own losses,'' Mr. Leis, the director of the Panamanian Center for Research and Social Action, reported. He said the total of civilian deaths would be hard to establish because ''bodies were buried in alleys and patios, and information has been intentionally withheld.''

Apaches and Stealth bombers weren't the only firsts of the assault, the Panama Invasion was the first large-scale American military operation to be undertaken in the post-Cold War era. The specter of creeping communists couldn't be used to justify it and ward off the horrible malady known as "the Vietnam Syndrome". This factor explains more than anything else the use of Shock and Awe tactics: win quickly and absolutely before the public has time to react. Such thinking has characterized every major American military operation since. Cheney, who was the Secretary of Defense presiding over the Noriega ouster, explicitly stated the forthcoming Persian Gulf War would bear a strong resemblance to Panama, "I think that in terms of how this administration [Bush I] would use U.S. military force [in Iraq War I], should that be required in this instance, I think the best guide is to look at how we undertook the Panama operation last December." A family resemblance, of course, can be seen in more recent wars as well, which shouldn't be surprising given that the military strategists who designed in 2001 the original plan for what became the 2003 invasion of Iraq were major players in the dirty little wars of the 80's and in particular Panama. A Post article in December of 2001 introduced Gen. Wayne A. Downing who became fond of a certain Ahmed Chalabi and designed a military strategy, characterized chiefly by the extremely small number of American troops it required, for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The article noted in its lead paragraph that given the current events of the time the Downing Plan had a "familiar ring" to it: the plan had just been enacted to the letter in Afghanistan:

Lending military respectability to Chalabi's ideas was Downing, a retired four-star general who played a key role in overthrowing Panama's Manuel Noriega in 1989 and ran insurgency operations in Iraq in 1991 as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command. In the words of an INC official, Downing agreed to put Chalabi's ideas into "Pentagonese."

Downing was assisted by a former CIA agent, Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, who ran the U.S.-backed contras who fought the leftist Sandanista regime in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration. Together, the two men drew up a plan to train some 200 Iraqi National Congress fighters, who would train another 5,000 men to be inserted into southern Iraq from Kuwait, where they would seize a deserted air base near the city of Basra. According to Clarridge, the logistical support operation for Chalabi's fighters would have been "outsourced" to mercenaries, including retired U.S. Special Forces members.

Had reality not intervened Ahmed Chalabi was to be the Guillermo Endara of Iraq, but Chalabi played another role as well: he was deeply involved in selling the second Iraq War in the first place. Chalabi's organization the Iraqi National Congress provided the stream of pretend experts on Hussein's non-existent WMD program that were the basis for Judy Miller's fairy tales in the New York Times. In a fascinating recent Rolling Stone piece, we learn that Chalabi's success as a propagandist wasn't solely due to his political genius; he had a lot of help from the piece's titular "Man Who Sold the War", a so-called "perception management" specialist named John Rendon. Rendon sold Chalabi in Iraq and sold the Iraq War in the US, a job with which he had much experience -- he had performed the same role for Guillermo Endara and for the Panama invasion:

Thomas Twetten, the CIA's former deputy of operations, credits Rendon with virtually creating the INC. "The INC was clueless," he once observed. "They needed a lot of help and didn't know where to start. That is why Rendon was brought in." Acting as the group's senior adviser and aided by truckloads of CIA dollars, Rendon pulled together a wide spectrum of Iraqi dissidents and sponsored a conference in Vienna to organize them into an umbrella organization, which he dubbed the Iraqi National Congress. Then, as in Panama, his assignment was to help oust a brutal dictator and replace him with someone chosen by the CIA. "The reason they got the contract was because of what they had done in Panama -- so they were known," recalls Whitley Bruner, former chief of the CIA's station in Baghdad. This time the target was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the agency's successor of choice was Ahmad Chalabi, a crafty, avuncular Iraqi exile beloved by Washington's neoconservatives.

Rather than looking at Iraq as a big war like Vietnam one should try to see it as the little war that it actually is, a little war that ballooned into something that its original boosters never anticipated. Such a perspective explains a lot. It explains the current talk of Latin American-style Shiite death squads roaming the land and torturing and murdering their Sunni rivals, implying that the so-called "Salvador Option" actually was adopted by Iraq's conquerors as Newsweek claimed it would be -- such techniques are, after all, the hallmarks of dirty little wars. It explains the bizarre belief that Tommy Franks, a general with no experience in nation building or Middle Eastern culture or politics, was going to slap together a new government and bring the invading army home in a matter of months. It explains Richard Perle's favorite talking point, that the only mistake made in Iraq is that we didn't turn it over to Iraqis quickly enough, the Iraqis in question, of course, being Ahmed Chalabi's INC And such a perspective explains why even neoconservatives might like to leave now.

The war hawks don't care about the quality of life in Iraq or in spreading democracy or the possibility of a bloodbath of a civil war upon withdrawal. They're also not particularly interested in our armed forces -- their favorite instrument of diplomacy -- remaining bogged down in a quagmire. According to the neoconservatives themselves, according to one of the seminal documents of the Project for a New American Century, September of 2000's "Rebuilding America's Defenses", the pre-911 but post-Desert Storm number of American troops in the "Persian Gulf and the surrounding region" hovered around 20,000. Now they have 150,000 in Iraq and were able to withdraw completely from Saudi Arabia. So imagine the troops are cut down to, say, 100 or 80,000 and that they stop taking offensive action on the ground -- no more city to city house sweeps, which were a completely ineffective policy anyway -- and are tucked away safely in the well-fortified Green Zone and in the fourteen permanent military bases everyone knows we are constructing, such a turn of events wouldn't be a pretend victory for those who planned this war. Such a turn of events would be a real victory as long as our puppet government is not overthrown, which is why, as Seymour Hersh tells us, the token withdrawal will be supported by a massive Vietnam-style air war:

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

The only real question here is how the American people will deal with a situation in which American troops are deployed in a foreign theater in which the only significant casualties being taken are not Americans but in which the scale of those casualties is massive.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The War According to John Edwards: Opportunism Instead of Yellowcake 

Last week, former Senator John Edwards took the lead in an attempt to rewrite history about responsibility for the war in Iraq. In a major statement in which he acknowledged that he should not have voted for the war resolution, he absolved himself, and other Democrats who voted for the resolution, of responsibility for the grotesque consequences of their action:

The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate. The information the American people were hearing from the president -- and that I was being given by our intelligence community -- wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.

With all due respect to Edwards, and all those Democrats still seated in Congress who find themselves thrashing about trying to escape the personal and political consequences of their cowardly lack of nerve, this is a deliberately deceptive statement, a statement designed to obscure their complicity in facilitating the war in Iraq. Other Senators voted against the war, despite a belief that Iraq had unspecified chemical and biological weapons, because, as West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd trenchantly observed:

We know who was behind the September 11 attacks on the United States. We know it was Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network. We have dealt with al Qaeda and with the Taliban government that sheltered it - we have routed them from Afghanistan and we are continuing to pursue them in hiding.

