September 11, 2014
Just So…

From Andrew Sullivan at The Dish:

What I under-estimated was the media’s ability to generate mass panic and hysteria and the Beltway elite’s instant recourse to the language of war. I believed that Obama was stronger than this, that he could actually resist this kind of emotional spasm and speak to us like grown-ups about what we can and cannot do about a long, religious war in the Middle East, that doesn’t threaten us directly. But he spoke to us like children last night, assuming the mantle of the protective daddy we had sought in Bush and Cheney, evoking the rhetoric he was elected to dispel.

What the president doesn’t seem to understand is that this dramatic U-turn isn’t just foolish on its own national security terms; it is devastating to him politically. He is now playing on Cheney’s turf, not his own. His core supporters, like yours truly, regarded our evolution from that Cheney mindset one of Obama’s key achievements — and he tossed it away last night almost casually. He committed himself and us to a victory we cannot achieve in two countries we cannot control with the aid of allies we cannot trust. And, worse, he has done so by evading the key Constitutional requirement that a declaration of war be made by the Congress. He is actually relying on the post-9/11 authorization of military force against al Qaeda in Afghanistan to wage war in Syria (in violation of international law) and in Iraq.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:27 PM
August 26, 2014
Our Economy Needs Global Conflict

I understand why some folks think it’s cynical to impute motive to action, especially when doing so reflects poorly on them or those they admire. But explain to me if you would the problems with this formulation: we sell weapons to countries who shouldn’t have them because (1) it keeps our economy humming, along the lines of what Chomsky calls the Pentagon system, and (2) Congress consistently manages to find a way around its own laws prohibiting the sale of arms to human rights violators because (1). Once these high-powered weapons are in such questionable hands it’s only a matter of time before they’re used. No, I’m not talking about Ferguson, Missouri, but about the United Arab Emirates (UAE), currently bombing Libya using weapons we built and sold to them. They did not, in the event, feel it necessary to notify the US, let alone seek support, possibly indicating how much they fear America’s wrath.

The first air strikes took place a week ago, focusing on targets in Tripoli held by the militias, including a small weapons depot, according to the [New York] Times. Six people were killed in the bombing.

A second round was conducted south of the city early on Saturday targeting rocket launchers, military vehicles and a warehouse, according to the newspaper.

Those strikes may have represented a bid to prevent the capture of the Tripoli airport, but the militia forces eventually prevailed and seized control of it despite the air attacks.

The UAE — which has spent billions on US-manufactured warplanes and other advanced weaponry — provided the military aircraft, aerial refuelling planes and aviation crews to bomb Libya, while Egypt offered access to its airbases, the paper said.

Somehow that feels weird to me. A country the size of South Carolina with a population less than that of North Carolina has aerial refuelling planes and the expertise to pull off a combat mission using them, though admittedly there were probably few air defenses to contend with.

In light of such disarray, some will argue, we can’t afford to pull out of the Middle East conflict. Just as the weapons dealers wanted, we’ve sold too many weapons there to walk away now; it’d be a bloodbath. But it’s politically impossible to do the only useful thing, which is pressure the Israeli government until it begins to attend to the popular will. That, however, would set a bad precedent that might be recognized here at home.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:18 PM
June 27, 2014
A Sadness About Our Public Discourse

Professor Fouad Ajami died Sunday, at age 68. I thought his obituary in the New York Times, like many of their obits, was deeply interesting. I saw Ajami frequently on television, as an expert commentator, on CNN mostly. He was definitely suave, and I thought persuasive in his analyses, at least on their surface. For me, he did bring a certain credibility: he was an Arab, born and raised in the Levant until he was 18, when his family came to the U.S.

I always had reservations about his analyses, however, as he had become an American college professor rooted in this country, and, worse, a denizen of the ideological think-tank subculture. In other words, for decades he was no longer a day-to-day or more or less continuous presence in his area of expertise — the Middle East, its Arab nations and peoples.

As the obituary makes clear, he was a member of that amazing, only-in-America group, our public commentators who are almost always wrong about the really important things, but who seem never to go away quietly in disgrace (in Olde England, one admiral who failed at war was hanged for it):

● Dick Cheney: “In a speech in 2002 ... Cheney invoked Mr. Ajami as predicting that Iraqis would greet liberation by the American military with joy.” At the time, this astute “expert” assessor of the contemporary Iraqi public temperament was safely ensconsed in his scholar’s office at Johns Hopkins, a short drive from the White House;

● The Condoleezza, who “summoned him to the White House” when she was (ugh!) national security advisor fresh from ... a sunny California campus half the globe away from Iraq;

● The hapless Paul Wolfowitz, whom Ajami advised when Wolfie was deputy secretary of defense under the unbalanced Princeton grad and wrestling cheat Donald Rumsfeld. At least Rummie served in the military;

● And Princeton professor Bernard Lewis (another scholar who moonlighted as an Important Expert Advisor for the powerful). Lewis, who “urged the United States to invade Iraq,” advised President George W. Bush himself — going right to the tippy top, as it were. From the obit, I learned the degree to which Ajami was in that cohort with Professor Lewis. (William Kristol wasn’t mentioned in the obit as one of the always-wrong, as should have been his due. I’m sure Willy published lots of praise about Ajami in his magazine)…

(By the way, let us nevermore hear how elitist liberal universities like Princeton turn out, exclusively, legions of brainwashed liberals and other leftist and perverted crazies who poison and undermine our republic. Think Lewis and Rumsfeld. Ajami, too, taught at Princeton. And we must add to my little counter-argument U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as well.)

Professor Ajami bought into the Gilded Age legacy of Democracy, Always and Forever. He “despaired of autocratic Arab governments finding their own way to democracy,” with the implication that others — oh, who, I wonder, could those others be? — would lead them to it, like horses to water. He told his audience “of how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried [and failed] to renew their homelands’ culture through the forces of modernism and secularism.” (We can pass over, for now, the perception that there may be a homeland on the other side of the Atlantic that needs its culture renewed through the forces of modernism and secularism.)

That catalog of wet-dream stuff for other nations has long been the price of entry to the circle of the powerful and the righteous, the ones who, as the obit said, “believed that the United States must confront what he [Ajami] called a ‘culture of terrorism’ after the 2001 terrorist attacks…” Not before? How come the revelation came so late to this seemingly so knowledgeable scholar of the region and its cultures?

Prof. Ajami also “strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective,” often referring to “Muslim rage over losing power to the West in 1683, when a Turkish siege of Vienna failed.” (In 1683? The Times offers us that lunatic howler with a straight face.) “He said this memory had led to Arab self-pity and self-delusion, as they blamed the rest of the world for their troubles.”

You have to be pretty far removed from the reality on the ground anywhere (and from common sense) to come up with imaginings like this. I suppose the Muslim Middle East is 99% full of just plain people. Folks who have families, children, jobs, little joys and too often sorrows. They want education for their children, things like that, and maybe not so much finally to get revenge for 1683 in Austria by destroying two buildings far away from Austria, in New York City.

I’ve never been in the Arab Levant, but I doubt the respectable folks there, busy with living their lives as best they can, sit around the kitchen table and lament the failure of the Ottomans (who were themselves culturally centered in Asia Minor, I believe, not in Iraq or the Arabian peninsula) to overrrun Vienna. What a crock of shit — yet Professor Ajami shrewdly got the power players to buy it and butter his bread.

Well, that’s the message they wanted to hear, to be sure. I’ll bet the local people in the Middle East complained and still complain endlessly about stuff, real stuff, not just Ajami’s imaginary nonsense ... but I’ll also bet it hasn’t typically included anger at being humiliated by the cavalry of the Holy Roman Empire, a k a “the West.”

The Times obituary failed to observe that Prof. Ajami is only one in a large coterie of men (mostly) who determinedly urge “us” into this or that war or other military escapade, but who have never troubled themselves to put on the uniform of military or naval service and risk standing in harm’s way. Yes, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, that includes you, not just the “Dick” and Wolfie and Feith and many of the rest of the gang so eager to keep Dover Air Force Base busy.

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Posted by A. David Tucker at 04:32 PM
April 30, 2014
David Brooks: Grand Strategist

Is it willful blindness or just plain blindness? David Brooks, in his April 29 NY Times column “Saving the System,” has hit a new low, and has invited company along as well. He begins, “All around, the fabric of peace and order is fraying.”

Stunned silence, but from a reflexive conservative and low-octane expert on everything under the sun, that is hardly noteworthy. Most educated people anywhere would agree that the international “fabric” is undergoing a number of significant changes: religious discord in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East; an aggressive China that doesn’t seem to know its place; Russian unruliness along its own borders; and more. There’s always something popping up because, as everyone outside the American Heartland realized following the profound international disruption set off by the Second World War, the world is changing, big time.

But Brooks goes on to quote an analysis of “grand strategic history” (whew!) from Charles Hill, a “legendary” State Department officer who, according to Wikipedia, advised Reagan, Kissinger (“Satire died the day Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize”), and fellow geopolitical grand strategist Rudy Giuliani…

For Brooks, Hill, who teaches at Yale, grandly proposes in part that “when an established international system enters its phase of deterioration, many leaders nonetheless respond with insouciance, obliviousness, and self-congratulation.” Hill then observes that “when the wolves of the world” sense this flabbiness, they pounce to exploit the opportunities that open.

The wolves, for him, are the current boat-rockers: Russia (aka Putin), China, and all sorts of undifferentiated folks in the Middle East. Then comes this gem from Hill – which constitutes the essence of Brooks’s piece: “The old order, once known [by American commentators] as ‘the American Century,’ has been situated within ‘the modern era,’ which appears to be stalling out after some 300-plus years. The replacement era will not be modern and will not be a nice one.”

Yikes! So pronounces an American spokesman for the American Century, anyway. (And by the way, whatever can Hill mean by “will not be modern”? Back to the Dark Ages for us all? A new brand of postmodernism? And not nice for everyone in the world, or just for — Americans?)

Enter the eminent authority on world history née pop sociologist David Brooks to riff on this astonishing shard of “grand strategic” misdirection. “Throughout recorded history … powerful people have generally tried to impose their version of the Truth [so capitalized in the original] on less powerful people. But, over these centuries, civilized [yes, he actually wrote “civilized”] leaders have banded together to restrain these vices … Dominant powers [since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia] have tried to establish procedures and norms to secure national borders and protect diversity. [Hey, David, the European powers of the Thirty Years War didn’t give a shit about “diversity” — a term that would have been alien to them anyway, but Brooks needs it here to make us think, oh, yeah: Ukraine.] Hegemons like the Nazis or the Communists tried to challenge this system, but the other powers fought back.” But David, wasn’t the United States another “hegemon”? And still is? This may be a bit more complicated than you think.

After referring to some nonsense about a new “containment” from another right-wing apologist, Yale’s John Gaddis, Brooks asks a good question: “How do you get the electorate to support the constant burden of defending the liberal system?”

How, indeed, when the machinery that powers his putative liberal system — our only defense against slipping into medieval darkness — is rather mysteriously leaving a huge swath of that same electorate desperately in the lurch. Then comes the inevitable Brooksian turn from geopolitical blue-skying to our hackneyed neo-conservative domestic Manichaeism: “The Republicans seem to have given up global agreements that form the fabric of that system [what can that clause possibly mean?], while Democrats are slashing the defense budget that undergirds it.”

At last, it is out in the open: world historian Brooks’s “civilized” leaders, plural, turn out to be a leader, singular: America — and our gargantuan military is what sustains the “fabric.” So much for the power of the shining beacon of American exceptionalism, our freedoms and our ideals.

After lamenting that “it is harder to get people to die for a set of pluralistic procedures to protect faraway places” — he has in mind primarily Ukraine and Islamic nations, but maybe also some islands in the South China Sea — our Grand Strategic Historian ends his piece, next, with a somber warning.

(By the way, as a veteran I can’t help smiling ruefully, as they say, at Brooks’s unhappiness about people’s unwillingness to die for those pluralistic “procedures.” Not his unwillingness, or Hill’s, or Lindsay Graham’s, of course, as they are seemingly ready to parachute into Syria or the Crimea or Iran, Bowie knives clenched in teeth. Speaking for myself and I think maybe for the families of the dead and wounded service men and women who died or were mangled in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, if I had to be a casualty in battle, I would not want it to be for a “procedure.”)

Turning all contemporary international relations into something out of an American eighth-grade civics textbook, Brooks proceeds to give us the Polonius-worthy assessment that “The liberal pluralistic system is not a spontaneous natural thing.” Duh. But the final sentence, about what he sees as requirements for preserving that “hard-earned ecosystem” (really, David, ecosystem?), one being financial enforcement, alias U.S. multinational corporation money and our captive IMF and World Bank pushing other peoples around, ends with this prescription: “… and hard power enforcement.”

So we see, we finally see: the ultimate task of the column is to prod the electorate to support the “constant” burden of defending the liberal system with a massive and ultra-expensive armamentarium of guns and bombs at the ready to be deployed by hundreds of thousands of uniformed young Americans against any “wolves” that would threaten the reigning hegemon’s maintenance of its self-ordained international “fabric.” We being that hegemon, of course.

You have to wonder what an educated and aware person in Egypt, say, or Finland, or Japan, or Chile, or France, or Iraq, or Belgium, or Mexico would think about all this crude and transparent America-centric self-dealing? That educated non-American person might well be overcome by lots of questions.

Exactly whose fabric of peace and order? Whose liberal pluralistic system, costing whom and benefiting whom? Just which powerful people have or haven’t gone about attempting to impose their version of the Truth? And who besides Russia (Soviet or otherwise), Germany, and Japan — in the eyes of the Egyptian or Mexican or French or Iraqi person, let alone a Chinese or Iranian person — has often acted as a wolf of the world? (Hints: We had 662 bases in 38 sovereign foreign countries in 2011, according to a Pentagon report; no nation — zero — had a base in the United States.

Also: the U.S. is at a minimum acknowledged to have bombed sovereign foreign nations or put military or paramilitary boots on the ground 54 times since 1945, exclusive of CIA and some special ops; sovereign foreign nations have bombed the U.S. or put hostile military boots on American soil … zero times.)

But here’s the most depressing item in the column: Brooks — who made his bones with his jejune book on a supposed new American class of bourgeois bohemians — helps teach a grand strategy course at Yale. Yes, that Yale.

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Posted by A. David Tucker at 06:47 PM
March 25, 2014
Toward a Sane Foreign Policy

For too long, American foreign policy has been dominated by the doctrine of American Exceptionalism. There are variations in the public face of policy between the so-called liberals and the right wing, but essentially the basic marketing plan is the same: the United States is the world’s only (and greatest ever) superpower and as such has an obligation to intervene wherever necessary to preserve freedom and democracy and protect American enterprise. Stripped of its marketing veneer, this is old-fashioned “white man’s burden” colonialism updated for the modern age.

As with colonialism, the external civilizing rationale is a cover for the actual motivations: greed and the lust for power. With neocolonialism, like its predecessor, the needs and even the lives of the people whose government is overthrown are not worth consideration — they are collateral damage of the drive toward “progress.”

In recent decades, we have seen the international bankers, led by the IMF and World Bank and the US megabanks, act first by putting the target country into debt far beyond their ability to pay. This was the message of John Perkins’ excellent work in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Once the target nation was in over its head, the country was forced to impose austerity on its citizens and use its resources to pay back the bankers. As Perkins described, this technique was used to great effect in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America and Asia and elsewhere in the developing world. If the nation’s leaders objected to funneling their people’s wealth to Wall Street, the CIA was more than happy to cook up a plot to assassinate or overthrow them and insure their replacement was a willing pawn of the United States.

Today this same technique has been used in Greece, Spain and Ireland which were previously defanged by joining in the European currency union managed by the German banks. Unlike the developing nations who could have simply defaulted and stuck the banks with their well-deserved losses, these nations no longer had control over their currency so had no choice. Their people got brutal austerity so the bankers could be paid off.

In the developing world, a new paradigm has arisen. A nation that has abundant natural resources or acts as a natural conduit for the resources of another is targeted even if it has no significant national debt. First the National Endowment for Democracy and its slave NGOs move in to “build democracy,” by which they mean support groups in the country that oppose the government even if that government is democratically elected (i.e., Ukraine and Venezuela). These groups get training often in the United States in techniques of organizing protest demonstrations, and can range from genuine peaceful organizations that strive to win elections to outright fascists and terrorists who see a chance to gain power and loot the country for themselves. The NGO and the State Department simply don’t care and find both useful…


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Once the billions in US taxpayer dollars and the sophisticated techniques taught by the NGO’s have done their work, the “democracy” groups are encouraged to take to the streets. When they do, they are inevitably hailed by the US government and its lackeys in the mainstream media as freedom loving peaceful citizens protesting a corrupt and/or undemocratic government. The government is loudly encouraged to treat the protestors with kid gloves and work out an accommodation with them. (One only has to recall how the United States government dealt with the Occupy protestors to find the irony there.)

If the government fails to roll over and play dead, the next phase is to release the snipers (origin unknown). They first take potshots at the police or security forces trying to incite them take violent action against the demonstrators, who by this time are more belligerent than before. If they do, then the “Responsibility to Protect” or R2P doctrine is wheeled into service to give the US or NATO or some other handy proxy an excuse to intervene to protect the poor beleaguered freedom-loving citizens from their repressive government. If the government doesn’t get suckered in by this ploy, the snipers simply turn their weapons on their fellow demonstrators and blame the government for it. The State Department and the sycophantic press corps never question this and R2P can be employed just as effectively.

What comes next depends on the strength of the target nation’s government and the value of its resources. The weaker governments, like that of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, collapse and the strongest voices in the mob seize power. Those are usually the most extreme and violent factions of course, but they will readily do the bidding of the US in order to gain power. If the prize is great enough (if there is oil underneath the ground), then the nation is invaded or bombed to insure that the most extreme and violent opposition factions are put in power (Libya). If not, a prolonged civil war complete with imported weapons and terrorists can ensue as in Syria.

In most cases, these are resource wars. The targeted nation has oil or gas or is the most efficient route for a pipeline to bring oil and gas from some other source to Western markets. The military/industrial/espionage complex is serving the energy industry as well as the financial industry, both of which are dependent on the continued flow of oil and gas to the US and the profits to be gained from controlling the market for these vital resources in the future. It is easy to get support for this neocolonial resource grab because the entire built environment in America is completely dependent on the continued availability of cheap petroleum and natural gas. Every American is concerned about prices at the pump or the cost of heating and that legitimate concern can be easily diverted into support for a foreign policy designed to control oil and gas worldwide as well as unbridled domestic production regardless of the environmental cost. Conservation is for wimps, not superpowers.

This is American foreign policy in 2014. The only fair descriptive terms for this policy are immoral, insane, disgusting, megalomaniac and evil. There is no way to adjust this policy or modify it and achieve a morally defensible result. This is a systemic evil and it must be completely replaced. We could settle for some minor tweaks in policy and a kinder, gentler marketing stance, but in our hearts we would know it was fake and so would everyone else in the world.

Two questions follow:

• What is the appropriate foreign policy for the USA?
• How can it be achieved?

Let’s tackle the first question.

The first objective for a sane foreign policy is that we look long and hard at ourselves — who we think we are and what we are consuming. Before we can hope to change foreign policy, we have to change the attitude that America is entitled to consume 25% of the world’s resources when we have only 5% of the population. We have to reject the idea that American corporations are entitled to go into every nation in the world and reap profits at the expense of the local population. We also have to face the evil that we have done in the world and stand ready to do what we can to right those wrongs.
What would be the logical first steps?

• Close down the NSA and make its work public with an apology to those who have been hurt by it.
• Close down the CIA’s operations division and publish its sordid history on the internet with only the names of the living innocent redacted. Remove the yes-men who have risen to power in the CIA’s analytical division with people who have the courage to tell the truth to power.
• Repeal and disavow NAFTA and the WTO and all the bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that favor American business over the interests of the people of America and other nations.
• Reduce the size of the military budget by at least 50% and bring all US armed forces stationed overseas home.
• Shut down the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID and all other alleged NGO’s that have acted as a front for the CIA and American foreign policy interests.
• Nationalize the energy industry so they can no longer control our government and launch a massive campaign to conserve energy.
• End support of the highway and automotive and associated industries and initiate a massive project to build an alternative transportation infrastructure that is not dependent on oil.
• Break up the big banks and reform or replace the Federal Reserve so that no bank can ever pose a systemic risk to the economy.
• Setup a Foreign Reparations Administration to channel some of the money we have saved in the preceding steps to provide needed aid to the countries that have been the victims of our foreign policy, from Greece to Ukraine.

There’s no need to go further. It is readily apparent that these are politically impossible goals. So we have the questions in the wrong order. We cannot achieve these goals unless and until the people of the United States take control of their government away from the corporations, banks and the wealthy oligarchs. They will not even begin to move in that direction until they come to realize that their interests and the interests of the wealthy who own the corporations and banks are completely opposite to one another. That realization will not come until they reject the media and the consumer culture or if the economy collapses to the extent that the realization is shoved in their face. If that happens, it might be too late.

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Posted by Charles Dunaway at 04:12 PM
March 24, 2014
The Charge of the Lightweight Brigade

Can’t say I’ve searched the entire narrow span of the MSM, but this is the first major mention I’ve come across of the remote possibility that the United States might in some minuscule fashion if you viewed the matter from just the right angle hold some microscopic measure of responsibility under certain circumstances perhaps not totally unimaginable for the present mess in Crimea. From the New York Times, and good for them:

…Safeguarding this maritime muscle may well have been one reason President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent armed forces to seize Crimea. But is it possible that the Sevastopol base is just the most concrete manifestation of Russia’s deep interests in Ukraine that the United States and its NATO allies either ignored or forgot as they tried to bind it more tightly with the West?

For years, Mr. Putin has complained about the West moving unilaterally to reorder the Continental balance of power — promoting Western capitalism and democracy — with little indication anyone was heeding his concerns. Its courting of Ukraine, apparently, was a step too far, prompting Mr. Putin to risk sanctions and the worst conflict since the Cold War to make clear that Washington and its friends do not call all of the shots anymore…

Read the rest and then forward it to the idiot McCain and Graham, care of any of the Sunday talk shows.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:18 PM
March 21, 2014
A Reality Pill from an Actual Expert

In contradistinction to silly blabbermouths like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, Jack F. Matlock, Jr. actually knows a thing or two (or millions) about Russia, Crimea, and the Ukraine. Seeing as how he was Reagan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, you’d think he’d be all over Fox News these days. Here’s why he isn’t:

Well, I think that what we have seen is a reaction, in many respects, to a long history of what the Russian government, the Russian president and many of the Russian people — most of them — feel has been a pattern of American activity that has been hostile to Russia and has simply disregarded their national interests. They feel that having thrown off communism, having dispensed with the Soviet Empire, that the U.S. systematically, from the time it started expanding NATO to the east, without them, and then using NATO to carry out what they consider offensive actions about an — against another country — in this case, Serbia — a country which had not attacked any NATO member, and then detached territory from it — this is very relevant now to what we’re seeing happening in Crimea — and then continued to place bases in these countries, to move closer and closer to borders, and then to talk of taking Ukraine, most of whose people didn’t want to be a member of NATO, into NATO, and Georgia.

Now, this began an intrusion into an area which the Russians are very sensitive. Now, how would Americans feel if some Russian or Chinese or even West European started putting bases in Mexico or in the Caribbean, or trying to form governments that were hostile to us? You know, we saw how we virtually went ballistic over Cuba. And I think that we have not been very attentive to what it takes to have a harmonious relationship with Russia…

You see, in the Orange Revolution in Kiev, foreigners, including Americans, were very active in organizing people and inspiring them. Now, you know, I have to ask Americans: How would Occupy Wall Street have looked if you had foreigners out there leading them? Do you think that would have helped them get their point across? I don’t think so. And I think we have to understand that when we start directly interfering, particularly our government officials, in the internal makeup of other governments, we’re really asking for trouble…

Now, what have we been telling the Ukrainians, the Georgians — at least some of us, officials? “Just hold on. You can join NATO, and that will solve your problems for you.” You know, and yet, it is that very prospect, that the United States and its European allies were trying to surround Russia with hostile bases, that has raised the emotional temperature of all these things. And that was a huge mistake. As George Kennan wrote back in the ’90s when this question came up, the decision to expand NATO the way it was done was one of the most fateful and bad decisions of the late 20th century.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:26 PM
March 13, 2014
US Interference in Ukraine — Targeting for Regime Change

The National Endowment for Democracy tells us on their own web site that during 2012 alone they gave $3,355,834 to various groups in the Ukraine. That was not the only year and there is no reason to believe NED was the only organization sending United States taxpayer funds to opposition groups in Ukraine.

Can you imagine the outcry if another nation was spending millions in the U.S. funding groups that opposed our government? Now imagine that a rival power, say Russia or China, was not only spending millions to support “opposition” groups in our country but was also involved in every country in our hemisphere?

NED proudly tells us that they are not only involved in Ukraine and in Russia itself, but in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Mongolia, and Moldova. A quick glance at the map will show you that this group is allegedly promoting democracy in nations that almost completely encircle the Russian Federation.

As the organization proudly states, they are funded largely by the U. S. Congress (that’s you and me). They claim status as a nongovernmental organization (NGO), making it seem that they are independent of the State Department, which of course is not the case. They speak not just for the US government, but for a particular subset of the government, the neo-conservative globalists who retain power regardless of which party is allegedly in power in Washington.

The Board members include Elliott Abrams who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in the Iran-Contra affair to avoid felony prosecution; Francis Fukuyama, one of the chief figures in the rise of Neo-Conservatism; Zalmay Khalilzad, George W. Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq; former Senator Norm Coleman, an outspoken advocate for the war in Iraq and for another war in Iran; and Robert Zoellick, former Managing Director of Goldman Sachs and national security advisor to the Romney Campaign. The current head of the NED is former Texas Congressman Martin Frost, a co-author of the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act leading inexorably to the financial crash of 2008.

The peculiar form of “democracy” that NED supports has a heck of lot more to do with so-called free-market capitalism, or to be more precise, with insuring the dominance of U.S. corporations on the international scene than it does with the legitimate democratic aspirations of people around the world.

NED is little more than a front organization for the Washington plutocracy funded almost entirely by U.S. taxpayers. I would suggest that any nation that has an organization within its borders receiving funding from the National Endowment for Democracy should declare that organization as a representative of a foreign power and either shut it down or force it to register as a foreign agent. The Congress should cut off funding immediately for this organization since it is fomenting chaos and disorder all around the world.


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Posted by Charles Dunaway at 02:14 PM
March 08, 2014
Why Ukraine Is Getting So Much Attention in One Map

This map of the pipelines running through Ukraine (courtesy of East European Gas Analysis) shows clearly why East and West are at odds over Ukraine. Dr. Nafeez Ahmed of the Institute for Policy Research & Development offers a decade-old quote from Professor R. Craig Nation, Director of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute:

“Ukraine is increasingly perceived to be critically situated in the emerging battle to dominate energy transport corridors linking the oil and natural gas reserves of the Caspian basin to European markets… Considerable competition has already emerged over the construction of pipelines. Whether Ukraine will provide alternative routes helping to diversify access, as the West would prefer, or ‘find itself forced to play the role of a Russian subsidiary,’ remains to be seen.”


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(click to enlarge map)

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:17 PM
March 03, 2014
A 19th Century Statesman

Secretary of State John Kerry on Meet the Press yesterday:

Well, we’re now discussing all of the options. This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century, and there’s no way to start with that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to reassemble in Sochi … And the reason for this, David, is because you just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:54 AM
February 01, 2014
Enemy Allies

It has been plain to me for a long time that the biggest foreign threats to the security of United State do not come from such usual suspects as Iran, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and North Korea.

They come from inside our tent, not from out: from Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I’ll address Israel and Pakistan some other day, if I ever get around to it. For now Gary Brecher has done a pretty good job on Saudi Arabia at PandoDaily. Here’s an excerpt, but read it all here.

And of all their many skills, the one the Saudis have mastered most thoroughly is disruption. Not the cute tech-geek kind of disruption, but the real, ugly thing-in-itself. They don’t just “turn a blind eye” to young Saudi men going off to do jihad — they cheer them on. It’s a brilliant strategy that kills two very dangerous birds with one plane ticket. By exporting their dangerous young men, the Saudis rid themselves of a potential troublemaker while creating a huge amount of pain for the people who live wherever those men end up.

Saudis have shipped money, sermons, and volunteers to Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Russia’s North Caucasus just as they’re doing now in Syria. It’s a package deal — to get the money, you have to accept the Wahhabism and the volunteers. And it works. The Saudi package is usually resented at first, like it was by the Afghans who were outraged to be told they were “bad Muslims” by Saudi volunteers.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:52 PM
September 08, 2013
A Truman-Style Show of Power

As a chessplayer I’ve struggled to understand the strategy for Syria. Not the Obama push for authorization to strike, but the strike itself. What would it accomplish? How could positive results happen? Suppose it “degraded” Assad’s military sufficiently to allow rebel forces to take control of the country; is the new goverment likely to be reasonable? Assume for the moment that the intelligence leading us to war is correct this time around. Suppose we fire a few cruise missiles into Syria and Assad continues to use chemical weapons; then what do we do? Why do we care about the thousand dead from chemical weapons and not the 99,000 dead from conventional weapons? How can a country that employs depleted uranium or white phosphorus, and has continually ignored its own commitments made in treaties like that on nuclear nonproliferation, claim moral standing with respect to sarin gas?

Most basic, it seems to me, is this: once we fire missiles at Assad’s military we are committed to regime change; and what is the endgame? Such action is illegal under international law, and another violation — even flouting — of such standards will reduce what’s left of our credibility. Credibility is not about following through on empty threats made for political gain; it’s about being solidly reasonable and managing friends and assets appropriately.

But today I read the following quote from Chief of staff Denis McDonough that cleared up the whole situation. It’s really about sending a message to Iran, not Syria.

McDonough said “nobody doubts the intelligence”. “The question for Congress this week is what are the consequences for having done so,” he said, on Meet The Press, adding that Congress’s decision would be watched closely by Iran and Hezbollah. “This is an opportunity to be bold with the Iranians.” he said. “To make sure they understand that they do not have greater freedom of action, they do not have greater operating space to pursue a nuclear weapon that would destabilize that entire region, threaten our friends and allies and ultimately threaten us.”

Obama wants to commit us to another war of choice in the Middle East with the goal of regime change. He’s achieved acceptance in the class he seems to admire by throwing away the values he claims to represent. It’s sad, even for someone who was never really on board. But at least the tenet of white supremacists that a black man could never be President has been disproven; in the event, he can start his own Middle East conflagration just like the white guys.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:46 PM
September 01, 2013
Obama the Magician

Watching Obama maneuver the Syrian mess has been fascinating, like watching someone teetering on the edge of a tall building. I thought a couple days ago he had already fallen over the edge, but he now appears to have caught himself, perhaps by the very laces of his own footwear.

If I’m reading this right it seems to me a brilliant stroke from which the President will emerge empowered and smelling like a rose. Here’s my theory, at least, whose development began with points I made to my representatives this week in urging against US military action in Syria.

First, no one is claiming to have what Prime Minister Cameron called a smoking gun of intelligence evidence. We have been here before, diving into a conflict on the premise of self-protection only to learn that the supposed danger did not exist. I admit to wondering why the Syrian government would intentionally cross what President Obama called a red line; what did Assad have to gain by such a reckless action? Some apparently argue that the rebels lack the capacity to launch a sarin attack; but are there not other entities in the region, terrorists or intelligence operatives, who could gain access to such weapons?

Second, how do we know what will happen if we fire a few cruise missiles into Syria? Certainly people will die; what special insight do we as Americans possess that lets us decide more lives will be saved by our bombing?

Third, what sort of international precedent and example do we set when we constantly preach the rule of law, then flout international law ourselves when we feel it necessary? If cruise missiles are meant to teach a lesson to the Assad regime, what lesson do they teach the rest of the world?

Finally, once we have dropped bombs on one side in the horrible Syrian civil war, we have taken sides in it and we cannot back out. Having bombed Assad’s forces we will not be able to back away and allow them to win; we will be committed to the success of the rebel forces.

Thinking along the lines of that final point, it came to mind that inducing the US to take sides in the Syrian civil war has been the goal of one faction in American politics since the murmurs of the conflict began. The neocons pushed Obama to set a red line; my impression was that he was somewhat reluctant to do so, but ended up agreeing that the use of chemical weapons would be egregious and announcing it to the world as a red line. In my opinion a strategic error, as are most of the neocon-inspired moves, but perhaps a smart player can recover.

Then today I read that John Kerry yesterday made this warlike pronouncement.

Make no mistake, in an increasingly complicated world of sectarian and religious extremist violence, what we choose to do or not do matters in real ways to our own security. Some site the risk of doing things. But we need to ask, ’What is the risk of doing nothing?’… It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will.

My first reaction was, do our respected representatives in government, in particular those in high office in Washington, recognize how hypocritical we sound when we speak in these tones only ten years after our disastrous second invasion of Iraq?

But then it came to me: maybe this is really a brilliant move by Obama. He has come to the realization that those who urged him to set a red line have maneuvered him into a corner. But it turns out one of those hard-as-a-rock walls for the neocons is democratic legitimacy; and this President does not lack for such legitimacy, giving him the magical ability to turn to the people and get out of the trap.

It might be argued that he was not making this up himself but rather following the example of the British prime minister. But examine the results for poor David Cameron, now significantly weakened. If Barack Obama and John Kerry make clear their readiness to act and leave it up to the people’s representatives in Congress, the President will have rebuilt a bridge that needed repair, and he will gain thereby probably nothing with the Republican rebels in the House but a great deal with normal parts of Congress and society at large. If Congress decides not to act in Syria, we can at least rest assured that cruise missiles will not be fired. Then will there be a debate about assistance to various rebel factions, or were the cruise missiles an attempt to degrade Assad’s capabilities without choosing which rebel groups to support and we’ll now return to covert interventions?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:21 PM
May 27, 2013
Eternal War

The excerpt below is from an op-ed in the New York Times by Karl W. Eikenberry and David M. Kennedy. The first is a retired general and former ambassador to Afghanistan; the second is an emeritus professor of history at Stanford. Read the whole article. It is the only intelligent and useful thing about the military you are likely to run across on Memorial Day.