So where does Iraq enter the equation? No one in the Administration has been able to produce any solid evidence linking Iraq to the September 11 attack. Iraq had biological and chemical weapons long before September 11. We knew it then, and we know it now. Iraq has been an enemy of the United States for more than a decade. If Saddam Hussein is such an imminent threat to the United States, why hasn't he attacked us already?

A puzzler, to be sure, apparently beyond the logical reasoning skills of the expedient political crocodiles like Edwards. While there was confusion over the nature and extent of any WMDs that Iraq may have possessed, it was commonly known that the intelligence provided by the President did not establish the likelihood that such weapons would be used offensively. It was also recognized that the war in Iraq would divert resources away from known terror threats to the US. Indeed, the intelligence itself was politically irrelevant, as Edwards, like his future running mate, John Kerry, and many other Democrats, had already decided to support the war, hell or high water. Crass political opportunism must be expunged from the record by recourse to self-serving victimization.

Too harsh? Let's look at an interesting article published by former Florida Senator Bob Graham today. Graham, never known for his liberalism, or, for that matter, his willingness to challenge the Pentagon, voted against the resolution, unlike Edwards, Kerry and many other Senate Democrats. In an opinion piece provocatively entitled, "What I Knew Before the Invasion", he has done us a wonderful service by again explaining why he did so. Just the title itself must be sufficient to send chills down the spines of Democratic Capital Hill staffers. Careful reading reveals that such anxiety is fully warranted:

In the early fall of 2002, a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry committee, which I co-chaired, was in the final stages of its investigation of what happened before Sept. 11. As the unclassified final report of the inquiry documented, several failures of intelligence contributed to the tragedy. But as of October 2002, 13 months later, the administration was resisting initiating any substantial action to understand, much less fix, those problems.

At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed the completion of an NIE.

Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed to other assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein's capabilities and will to use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. We insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE.

There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.

Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by force if necessary.

The American people needed to know these reservations, and I requested that an unclassified, public version of the NIE be prepared. On Oct. 4, Tenet presented a 25-page document titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs." It represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed them, avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version. Its conclusions, such as "If Baghdad acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within a year," underscored the White House's claim that exactly such material was being provided from Africa to Iraq.

All along the way, alarm bells rang, and Graham kept asking questions, and, eventually, the bells got so loud that he realized that there was no justification for the war. Ever the Southern gentleman, Graham preserves a way out for his former Democratic colleagues. He was able to vote against the resolution because of his "privileged position", an implied reference to his position on the intelligence committee. But he is well aware this is merely window dressing, because, as you must have guessed, he explained his reasons for voting against the resolution on the floor of the Senate before the vote:

They say that passing this resolution is the equivalent of if the Alllies had declared war on Hitler. I disagree with that assessment of what this lesson of history means. In my judgment, passing this resolution tonight will be the equivalent of declaring war on Italy. That is not what we should be doing. We should not just be declaring war on Mussolini's Italy. We should be declaring war on Hitler's Germany.

Now, there are good reasons for considering attacking today's Italy, meaning Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity. But the briefings I have received have shown that trying to block him and any necessary nuclear materials have been largely successful, as evidenced by the recent intercept of centrifuge tubes. And he is years away from having nuclear capability. So why does it make sense to attack this era's Italy, and not Germany, especially when by attacking Italy, we are making Germany a more probable adversary?

The CIA has warned us that international terrorist organizations will probably use United States action against Iraq as an indication for striking us here in the homeland. You might ask, what does the word "probably" mean in intelligence speak? It probably means that there is a 75 percent greater chance of the event occurring. And the event is that international terrorist organizations will use United States actions against Iraq as a justification for striking us here in the homeland.

Let me read a declassified briefing of the CIA report presented to the Select Committee on Intelligence: "Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. Should Saddam conclude that U.S-led attacks could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991, or (chemical and biological weapons).

20 other Senate Democrats came to a similar conclusion, including Senator Byrd, as already noted. Fortunately, Graham's fears of retaliation proved groundless, primarily because his lack of confidence in the intelligence was all too justified. After all, it is pretty hard to launch a retaliatory attack if you don't possess the capacity to do so.

Byrd decried the unwillingness of the bipartisan leadership of the Senate to allow reasoned debate and investigation before approving the resolution:

The great Roman historian, Titus Livius, said, "All things will be clear and distinct to the man who does not hurry; haste is blind and improvident."

"Blind and improvident," Mr. President. "Blind and improvident." Congress would be wise to heed those words today, for as sure as the sun rises in the east, we are embarking on a course of action with regard to Iraq that, in its haste, is both blind and improvident. We are rushing into war without fully discussing why, without thoroughly considering the consequences, or without making any attempt to explore what steps we might take to avert conflict.

The newly bellicose mood that permeates this White House is unfortunate, all the more so because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics. Republicans are already running attack ads against Democrats on Iraq. Democrats favor fast approval of a resolution so they can change the subject to domestic economic problems.

Take a moment, and savor that last remark, with an appreciation for its honesty and clarity: Democrats favor fast approval of a resolution so they can change the subject to domestic economic problems. Here, finally, we have the unvarnished truth. Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate were willing to green light the war in Iraq without meaningful debate as part of a strategy to win the 2002 off year election.

Redcake, bluecake, yellowcake, it was all the same for politicians who wanted to believe what they were being told by Cheney and the White House Iraq Group. Just like crazed investors in 1999 and 2000 wanted to believe that the stock bubble would grow forever, despite the warnings of sane, experienced market participants like Warren Buffett. It was therefore essential that congressional Democrats collude with the Republicans to shut down any process that would increase the doubts that many Americans rightly had about the presence of WMDs in Iraq.

And, they did so. As Stephen Zunes has thoughtfully catalogued for us, there were numerous reputable sources that seriously doubted that Iraq possessed any WMD capability:

In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were many published reports challenging Bush administration claims regarding Iraq's WMD capabilities. Reputable journals like Arms Control Today, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Middle East Policy, and others published articles systematically debunking accusations that Iraq had somehow been able to preserve or reconstitute its chemical weapons arsenal, had developed deployable biological weapons, or had restarted its nuclear program. Among the disarmament experts challenging the administration was Scott Ritter, an American who had headed the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) division that looked for hidden WMD facilities in Iraq. Through articles, interviews in the broadcast media, and Capitol Hill appearances, Ritter joined scores of disarmament scholars and analysts in making a compelling and—in hindsight—accurate case that Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed quite a few years earlier. Think tanks such as the Fourth Freedom Foundation and the Institute for Policy Studies also published a series of reports challenging the administration's claims.

And there were plenty of skeptics from within the U.S. government. For example, the State Department's intelligence bureau noted how the National Intelligence Estimate—so widely cited by war supporters of both parties—did not add up to “a compelling case” that Iraq had “an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” Even the pro-war New Republic observed that CIA reports in early 2002 demonstrated that “U.S. intelligence showed precious little evidence to indicate a resumption of Iraq's nuclear program.” A story circulated nationally by the Knight-Ridder wire service just before the congressional vote authorizing the invasion noted that “U.S. intelligence and military experts dispute the administration's suggestions that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose an imminent threat to the United States” and that intelligence analysts in the CIA were accusing the administration of pressuring the agency to highlight information that would appear to support administration policy and to suppress contrary information.