…The Congressional Research Service has documented 144 military deployments in the 40 years since adoption of the all-voluntary force in 1973, compared with 19 in the 27-year period of the Selective Service draft following World War II — an increase in reliance on military force traceable in no small part to the distance that has come to separate the civil and military sectors. The modern force presents presidents with a moral hazard, making it easier for them to resort to arms with little concern for the economic consequences or political accountability. Meanwhile, Americans are happy to thank the volunteer soldiers who make it possible for them not to serve, and deem it is somehow unpatriotic to call their armed forces to task when things go awry…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:08 AM
May 07, 2013
The Wrong Train

President Obama himself seems to be the one about to cross the red line — that same red line we’ve crossed so many, many times before:

The United States will “shortly” begin arming Syrian rebels, looking to boost moderate factions over al-Qaida-affiliated extremists whose rise would be a national security “nightmare,” the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CBS News on Tuesday.

“I do think we’ll be arming the opposition shortly,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said in an interview. “We’re doing a lot more there on the ground than really is known, but we do have to change the equation.”

I just have 20 short words for the president: Indonesia, Haiti, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Angola, Zaire, Libya, Lebanon, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to name a few victims of our never-ending mission to force “democracy“ on the natives.

The invariant rule, Mr. President, goes as follows: When you take the wrong train, every station you reach is the wrong one.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:10 PM
December 31, 2012
Dredging Up the Past

The late Al Weisel, blogging as Jon Swift, used to run a best blog posts of the year feature, selected by the bloggers themselves. Below is mine for 2007, as I am reminded by Vagabond Scholar. I had completely forgotten the post but it seems to me to hold up, and so I reprint it in an excess of immodesty. And as a demonstration of Plus ça change… And to prove I am smarter than Muammar Qaddafi, who would be alive today if he had listened to me:

In the current Newsweek Evan Thomas has an unusually vapid review of a book by Andrew Roberts which may or may not be equally vapid, depending on how accurately Thomas has described it. The review is in a section called “Ideas,” and here is Thomas’s: People who speak English are really, really special, and the rest of you owe us a really, really lot.

This idea is hardly worth engaging, and so let’s pass on to one which is worth engaging — although only because it has invaded the national brain like some ghastly tumor threatening the very values that Thomas supposes us to possess:

The English-speaking peoples have been seriously threatened by force four times: twice by German aggression, once by Soviet totalitarianism, and most recently by Islamic fanaticism. The forces of freedom and democracy reeled after the first blows—at Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor in World War II and at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. “The English-speaking peoples rarely win the first battle,” writes Roberts, “but they equally rarely lose the subsequent war.”

All right, everybody. Let’s relax for a minute here.

The English-speaking peoples are not seriously threatened by force from Islamic fanaticism. The only major war subsequent to 9/11 was one we sought in Iraq, and it lasted only a few weeks. Everything after that was a badly botched occupation.

The 9/11 attacks and World War II are no more parallel than longitude and latitude are parallel, no matter how badly George W. Bush wants to be Winston Churchill. (I might mention here that I myself would very much like to be Dame Judi Dench, although the odds are against it.)

The only human force that can seriously threaten the existence of the United States, let alone the English-speaking peoples, would be a full-scale military attack from a combination of opponents. A coalition of Russia, Japan and China might pull it off.

But in the real world this will not happen, because the United States, Russia and China all have atomic weapons and Japan could have them by next Tuesday.

This is why North Korea and Iran are in such a scramble to get nuclear weapons: not to attack us, but to make sure we don’t attack them. The strategy works very well, as may be seen in the case of North Korea. Next thing we know, Bush will visit Pyongyang, nation-building.

Returning to the real world, the war on terror is not a war. Osama attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with stolen airliners and kamikaze pilots because, lacking an air force, he was incapable of war. One engages in terrorism not because one is powerful, but precisely because one is weak.

Terrorism is almost always about real estate, as in Ireland, Chechnya, Spain, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, and elsewhere around the globe. If the United States had remained neutral in the land dispute between the Israel and its Arab neighbors, there would have been no 9/11.

And if we were now to become neutral in that dispute, there would be no more 9/11s. That is the only way to end Islamic terrorism in this country. Every informed American with a double-digit I.Q. knows that; the only meaningful question left is whether our continued blind support of Israel is somehow worth whatever it costs in future terror attacks.

We have been misled to believe that we are mired in an apocalyptic clash between the forces of Islamic darkness and the forces of English-speaking light. But it only seems that way because Bush responded to an act of terror with an act of war against an evil but in this case innocent bystander.

Nor are the Iraqis reacting to Bush’s occupation with some fiendish and unfair new form of combat called “asymmetrical warfare” in which they cunningly “adapt to the enemy” in new and hitherto unimaginable ways. No, the Iraqis are reacting to occupation by a more powerful enemy in the same way that resistance fighters reacted to Hitler’s storm troopers. They are improvising against an occupying army the best they can.

Nor should we be surprised if the neighbors lend a hand. They do so for the same reasons that the Soviets supported Tito and British agents aided guerrillas all over Europe. The neighbors don’t want to be the next ones occupied.

Fortunately even if Bush turns Iran into his very own Cambodia, we will eventually be forced to withdraw from the Middle East just as Nixon did from Southeast Asia.

In both misbegotten struggles, our opponents were clear in what they wanted — our absence — and we were unclear about what we wanted. Our presence? Did we really want to stay? For how long? Forever? Why?

Was such a dubious prize worth the life of even one George Walker Bush or Richard Bruce Cheney? Like millions of other Americans neither of them thought so. But that, of course, was then.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:00 PM
October 15, 2012
Foe of the Month Club

Rudyard Kipling again, this time from the several years he lived in Vermont:

When the people looked, which was seldom, outside their own borders, England was still the dark and dreadful enemy to be feared and guarded against … But how thoroughly the doctrine was exploited I did not realize till we visited Washington in 1896, where I met Theodore Roosevelt, then Under Secretary ( I never caught the name of the Upper) to the U.S. Navy…

It was laid on him, at that time, to furnish his land with an adequate Navy; the existing collection of unrelated types and casual purchases being worn out. I asked him how he proposed to get it, for the American people did not love taxation. “Out of you,” was the disarming reply. And so — to some extent — it was.

The obedient and instructed Press explained how England — treacherous and jealous as ever — only waited round the corner to descend on the unprotected coasts of Liberty, and to that end was preparing, etc. etc. etc. (This in ’96 when England had more than enough hay on her own trident to keep her busy.) But the trick worked, and all the Orators and Senators gave tongue, like the Hannibal Chollops that they were…

And thus was born the military-industrial complex, which was to grow till now it strangles the nation. Perfidious Albion gave way to the Kaiser in 1916, to be replaced some 30 years later by the dark and dreadful Kremlin, which gave way to an Axis of Evil every bit as treacherous and jealous of our freedoms as England had once been before metamorphosing into our closest ally. Which it still is, or would be except for Israel.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:28 PM
August 28, 2012
It’s OK If You’re An Israeli

My guess is that this story will receive press play ranging from perfunctory to nonexistent.

Haifa, Israel (CNN) —Nine years after an American activist was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer, an Israeli civil court ruled Tuesday that Rachel Corrie’s death was an accident.

Corrie, 23, was killed in 2003 while trying to block the bulldozer from razing Palestinian homes.

Her parents filed suit against Israel’s Ministry of Defense in a quest for accountability and sought just $1 in damages. But Judge Oded Gershon ruled Tuesday that the family has no right to damages, backing an earlier Israeli investigation that cleared any soldier of wrongdoing.

Here’s a little thought game for you. Imagine the coverage if the soldier driving the lead tank below had just kept going.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:47 AM
July 20, 2012
The US Strikes a Blow for Polio

One key element in clinical psychology training is learning to pay attention at a finer granularity. Subtle shifts in wording, posture, and expression can convey much to the attentive observer. Even the inattentive are affected unconsciously. A corollary is that my own subtle shifts communicate a great deal to those I’m working with, and I need to be unusually aware of their detailed presentation.

As with most intrapsychic occurrences, this dynamic also plays out on the social plane. What feels like a subtle shift in mood and approach can speak volumes to those on the other end of the power equation. As a result what seems on one end to be a legitimate ruse to locate a dangerous enemy can be experienced on the other end as an invalidation of everything associated with the deception.

Such, unfortunately, is the case with the US employment of a fake campaign promoting and dispensing hepatitis vaccine in Pakistan as a means of locating Osama bin Laden and kin. Given the way vaccination campaigns were recently used, much of Pakistan no longer trusts them, and immunizers have been banned from Taliban territory, an area that includes over 300,000 children. What makes this particularly troubling is that the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area includes one of the world’s two “persistent pockets of polio transmission” according to the WHO.

The prospect of polio transmission draws the attention of national governments, and India has declared its children at risk of cross-border infection as long as Pakistan cannot carry out vaccination programs. And it cannot: recently immunization workers were publicly beaten in Islamabad.

As Laurie Garrett says at CFR:

Some people said a small amount of suspicion of vaccines from the CIA activities a year ago was merely collateral damage in the “war on terrorism.” Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States and its allies have over the last fifteen years killed about five thousand people. Today that collateral damage could mean that many children in Pakistan are at risk of dying or being permanently paralyzed by polio, and the reversal of eradication efforts that could swiftly spawn outbreaks across the entire region.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:37 PM
May 13, 2012
Austerity on the Run

New elections in Greece seem almost inevitable at this point. Since the inconclusive vote last Sunday, the three parties with the largest vote totals have each tried to form a coalition government and failed. Today the country’s president met for 90 minutes with the leaders of the three parties in a last-ditch attempt to cobble together something that would prevent new elections next month. Next the president will meet with leaders of the smaller parties who got enough votes to enter parliament.

While US press outlets promote the idea that conservatives won the election, the fact is that conservatives got mashed. Of course that depends in part on having a reasonable definition of “conservative”. In this context, it appears to me that conservative and establishmentarian are synonyms: those parties enabling and supporting the status quo are working for the bankers and the rich and against most of the population. In this context, then, not only is New Democracy, the top vote-getter at 19.7%, a conservative party, so is the former governing party, the Socialist party Pasok. It was Pasok that agreed to implement the memorandum with the European Union and its central bank to gain the loans it needed to keep the country going. To get those loans it had to agree to a punishing austerity program typical of those that central banks impose when permitted to do so.

One measure of how Greeks feel about this austerity program is the difference between the Pasok vote this time, which was 13.6%, and the proportion that made them the governing party in 2009, which was thirty points higher. They lost more than two-thirds of their support. Another measure is that New Democracy and Pasok have between them governed the country for over forty years, and both parties supported the loan program that made austerity such a prominent idea in Greece. They have totalled about 80% of the vote in past elections; in this one they got 33%.

As a result, conservative parties are about to lose their grip and new ideas are coming to the fore. Those in power struggle to hold on everywhere and at every time, and quite often such struggles are humiliating in their transparency and ineptitude. Basically they’re chessplayers in a dead-lost position hoping their opponent, who’s roundly mashed them, will blunder before the inevitable takes place. Chessplayers look with disdain on people who lose in that fashion; just resign, and go on to the next one. But politicians who’ve been crushed can’t do that; they may not have a next one.


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Pasok, led by Evangelos Venizelos (far left), and New Democracy, headed by Antonis Samaras (second from left), are desperately searching for a way to keep the old order going. Threats abound, especially from Germany, where Angela Merkel is bound to be feeling a bit besieged. She lost her main partner in France’s recent election and is now openly opposed by France; Italy has acted similarly. Greece is rebelling against the austerity program she champions, so yesterday she reinforced her resolve to impose it. Germany once again attempts to impose its will across Europe, and once again meets resistance. Even in Germany, where today’s election solidified the hold of the opposition coalition on the government of the influential state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Merkel’s party dropped from its previous 35% to 26% in this state election, and “Analysts say many voters rejected Mrs Merkel’s tough line on fiscal discipline as a cure for state debt.”

All this makes the attempt by the Greek establishment to reverse the meaning of their election rather pathetic. Their last-ditch effort appears to ride on a conviction that, since their way is obviously the only possible one, those who strongly rejected it will come around to their view. Basically they seem to be asking Alexis Tsipras (far right in photo), leader of the leftist Syriza party, to dump the party’s critique of their austerity program and come into a government that will implement it. Tsipras is watching his party climb in the polls from the 16.3% it got last week to the low to mid-20s, varying among different polling firms. Pasok continues to drop like a rock, and New Democracy has dropped a point and a half in the last week.

So it’s no surprise that Tsipras is comfortable enough to taunt the opposition a little. Referring to New Democracy, Pasok, and the small pro-Eurupe Democratic Left party after today’s meeting, he said:

“Those who for two years have governed us and are responsible for the situation of society and the economy have not only not got the message … they are continuing to blackmail and terrorise,” he said in a statement after the talks. “The three parties that have agreed, with the goal of implementing the memorandum,” he continued referring to the loan agreement, “have the majority. Let them go ahead. The demand that Syriza participate in their agreement is absurd. They are asking us to ignore the popular vote and our pre-elections pledges.”

We need more political parties. Here most people would feel bound to choose between their two major tormentors.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:57 PM
May 06, 2012
FIghting Back Against Austerity Measures!

As predicted nearly everywhere, the French have elected a member of the Socialist party as President, replacing the man who earned the sobriquet of President of the Rich. As The Guardian’s article says, “French president François Hollande promises ‘a new start’ for Europe”. The subtitle reads, “After victory over Nicolas Sarkozy, Socialist says he will fight back against German-led austerity measures”. John MacArthur wrote a helpful background post at Harper's but I think it's behind a paywall; I subscribe so it's hard for me to tell.

Here in the US, the attitude to this momentous change in Europe seems to be that this does not bleed, therefore it does not lead. In addition, it does not lead in power-structure enhancing directions for Americans to contemplate what other people are doing to the governments trying to enforce austerity measures designed to solidify the hold of the 1%. (Of course we’re really talking about a small subset even of that 1%, but it’s an evocative name and useful where precision isn’t of the essence.) In the States we have a government doing the same thing with hardly an interruption over decades, yet we keep going back and forth between one faction of the 1% and the other, unable to get off the seesaw. In France there are enough political parties that 80% of the voters found someone to vote for in both the first and second rounds. Eighty percent! Has any US national election had an 80% turnout? Because everyone knows that both parties represent the rich, and the differences between them are based less on actual policy and more on style and philosophy.

Hollande’s manifesto is based on scrapping Sarkozy’s tax breaks for the rich and levying more from high earners to finance what he deems essential spending, including creating 60,000 posts in France’s under-performing school system. He has pledged to keep the public deficit capped but for his delicate balancing act to work he needs a swift return to growth in France, despite economists warning of over-optimistic official growth forecasts that need to be trimmed.

Downing Street said David Cameron had called Hollande to congratulate him. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said: “This new leadership is sorely needed as Europe seeks to escape from austerity … He has shown that the centre-left can offer hope and win elections with a vision of a better, more equal and just world.”

That last bit is hilarious coming from the Labour party, whose Blair/Brown combo was known more for poodle-ism and illegal wars than for equality and justice. But when you’re on the sidelines it’s as easy to find fault as to see firm support in shadows.

What I want to see more of is discussion here in the US about the issues that the French and Greeks have voted on today.

In parliamentary elections in Greece, governing parties backing the EU-mandated austerity pact were on course for a major drubbing as hard-hit voters defected in droves, according to exit polls.

In a major upset that will not be welcomed by the crisis-plagued country’s eurozone partners, the two forces that had agreed to enact unpopular belt-tightening in return for rescue funds appeared headed for a beating, with none being able to form a government.

After nearly 40 years of dominating Greek politics, the centre-right New Democracy and socialist Pasok saw support drop dramatically in favour of parties that had virulently opposed the tough austerity regime dictated by international creditors.

We need more political choices. As Nader says, we don’t need a third political party, we need a second one.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 07:16 PM
May 05, 2012
Hoping for a Sea Change, There and Here

The difference in coverage of tomorrow’s French elections between US sources and others continues to interest me in a perverse way. It’s not like I’m surprised by the right-wing slant of news outlets here; I suppose I just like seeing my prejudices confirmed.

For example, although CNN’s article was bland but politically neutral, MSNBC introduces the likely next French president as Monsieur Caramel Pudding, and speaks of his complicated love life based on his two partners over the last 25 years. However, a Christian marriage (or any other, for that matter) during those years is conspicuous by its absence, which is enough to activate the Republican base. More importantly, of course, Sarkozy has kowtowed to the super-rich, alienating for most voters but endearing for the super-rich. And of course the corporations they own and the media outlets those corporations own in turn.

The real question French voters appear to be pondering is whether the austerity programs exemplified by Sarkozy in partnership with Germany and Angela Merkel should continue to be followed. Unemployment in France is at a twelve-year high, one credit agency has downgraded the country’s AAA credit rating, and Sarkozy is identified with the plan of shutting down more production, reducing equality, and reducing government responsibility, thus increasing profits. Hollande pledges to renegotiate the situation with Merkel and the European Union, and as a long-time supporter of the union he has some credibility in this regard.

The real reason that US sources don’t report more realistically is that they’re hoping the right-wing corporate tool wins, and they know he won’t. If Americans start thinking about this sort of thing, we might begin to consider changing our own government. A sea change, that’s what we need. As The Guardian says:

If François Hollande claims victory, expect a sea change in European politics at a time of crisis. The European left has been in the doldrums for years. A President Hollande will act as a tonic. He will inherit a miserable economic situation and possibly face a few test missiles fired from the financial markets, limiting his room for manoeuvre. Within weeks of winning, he should be at his first EU summit, either sparring or compromising with Chancellor Angela Merkel over the German-scripted fiscal pact for the eurozone, austerity, fiscal stimulus, and how to shore up the euro.

If Nicolas Sarkozy confounds the pollsters and wins a second term, expect business as usual on the euro crisis, while he pursues a more Eurosceptic line at home to court the Front National, through a tough line on immigration and stepping up the campaign against the Schengen free travel regime in Europe.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 10:32 PM
April 24, 2012
Lying in State

In A People’s History of the United States, 1492 - Present Howard Zinn excerpts an article I wrote for the New York Times in 1973. I always figured these few paragraphs would turn out to be my only durable literary legacy, and in an odd way this seems to be coming true.

Chasing down my old op-ed piece earlier today on Google, I discovered that Zinn’s brief excerpts have gone viral in the flourishing world of ghost-written student essays. The following paragraphs are the ones being heisted from Zinn’s book, repackaged, repurposed, and resold to student plagiarists as nuggets of original research. For whatever further service I may be to scholars, a pdf of the full text is here. The map below (you can steal that too; I did) shows where our bombs fell on Laos between 1965 and 1975.

The Pentagon’s most recent lies about bombing Cambodia bring back a question that often occurred to me when I was press attache at the American Embassy in Vientiane, Laos.

Why did we bother to lie? When I first arrived in Laos, I was instructed to answer all press questions about our massive and merciless bombing campaign in that tiny country with: “At the request of the Royal Laotian Government, the United States is conducting unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed escorts who have the right to return if fired upon.”

This was a lie. Every reporter to whom I told it knew it was a lie. Hanoi knew it was a lie. The International Control Commission knew it was a lie. Every interested Congressman and newspaper reader knew it was a lie....

After all, the lies did serve to keep something from somebody, and the somebody was us.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:55 PM
April 23, 2012
Le Pen Is Not the Story

It’s interesting as usual to compare US news outlets with reasonable ones. You can scroll half-way down the New York Times web page and find a mention of today’s French elections in the world news section, and it’s similar at other sites. Each of them has a story, almost invariably accompanied by a more-or-less flattering photo of the current president. Like the one at MSNBC they concentrate on the surprising result obtained by Marine Le Pen, one of the far-right candidates. The secondary story everywhere is Sarkozy’s poor showing in placing second. The supposedly liberal Talking Points Memo, which might be expected to pick up on left-leaning politics, currently devotes an entire paragraph to the election.

On the other hand, Reuters, the BBC, and the Guardian concentrate on the two candidates who move on to the second round. In the event, the soft-socialist candidate Hollande placed first at 28.6%, one and a half percent ahead of Sarkozy. Given the actual politics of the real situation on the ground, Hollande has to screw up pretty badly to lose. As the Beeb’s Europe editor Gavin Hewitt says, “Whereas Francois Hollande can tack to the centre, President Sarkozy must appeal to the right.” The left has united around the memory of a past election in which its disunity set up Le Pen’s more famous (and equally far right) father to enter the second and final round of voting against a center-right candidate. Le Pen herself has pointedly failed to endorse Sarkozy, while the leftist candidates, including a Communist-supported one, have openly thrown their support to Hollande.

The result, for those willing to look, is a right wing that’s fracturing into a relatively content pro-1% group and a pissed-off populist group. Sound familiar? But here we soothe our raging anger by talking about the threat to the divinities of the Market posed by someone who calls himself a Socialist though true socialists are embarrassed to vote for him. Those same divinities are fine with exaggerating the vote for Le Pen (what’s the difference, after all, between 18% and 20%?), ignoring the majority of French voters and the 80% turnout for the election, and carefully screening out the information that in other civilized countries people are rebelling against control by the 1%.

The truly big threat, understood by every US media outlet, is that Americans might start to do the same. Therefore the traditional media ignore the story.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:54 AM
March 14, 2012
Nonexistential Nonthreat

We may or may not wind up acting with our customary insanity in reaction to Israel’s current cries for war. Barack Obama and Joe Biden rather than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are in charge, and so this time our strutting chickenhawks might not get their way. Which would spare us another descent into Macbeth’s dilemma:

I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.

McClatchy’s has published a three-part series (excerpts below) that explores the dubious roots of this manufactured crisis: One, Two and Three.

In recent months, talk of Iran’s nuclear ambitions has fueled the Republican presidential campaign, served as the backdrop for this week’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and earned a pledge from Obama on Sunday that the United States would resort to military means if necessary to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

Israeli officials acknowledge that the widespread acceptance in the West that Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon isn’t based just on the findings of Israeli intelligence operatives, but relies in no small part on a steady media campaign that the Israelis have undertaken to persuade the world that Iran is bent on building a nuclear warhead…

His point was driven home in February, when Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, said that Iran is developing a missile that could strike targets more than 6,000 miles away — such as the East Coast of the United States.

The missile project is “aimed at America, not Israel,” said Yaalon, a well-known hawk who advocates a military strike on Iran by Israel and its allies.

“Israel has everyone so worked up that the thought is, let’s temper what they do, rather than, let’s stop or control what they do,” said one European diplomat based in Jerusalem, who like many diplomats declined to be identified further because of the sensitivity of the subject…

“…I’ve been talking about this since 2005, and nearly every year has been the ‘Iran year,’” Javedanfar said. “I think the level of hysteria has dropped... If Iran gets a bomb it is not something I would like to see, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end. It’s a mistake to use words like ‘existential threat.’”

The first date-specific prediction of when Iran would have a nuclear weapon was made in 1998, by the then head of military intelligence, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, who warned that Iran could have the bomb by 2008…

Not that the predictions have been consistent. In 2009, Israel’s then-spymaster, Meir Dagan, estimated that Iran would have a weapon by 2014. That same year, Yossi Baidetz, the head of Israel’s military intelligence research division, said that Iran had all the nuclear know-how it needed. In 2010, Israeli officials shortened their estimates to 2012.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:57 AM
October 22, 2011
My Name is Obamandias, King of Kings…

Charles P. Pierce writes:

Empires make me nervous. Imperial policies — even the gentler ones, even the purely commercial ones, even by proxy, and even when they result in the death of one of the few indisputable madmen on the modern scene — make my skin itch. (It’s the Irish in me.)

As to the blessings of globalization in Africa, well, that continent has been globalized out of most of its wealth and more than a few of its people since long before people invented the hedge fund. Will they do better under Goldman Sachs than they did under the Belgians? (The Nigerian precedent is not encouraging.) Free trade is not democracy, and the latter is in no way an inevitable consequence of the former. I don’t see the arrival of consumer goods and/or the modern financial markets as doing much for the average Ugandan.…

Iraq and Afghanistan aside, we fight our wars by automation, hurling thunderbolts from beyond the horizon, like Jove. There’s something scarifying about that, especially when it’s aimed at an American citizen, and it kills his teenage son, and the people who threw the thunderbolts don’t even try to show us why these people had to die. For a long time, we had people who said that the reason we were sending the Army all over the world was because there wasn’t any draft. One of the most apt criticisms of the “war on terror” was that it was being conducted without engaging the entire country in the effort. Now, not only is the combat removed from the citizenry, it’s increasingly removed from soldiers. Some guy at a console in Kansas City is making war on Pakistan. That makes me nervous.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:43 AM
October 21, 2011
When the Shouting Dies…

Why say it, when JollyRoger at Plutocrat has said it for me? I’ll only add that as we do unto foreign heads of state, foreign heads of state may one day do unto us.

It bothers me to no end to see “leftists” cheering about us having gotten this guy. From a practical perspective, cheering about Qaddafi’s death is no different from cheering about Saddam’s. Qaddafi getting killed doesn’t solve one problem I’m facing.

But, it might give me problems to face later.

Whenever we cheer on simply killing people, rather than lamenting that these people never had a day in Court, we are simply making it easier for Governments to kill off people they find to be irritating. The Government, once given a green light for this kind of behavior, will simply broaden the scope of those it finds reprehensible enough to kill, until the day when Government tries to kill anyone it finds to be irritating.

I far prefer the manner in which we conducted ourselves after World War II. While we made the Nazis and Japanese face the consequences of their activities in Court, Stalin simply murdered millions of German POWs. We established our system as a just system, and our philosophy as one that demanded that even the worst elements among us must be brought before the bar, and prosecuted, so that the whole world would be aware of why it was that we went after these people. We afforded some of the most vile people who ever lived strong defense lawyers, the right to face their accusers, and an opportunity to tell their own stories.

We worked pretty hard to catch people ALIVE back then, just to make sure that we COULD demonstrate to the world that we were dedicated to the cause of justice.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:35 AM
September 21, 2011
Still Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf

From the New York Times:

The hemisphere’s oil boom is all the more remarkable given that two of its traditional energy powerhouses, Venezuela and Mexico, have largely been left out, held in check by entrenched resource nationalism. Venezuela is now considered to have bigger oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, putting it at the top of OPEC’s rankings. If it opened up more to foreign investment, it could tip the scales further in the hemisphere’s direction.

Gee, I thought we were going to have to drill, baby, drill and run Canadian pipelines through the heartland and frack Pennsylvania and New York till flames shot out of everybody’s faucets and poison the Gulf of Mexico to keep our Hummers on the road. (Whatever happened to all those Hummers, anyway?)

Now it turns out that we didn’t really need to waste three trillion dollars to fail to seize the oilfields of Iraq. We could have just acted like adults in 1999 instead of throwing childish tantrums over the election of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s version of Joe Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung combined. (I take it that “entrenched resource nationalism” is double talk for kicking out foreign oil companies, an old commie trick.)


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:20 PM
September 15, 2011
Deadlock

William Pfaff on United Nations membership for Palestine:

However, what al-Faisal does not say is that the U.S. is the only nation to possess the strength and opportunity to act preemptively to solve this crisis. Israel now is incapable of rescuing itself because of its quasi-permanent internal political deadlock.

President Obama could spectacularly reverse policy and save the day. He could declare that the U.S. will vote in support of Palestine’s full membership in the U.N. It will use all of the means at its disposal to support Israeli withdrawal of illegal settlements from territory designated as part of the Palestinian state in the 1948 U.N. partition of Mandate Palestine. It will do all in its power to impose the solution that everyone — including realistic Israelis and the Palestinians — understand to be the inevitable, permanent and just solution of this problem.

True enough. Unfortunately, however, the United States of America now is incapable of rescuing itself because of its quasi-permanent internal political deadlock. For more on how stupid we’re about to be and why, read Pepe Escobar here.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:47 AM
September 06, 2011
Hustling the East

I have a suspicion there’s more truth to this analysis of our latest Good War than you’ll find in the whole MSM. Anyone who believes that we go a-bombing out of pity for the oppressed Muslim masses is beyond the reach of reason.

Let’s start with the basics. The Frogs did it. It’s always worth repeating; this is a French war. The Americans don’t even call it a war; it’s a “kinetic action” or something. The “rebel” Transitional National Council” (TNC) is a French invention.

And yes — this is above all neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy’s war. He’s the George Clooney character in the movie (poor Clooney). Everybody else, from David of Arabia Cameron to Nobel Peace Prize winner and multiple war developer Barack Obama, are supporting actors…

French banks had told him that Gaddafi was about to transfer his billions of euros to Chinese banks. Thus Gaddafi could not by any means become an example to other Arab nations or sovereign funds.

French corporations told Sarko that Gaddafi had decided not to buy Rafale fighters anymore, and not to hire the French to build a nuclear plant; he was more concerned in investing in social services…

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be very cozy with the House of Saud or the murderous al-Khalifas in Bahrain. But the State Department heavily blasted Gaddafi for his “increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector”; and also for “Libyanizing” the economy.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 04:28 PM
June 03, 2011
Trying to Stop a War in the Middle East?

I’ve been so caught up in all the work involved in grad school that I very rarely get to post, and often even fall behind in knowing what’s going on. Thus I might be behind, so bring me up to date if so. But isn’t it a pretty big deal for the recently-retired intelligence chief to have characterized the country’s chief executive and defense head as dangerous and unstable decision-makers likely to take military action for political purposes?

This appears to me to be what Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, is saying about Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak. Apparently he believes they are contemplating an airstrike on Iran in response to the expected UN General Assembly vote in September to recognize the Palestinian state within 1967 borders. He is also claiming that two other recently retired officers agree: the chief of staff of the military and the head of Shin Bet.

This appears to translate in American terms to having the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the directors of the CIA and the FBI retire in quick succession and begin to say publicly that the President and the Secretary of Defense were dangerous warmongers likely to start a war so they could hold onto their personal power and enrich their friends and sponsors.

Of course, such a vote in the UN may be an expression of widespread world opinion, but as the note appended to the Times report on the upcoming vote points out, it will have no force in international law because the United States in its role as permanent member of the Security Council will veto the required recommendation. This is exactly why such status was created, to entrench existing power structures.

Now that Obama has joined the European position on using 1967 borders with land swaps as a starting position, pressure on the Israeli government to respond to the so-called Arab spring has increased, in other words, but not to the point that a Palestinian state might actually be recognized by the UN. The US will undoubtedly prevent that from happening.

Still, just to see Obama moving in that direction must be unsettling to Netanyahu. And to have his recently-retired intelligence chief call him out for poor judgment is not likely to evoke whatever warm and fuzzy side Bibi possesses. Should be interesting to watch. Hopefully no one gets bombed.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:32 PM
January 30, 2011
We Keep Not Getting It

Admittedly the speed with which Mubarak lost his thirty-year grip on Egypt is breathtaking. That’s a big part of the story, because it scares the other strongmen/dictators/kings in the region.

But it’s hard to believe the US response can be so far behind events. Once again.

The U.S. position was criticized Sunday by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who returned to Egypt last week as a leading opposition voice.

“Your policy right now is a failed policy, is a policy that is lagging behind, is a policy that is … having the effect here in Egypt that you are losing whatever (is) left of credibility,” ElBaradei told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

“People need to see that you not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, and people need to understand and believe that you really seriously take democracy, rule of law, freedoms seriously. And to say we have a tight rope that — and between the people and the dictator, to say that we are asking a dictator who’s been in power for 30 years to implement democracy is an oxymoron, frankly,” he said.

However, two prominent U.S. senators — Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York — told CNN that they support the U.S. response so far.

Which of course they would, since the US response fits the interests of McCain’s weapons manufacturers and Schumer’s financial wizards.

Once again the US appears to be holding onto the last hope for a vicious dictator, or as Chomsky puts it, deterring democracy, for as long as possible.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:34 PM
January 29, 2011
Long Time Coming

The turmoil in Tunisia (and now, more critically, in Egypt) will prove to be a world-changing event in ways that cannot now be foreseen. One day the uprisings will be understood to have been even more significant than even Bush’s and Obama’s idiot adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While Bush was drinking his way through Yale I was a United States Information Agency officer serving in Casablanca. The conditions that have now led to the upheavals in so much of the Arab world were already apparent. It was common to meet men in their thirties who had never held a job.

And when the three-year-old daughter of our office janitor was horribly burned in an accident, he was refused entry to her hospital room because he had no money to bribe the doorman. Multiply these indignities by the billions throughout the Arab world over the next half century or so, and the present riots become understandable.

Al Jazeera, so vilified by the Bush/Cheney administration, has been throughout a more valuable source of news about the Moslem world than our own news organizations. This remains the case. To follow what is actually happening as our geopolitical world shifts, watch Al Jazeera’s live stream in English.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:58 AM
January 27, 2011
Malpracticing to Deceive

Anthony Piel, writing in the Lakeville Journal. Piel, a former director and general legal counsel of the World Health Organization, concludes after the jump that “the best way to avoid malpractice suits is to quit malpracticing.”

If good police work is essential to nuclear security, how are we, the United States, actually doing? Here’s an example of the problem: Some years back in Paris, when I was “cooperating” with the International Criminal Police Organization (known as Interpol) tracking suspicious money flows, its chief administrator complained to me (as an American) that all too often when Interpol succeeded in nearly unraveling a network of illicit arms trafficking, they would find again and again the CIA (or MI-6 or Mossad or other intelligence agency) at the base of the illicit arms dealing network under investigation. That makes international police work dicey when facing the world’s greatest superpower and its satellites.

It also turned out, to Interpol’s dismay, that a number of powerful U.S. corporations, asset management firms, hedge funds, private equity firms and overseas tax-evasion subsidiaries were involved (and presumably are still involved) directly or indirectly in the financing, promotion and operation of the illegal international weapons trade.