Were Senate Democrats interested in publicizing information that contradicted the President's case for war? Of course not:

In September 2002, a month before the vote to authorize the invasion, I contacted the chief foreign policy aide to one of my senators, Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, to let him know of my interest in appearing before an upcoming hearing on Capitol Hill regarding the alleged threat that Iraq posed to the United States. He acknowledged that he and other staffers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were familiar with my writing on the topic and that I would be a credible witness. He passed on my request to a staff member of the committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware. I was never invited, however. Nor was Scott Ritter, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies or anyone else who expressed skepticism regarding the administration's WMD claims. The bipartisan Senate committee only allowed those who were willing to come forward with an exaggerated view of Iraq 's military potential to testify.

Zunes properly notes that Kerry and Edwards were especially mendacious in this regard. First, Kerry:

In a Senate speech defending his vote to authorize Bush to launch an invasion, Senator Kerry categorically declared, despite the lack of any credible evidence, that “Iraq has chemical and biological weapons” and even alleged that most elements of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs were “larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Furthermore, Kerry asserted that Iraq was “attempting to develop nuclear weapons,” backing up this accusation by falsely claiming that “all U.S. intelligence experts agree” with that assessment. The Massachusetts junior senator also alleged that “Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents [that] could threaten Iraq's neighbors as well as American forces in the Persian Gulf.” Though it soon became evident that none of Kerry's allegations were true, the Democratic Party rewarded him in 2004 with its nomination for president.

Kerry supporters claim he was not being dishonest in making these false claims but that he had been fooled by “bad intelligence” passed on by the Bush administration. However, well before Kerry's vote to authorize the invasion, former UN inspector Scott Ritter personally told the senator and his senior staff that claims about Iraq still having WMDs or WMD programs were not based on valid intelligence. According to Ritter, “Kerry knew that there was a verifiable case to be made to debunk the president's statements regarding the threat posed by Iraq's WMDs, but he chose not to act on it.”

And, Edwards:

Joining Kerry in voting to authorize the invasion was North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who—in the face of growing public skepticism of the Bush administration's WMD claims—rushed to the president's defense in an op-ed article published in the Washington Post. In his commentary, Edwards claimed that Iraq was “a grave and growing threat” and that Congress should therefore “endorse the use of all necessary means to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.” The Bush administration was so impressed with Edwards' arguments that they posted the article on the State Department website.

Given numerous opportunities to request credible information, as did Senator Graham, to conduct meaningful debate and investigation, as suggested by Senator Byrd, to speak with informed critics of the war policy, as did Senator Boxer, the congressional leadership of the Democratic party wilfully declined to take advantage of them. Or, even worse, in Kerry's case, publicly exaggerated the evidence for war while being privately informed that there was no basis for it. Now, cognizant of the political peril created by growing opposition to the war, and the corruption emerging as a consequence of Fitzgerald's investigation, they are, with Edwards in the vanguard, trying to inscribe an alternative history. We should respond to these efforts as contemptously as we do those of Bush, Cheney and their neoconservative allies. All deserve to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

[Hat tip to Eli at Left i on the News for drawing my attention to the article by Stephen Zunes.]

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Ritter 

I guess because of the publication of his new book, Iraq Confidential : The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein, Scott Ritter has done a couple of interviews recently.

Here's one with BuzzFlash, and here's one with Seymour Hersh, which ends on this uplifting note:

HERSH: Do you have any optimism at this point?

RITTER: No. I wish I did.

I mean, the sad fact is, one of the reasons why I was arguing against this war was not just that it was based on a lie, but it's a reflection of the reality that was recognized in 1991: If you remove Saddam and you don't have a clue what's going to replace Saddam, you're going to get chaos and anarchy. People continue to say they want the elegant solution in Iraq. I mean, that's the problem, everybody's like, well, we can't withdraw because we got to solve all the problems.

Ladies and gentlemen, there's not going to be an elegant solution in Iraq. There's no magic wand that can be waved to solve this problem. If we get out and we have a plan, you know, it's still going to cost 30,000 Iraqi lives. Let's understand that, there's going to be blood shed in Iraq. They're going to kill each other, and we're not going to stop it.

If we continue to stay the course, however, that 30,000 number may become 60,000 or 90,000. At the end of the day, we've created a nightmare scenario in Iraq, and the best we can do is mitigate failure. And that's what I'm talking, and, unfortunately, that's a politically unacceptable answer. People say, no, we have to win, we have to persevere, there has to be victory. There's not going to be victory.

It won't surprise me if Ritter and his book do not get a lot of of play on the liberal blogs and magazines because the book is apparently very critical of the Clinton administration as well as the Bushies.

Redeploy? 

Over on Znet, Gilbert Achcar and Stephen Shalom say pretty much what I wanted to say regarding Murtha's recent bombshell:

Nevertheless, the anti-war movement needs to be careful not to confuse Murtha's position with its own.

When Murtha says "redeploy" -- instead of withdraw -- the troops from Iraq, he makes clear that -- despite his rhetoric -- he doesn't want to really bring them home, but to station them in the Middle East. As he told Anderson Cooper of CNN:

"We ... have united the Iraqis against us. And so I'm convinced, once we redeploy to Kuwait or to the surrounding area, that it will be much safer. They won't be able to unify against the United States. And then, if we have to go back in, we can go back in."

Moreover, Murtha's resolution calls for the U.S. to create "a quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines" to be "deployed to the region."

We strongly disagree. The anti-war movement cannot endorse U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, whether over or under the horizon. We don't want U.S. troops remaining in the region and poised to go back into Iraq. They don't belong there, period. Some -- though not Murtha -- suggest keeping U.S. bases within Iraq, close to the oil fields or in Kurdistan, in order to intervene more or less on the pattern of what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan. But this is a recipe for disaster, since the Iraqi view that the United States intends a permanent occupation is one of the main causes inciting the insurgency. Moreover, stationing U.S. forces in Kurdistan could only deepen the already dangerous ethnic animosities among Iraqis. In any event, if U.S. troops continue to be used in Iraq -- whether deployed from bases inside the country or from outside -- they will inevitably continue to cause civilian casualties, further provoking violence. Having a U.S. interventionary force stationed in Kuwait or in a similar location will continue to inflame the opposition of Iraqis who will know their sovereignty is still subject to U.S. control. As for the impact of keeping U.S. forces anywhere else in the larger region, it should be recalled that their presence was the decisive factor leading to 9-11 and fuels "global terrorism" in the same way that the U.S. military presence in Iraq "fuels the insurgency" there.

Murtha, we need to keep in mind, is not opposed to U.S. imperial designs or U.S. militarism. He criticizes the Bush administration because its Iraq policies have led to cuts in the (non-Iraq) defense budget, threatening the U.S. ability to maintain "military dominance."

Of course, it is nice to see a mainstream Democrat come over to some semblance of the Out Now! position -- however, it would be nicer if by "out" he really meant "out".