These creations of deregulated, for-profit capitalism are thus contributing, knowingly or not, to the delivery of illicit weapons to strange places and actors, such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Iranians, Yemenis, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations around the world…

Today, a hedge fund located in Greenwich, Conn., may be financing at least indirectly the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The profit motive underlying “free” global enterprise is one thing; but outright disloyalty to America and putting weapons of destruction in the hands of our enemies is something else — beyond excuse. Obviously, we Americans are not doing a proper job of policing ourselves, let alone policing others.

The same Interpol administrator also complained to me that although Interpol shared virtually all its information with U.S. police and intelligence agencies, the United States did not fully share its information with Interpol, and, he pointed out, U.S. agencies such as the CIA, FBI and NSA appeared to withhold critical information from each other.

The administrator’s comments were prophetic, as we soon found out when the United States failed to prevent the 9/11 surprise attack on Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, in spite of the information that was available to individual U.S. agencies. This was a clear example of how a false concept of the need for proprietary “state secrets” can be used to undermine effective, cooperative intelligence and police action at home and abroad.

Fortunately, the Obama administration is making an all-out effort to collaborate with Interpol, in our own national interest, and to force the different elements of U.S. Homeland Security to communicate and work together. Also, for the first time in history, an American, Ronald Noble, has been made head of Interpol, an organization that helps coordinate the police work of nearly 200 countries.

Hopefully we shall make full benefit of this kind of international police cooperation. But we have to take care not to abuse the Interpol relationship for our own political ends.

The recent U.S. attempt to recruit Interpol to discredit WikiLeaks’ revelations about U.S. military misbehavior in Iraq and Afghanistan is not necessarily a step in the right direction. As they say in the medical field, the best way to avoid malpractice suits is to quit malpracticing.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:20 PM
January 25, 2011
Empire Building

If we actually want to expand and consolidate our influence abroad, the way to do it is not to bankrupt ourselves by sending in the cavalry. For instance, take our 30-year Southeast Asian War Games. Please. For another instance, look at Obama’s fundamentally insane attempt to colonize Afghanistan with drones.

And for a somewhat different approach, consider this:

China has announced plans to build a high-speed railway linking the southern Chinese Guangxi Zhaung autonomous region with Singapore via Vietnam, according to China Daily

“We will invest 15.6 billion yuan (US$3.05 billion) to build the railway linking Nanning and Singapore via Vietnam,” said Long Li, director of the region’s transportation department. “This is extremely important for the construction of the Nanning - Singapore Economic Corridor.”

The corridor refers to the economic link between China and ASEAN nations, starting at Nanning in Guangxi and passing through Hanoi in Vietnam, Vientiane in Laos, Cambodia’s Phnom Penh, Thailand’s Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on its way to Singapore. China Daily referred to Guangxi as the country’s main foreign-trade center, with ASEAN being its largest bloc trading partner.

Of course everything has its downside, as we see in this email from an old colleague who stayed in Thailand after our own efforts to impose a Southeast Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere had so disastrously failed. So you pays your money and you takes your choice, but the Chinese approach seems to involve lower body counts. At least in the short run.

Lemme tell you, man, it’s really bad. The Chinese squatters are the worst of the worst, obnoxious ass holes who simply buy off local officials and do as they please. I can cite numerous examples from personal experience, e.g., the market vendors in Nam Tha and Phonsavan who know NO Lao and could care less.

In March, I got up to the Bolavens plateau where I spent a year in ’63–’64. A joint Chinese/Australian mining concern has a concession to strip away 1,400 km2 of the plateau for bauxite and send it to Yunnan for an aluminum plant. 1,400 square kilometers! Essentially the entire southern half of the plateau. And the fuckers’ office is in the old IVS house we built in Houei Kong. [Ed. note: The International Voluntary Service in Laos was the rough equivalent of the Peace Corps.]

This is happening on top of Korean and other foreign hydroprojects that have displaced villages and destroyed indigenous cultures. And unrestrained logging everywhere, which destroys the habitat that indigenous groups have preserved for hundreds of years and on which they depend to sustain their way of life.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:56 PM
November 18, 2010
Things I Didn’t Know

From Stephen M. Walt’s answer to Bush’s new book, Decision Points. Professor Walt’s response is called Delusion Points.

In the midst of the “Mission Accomplished” euphoria that followed the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, a worried Iran sent a Swiss intermediary to Washington with a far-reaching offer for a “grand bargain,” including an end to Iranian support for groups such as Hezbollah and a deal on Iran’s nuclear energy program. The offer was reportedly approved by Iran’s top leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Bush administration turned the Iranians down flat — why negotiate with the next candidate for regime change? — and Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reportedly reprimanded the Swiss ambassador for even delivering the message in the first place.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:24 AM
October 07, 2010
NATO an Enabler of US Adventurism?

More good sense from Daniel Larison. Worth reading in its entirety:

As much as we can appreciate and honor the support our NATO allies have provided, we shouldn’t drag them into conflicts that have never really been their concern. “Out-of-area” missions will just keep happening again and again as the alliance looks for new conflicts to enter to provide a rationale for its existence. European nations are clearly tired of it, and at present they can’t afford it, either. The need for fiscal retrenchment has been forcing European governments, even the new coalition government in Britain, to make deep cuts in their military budgets.

Making NATO into a political club of democracies in good standing is also no solution to the Alliance’s obsolescence. As we saw in the war in Georgia two years ago, proposed expansion of NATO has been more of a threat to European peace and security than dissolving it. Once again, this is something that most European governments understood at the time, and which Washington refused to see. Without the belief that Georgia was eligible for membership and would eventually be allowed to join, it is unlikely that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would have escalated a conflict over its separatist regions and plunged his country into war with Russia. That conflict was a good sign that the Alliance had outlived its usefulness. If it isn’t disbanded, it may start to become a menace to the very things it was supposed to keep safe.

America doesn’t need and shouldn’t want to perpetuate an outdated alliance. The creation of NATO was an imaginative solution designed to respond to the security conditions of the immediate aftermath of World War II, and it was an enormous success. But it is time for Americans to begin thinking anew about the world. A first step in doing that is letting go of an alliance neither America nor Europe needs…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:06 PM
July 03, 2010
July Fourth for the Whole World!


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:22 PM
June 07, 2010
Lovable Old Gipper’s Folk Wisdom Saves World

Reagan’s national security adviser, Richard V. Allen remembers Israel’s 1981 air strike on the nuclear reactor under construction in Iraq:

In what seemed an eternity but was only two minutes or so, President Reagan was on the line, a slight note of irritation in his voice: “Yes, Dick, what is it?” I quickly recited what happened, and he asked me to repeat the message. After pausing for a few seconds, he asked, “Why do you suppose they did that?” My answer was something to the effect that the Israelis clearly did not want that reactor to become operational.

He went silent, and the phone line again filled with the churning of the copter. With characteristic aplomb, he suddenly asked: “Well, you know what?” I said, “What, Mr. President?” His retort was classic: “Boys will be boys!”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:40 PM
June 01, 2010
Red White and Blue Elephant in the Room

I’m struck by the coincidence of stories across the globe over the last couple of days.

It’s big news that the Prime Minister of Japan announced he’ll be resigning. It’s smaller news that the President of Germany has resigned. The former was unable to follow through on his campaign promise to remove the US military base from Okinawa, so he lasted eight months. The latter indiscreetly remarked on a radio program that the German military in Afghanistan and elsewhere is deployed to protect economic interests, a thoroughly unexceptional statement about any powerful nation of any age; yet even his friend and supporter, Chancellor Angela Merkel, could only bemoan his departure.

How long will it be until Americans in general — not just the occasional Chalmers Johnson types — can talk about the cost of deploying history’s greatest and most expensive military at something like eight hundred bases around the world? And more importantly, who pays the cost and does the fighting, and who reaps the economic rewards? That’s the central question of American life starting with the Second World War: can we be anything other than a war machine?

Because they’re unsustainable.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:32 PM
April 21, 2010
Still Crazy After All These Years

Here’s a little quiz for the “armchair generals” among us who may have become a tad disillusioned by the way that our US military appears to be conducting itself over this first decade of The Long War. Here we go, but before you get started here’s a tip: Because this is war we’re talking about, there are no right, wrong or good answers — just questions.

1. It is easy to identify enemy insurgents in Afghanistan. If you see the following behaviors chances are you’ve spotted an insurgent: (a) anyone who acts nervous at checkpoints; (b) anyone digging a hole; (c) anyone who doesn’t instantly follow orders screamed in English; (d) anyone carrying something large, roughly the size and shape of an AK-47 or grenade launcher e.g, camera equipment; (e) people who grab their guns when you break down their door in the middle of the night.

2. The best intelligence sources on where insurgents can be found include: (a) any Afghan willing to talk to you; (b) air-surveillance spotting of people with trucks/vans; (c) local drug lords; (d) little kids.

3. The best way to minimize collateral damage is: (a) stop killing people; (b) clean up the evidence when victims are obviously civilians; (c) deny it — the Taliban human shield defense works well; (d) if all else fails — lie; say the bodies had already been murdered by someone local e.g., honor killings (if victims are female) or “tribal justice” if victims are male.

4. The best ways to win “hearts and minds” are: (a) leave the country; (b) run around shirtless with a “mock” headdress and shades like a Medal of Honor avatar; (c) build things like cutting edge water treatment plants that are too complex for the locals to operate; (d) burn your high-tech trash in open fires to leave your mark on future generations.

5. The best in-country partners for a counterinsurgency are: (a) local CIA assets; (b) ex-cons; (c) local arms smugglers; (d) popular, clueless charlatans.

Well. That’s enough for now, you get the idea…

Whatever the doctrine or mission or strategy that landed US forces in Afghanistan it’s increasingly hard to come up with a good rationale for staying, let alone surging … perhaps it’s battle fatigue; or the growing effect of an influx of Black Water-y commandos and their 21st Century Art of Warfare program; or maybe it’s just plain old ignorance, bungling and mismanagement — more than likely it’s a combination of the three. Whatever the cause, there are legions of dead Iraqis and Afghanis to attest to the fact that “shit happens” in War and a no-win situation only gets more dismal when you throw more resources at it.

Back in the beginning of the century, I don’t think that anyone, no less anyone in the Bush administration, could have foreseen the absolute travesty and international humiliation that these wars would wreak on participant nations. Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems to be awakening and tiring of their supporting role quicker than we’d like. After all, it’s one thing to be Emperor and quite another to be a “friend of the Empire,” at the end of the day.

Also, unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly evident that perhaps the American collective consciousness doesn’t really have the stomach or the inherent ruthlessness to be global conquistadors. It’s difficult to shape a population reared on a public image of honesty, integrity and generosity into a lean, mean permanent war machine.

I’m not saying it can’t be done — just that it takes longer and more concerted effort to root out the innate common decency that has no place in a global domination program. In my opinion that’s why we’re doing such a crappy job of it and why it’s become necessary to contract so much of the job out to sociopathic gunslingers that cause more problems than they solve.


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Posted by Frumpzilla at 06:08 PM
April 10, 2010
The Subhuman Side of the News

Today’s Waterbury Republican-American carried this story on the appearance of beloved elder statesman Henry Kissinger at the Kent, Connecticut, Lions Club:

Kissinger delighted the audience with his humorous remarks and took his time answering a half-dozen different questions.

First Selectman Bruce K. Adams was the last in line and he took the opportunity to ask Kissinger for advice in governing and leading the small town he lived in. Kissinger candidly admitted that he has been focused on foreign policy rather than local politics. “I’m counting on you in making this the special place it is.”

Also today, the Associated Press carried some earlier advice from the retired Sage of Foggy Bottom:

WASHINGTON — As secretary of state, Henry Kissinger canceled a U.S. warning against carrying out international political assassinations that was to have gone to Chile and two neighboring nations just days before a former ambassador was killed by Chilean agents on Washington’s Embassy Row in 1976…

In 1976, the South American nations of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay were engaged in a program of repression code-named Operation Condor that targeted those governments’ political opponents throughout Latin America, Europe and even the United States.

Based on information from the CIA, the U.S. State Department became concerned that Condor included plans for political assassination around the world. The State Department drafted a plan to deliver a stern message to the three governments not to engage in such murders.

In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as “Operation Condor,” preceded by the words “(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.” The cable states that “secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo” Uruguay “and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter…”

“You can instruct” the U.S. ambassadors “to take no further action” on the subject of Operation Condor, said the Sept. 20 cable by Harry Shlaudeman, assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, to Shlaudeman’s deputy.

The next day, on Sept. 21, 1976, agents of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet planted a car bomb and exploded it on a Washington, D.C., street, killing both former Ambassador Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt [below]. Letelier was one of the most outspoken critics of the Pinochet government.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:55 PM
April 07, 2010
Springtime for Karzai

Here in the Northeastern United States Spring has arrived, bringing with it the primal derangements and high spirits historically associated with the season — unmufflered motorcycles, chest-beating, spontaneous Tarzan cries and stuff like that there.

Evidently, roughly the same phenom is occurring in far-off Afghanistan, as well; witness the recent admission, by Gen. McChrystal, to the murder of “way too many” innocent civilians and President Karzai’s recent rant about “meddling foreigners” (I’m expecting another Karzai-Ahmadinejad pow-wow any moment now).

Karzai was most likely reacting to President Obama’s unexpected drop-in last week. Obama was “special-opped” into Bagram, in the dead of night, ostensibly to rally the troops for more murder and mayhem in Kandahar but also, according to reports, to deliver a good old American ass-chewing to “our man in Kabul.” Evidently, Obama is underwhelmed by Karzai’s efforts to clean up his corner of the world in preparation for its long awaited democracy transplant. As all good Americans know, Democracy cannot flourish in a corrupt environment — right?

Rationally, that would put Karzai on the line for one of the most epic turnarounds in human history, to include the public execution of many of his relatives and members of parliament. Karzai is 50, so chances are slim he’ll accomplish that mission in his lifetime; nevertheless, Obama would like to see him making more of an effort…


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For his part, I expect that Karzai’s primary focus is on “stayin’ alive.” Since the beginning of his U.S. sponsorship, Karzai has been the subject of five newsworthy assassination attempts and probably numerous less spectacular attempts. Those attempts were not your lone sniper events, either; most involved rocket attacks, grenades and various other measures designed to take out a city block.

Karzai has always been reluctant to fly solo in his current position. When Obama stated his desire to get out of Afghanistan by 2011, Karzai countered that Obama’s timeline was off by about 15 years. Karzai knows better than anyone that if Coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban will re-establish their government tout de suite.

A year later (or closer to withdrawal, if you believe in that sort of thing), with that sword hanging over his head, Karzai has decided he better start talkin’ some trash against the U.S .or he’s going to wind up the subject of some serious insurgent fatwa. To that end, Karzai took to the airwaves, this week, to express his concern over foreign meddling — a popular topic among Middle East purists, these days.

Karzai accused the West and the United Nations of wanting a “puppet government” and of seeking to make him “psychologically smaller and smaller.”

“They want me to be an illegitimate president,” he announced. “And they want the parliament to be illegitimate.”

He also blamed others for election fraud that, by all accounts, was orchestrated by his regime: “No doubt there was massive fraud. That was not done by the Afghans. The foreigners did that.”

In diplomatic circles this is known as ‘playing both sides against the middle.’ Whereas the U.S. should know better, by now, about the various pitfalls of installing and propping up such worthless puppets, Karzai, himself, might do well to read up on what happens when the puppet-masters lose patience. Or, better yet, what the local population is capable of doing to rid themselves of such buffoons.

Of course, Robert Gibbs sallied forth to express the administration’s “dismay” over Karzai’s accusations, calling Karzai’s words “genuinely troubling.” In addition, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, quickly met with Karzai “to clarify what he meant by these remarks.” Could it be that the Obama Administration was caught off guard, here; and Obama, like Kennedy before him, is out of sync with national security state powers-that-be who are busily conducting their own “foreign policy?”

Right now, Karzai, (if he’s smart) will figure out a way to make his personal U.S. network ties indispensable to the Taliban, which will surely take back the government in Kabul at their earliest convenience. Upon their return, however, they will now receive US backing in return for their promise to shun al Qaeda — which explains the burgeoning local interest in capturing ex-pat Taliban members to ensure a place at the settlement table — à la Pakistan’s detention of Baradar and their refusal to extradite him to Afghanistan.


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Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Americans are swallowing their daily dose of foreign policy propaganda so that they don’t lose patience, too soon, with our latest experiment in regime change. Most Americans have already bought into the notion that Afghan governmental stability = enhanced U.S .National Security = victory over al Qaeda. As Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, so succinctly put it:

The uncomfortable truth is that without indefinite foreign protection, the Government of Afghanistan would probably fall to the Afghan Taliban. But Americans should not equate the fall of that regime with “losing” to al Qaeda. Violent, Islamist extremist groups indigenous to this region threaten the Afghan government, not the American government. Because these radical groups lack the ambition — let alone the capacity — to threaten the sovereignty or physical security of the United States, they do not merit the strategic obsession that they currently receive.

Washington’s continued fixation on groups that threaten Afghanistan, rather than America, presents a bigger threat to genuine American interests than those groups themselves can pose, especially since there is little assurance that 100,000 foreign troops can capture and kill more insurgents than their presence helps to recruit.

Rather than propping up a failed state, U.S. leaders should focus on countering the al Qaeda threat still clinging to life in this region. Technological advances over the past decade allow us to monitor places without having 100,000 boots on the ground. Furthermore, the blueprint for an effective counterterrorism approach is the initial U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when small Special Forces teams, working in conjunction with local militias, assembled quickly and struck effectively and cheaply at “real” enemies.

In short, Americans should reject the misguided belief that terrorists can only flourish in failed states like Afghanistan. After all, India, a major U.S. ally far more stable than Afghanistan, is fighting several internal insurgencies. Likewise, the very al Qaeda terrorists responsible for 9/11 not only found sanctuary in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, but also in politically free and economically prosperous countries like Germany, Spain, and the United States.

America has a long and tawdry history of justifying its foreign adventures with a full array of fairly irrational strategic, economic, and ideological considerations. Strategically, we must not allow geographically important regions from falling under the sway of regimes that are either anti-US, or simply entirely self-interested. Otherwise, a shift in the balance of global military power could jeopardize American security.

Economically, the US likes to maintain access to vital supplies of raw materials and keep markets open for American products and investments — the Free Market demands it. Finally, the United States must thwart communist terrorist expansion in the Third World Middle East to ensure that America and its democratic allies do not become islands in a global sea of hostile, totalitarian Islamist dictatorships.

These arguments can be (and have been) easily dressed up in American jingoism to rubber stamp some very dubious U.S. foreign policy undertakings. Who hasn’t heard a particular regime described as a “keystone” or “force for stability” or “key to vital US strategic interests” in the region: think Shah of Iran in the Persian Gulf, Mobutu Sese Seko in Central Africa, and any number of South American despots. Reading the history, one would have to surmise that, actually, the entire globe (and parts of the Solar System) are of vital US strategic interest.

In actual fact, US “strategic interests” usually zero in on good sites for bases or forward staging areas for the American military. For example, the Reagan administration defended support of the Marcos dictatorship to protect its installations at Clark Field and Subic Bay, complicating the defense of other Far Eastern allies.

Do we really have strategic interests, vital or otherwise, in squalid little spots thousands of miles from the U.S? Does a firmly ensconced Karzai government in Kabul really somehow enhance our own security? How is it that we’ve come to believe that a handful of small, militarily insignificant nations — like Iraq and Afghanistan — governed by unpopular and unstable regimes, somehow keep Americans safe against the threat of terrorism.

Actually, it is more rational to believe that such foreign adventures seriously compromise our national security by draining U.S. financial resources, stretching defense forces dangerously thin and psychologically boosting recruitment to the very terrorist groups that we are fighting. Whatever — our approach might stink as foreign policy but it keeps the military-industrial business booming.

As Noam Chomsky pointed out in his article “Dictators R Us,” Thomas Jefferson was not fooled by Napoleon’s antics: “We believe no more in Bonaparte’s fighting merely for the liberties of the seas than in Great Britain’s fighting for the liberties of mankind. The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth and the resources of other nations.”

Wonder what Jefferson would make of our current foreign policy …?

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Posted by Frumpzilla at 12:17 PM
March 14, 2010
The Return of Cowboyism

Suggested by my last post, the following excerpt is from William Greider’s 2009 book, Come Home, America:

The U. S. military, despite its massive firepower and technological brilliance, has itself become the gravest threat to our peace and security. Our risks and vulnerabilities around the world are magnified and multiplied because the American military has shifted from providing national defense to taking the offensive worldwide, from being a vigilant defender to being an adventurous aggressor in search of enemies.

The predicament this muscle-bound approach puts our country in is dangerous and new. Go looking for trouble around the world and you are likely to find it. The next war may be a fight that is provoked not by them but by us. The next war may already have started somewhere in the world, perhaps in a small, obscure country that we’ve considered threatening.

From a review of the book by George C. Wilson, the Washington Post’s longtime Pentagon correspondent:

I agree with Greider that there is a new attack elephant in the American living room. The old watchdog that would bark if some stranger knocked at the door but only bite if he broke into the house has been retired. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates seem to have fallen in love with Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine special operators who do their deadly work in the shadows. The top of our government was similarly infatuated with special operations during the Vietnam War until some of the operators got out of control and had to be reined in to discourage what was called “cowboyism” back then.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:27 PM
February 20, 2010
Our Great National Pastime

As we live in what is at present the most heavily armed and warlike society on earth, the following symptomatology might be of interest. It is from The Acquisitive Society, by British historian R.H. Tawney, writing in 1920.

Since then, setting World War II aside for the sake of brevity, we have made war, at various levels and in various ways, in Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, South and North Korea, South and North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, the Congo, Colombia, Kuwait, Iraq, Haiti, the Philippines, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, El Salvador, Sudan, Somalia, the Soviet Union, China, the former Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Angola. No doubt I have forgotten a few; there have been so many.

Militarism is the characteristic, not of an army, but of a society. Its essence is not any particular quality or scale of military preparation, but a state of mind, which, in its concentration on one particular element of social life, ends finally by exalting it until it becomes the arbiter of all the rest. The purpose for which military forces exist is forgotten. They are thought to stand by their own right and to need no justification. Instead of being regarded as an instrument which is necessary in an imperfect world, they are elevated into an object of superstitious veneration, as though the world would be a poor, insipid place without them, so that political institutions and social arrangements and intellect and morality and religion are crushed into a mold made to fit one activity, which in a sane society is a subordinate activity, like the police or the maintenance of prisons or the cleansing of sewers, but which in a militarist state is a kind of mystical epitome of society itself.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:21 PM
January 18, 2010
Intelligence Costs and Haiti

Coupla interesting facts gathered in a random walk down News Street this week.

First, did you know that something like $75 billion a year is devoted to the various activities the US government groups under the rubric of intelligence? What Engelhardt and Turse are trying to warn us about is the escalating intelligence war our tax dollars are going to, rather than paying for health care or schools or bridges.

…as Paul Woodward of the website War in Context has pointed out, “Two groups of combatants, neither of whom wear uniforms, are slugging it out on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Each group has identified what it regards as high-value targets and each is using its own available means to hit these targets. The Taliban/Qaeda are using suicide bombers while the CIA is using Hellfire missiles.”

Which one’s cheaper and more available? The answer might be indicated by the success of Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in penetrating a heavily secured CIA base in Afghanistan to meet with the base chief, the CIA’s second in command for the country (do they still call that Deputy Chief of Station?), a captain of Jordanian intelligence who was al-Balawi’s handler, and at least six other CIA “operatives”, two of whom worked for Xe. Of those, only the CIA’s number two survived, with injuries.

Dr. al-Balawi’s suicide attack essentially took out a major part of the Agency’s targeting information system. As one unnamed NATO official told the New York Times, “These were not people who wrote things down in the computer or in notebooks. It was all in their heads… [The C.I.A. is] pulling in new people from all over the world, but how long will it take to rebuild the networks, to get up to speed? Lots of it is irrecoverable.” And the Agency was already generally known to be “desperately short of personnel who speak the language or are knowledgeable about the region.” Nonetheless, drone attacks have suddenly escalated — at least five in the week since the suicide bombing, all evidently aimed at “an area believed to be a hideout for militants involved.” These sound like vengeance attacks and are likely to be particularly counterproductive.

More poorly targeted drone attacks, that’s a good idea! Surely the Afghans will understand why we have to attack their wedding parties once they learn of the CIA’s losses.

It’s simple, really. What keeps our economy going? What business is always booming and never has its bubbles burst? Weapons.

The US has been developing a secret army for decades. Oliver North talked about an “off-the-shelf, self-sustaining, stand-alone entity that could perform certain activities on behalf of the United States.” Chalmers Johnson refers to the President’s private army.

The Romans called it the Praetorian Guard, and it eventually came to control the Imperial throne.

Second fun fact of the week: the $75 billion we spend on the so-called intelligence community is well over ten times the nominal GDP of Haiti.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:48 AM
November 17, 2009
With Friends Like These…

Anyone who follows the news with moderate regularity and an open mind is already well aware that the real force behind jihad and 9/11 was and is our great and good friend, Saudi Arabia.

Anyone else should read the article by Johann Hari of Independent UK from which this is excerpted:

…And so Usama begins to tell me his story. He arrived in Tottenham in North London in the mid-1970s, when he was five years old. His Pakistani father was sent here by the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs, which aims to spread its puritan desert strain of Islam to every nation. His family led a locked-down life, trying to adhere to Saudi principles in a semi-detached house in the English suburbs. “We weren’t allowed music or TV or any contact with the opposite sex,” he says. “We were very sheltered. I didn’t go out a great deal.” By the age of 10, he had memorised every word of the Koran in its original Arabic…

He started to recruit other students, as he had done so many times before. But it was harder. “Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it,” he says. But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 — until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. “That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster…”

But once they had made that leap to identify with the Umma – the global Muslim community — they got angrier the more abusive our foreign policy came. Every one of them said the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 — from Guantanamo to Iraq — made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. Hadiya Masieh, a tiny female former HT organiser, tells me: “You’d see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think — anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?”

Britain’s foreign policy also helped tug them towards Islamism in another way. Once these teenagers decided to go looking for a harder, tougher Islamist identity, they found a well-oiled state machine waiting to feed it. Usman Raja says: “Saudi literature is everywhere in Britain, and it’s free. When I started exploring my Muslim identity, when I was looking for something more, all the books were Saudi. In the bookshops, in the libraries. All of them. Back when I was fighting, I could go and get a car, open the boot up, and get it filled up with free literature from the Saudis, saying exactly what I believed. Who can compete with that?”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:28 PM
November 13, 2009
Cutting Through the Crap

From an interview with Gary Sick, a national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter and an expert on the Middle East. Unlike most analyses of the verbal war between Israel and Iran, his makes sense:

As I said in my talk, when Israel keeps talking practically every day of attacking Iran, to me, that is the best evidence that they are not going to do it. If you look back at almost all the raids and operations they have carried out whether it was in Entebbe, in the alleged Syrian nuclear site recently, or on Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1982, all of those took place absolutely without any previous warning. They were treated as state secrets. Israel knew that one of their strengths was the element of surprise.

In this case, by talking about it for several years, Iran has responded by diversifying its program; they have tucked away their supplies. The storage site that was recently found near Qom was clearly meant as an alternative option in case Israel bombed Iran’s main centrifuge site in Natanz. Iran has been able to put things underground, which makes it harder for a possible strike. It would be very difficult for Israel to destroy Iran’s program in a single strike. And they do not have the capacity to come back and bomb for several days or a month, the way the US did in Iraq.

Israel could do some damage but they could not wipe out the whole system. When they hit the facilities in Iraq, there was no defense, everything was above ground. There were no preparations made and it was a very straightforward bombing of a single target. That is not true in Iran today. It is a peculiar strategy to use because you are basically telling your opponent to take as many precautions as possible, or to hide the materials in question, and that is exactly what Iran has done and is doing. Israel can only hit specific targets on one occasion but cannot continue for several days. Iran will retaliate and things will be far worse.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:06 AM
Afghan Replay

What will Obama do about Afghanistan? As always, he’s giving conflicting signs.

The good news is that he’s pushing back when the military comes to him with four variations on the theme of “more troops for victory”.

At a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday, however, Mr. Obama picked up on General Eikenberry’s arguments about growing Afghan dependence, according to a senior official. The president, he said, was far more assertive than in previous sessions, pressing his advisers about the wisdom of four proposals for adding troops. The change in his tone, from listening to challenging, was palpable, officials said.

No knock on the military mindset, but it’s not oriented toward facing reality, it’s oriented toward believing that victory can be won. As a result, when the ambassador to Afghanistan isn’t on board with the military view of Afghanistan, we’re not too surprised. Until we learn that the ambassador is not only a former lieutenant general who retired to take his current post, but was once the top American commander in Afghanistan.

Public disclosure of his views has heightened existing tensions between senior military officers and General Eikenberry, who left the military in April to become Mr. Obama's emissary. Several military officials complained bitterly that his latest cables were part of a skein of pessimistic and defeatist memos he has sent since taking over in Kabul.

Turns out retired General and current Ambassador Eikenberry is arguing that more troops will simply make the government of Afghanistan, already about as shaky as a standing government gets, even more dependent on American aid and strength, and thus even less stable.

The bad news is that the Obama Syndrome™ is already starting to kick in.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the president had not rejected any of the four options, but was weighing how to mix and match elements from each of them.

“I would say it was more, how can we combine some of the best features of several of the options to maximum good effect?” Mr. Gates told reporters. A central focus in Mr. Obama’s deliberations, he said, was, “How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans as well as the American people that this is not an open-ended commitment?”

Or, put another way, how can we act like we’re going to stay forever when we’re talking with Afghans, while assuring Americans that we plan to leave posthaste? Classic, total classic.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:25 AM
November 11, 2009
Here We Go Again

Excellent piece at Lenin’s Tomb on the Soviet Union’s 1979 military (the Soviets were already present in many other respects) invasion of Afghanistan. The parallels to our own Afghan idiocy just keep on piling up…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:11 AM
October 26, 2009
Million Dollar a Year Soldiers Still Aren’t Enough

I’ve been avoiding the Post since they dumped Froomkin. Nonetheless, I found myself there this afternoon reading an article about the war games the Pentagon conducted to evaluate options in Afghanistan. In the process I stumbled across an interesting fact: each American soldier there costs us about a million bucks a year.

The administration’s internal deliberations have emphasized that unless the Afghan government dramatically improves its performance, the Taliban will continue to find support. Administration officials said Obama’s decision will consider a much broader range of options than the number of troops. At nearly every meeting in the White House Situation Room, McChrystal has been joined on the video screens at the end of the table by Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, and Anne W. Patterson, his counterpart in Pakistan.

One question being debated is whether more U.S. troops would improve the performance of the Afghan government by providing an important check on corruption and the drug trade, or would they stunt the growth of the Afghan government as U.S. troops and civilians take on more tasks that Afghans might better perform themselves. Another factor is cost. The Pentagon has budgeted about $65 billion to maintain a force of about 68,000 troops, meaning that each additional 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan would cost about $1 billion a year.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think most of that money goes to the soldiers themselves. Rather, it seems to me, its purpose is to enrich those at the very top of the socioeconomic ladder through what Chomsky calls the Pentagon system. We hear complaints from the Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, and the right-wing Christians — oops, sorry, I think the politically correct term is “social conservatives”, they’re trying to hide the fundamentalism part — about any program that helps the poor, the unemployed, the immigrants, or pretty much any group society has shunted aside. These whining worthies struggle each day to get ahead of everyone else; how would they benefit from assistance to those behind them? But aid to the top one percent is vital to the economy.

More broadly, the whole article perfectly illustrates Chomsky’s point about how our system controls discussion and prevents meaningful dissent. Any historian can tell you how likely it is that an invader will take control of Afghanistan. Yet the two options gamed out both call for an increase in American troops, one of 10,000 to 15,000, the other of 44,000. Nobody thinks either number is anywhere near close to enough to control the country; and the argument that if we leave the Taliban will take over and immediately re-invite al Qaeda to establish itself in Afghanistan is patently ridiculous. The relationship between the two groups has deteriorated; al Qaeda has bases in several other countries and doesn't need Afghanistan; and the Taliban wants control of Afghanistan far more than it wants to help al Qaeda.

Quite obviously, in other words, our million-dollar-a-year troops may be fighting and operating bravely and intelligently, but they’ll accomplish about as much as their counterparts did in Vietnam.

So why is Obama not considering the only reasonable option, getting our asses out now before we lose any more lives and money? Well, maybe he is. I’ve thought, and I’m not alone, that McChrystal’s pessimistic evaluation leaves room for Obama to decide to cut bait because any successful operation would be far too expensive. Whether that was McChrystal’s intent I obviously don’t know, but I hazard a guess that his actions reflect the influence of a book I think is famous among military officers, H.R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty. It describes how the top military brass failed the system when pressure was put on them from the White House and the Secretary of Defense. Because of that failure many people died, the United States was weakened in both military and world-standing terms, and the military went through a lot of soul-searching. Not that they decided to get out of the war business, you know, but they did consider alternative methods of pursuing it.

Will Obama assume the imperial mantle and try to hold onto Afghanistan until it destroys his Presidency? I expect so, but let us hope he’s not that wimpy.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:34 AM
October 21, 2009
Thinking the Unthinkable

Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots:

The perception of a growing gulf between the American military and the White House stirs echoes of the 1964 movie, Seven Days in May, a what-if about a conspiracy to unseat a President led by the head of the Joint Chiefs who considers him too soft on America’s enemies…

What we face in the Middle East is a slow-motion Seven Days in May, an undermining of the elected Commander-in-Chief that was dramatized as unthinkable in the last century. It shouldn’t be thinkable now.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:01 PM
October 06, 2009
Another Purloined Letter

The European Union’s finding that Georgia started last year’s mini-war with Russia comes as no surprise to anyone who knows how to read American newspapers.