Friday, November 18, 2005

Something You Don't See Everyday 

I don't know if anyone else has been following this story but a couple of weeks ago the Guardian interviewed Chomsky in response to Chomsky being named the world's "top intellectual" by a poll conducted by some British magazines. The interview turned out to be a hatchet job complete with out-and-out fabrications and quotes taken out of context, the kind of hatchet job one often encounters when a hard leftist makes an appearance in the corporate press. Alexander Cockburn has a good analysis of the smear.

Normally the story would end here, and it's certainly a story we've witnessed before; however, in this case, the Guardian has issued what amounts to a full retraction and has pulled the interview from its web site. They've retracted every major claim made in the original article. For example, if you found it odd that the interviewer alleged that Chomsky had placed scare quotes around "massacre" when referring to Srebrenica without actually providing a citation, here's the Guardian's retraction:

Principal among these was a statement by Ms Brockes that in referring to atrocities committed at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war he had placed the word "massacre" in quotation marks. This suggested, particularly when taken with other comments by Ms Brockes, that Prof Chomsky considered the word inappropriate or that he had denied that there had been a massacre. Prof Chomsky has been obliged to point out that he has never said or believed any such thing. The Guardian has no evidence whatsoever to the contrary and retracts the statement with an unreserved apology to Prof Chomsky.

Maybe the editors were worried about those notoriously nutty British libel laws...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Smoking Guns of Pathos 

So Kucinich was on Hannity ... I don't understand why anyone bothers with those sorts of venues. It's not that I have anything against spirited political debate but shows like Hannity and O'Reilly, etc., are so structurally biased towards the interests of the host that it is impossible to meaningfully engage them. A leftwing guest on such a show has the normal "problem of concision" (see the 2nd quote here) plus a host willing to cut the guest's mic at any moment plus Daily Show-style after-the-fact editing can be employed to make the guest look extra silly if necessary. However, despite all of the above, I heard Kucinich did a good job so I looked around for the transcript. The best I came up with was this summary of the appearance on News Hounds.

I must confess I don't follow the rightwing media at all and this tape that Hannity is trumpeting up as a smoking gun was news to me. Apparently its been all over the rightside of the blogosphere. It's an audio tape in which a couple of Iraqi army guys are supposedly discussing the "evacuation" of WMD's before the arrival of UN inspectors. As far as I can tell this is the entire transcript:

Col: Peace. We just have a small question.
Gen: Yeah.
Col: About this committee that is coming...
Gen: Yeah, yeah.
Col: ...with Muhammad El Baradei [Director, International Atomic Energy Agency]
Gen: Yeah, yeah.
Col: Yeah.
Gen: Yeah?
Col: We have this modified vehicle.
Gen: Yeah.
Col: What do we say if one of them sees it?
Gen: You didn't get a modified ... You don't have a modified...
Col: By God, I have one.
Gen: Which? From the workshop ...?
Col: From the al Kindi Company.
Gen: What?
Col: From al-Kindi.
Gen: Yeah, yeah, I'll come to you in the morning. I have some comments. I'm worried you all have something left.
Col: We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left.
Gen: I will come to you tomorrow.
Col: Okay.
Gen: I have a conference at headquarters. Before I attend the conference I will come to you.

For what it's worth, Tex of Unfair Witness sent an email to Raed from Raed in the Middle to get the opinion of someone who doesn't have to read a translation of this pathetic smoking gun. Raed replied as follows:

Dear Tex

I remember listening to this tape while I was in Baghdad, and we laughed too. Not because of the accent, because of the retarded content of it.
The Iraqis talking on the tape have an Iraqi accent for sure, but the way they were saying stupid things about hiding the "modified" vehicle didn't make any sense.

Believe me my friend, there are a lot of Chalabi supporters types that are more than ready to do this.

The people on that tape are unfortunately Iraqis. I hope they at least feel ashamed by now.
Maybe one day in the future we'll know their real names, and how much were they paid to act this dirty role.

best
raed

So Raed thinks this tape was manufactured by Chalabi supporter types and, you know, lord knows, maybe he's right, but the point is it really doesn't matter.

The bar has been placed so low on what counts as a rightwing talking point in the domain of evidence of WMD's that these things read like parody. Prior to the invasion, the case being made by the right wasn't that Iraq possessed "a modified vehicle" or two -- it was that Iraq possessed enormous quantities of chemical and biological weapons and was actively engaged in developing nuclear weapons, that Iraq's stockpiles were so fantastically huge that it posed a danger to the United States of America so "grave" (to quote Bush) that the US needed to take action sooner rather than later. The really amazing thing is that Iraq appears not to have had anything. The current set of rightwing talking points are actually correct: Clinton did think Iraq had WMD's and so did all of the intelligence services of the nations of the world. Everybody figured Iraq had something. Hell, I figured it had something. However, Clinton and the intelligence services of the world didn't think that the threat posed by whatever odds and ends Saddam Hussein could horde away from the weapons inspectors justified the death and devastation caused by a war.

Quantities of anything the size of which the right was describing prior to the war don't just disappear, which leads rational people to believe that they didn't exist.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

13,514 Detainees in Iraq? 

UPDATE (11/16/05): 83,000 Detained in the "War on Terror"

INITIAL POST (11/15/05):RAW STORY has an interesting article today, stating that the US military acknowledges approximately 13,514 detainees currently held in prisons inside Iraq. Very few, less than 2%, have been found quilty of any crimes.

Here's the money quote:

This information supports what sources close to the Defense Department have previously expressed concern about to RAW STORY, namely that detainees held and tortured and then released essentially become the enemy army. According to these sources, who declined to go on the record by name, hundreds of detainees are released each month, having been detained for periods of six to twelve months, during which they are subjected to torture or other abuse.

Along these lines, note that there has been no shortage of Iraqis describing this kind of experience to journalists like Dahr Jamail and Robert Fisk. My belief has always been that the public misunderstands the true purpose of our detainee policy. It is not motivated, despite pronouncements to the contrary, by the urgency to preemptively seize potentially dangerous people and indefinitely incarcerate them. Instead, the purpose is one of general intimidation with the emphasis upon casting a broad net that captures a few possible insurgents along with many unconnected with the conflict in any meaningful respect.

One need only look to Guantanamo Bay, where many Afghani detainees claim that they were sold to US forces by tribal leaders. In other words, we deliberately aspire to catch a lot of dolphins, along with some tuna, expecting the dolphins, upon release, to spread the message that resistance to the Americans is futile. Predictably, the enraged dolphins are communicating quite the opposite.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

The Chalabi Code 

A blog I've never heard of before, Nothing Aside, has an amusing first-hand account of the return of the prodigal Chalabi. Ahmed did a song and dance for a room full of DC media bigshots at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kris Lofgren, the Nothing Aside blogger, was there.

The whole thing is worth reading but I wanted to highlight one somewhat cryptic passage. Lofgren describes a close encounter with Hitchens resulting in the following strange quote:

Hitchens then turned the subject back to Chalabi, his good friend. I asked him if he thought Chalabi had been passing American intelligence to the Iranians. "No," he insisted. "It's possible that with his training, you know, at [The University of] Chicago that with his own ability he was able to crack the codes. He is a mathematical genius. His expertise is cryptology. It is possible that he broke the codes himself." (This is a paraphrase since I was walking down M Street and crossing Connecticut Avenue all while being amazed that I was having an actual conversation with Christopher Hitchens at the time). Now, I don't believe this for one second. Why would Chalabi be trying to break American codes in his spare time anyway? Who does that if they are friendly to us? Suspicious, I say.