As in Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin hoax and and both the Bushes’ pre-launch marketing of their Iraq wars, the truth was hidden in plain sight from the start. All you had to do was read the stories all the way to the end. No genius was required; just a healthy skepticism.

The excerpt below is from a McClatchy Newspapers piece by Dennis Jett. He’s a retired career diplomat who has served as ambassador to Mozambique and Peru.

Instead of adding weak and unprepared partners, NATO might want to devote its energies to working out an understanding with Russia about the fact that it does not pose a threat. Especially when those countries are its neighbors. That is of course unless we would have no objection to Mexico joining a revitalized Warsaw Pact.

The EU report observed that the United States, Ukraine and Israel supplied extensive economic and military aid to Georgia allowing it to double its military in just a few years. That kind of assistance and the political signals from Washington during the last administration no doubt emboldened Saakashvili. NATO and Palin and McCain might also want to think through the implications of giving political and military support to a country that is not ready to use either responsibly.

Eisenhower did not take the country to war in 1956 over Hungary and Johnson did not start one in 1968 over Czechoslovakia. With our armed forces stretched beyond the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan, a war at this time over Georgia is not possible even if a president were foolish enough to lead us into one…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:25 PM
September 25, 2009
Eat Your Heart Out, Rupert

A friend of mine was in Kampala, Uganda last month and I asked him to bring me back a week’s worth of Red Pepper, my favorite newspaper in the world.

The paper is not to be confused with the U.K.’s Red Pepper, a self-described “magazine of political rebellion and dissent” influenced by “socialism, feminism and environmental politics.” While that Red Pepper boasts this week an interview with Pauline Kimani, “one of Kenya’s few openly lesbian women,” the Kampala one in 2006 announced a campaign in its pages “to rid our motherland of the deadly vice (lesbianism),” with pictures of hot chicks making out. This earned Red Pepper the consternation of Human Rights Watch, among others.

Three years ago I visited Kampala but spent the whole time sick with malaria, lying on my big fluffy bed in a Lake Victoria resort convalescing with Red Pepper, which started as a weekly but then, due to high demand, became a daily.

Everywhere you go in the city, people are reading it. A quarter to a third of the rag is basically porn, with advice columns on how to have sex with a fat woman, or to lengthen the “twin towers” (ubiquitous Uganda slang for vaginal lips, and apparently longer is better) and the most offensively sexualized descriptions of women — even teenage girls, who, featured in the paper for being part of a school musical group or some other chaste accomplishment, are described as “waterlogged” or “causing boxers to bulge.”

The rest comprises stories on car theft rings, lynchings of goat thieves, and what I imagine to be quite credible reports of graft, political corruption, shifting military alliances. Red Pepper does the best investigative journalism in Uganda, while the regular Kampala paper publishes feel-good pap about potholes getting filled. Pepper takes none of its news, save for foreign sports, from wire services, probably because reporters come cheap in Kampala, and you could hire about 30 for the price of a Reuters account.

This paper, unlike its first-world counterparts, seems to grow every year — the copies I just received were a good bit thicker than before. Pepper has added two special sections, including, “Virgins,” a weekly survey of hot chicks, and tons more sports.

It has outlived a number of its competitors, such as Black Mamba, an almost-identical tabloid. Pepper’s newest competitor, The Onion, steals its name and even its masthead design from the American humor magazine. It spares the easily bored all the political intrigue and focuses exclusively on twin towers, corpses, and the like. Pepper will outlive it, because The Onion is too coarse and tacky even for Kampala.

It used to be that alerts flashed when you visited the Red Pepper website, warning of all kinds of potential disasters to your computer, but this is no longer the case. If you do go, a brief glossary:

Kandahar = pussy.
Whopper = cock.

It would be nice if the screeching Glenn Beck/teabagger types could take a good, long look at Red Pepper, a window into a society free of taxation, with completely unrestricted markets, and save for institutionalized homophobia, minimal government interference in daily life, which means you are free (in practice) to lynch whomever stole your chicken, and to pay for your own schooling.

There are no good roads and power is only on half the time, but that’s freedom. The teabaggers fear the re-emergence of the Soviet Union, or so they say, while failing to realize that the logical extension of their demands is, in fact, Uganda.

At least this scenario produces cheap health care. My entire course of malaria treatment in Kampala — testing, doctor consultation, medicine, follow-up, more medicine — cost me $15, without insurance. I just walked in off the trash-strewn, pothole filled, burning street.


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(Ed. note: Below the fold, unsuitable for office viewing, is a sample from The Onion. I know you won’t want to see it.)



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Posted by Jennie Erin Smith at 02:42 PM
August 17, 2009
The Wreck of Empire

This passage by Gore Vidal appeared in the October, 1963, issue of Esquire. He failed to foresee our increasing physical fatness, but he nailed the rest.

Historians often look to the Roman Empire to find analogies with the United States. They flatter us. We live not under the Pax Americana, but the Pax Frigida. I should not look to Rome for comparison but rather to the Most Serene Venetian Republic, a pedestrian state devoted to wealth, comfort, trade and keeping the peace, especially after inheriting the wreck of the Byzantine Empire, as we have inherited the wreck of the British Empire.

Venice was not inspiring but it worked. Ultimately, our danger comes not from the idea of Communism, which (as an Archbishop of Canterbury remarked) is a “Christian heresy” whose materialistic aims (as opposed to means) vary little from our own; rather, it will come from the increasing wealth and skill of other Serene Republics which, taking advantage of our increasing moral and intellectual fatness, will try to seize our markets in the world.

If we are to end, it will not be with a Bomb but a bigger Buck. Fortunately, under that sanctimoniousness so characteristic of the American selling something, our governors know that we are fighting not for “the free world” but to hold onto an economic empire not safe or pleasant to let go. The Arab world — or as a salesmen would say, “territory” — is almost ours, and we must persevere in landing that account. It will be a big one some day.

Vidal wasn’t the only one to have seen that coming. In 1973 I searched out my old two-story wooden barracks at Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare Center to show my young and uninterested sons. By then the building was being used as office space by the Special Forces. I mentioned to a sergeant inside that back in the day we used to have classes in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese. Was the language program still alive?

Oh, yeah, he said, only now it’s Arabic.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:34 PM
August 13, 2009
The War of the Melons and Other Stimuli

Bad Attitudes has just hired, at the usual rates, a chief European correspondent. She is Jennie Erin Smith, a Florida journalist and author currently expatriated to Germany. Here is her first report from the dark heart of Sozialismus.

I left Germany for a month to attend to some business at home, and when I came back, ten days ago, it seemed more time had passed than I’d realized. The hills around St. Wendel, formerly wet and green, had dried to an ugly yellow, the whole landscape cocooned by an unfamiliar dry heat.

The one change I had eagerly anticipated, and was flabbergasted not to see any evidence of, was the end of a dubious excavation in front of my apartment. That minor project – the ripping up of about a quarter mile of street, changing out some pipes, and replacing a perfectly workable asphalt sidewalk with a decorative, woven-looking pattern of cement bricks, began in the spring, after the German government’s 50 billion Euros worth of stimulus really started flowing, and they flowed a good deal faster here than back home, though no one here has any real idea how all this will be paid for, either.

So every morning at 7 a.m. and no later the publicly funded jackhammers start, and though the heat is mild enough in St. Wendel that no one even bothers with air-conditioning, the work is over by about noon, when the guys sit around the tables outside the bakery looking very satisfied with themselves. This has something to do with Kurzarbeit, the shortened-workday program meant to keep unemployment from rising. There is no obvious reason this particular project couldn’t start later in the day, sparing us a lot of misery, but this is how it’s done.

My downstairs neighbor, a retired diplomat named Mertens, is far more pissed off than I am about the interminable project, because it’s his taxes. He goes to all the council meetings and said no one had ever mentioned the necessity of the decorative sidewalk until the stimulus. Every afternoon, when the equipment lies about dormant and unprotected, he walks the site with a serious expression, as though surveying casualties on a battlefield. “This — waste!” he yelled up to my window yesterday. “They will never finish. Never. Not for months.”

Angela Merkel and her fellow Christian Democrats were pissed off this week, too, by Vera Lengsfeld, a blonde, middle-aged CDU politician running for a seat representing Kreuzberg, a very left-wing Berlin district where Lengsfeld stands no chance in September.

A desperate Lengsfeld decided to use her melons to get votes, which would have been fine had she stopped there, but then she co-opted the Chancellor’s melons, too. The Lengsfeld campaign poster showed both women in low-cut evening dresses — Merkel’s rather striking photo was snapped at an opera last year. “We have more to offer” was Lengsfeld’s tag line (see below). This is how the German equivalent of Republicans behave.

“German economy unexpectedly grows in second quarter” was this morning’s headline, all over the place.


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Posted by Jennie Erin Smith at 08:25 AM
August 07, 2009
Daniel Ellsberg and the Bomb

I believe Daniel Ellsberg to be one of the half-dozen most useful public Americans of my lifetime, which covers almost the same period as his. He was 14 and I was 13 that August in 1945 when Harry Truman murdered Hiroshima. I was elated and proud, just another fool among millions. But Ellsberg even then saw the future clearly. He still does. And he is still trying to wake us up.

I cannot recommend his 2002 book, Secrets, too strongly. Read it, and read Sven Lindqvist’s A History of Bombing. The truth is that civilians, mostly old men, women and children, are not collateral damage in air warfare. They are the intended targets.

Now read the essay from which these excerpts come:

I remember that I was uneasy, on that first day and in the days ahead, about the tone in President Harry Truman’s voice on the radio as he exulted over our success in the race for the Bomb and its effectiveness against Japan. I generally admired Truman, then and later, but in hearing his announcements I was put off by the lack of concern in his voice, the absence of a sense of tragedy, of desperation or fear for the future. It seemed to me that this was a decision best made in anguish; and both Truman’s manner and the tone of the official communiques made unmistakably clear that this hadn’t been the case.

Which meant for me that our leaders didn’t have the picture, didn’t grasp the significance of the precedent they had set and the sinister implications for the future. And that evident unawareness was itself scary. I believed that something ominous had happened; that it was bad for humanity that the Bomb was feasible, and that its use would have bad long-term consequences, whether or not those negatives were balanced or even outweighed by short-run benefits…

Most Americans ever since have seen the destruction of the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as necessary and effective — as constituting just means, in effect just terrorism, under the supposed circumstances — thus legitimating, in their eyes, the second and third largest single-day massacres in history. (The largest, also by the U.S. Army Air Corps, was the firebombing of Tokyo five months before on the night of March 9, which burned alive or suffocated 80,000 to 120,000 civilians. Most of the very few Americans who are aware of this event at all accept it, too, as appropriate in wartime.)

To regard those acts as definitely other than criminal and immoral — as most Americans do — is to believe that anything — anything — can be legitimate means: at worst, a necessary, lesser, evil. At least, if done by Americans, on the order of a president, during wartime. Indeed, we are the only country in the world that believes it won a war by bombing — specifically by bombing cities with weapons of mass destruction — and believes that it was fully rightful in doing so. It is a dangerous state of mind…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:03 PM
July 23, 2009
It’s for Their Own Good

From today’s New York Times:

PHUKET, Thailand — Stiffening the American line against Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Wednesday that the United States would consider extending a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East if the country continued to defy international demands that it halt work that could lead to nuclear weapons.

Defense umbrella, huh? Way to go, Hillary, about time for a little rebranding. Power for peace, manifest destiny, pénétration paisible, mission civilisatrice, lebensraum, Pax Romana, white man’s burden, etc. (here insert your own favorite euphemism), have all gotten a little old.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:05 AM
June 19, 2009
Premeditated Murder

One of the most fascinating (and underreported) stories of the millenium has been the outbreak of democracy all over Latin America despite the best efforts of George W. Bush.

And a good way for the uninformed (such as I) to keep up with these developments is to visit BoRev.Net, which offers flip but deadly serious “dispatches from the Bolivarian revolution.”

An excerpt from today’s dispatch:

Special Rapporteur Philip Alston just wrapped up a 10-day United Nations investigation into the hundreds (thousands?) of innocent Colombians murdered by the military to meet government kill quotas. The report is out, and it’s devastating. The Uribe administration naturally still claims that most of the dead were a real live guerilla rebels, but duh they’re just lying:

‘The evidence that shows victims wearing newly ironed camouflage garments or wearing field boots four sizes bigger than their feet, or left-handed individuals holding a pistol in their right hand … negate even more the suggestion that they were guerrillas killed in combat.’’

The U.N. found that the murders were “more or less systematic,” not the actions of a few bad apples, and that the government has pretty much refused to punish the culprits, choosing instead to harass human rights workers who talk about it publically…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:40 PM
June 17, 2009
Most Peculiar, Momma

It behooves us all to STFU until we figure out what’s actually happening in Iran. I’m talkin’ to you, McCain.

This from McClatchy:

TEHRAN, Iran — Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main rival in the disputed presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, massed in competing rallies Tuesday as the country’s most senior Islamic cleric threw his weight behind opposition charges that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was rigged.

“No one in their right mind can believe” the official results from Friday’s contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime of handling Mousavi’s charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers “in the worst way possible.”

“A government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy,” he declared in comments on his official Web site. “I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to ‘sell their religion,’ and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God…”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:12 PM
June 10, 2009
Touchy, Touchy

From CBS News:

Israeli TV newscasters Tuesday night interpreted a photo taken Monday in the Oval Office of President Obama talking on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an “insult” to Israel.

They saw the incident as somewhat akin to an incident last year, when the Iraqi reporter threw a shoe at President Bush in Baghdad.

It is considered an insult in the Arab world to show the sole of your shoe to someone. It is not a Jewish custom necessarily, but Israel feels enough a part of the Middle East after 60 years to be insulted too…

Israel’s Channel One TV reported that Netanyahu was told Tuesday by an “American official” in Jerusalem that, “We are going to change the world. Please, don’t interfere.” The report said Netanyahu’s aides interpreted this as a “threat.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:28 PM
May 13, 2009
Cold Warriors Never Die, They Just Hide Away

Until coming across this in the New York Review of Books, I knew essentially nothing about the tiny island in the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia. I should have. We all should have.

After our squalid land grab and ethnic cleansing some 40 years ago, the tropical island has been purposely kept under wraps and out of bounds. Most recently it has served as a base for bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, as a way station on Bush’s rendition network and, despite our denials, as a “black site” for the imprisonment and torture of suspected terrorists. As you will see below.

Go here to read Jonathan Freedland’s entire review of David Vines’ Island of Shame.

Drained by World War II and rapidly retreating from empire, [London] could no longer afford to police the Indian Ocean the way it had since the Napoleonic Wars. Better to hand the island over to its richer, stronger ally and retain at least some involvement than to pull out altogether and watch the Communist enemy step in.

To sweeten the pill still further, Washington took $14 million off the bill Britain owed the US for its supposedly independent nuclear weapon, the Polaris missile. For that money, Britain was expected to leave the islands in the condition the US wanted to find them: pristinely empty of human habitation.

On this point Washington could not have been more explicit: a British official note of talks with US counterparts stated that the United States wanted the islands under its “exclusive control (without local inhabitants).” Later, in 1971, the US chief of naval operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, responded to a memo on the people of Diego Garcia with three clear words: “Absolutely must go.”

The British were told that they were to be responsible for the expulsion — thereby handing Washington an albeit thin form of deniability and the chance to avoid any unpleasant questions from the United Nations, then animated by postcolonial notions of the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination…

So it was that, too far away to be noticed, the people of the Chagos Islands saw their birthright sold. The Americans paid the British, who in turn paid the government-in-waiting of soon-to-be-independent Mauritius. The latter was given a choice: accept a $3 million bribe and the loss of the Chagos Islands — or there will be no independence. It took the money.

With the UK, Mauritius, and the US Congress all lined up, the path was now clear for building to begin. Vine describes how in March 1971 a tank landing ship and five others “descended on Diego with at least 820 soldiers … The Seabees brought in heavy equipment, setting up a rock crusher and a concrete block factory. They used Caterpillar bulldozers and chains to rip coconut trees from the ground. They blasted Diego’s reef with explosives to excavate coral rock for the runway. Diesel fuel sludge began fouling the water.”

Wasting no time, the British began ridding Chagos of its people. First those luckless enough to be away from home were told they could not return: their islands were now closed. Those still on the archipelago were then informed that it was a criminal offense to be living in Chagos —a place that most of them had never left — without a permit.

Next they were, in effect, starved out, as British officials deliberately ran down supplies of food and medicine. Salvage crews came to dismantle the plantations: there would be no work and no rations. Then, in a demonstration of US and UK resolve, the commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory, as it was now renamed, gave the order for the islanders’ pet dogs to be killed; after US soldiers armed with M16 rifles failed to shoot them all, the animals were gassed as their owners looked on.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:54 AM
May 05, 2009
Our Three-Front War

Steve Clemons brings not-so-good news on Pakistan, a nuclear power with which we have been at war since last fall. Didn’t notice? The Taliban did.