There seems to be a nugget comic gold in there; however, Lofgren has this matter a little bit confused, and because of the confusion I'm having a hard time recovering what Hitchens actually said or meant. But let's try...

Contrary to Lofgren's implication, Chalabi is not accused of passing American codes to Iran; rather, he is accused of telling Iran that America had cracked Iranian codes. If Hitchens discussed Chalabi cracking a code, therefore, one must imagine he was talking about Chalabi cracking an Iranian code, presumably, on behalf of the U.S. -- which is just a wonderful bit of speculation. The insinuation is, I guess, that our man in Baghdad is not only a mathematical genius but also a true blue US patriot. (Actually, it's a little known fact that Ahmed Chalabi and I have the same undergraduate degree, math from MIT -- I wonder if Hitchens thinks that I'm a genius?)

This nice little story, however, doesn't make any sense: why would Chalabi tell the Iranians about the code he broke, etc.? What about the drunken agent Chalabi fingered as the original leaker? (Who I always kind of figured was actually Christopher Hitchens. ... [rimshot] ...)

Hitchens tends to latch on to pet ideas -- a common malady among pundits -- bringing them up in piece after piece and at venue after venue. He's apparently slinging this Chalabi-the-codebreaker story to guys on street corners, hinting that the story might be part of a new Hitchens product line ... in which case we'll shortly hear more than we ever wanted to hear about it and I'm sure all questions will be answered.

Willie Pete Takes a Bow 

As long as Richard is doing updates on old stories, I'd like to mention one, covered here almost exactly a year ago, that the corporate press has finally deemed worthy of the spotlight: the shelling of Fallujah with white phosphorus rounds. White phosphorus is a vile incendiary, nicknamed "Willie Pete" in the Vietnam era.

Last week an Italian documentary called Falluja: The Hidden Massacre publicized photos of the effects of the incendiary on Iraqi civilians and the story has broken into a mini-scandal: (from Reuters)

A RAI documentary showed images of bodies recovered after a November 2004 offensive by U.S. troops on the town of Falluja, which it said proved the use of white phosphorus against men, women and children who were burned to the bone.

"I do know that white phosphorus was used," said Jeff Englehart in the RAI documentary, which identified him as a former soldier in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Iraq.

It's nice an atrocity has been pulled from the memory hole, but I'd like to point out that the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah was a well-known, much commented upon fact a year ago, at the time of the second Fallujah invasion -- mainstream accounts described "white phosphorous shells [lighting] up the sky" and the San Fransisco Chronicle even devoted a sentence to its grisly effects:

Some artillery guns fired white phosphorous rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water. Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns.

The only thing new about the RAI's account is that it provided pictures of the victims. I guess we're all used to the idea that shocking photos create news; I guess it's too much to ask that the use of a horrible chemical weapon by US forces might on its own merit newspaper headlines and mentions on CNN, but given that everyone knew white phosphorus was being used, couldn't some reporter have done some digging and come up with these images a year ago? I guess not -- apparently Italian state TV has better sources than the bigtime US media...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fall Updates: Strawberry Days, the German Election and Iraqi Civilian Casualties 

Today is a good day for updating some of my past posts.

Strawberry Days

On June 27, 2005, I reviewed David Neiwert's quietly moving, understated social history of Japanese immigration and internment associated with Bellevue, Washington. Deservedly, it turns out that the book is selling well, with the first run of 3,000 copies sold out, and the second one "selling briskly". People like Neiwert, and especially the Nisei that shared their personal stories with him, preserve memories of our past as it truly was, not as we would like to sentimentally believe it to be. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, consider clicking on the link of my review for more information.

The German Election

On September 22, 2005, I posted a lengthy commentary about how much of the media, especially US media, was concealing the fact that the left had won the German parliamentary election, preferring instead, a "Grand Coalition" to deny the left what it had righfully won at the polls, citing it as an example of the methods by which liberal democracies prevent the left from taking and exercising power.

Not surprisingly, the political suspension of gravity involved in forging a coalition government of the two dominant parties from the left and the right is proving difficult, as leftist Social Democratic Party deputies induced one of the SPD participants to resign a major party post, and, hence, his willingness to accept a ministry, while one of the allies of the anticipated Christian Democratic chancellor, Angela Merkel, abandoned his intention to serve in the new government as well. Luke Harding, in the Manchester Guardian, is one of the few journalists to grasp the potentially alarming consequences of impressing such a government upon the populace:

The only previous experience of a grand coalition at federal level in the 1960s was widely deemed to have been a failure, with voters drifting towards extremism. The period yielded the Red Army Faction, a terrorist group, and the best ever-result for the neo-Nazi NPD in 1969.

New elections appear increasingly probable, with sequels planned until there is a clear conservative majority.

Iraqi Civilian Casualties

No subject is murkier, and more prone to confusion than this one, and I have periodically commented upon it here, on Indymedia and Lefti on the News. Since the Iraqi Health Ministry reported, and then rescinded, a statement in September 2004 that about two thirds of all civilian casualties had been inflicted by the Occupation Authority and provisional Iraqi government forces, information from official sources has been rare, with the exception of a recent Pentagon report about 26,000 civilian casualties inflicted by the insurgency. I had been planning to write about it in depth, but, then, George Monbiot beat me to it. Here are some essential selections from his article:

. . . . As ever, the study in the line of fire is the report published by the Lancet in October last year.

It was a household survey - of 988 homes in 33 randomly selected districts - and it suggested, on the basis of the mortality those households reported before and after the invasion, that the risk of death in Iraq had risen by a factor of 1.5; somewhere between 8,000 and 194,000 extra people had died, with the most probable figure being 98,000. Around half the deaths, if Falluja was included, or 15% if it was not, were caused by violence, and the majority of those by attacks on the part of US forces.

In the US and the UK, the study was either ignored or torn to bits. The media described it as "inflated", "overstated", "politicised" and "out of proportion". Just about every possible misunderstanding and distortion of its statistics was published, of which the most remarkable was the Observer's claim that: "The report's authors admit it drew heavily on the rebel stronghold of Falluja, which has been plagued by fierce fighting. Strip out Falluja, as the study itself acknowledged, and the mortality rate is reduced dramatically." In fact, as they made clear on page one, the authors had stripped out Falluja; their estimate of 98,000 deaths would otherwise have been much higher.

But the attacks in the press succeeded in sinking the study. Now, whenever a newspaper or broadcaster produces an estimate of civilian deaths, the Lancet report is passed over in favour of lesser figures. For the past three months, the editors and subscribers of the website Medialens have been writing to papers and broadcasters to try to find out why. The standard response, exemplified by a letter from the BBC's online news service last week, is that the study's "technique of sampling and extrapolating from samples has been criticised". That's true, and by the same reasoning we could dismiss the fact that 6 million people were killed in the Holocaust, on the grounds that this figure has also been criticised, albeit by skinheads. The issue is not whether the study has been criticised, but whether the criticism is valid.

After observing that Tony Blair and Colin Powell accepted the same methodology in regard to deaths in the Congo, Monbiot states:

The other reason the press gives for burying the Lancet study is that it is out of line with competing estimates. Like Jack Straw, wriggling his way around the figures in a written ministerial statement, they compare it to the statistics compiled by the Iraqi health ministry and the website Iraq Body Count . . . . Iraq Body Count, whose tally has reached 26,000-30,000, measures only civilian deaths which can be unambiguously attributed to the invasion and which have been reported by two independent news agencies. As the compilers point out, "it is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media ... our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording". Of the seven mortality reports surveyed by the Overseas Development Institute, the estimate in the Lancet's paper was only the third highest. It remains the most thorough study published so far. Extraordinary as its numbers seem, they are the most likely to be true.

While the true number of casualties, and the cause of them, necessarily remains uncertain, Monbiot's column is an excellent summarization of the political manipulation of this subject. The exploitation of the work of Iraq Body Count, clearly against the intentions of the people who have sincerely dedicated themselves to such a distasteful task, people who have honestly publicized the limitations of their method, is contemptible.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Schwarzenegger Syndrome: Meltdown 

As all of you probably already know, Schwarzenegger suffered a defeat of catastrophic proportions yesterday, one that probably signals the end of his career in politics. All of the propositions associated with him, Propositions 73 through 78, lost.

None of the margins were even close enough to place the outcomes in question because of the substantial amount of ballots that invariably remain to be counted around the state. Most embarassingly, it appears that Proposition 73, the parental consent measure, and Proposition 75, a measure that would have required unions to get approval from their members individually before using their dues for political purposes, actually ran worse because of Schwarzenegger's support. One wonders how Christian fundamentalists are going to respond after their campaign consultants tell them that Proposition 73 might have won if not for Schwarzenegger's endorsement.

Yesterday's post described how Schwarzenegger and his Republican mentor, former governor Pete Wilson, sought to manipulate the special election process to impose a conservative political system on a progressive state. It almost succeeded. It failed primarily because progressive unions unaffiliated with the state AFL-CIO, such as the California Nurses Associaton and the California Teacher's Association, refused to be intimidated by Schwarzenegger's purported aura of invincibility. They confronted him repeatedly through aggressive public protest over his attempted implementation of a corporate friendly, anti-education agenda for this state.

People slowly began to recognize that he was nothing more than a public relations shill for his corporate donors, as he paraded around the state, participating in Hee Haw type stunts like his recent "Count Cartaxula" one, where he claimed that the defeat of his budget initiative, Proposition 76, would result in the return of an increase in the vehicle license fee, before attending evening fundraisers with corporate executives, where, one suspects, they readily displayed contempt for the voters they were trying to reach through such contrived events. Challenged during his town hall apperances about the substance of his measures, he could do nothing but nastily attack teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers as "special interests" dedicated to the state's destruction. The public responded to this confusing mixture of insincerity, cheesiness and apocalyptic, overheated rhetoric in the most brutal way possible: they transformed him into an object of derision.

Significantly, Schwarzenegger also planned to slowly strangle public education financially, by obtaining almost dictatorial powers to continue to cut the state budget. Proposition 76, if it had passed, would have empowered him to do so. It is an important aspect of the Schwarnegger agenda, with serious implications, because it reveals his core constituency, upper middle class and upper class Californians, many of them living in suburban subdivisions specially designed to create the illusion of separation from the rest of the populace. Capable of educating themselves and their children privately, they seek insulation from competition by degrading the public sector alternative. Clearly, there are additionally troubling racial dimensions to this phenomenon as well, possibly reflected in the reliance upon whites in Schwarzenegger campaign literature. Yesterday, we resisted this onslaught, at least for awhile.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Schwarzenegger Syndrome 

There is a special election today in California, and it is very important. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supports a number of measures on the ballot, and it is essential to defeat them in order to maintain representative democracy here.

Three of these initiatives are especially significant. Proposition 76 grants the governor the power to declare fiscal emergencies in order to make unilaterial spending cuts that would be almost impossible for the legislature to overturn. Fiscal emergencies have been so generously defined that a governor would be able to declare one at some point during every fiscal year, regardless of whether revenues were in balance, or even possibly in excess of expenditures. Proposition 77 is a redistricting initiative designed to provide for new, mid-decade, boundaries drawn by the judiciary, with the expectation, like Texas, of increasing Republican representation. Proposition 75 would require public sector labor unions to obtain the consent of their members before utilizing their dues for political purposes.

Schwarzenegger also strongly supports two other initiatives, and while they are more tangentially associated with his ambitious scheme, they should be rejected as well. Proposition 74, a measure designed to make it more difficult for teachers to obtain tenure, scapegoats teachers to divert public attention from the fact that Schwarzenegger has, despite promises to the contrary, cut funding for public education and plans to continue to do so in the future. Proposition 73 requires minors to get consent from the parents, and go through a 48 hour waiting period, before having an abortion. By additionally defeating these measures, we send a strong, unequivocal message, a message that cannot be misrepresented by the media, that California has repudiated the Schwarzenegger program.

The importance of doing so cannot be overstated. Evaluated separately, Propositions 75, 76 and 77 may appear innocuous, but, taken together, a more calculated agenda becomes apparent. If passed by the voters, these measures would result in the creation of a strong executive at the expense of the legislature, a prime objective of the corporate interests that find many of California's progressive policies so objectionable. They are designed to constitutionally enshrine conservative Republican social values in a state that would otherwise reject them.

To understand why, it is necessary to properly comprehend the Schwarzenegger phenomenon. Schwarzenegger is not a clown, all appearances to the contrary, but, rather, a manifestation of a sophisticated model by which the economic elite intends to transform the state's political system into one in which the legislature, and indeed, even the executive, constitutes little more than the appearance of political participation. The contours of such a system, at least as envisioned by Schwarzenegger and his aides, is revealed by their conduct since taking control of governorship in 2003.

Schwarzenegger spends little time in the governor's office in Sacramento. Instead, he travels around the state, and, indeed, the country, doing two things: (1) raising money at fundraisers, events that commonly cost as much as $10,000 to $25,000 to attend; and (2) promoting his alleged "reform" agenda through cheesy public relations stunts. Rarely does he seek to work with the legislature, the public or any interest groups, other than those who contribute enormous sums of money, to develop policy initiatives. Executive branch administrative decisions are often made to benefit campaign contributors.

It is tempting to gloss over such practices as business as usual, because none of them, standing alone, is innovative. Succumbing to such a temptation is, however, a grave political error. Schwarzenegger has combined these practices because the people who support him have concluded that the problem in California is, in fact, representative democracy.

Schwarzenegger does not work with the legislature or any groups that oppose him, such as teachers, nursers, firefighters and labor unions generally, because he wants to disempower them, as he has frequently admitted. Amazingly, few, beyond the left, have commented that his actions are entirely consistent with his history of making public statements in support of autocratic rule. He is therefore far more valuable to his contributors for his ability to induce people to perceive politics and governance as spectacle than he is for his administrative skills, which are non-existent.

Schwarzenegger therefore spends most of his time outside of Sacramento, often fundraising, because he recognizes that he can only achieve his objective through the initiative process. Qualifying initiatives for the ballot, and paying for advertising campaigns to try to persuade the public to vote for them, is very expensive, amounting to over $100 million dollars when it involves multiple measures. Given that California is a culturally diverse, progressive state, it is critical to put these measures on the ballot during a special election, when turnout is low, to have any chance of getting them passed, as Schwarzenegger has done.

If passed, Propositions 75, 76 and 77 would grant Schwarzenegger unfettered authority over the state budget as the state is redistricted mid-term in an attempt to permanently obtain more Republican representation to exploit the reduced ability of public sector labor unions to confront them. The legislature would exist primarily to create the appearance of democratic participation, when, in reality, the election of the governor would dictate the outcome of all important policy questions. In a state where political campaigns are incomprehensibly expensive, a financing system even more skewed towards the participation of wealthy corporate donors would give conservative candidates, at least ones who avoid being blemished by unseemly association with Christian fundamentalists, a substantial advantage in any statewide gubernatorial campaign. Concentrating such power in the governor would also result in a diminishment, if not the elimination, of the meaningful participation of women, poor people and people of color, in state politics. Schwarzenegger campaign mailings devoid of any photographs of people of color are, perhaps, indicative of the future that his operatives anticipate if successful.

Schwarzenegger, the immigrant, is merely seeking to implement what has already found favor in much of the rest of the world: a system that we can most accurately describe as illusory democracy. Russia (thorugh Yeltsin and Putin), Britain (through Blair and his fusion of Presidential authority with the parliamentary system) and even the American arch nemesis, France (through its strong President and administrative apparatus), have already implemented troubling aspects of this system, and, to drive the point home, we need only note in passing the evisceration of democracy in lesser developed countries around the world through loan conditions and structural adjustment plans imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. There is, however, a critical difference. Unlike powerful leaders like Blair and Putin, Schwarzenegger, and possibly, future governors generated by his proposed system, aren't supposed to actually independently govern, but merely act as public relations officers for the policies of the donors who financed their election.

Fortunately, it seems that the California electorate has recognized the seriousness of the threat. Propositions 75, 76 and 77, the core of the Schwarzenegger model, are all behind in the polls, although Proposition 75 is losing narrowly. Ironically, his best opportunity for a win is probably Proposition 73, although Proposition 74 is also too close to call. Socially nonsensical, as it would place many minors at risk for physical violence and abuse in dysfunctional families, Proposition 73 is, regrettably, sufficiently superficially appealing to have a chance to pass. Such an unfortunate result would at least reveal an irrefutable bond between Schwarzenegger and Christian fundamentalists. Hopefully, there will be no need to search for such silver linings after the results are announced.


Monday, November 07, 2005

The Worst of the Worst 

Via Tom Tomorrow ... I wouldn't have guessed there were (are?) guys with Masters Degrees in English Literature rotting away in Guantanamo Bay... A fantastically depressing article: (from here)

Badr Zaman Badr and his brother Abdurrahim Muslim Dost relish writing a good joke that jabs a corrupt politician or distills the sufferings of fellow Afghans. Badr admires the political satires in "The Canterbury Tales" and "Gulliver's Travels," and Dost wrote some wicked lampoons in the 1990s, accusing Afghan mullahs of growing rich while preaching and organizing jihad. So in 2002, when the U.S. military shackled the writers and flew them to Guantanamo among prisoners whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared "the worst of the worst" violent terrorists, the brothers found life imitating farce.

For months, grim interrogators grilled them over a satirical article Dost had written in 1998, when the Clinton administration offered a $5-million reward for Osama bin Laden. Dost responded that Afghans put up 5 million Afghanis -- equivalent to $113 -- for the arrest of President Bill Clinton.

"It was a lampoon ... of the poor Afghan economy" under the Taliban, Badr recalled. The article carefully instructed Afghans how to identify Clinton if they stumbled upon him. "It said he was clean-shaven, had light-colored eyes and he had been seen involved in a scandal with Monica Lewinsky," Badr said.

The interrogators, some flown down from Washington, didn't get the joke, he said. "Again and again, they were asking questions about this article. We had to explain that this was a satire." He paused. "It was really pathetic."

It took the brothers three years to convince the Americans that they posed no threat to Clinton or the United States, and to get released [ ... ]

The brothers are university-educated, and Badr, who holds a master's degree in English literature, was one of few prisoners able to speak fluently to the interrogators in their own language. And since both men are writers, much of their lives and political ideas are on public record here in books and articles they have published.

Later on in the piece Army Col. Samuel Rob asks a couple of questions:

"What if this is a truly bad individual, the next World Trade Center bomber, and you let him go? What do you say to the families?"

What do you tell the families? -- I suggest you tell them the same thing you told the families of Dilawar and Habibullah, the innocent Afghanis who were tortured to death at the Bagram Collection Point.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Alito, Corporations, and Democrats, etc. 

From the mailbag, here's frequent commenter Bob Lash on strategies the Democrats might adopt towards the Alito nomination:

Just a thought. I'm concerned with the way democrats might be framing the coming debate over Alito( Scalito). It is being presented solely in terms of a retreat on the social progress of the last 70 years. This is wholly proper but not the only strategy they should use. The American people think the social progress of the last seventy years is "safely in the bank" so to speak. They unfortunately think it is a done deal and cannot be unraveled. The few who think it can are the ones who want it unraveled. They naively think the unraveling will stop short of their lives. This response of the Dems to warn of this, although valid may sound stale and overused to many Americans. To them the Dems are always warning of dismantling of the new deal. When the Dems use this tact they must make it as concrete as possible.

Another strategy which is just as valid and may sound novel to Americans is to warn of too much corporate power in the daily lives of Americans as well as the public life. When our country was founded the states had very strict charters as to what corporation could do. If you had a corporation you had to state the purpose of it, exactly how much was to be invested, and exactly how long the corporation would be "allowed to exist".The state had the power to dissolve corporation simply for not acting "in the public good." Corporations were feared both by ordinary people and even some elites. Even Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism, did not like corporations. His theories assumed corporations would not be the preferred capitalist model. States didn't regulate corporations, they simply dissolved them when they did not conform to the public good. Corporations were creations of the state. The so called originalist conservative legal scholars always fail to mention this. Over the last 130 years corporations achieved "Personhood" ( by a complicated back door Court procedure, it was never formalized in a specific supreme court case) and their charters have become meaningless formalities. Slowly they have grown in economic and political power to the point now where they basically run the country and we merely inhabit America as consumers, rather than run it as citizens. Corporations can fire you for writing the wrong kind of letter to the editor, can tell you what personal habits are acceptable (in your own home) and can change the nature of small towns with impunity (al la Walmart). They of course call many of the shots concerning running the country already. The Dems need to couch their objection in the special treatment conservs like Scalito mean to give corporations. Americans hate special treatment. Dems need to frame the debate as opposing a sort of elite affirmative action. I heard Kennedy and he sounded like he was giving Americans the usual litany of liberal complaints against Reaganism, the neo cons and all former attacks on social security. This is all valid but I'm afraid its beginning to sound to average Americans like the boy crying wolf.

Dems also need to attack the legal BS known as originalism head on. Do we go back to slavery and blacks being 3/5 of a person. Do we go back to propertied male suffrage only. Should women again be property of their husbands. And most of all should corporations go back to being constitutional "non persons" and creations of the state, with the state having the power to kill them for not working in the public good. Incidentally the reason the word "privacy" was not in the constitution was in the 18th century the word privacy only refereed to toilets. OK this is long enough forgive my rambling.

St. Fitzgerald Not So Saintly? 

Simbaud has a nice summary of the Fitzgerald second-guessing and third-guessing that's been all the rage on the liberal blogs:

And for that matter: are there more indictments to come, or does Mr. Fitzgerald plan to fold up his tent? Billmon was (we believe) the first to cry "whitewash" after the dismissal of the grand jury on Friday, followed shortly thereafter by ex-prosecutor Sheldon Drobny ("Those of us locally in the know here do not agree that Mr. Fitzgerald is as independent as the press has made him out to be"). If Michael Isikoff's Newsweek article is true, and Fitzgerald visited President Bush's personal attorney on Friday "to tell him the president's closest aide would not be charged," then, as Digby puts it, Fitz is in the tank.

But Jane Hamsher points out that Isikoff's "scoop" almost certainly originated with Rove's attorneys, and she'll believe it when she can gaze at the clouds and see a flock of pigs winging their way back from Capistrano. (Swopa points out that Mr. Isikoff has published numerous accounts of airborne porkers before.) And at the Booman Tribune, former SEC enforcement official Marty Aussenberg argues that Fitz is just warming up:
[T]he real reason to lay out as much factual detail as he did [in the indictment] was for Fitz to show the world (and in particular, the world within the White House) that he has the goods, and that he won't hesitate to drop the dime on some additional malefactors, particularly, Cheney.
Aussenberg's argument is so powerful that it pretty much sways Billmon, which is, we think, more or less where we came in.

For my part, I have always been a Fitzgerald investigation realist (see for example, the third comment in this thread from a week or so before the Libby indictment) but would certainly love to be wildly wrong on this one...

Sistani to Call for US Withdrawal ... Maybe 

Rumor has it that Sistani is going to call for the US to withdraw from Iraq. Here's Juan Cole:

The intrepid Hamza Hendawi of AP gets the scoop: Aides around Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the chief spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites, are broadly hinting that after the December 15 elections, he may begin a Gandhi-like campaign to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. A lot of sentiments are attributed to Sistani that he later has to deny, so we should be cautious about whether the aides have their own axe to grind. But if this report is true, it would suggest that Sistani is confident that the Iraqi police and military are strong enough to protect him and the other members of the current Iraqi political class, and that the Americans are not needed.

If Sistani gives The Fatwa for a US withdrawal, the Bush administration will simply have to acquiesce. The situation would be similar to what happened in the Philippines in 1991, when the Philippines senate declined to authorize the extension of the treaty that permitted US naval bases in that country. Given the ongoing Sunni Arab guerrilla movement (which killed another 5 US GI's in the past couple of days), the US simply cannot keep troops in Iraq if the Shiites also begin vehemently demanding their departure. Any attempt by Bush and Rumsfeld to remain in Iraq in defiance of Sistani would certainly radicalize the Iraqi population and risk pushing it toward anti-American Muslim extremism both on the Shiite and the Sunni Arab fronts. As Hendawi notes, most close observers of Iraq, such as Vali Nasr and Ahmad Hashem (who has experience on the ground as US military officer) believe that any such move by Sistani, should it succeed, risks throwing Iraq into substantial sectarian violence.

Here's the AP story that Cole is talking about...

Hostile Activities 

Never saw this mentioned anywhere else besides blogs, but a few months ago there was a Vietnam-style fragging of an officer in Iraq. Reuters reports today that the military is recommending that the perpetrator get the death penalty. This sentence from the Reuters account struck me darkly humorous:

During the probe, the prosecutors said a court martial should try the case since the crime was committed at a time of war but the defense disagreed, saying the United States was not engaged in hostile activities in Iraq.

The US is not engaged in hostile activities in Iraq? -- someone should tell that to these guys.

The Big Two 

I've been criticized on occasion for devoting too much time and space on this blog to discussing the Plame scandal. Many readers feel that the whole Wilson-Plame-Miller-Libby-Rove thing was just so much Democrat on Republican cat-fighting. I don't agree with the sentiment. Firstly, as I have pointed out before, even to the extent that this scandal was so much partisan in-fighting, it was partisan in-fighting that had the possibility of crippling Karl Rove -- which would be a tremendous blow to the rightwing project of reducing all substantive policy decisions to political theater, and thus a positive development for those who are in favor of democracy.

Secondly, an interesting transformation occurred in the last several weeks, probably since it became apparent that Fitzgerald was going to make indictments. In the context of providing the reader with the backstory of the Wilson smear campaign, the corporate press's coverage of Fitzgerald's investigation began focusing on the White House's behavior in 2003 during the unveiling of, as Andrew Card characterized the Iraq War, the administration's "new product line." All of a sudden, for example, newspapers discovered that the case for the Iraq War was based in part on forged documents and there is now at least the possibility that some ambitious reporter might, god forbid, get curious about who forged those documents under whose orders.

Needless to say, this transformation is a good thing. Over the years we've seen this administration enmeshed in a startling array of crimes and misdemeanors, but there are two big ones that, to rip off a line from the quote I used in Perp Walk, contain within themselves the accumulated evil of all the others. One of the big ones was the deeply immoral marketing campaign that led to the United States engaging in an illegal war of aggression that has killed tens of thousands of people. If there is any possibility that Fitzgerald's investigation will make public more facts about crimes that were committed during this enterprise, the investigation is certainly an important topic of political discourse.

The other big scandal still awaits resurrection: the attempt to dismantle the framework of international law regarding the rights of those captured in armed conflict. The torture scandal is buried so deeply in the memory hole that even though Cheney is the unpopular Vice President of an unpopular president in the midst of political firestorm, he can still appoint a man not so tangentially connected to the torture scandal to replace Scooter Libby and suffer no political fallout.

The only whisper of the Bush administration's illegal extra-US prison system and the horrors that occur within it that we've heard in months was a Frontline documentary two weeks ago that apparently no one watched besides me and Nellie from Dancing with Derrida. At this point the ACLU can produce a press release like the following and it will result in not so much as a yawn from the corporate media:

The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

"There is no question that U.S. interrogations have resulted in deaths," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military."

What will it take to give the torture scandal the Fitzgerald treatment? -- I think the only hope is for the never-released Abu Ghraib photos and video to make it to the public. Which leads me to the point of this post ... a federal court ruled against the government's attempt to block the release of the material in question almost a month ago now, but there hasn't been an update to the story. If anyone affiliated with the ACLU or other knowledgeable source is reading this blog, could you leave a comment apprising us of the state of this FOIA request?

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