The mounting tensions in Pakistan were brought home to me personally when I learned that the United States Central Command has rejected on security grounds the visit of Patrick Cronin to Pakistan today. Cronin is Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University and Senior Adviser and former Director of Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and also served as Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

To be clear, although Cronin had received clearance for the Pakistan visit from those in command in Pakistan, his visit was yesterday rejected because “facts on the ground had changed” and CENTCOM refused to override. The fact is that it easier today to visit Baghdad than Pakistan…

Some like National Defense University military expert Patrick Cronin believe that the tactical US military success of knocking out Taliban and related insurgents and disrupting operations that they have planned is blinding General Petraeus and other senior Obama administration officials from the fact that these drone attacks are fueling the growth and popularity of the insurgency — and that the tactical is undermining the strategic.

In other words, some believe that we are potentially on the verge of seeing the Pakistan government collapse and run a serious risk of Taliban/al Qaeda takeover of the Pakistani government because of the corrosive results of drone attacks.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:07 PM
March 10, 2009
In Re: Messrs. Freeman and Obama

Personally I got everything I hoped for from my vote the morning after the election when, as Bill Greider predicted, white supremacy was defeated.

Thus appointments like Tim Geithner and Dennis Ross don’t bother me as much as they would if I had any expectations. The cognitive-psych folks tell us that our emotions are not direct reactions to the world around us. Instead, they’re reactions to the difference between the world as it happens — as the various possibilities collapse into a single actualization — and what we expected. In a nutshell, if we expected crap and got crap, or expected okay and got okay, we’re fine; but if we expected okay and got crap, we’re pissed.

So when I see the occasional Presidential appointee who doesn’t seem to me to be more of the same horse hockey, I’m pleasantly surprised. To wit, thank God (says the Zen Buddhist) for George Mitchell. He’s not without flaws, and his range might prove, for example, to be limited to western European cultures. But at least with Abe Foxman complaining that he’s too even-handed he’s got a chance at some credibility.

Realistically, I don’t think the world expects us to sort out the Israeli-Palestinian mess on our own; we didn’t create it, at least not directly. But we have been the reason the wound has festered rather than healed, and we need to do something about that. We need to encourage rather discourage some sort of live-and-let-live arrangement. The problem is that this has never been the A-merican way. We’re all about get-the-hell-out-of-my-way, facing Native Americans, Spanish, Russians, or whoever.

At some point, we might have to grow up as a nation, and realize that not only did Moses not physically part the Red Sea, we’re not special in God’s eyes any more than anyone else is. Yes, we are special. So is everyone else, including those who disagree with our religion, our political system, and our economic theories. Even those whose affectional or, worse, recreational preferences are different from ours!

Admittedly this is a full plate for a single administration, and perhaps not even The One could pull off such a feat. But if we hope to accomplish a chunk of this agenda in Obama’s first administration, the appointment of George Mitchell is a good step.

As is that of Chas Freeman, appointed chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The NIC is charged with synthesizing the products of the various agencies and offices involved in intelligence, and producing the National Intelligence Estimates, or NIEs, most recently (in)famous for being used by the Cheney administration to bolster the dishonest case for war in Iraq.

It appears from his history that Freeman would be a voice against such silly moves in the future. Therefore a certain portion of American opinion, based on the primacy of the war machine, opposes him quite vociferously. Consider these comments from Jim Lobe of IPS and FoBA Jim Fallows of The Atlantic. Despite their differences, I rank both of them among the top handful of helpful and reliable reliable commentators on US foreign policy.

Depending on your take on this issue, you might want to consider contacting your representatives at various levels of government. This is still a democracy if we make it one.

Jim Lobe:

To me, this is a stunning appointment. There are very few former senior diplomats as experienced and geographically well-rounded (just look at this bio here), knowledgeable, entertaining (in a mordant sort of way), accessible (until now at least), and verbally artful as Freeman. He can speak with equal authority about the politics of the royal family in Saudi Arabia (where he was ambassador), the Chinese Communist Party — he served as Nixon’s primary interpreter during the ground-breaking 1972 visit and later deputy chief of mission of the Beijing embassy, and the prospects for and geo-strategic implications of fossil-fuel production and consumption over the next decade or so. But, more to the point, he was probably the most direct and outspoken — and caustic — critic of the conduct of Bush’s “global war on terror,” especially of the influence of the neo-conservatives — of any former senior member of the career foreign service. His appointment constitutes a nightmare, for the Israeli right and its U.S. supporters, in particular, (and for reflexive China-bashers, as well).

Jim Fallows has posted three times recently about this apointment. He says he doesn’t know Freeman personally,

But I do know something about the role of contrarians in organizational life. I have hired such people, have worked alongside them, have often been annoyed at them, but ultimately have viewed them as indispensable. Sometimes the annoying people, who will occasionally say “irresponsible” things, are the only ones who will point out problems that everyone else is trying to ignore. A president needs as many such inconvenient boat-rockers as he can find — as long as they’re not in the main operational jobs. Seriously: anyone who has worked in an organization knows how hard it is, but how vital, to find intelligent people who genuinely are willing to say inconvenient things even when everyone around them is getting impatient or annoyed. The truth is, you don’t like them when they do that. You may not like them much at all. But without them, you’re cooked.

So to the extent this argument is shaping up as a banishment of Freeman for rash or unorthodox views, I instinctively take Freeman’s side — even when I disagree with him on specifics. This job calls for originality, and originality brings risks. Chas Freeman is not going to have his finger on any button. He is going to help raise all the questions that the person with his finger on the button should be aware of.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:53 AM
January 26, 2009
Truthless in Gaza

This is from the London Review of Books, link courtesy of Judy from Canada. Worth reading in its entirety. The author is Henry Siegman, who is director of the US Middle East Project in New York, a visiting professor at the University of London, and a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America.

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network…

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:05 AM
January 22, 2009
Hoping for Meticulous Even-Handedness
Obama plans to announce the selection of former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) as Middle East envoy, and former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke as envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan "and related matters," sources close to the administration said.

Mitchell, who is expected to travel to the region almost immediately upon taking the post, will be charged with restarting the Middle East peace process after the three weeks of violence between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

If the Post is correct in this report, we might hope for a more even-handed and less obstructionist American involvement in the Middle East. That would be wonderful for the world, a great way to strike at bin Laden et. al., and a big change of direction for the great ship of foreign policy.

Apparently, however, not everyone got the Change memo.

“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed’ — it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support.

“So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.”

To my mind, of course, that’s the problem. It remains to be seen whether former Senator Mitchell can recreate his Irish feat.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:19 AM
January 17, 2009
The Kiss of Death

And speaking of Howard Dean, as I was last night, here’s a clue to why he was frozen out (as if the identity of the incoming White House chief of staff wasn’t enough). It’s by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, writing in the London Review of Books:

Key organisations in the Lobby make it their business to ensure that critics of Israel do not get important foreign policy jobs. Jimmy Carter wanted to make George Ball his first secretary of state, but knew that Ball was seen as critical of Israel and that the Lobby would oppose the appointment. In this way any aspiring policymaker is encouraged to become an overt supporter of Israel, which is why public critics of Israeli policy have become an endangered species in the foreign policy establishment.

When Howard Dean called for the United States to take a more ‘even-handed role’ in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Senator Joseph Lieberman accused him of selling Israel down the river and said his statement was ‘irresponsible’. Virtually all the top Democrats in the House signed a letter criticising Dean’s remarks, and the Chicago Jewish Star reported that ‘anonymous attackers … are clogging the email inboxes of Jewish leaders around the country, warning — without much evidence — that Dean would somehow be bad for Israel.’

This worry was absurd; Dean is in fact quite hawkish on Israel: his campaign co-chair was a former AIPAC president, and Dean said his own views on the Middle East more closely reflected those of AIPAC than those of the more moderate Americans for Peace Now. He had merely suggested that to ‘bring the sides together’, Washington should act as an honest broker. This is hardly a radical idea, but the Lobby doesn’t tolerate even-handedness.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:18 PM
January 11, 2009
Never Worked Before, So It’s Due

Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies has been a reliable source of realistic, reasoned analysis in the fields he studies. FOBA Jim Fallows points to his latest, a relatively brief piece (a couple of screenfuls) entitled “The War in Gaza: Tactical Gains, Strategic Defeat?”

As Fallows says, the question mark is essentially useless. Israel has exposed its own weakness for temporary domestic political gain, very much in the manner of its current patron in the White House. As a result its moral standing is in shreds, like ours, and for the same reasons. This will have exactly the consequences that any idiot could have predicted before the invasion.

One strong warning of the level of anger in the region comes from Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Prince Turki has been the Saudi ambassador in both London and Washington. He has always been a leading voice of moderation. For years he has been a supporter of the Saudi peace process and an advocate of Jewish-Christian-Islamic dialog. Few Arab voices deserve more to be taken seriously, and Prince Turki described the conflict as follows in a speech at the opening of the 6th Gulf Forum on January 6th. “The Bush administration has left you (with) a disgusting legacy and a reckless position towards the massacres and bloodshed of innocents in Gaza … Enough is enough, today we are all Palestinians and we seek martyrdom for God and for Palestine, following those who died in Gaza.” Neither Israel nor the US can gain from a war that produces this reaction from one of the wisest and most moderate voices in the Arab world.

But the US and Israel are currently governed by factions of their respective societies that believe in the harder-hit theory. Briefly, this theory posits that the theorist is part of a group that is righteous, and is opposed by a group that’s evil. Given this moral rectitude, all that’s needed to solve the problem is to engage the enemy. Once this is accomplished, blows will be traded (unless you’ve chosen carefully enough that your opponent is incapable of striking back). Then you’re set: all that remains, goes the theory, is to strike the decisive blow, to hit hard enough, and the other side will capitulate.

Funny thing about this theory: it’s never worked. It’s rarely even successful in individual fights; if you manage to hit me hard enough to cause me to retire, I’ll simply find a different way to hurt you the next time. I’m not about to give up; I’m simply retreating to regroup. You wouldn’t give up. Why do you expect me to? Oh, right, because I’m subhuman. I keep forgetting.

And of course if you’re fighting a large group, the resentment and anger will multiply through intra-social echoes, and an enormous amount of energy will be focused on reprisals of whatever sort can be undertaken.

If you’ve read anything about 4GW, or even paid attention to the best American reporters (not to mention those from elsewhere, who are generally far ahead in these matters), you know that the history shows insurgencies winning in nearly every case. The massive military power assumes on entry that it will win, and if comes to a war of attrition then so be it: we have both God and superior fire power on our side. These assumptions continue to be made by policy makers long after they’ve been discredited by military strategists. It doesn’t turn out that way in fact, no matter what our assumptions are.

This is obvious at the individual level, and should be even more obvious at the social level. But the people who tend to put themselves forward as leaders are generally the most aggressive and impulsive, and often the least reflective. A good system would weed out such people; but corporate-managed democracy encourages, indeed privileges, them.

Especially if, as in the US and Israel, the corporations managing the democracy constitute the country’s war machine. Every society is organized around its war-fighting capacity; otherwise it’s overwhelmed by its neighbors. But my understanding of history is that societies whose economies require war are usually found in the early and late stages. Flourishing societies have industry that isn’t war- or finance-related.

Israeli hawks claim that this invasion of Gaza is defensive, but no military person is silly enough to believe that. You don’t decrease the attacks against your position by reducing the opposition to desperation. In such a situation, you either kill them all, or they will attack with every weapon at their disposal.

This raises a question that every Israeli and its supporters now needs to ask. What is the strategic purpose behind the present fighting? After two weeks of combat Olmert, Livni, and Barak have still not said a word that indicates that Israel will gain strategic or grand strategic benefits, or tactical benefits much larger than the gains it made from selectively striking key Hamas facilities early in the war. In fact, their silence raises haunting questions about whether they will repeat the same massive failures made by Israel’s top political leadership during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in 2006. Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve? Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process?

To [be] blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes. To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys. If Israel has a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel has a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it not apparent.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:20 PM
January 10, 2009
Self-Humiliation

Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz provides another example of how the US in Iraq and Israel in Gaza continue to humiliate themselves.

Of all the rotten luck, all the disasters now occurring in Gaza are manmade — by us. Aid cannot be offered with bloodstained hands. Compassion cannot sprout from brutality.

Yet there are some who still want it both ways. To kill and destroy indiscriminately and also to come out looking good, with a clean conscience. To go ahead with war crimes without any sense of the heavy guilt that should accompany them. It takes some nerve. Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who preaches for this war and believes in the justness of the mass killing it is inflicting has no right whatsoever to speak about morality and humaneness. There is no such thing as simultaneously killing and nurturing. This attitude is a faithful representation of the basic, twofold Israeli sentiment that has been with us forever: To commit any wrong, but to feel pure in our own eyes. To kill, demolish, starve, imprison and humiliate — and be right, not to mention righteous. The righteous warmongers will not be able to allow themselves these luxuries.

Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who sees it as a defensive war must bear the moral responsibility for its consequences. Anyone who now encourages the politicians and the army to continue will also have to bear the mark of Cain that will be branded on his forehead after the war. All those who support the war also support the horror.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:28 PM
January 08, 2009
The Murder of Gaza

The artist Mark Wilson recommends this article in The Guardian by Oxford professor Avi Shlaim. Its conclusion is below. For some of the history supporting that conclusion, see Professor Shlaim’s full essay, and also read this, by Professor Saree Makdisi of UCLA and author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.

A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practices terrorism — the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfills all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination.

The first picture below (all are from The Guardian website) shows the crater made in an Israeli street by one of the homemade rockets from Gaza. To date they have killed four Israelis. For each casualty, Israeli bombs and bullets have so far killed more than a hundred Gazans. This number will rise hugely as the invasion continues. As with our own bombardment of cities in Iraq, most of the victims will be civilian noncombatants.

The second picture shows a relative weeping for the ten members of a family killed when Israelis bombed a school run by the United Nations in Gaza. The last picture shows mourners praying over the victims of that air strike. Click to enlarge images.










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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:02 AM
January 05, 2009
Choosing Sides
“Israel is part of the free world and fights extremism and terrorism. Hamas is not,” [Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni] said. And from there we are just one small step away from putting the world on notice that either “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists”. “These are the days when every individual in the region and in the world has to choose a side,” Livni said.

The Guardian’s Gary Younge is one of my favorites.

By erasing any prospect of negotiation, the violence did not weaken extremists but emboldened them. Israel may want to boost the moderate Fatah faction which governs the West Bank now. But Hamas’s electoral rise was a direct result of the contempt the Israelis showed them in the past.

Meanwhile, the Iraq war has left Iran — the primary sponsor of both Hezbollah and Hamas — with far more influence in the region than they would have had. On almost every front in almost every part of the world, including in the US, the war on terror is now seen as a colossal mistake. Only Israel did not get the memo. And it is now set to fail for the same reasons that America has.

Guardian1sml.jpgIn my opinion, a truly pro-Israel position opposes the settlements and generally opposes Likud policies, though of course politics is a messy business and no one’s right or wrong all the time. What Israel actually needs from a historical point of view is stability. It’s currently seeking security through the methodology of oppression, a foreign policy equivalent of Microsoft’s famous security through obscurity and as such doomed to fail. The thing is, if your neighbors aren’t secure, you aren’t either. No matter how frightened you are, you can only threaten your neighbors into submission for short periods, and in doing so you generate exactly what you seek to avoid.

So I’m impressed with the folks at J Street, the (relatively) new lobbying org of American Jews intended to counter the constant push for aggression from AIPAC and friends. Josh Marshall has written about them several times. From the little I know they seem to have it together on both the political and marketing fronts, which means they’ve got a shot. Plus, the K Street allusion shows some humor in a organizational name, which I like a lot.

Post1sml.jpgHere’s what they’re saying about the invasion of Gaza.

Israel has a special place in each of our hearts. But we recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. While there is nothing “right” in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing “right” in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.

And there is nothing to be gained from debating which injustice is greater or came first. What’s needed now is immediate action to stop the violence before it spirals out of control.

The United States, the Quartet, and the world community must not wait — as they did in the Israel-Lebanon crisis of 2006 — for weeks to pass and hundreds or thousands more to die before intervening. There needs to be an urgent end to the new hostilities that brings a complete end to military operations, including an end to the rocket fire out of Gaza, and that allows food, fuel and other civilian necessities into Gaza.

Given their relative skills and well-stated positions, they seem to be attracting some notice. Thus their petition to the President-elect might actually be considered. To sign the petition, click here.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:24 AM
November 18, 2008
Shrinking Democracy Around the World

Actions, as usual, are having consequences. Here are some of those consequences, halfway around the world from Bush’s actions. For the context, go to Jim Fallows’ blog from Beijing.

If once upon a time western media coverage, which affects the opinion of western politicians and citizens, mattered to the Chinese people, this is no longer the case.

In the political realm, the Chinese people no longer have to believe in the rhetoric of freedom, liberty, democracy, sovereignty and human rights. The war in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison, the Guantanamo camp, hurricane Katrina and other misconduct took care of all that. Why would the Chinese people be interested in what American president George W. Bush have to preach to them about freedom, liberty, democracy, sovereignty and human rights? When the western media invoke those terms, the reaction from the Chinese people is: “Look within yourselves and fix your own problems first!”

In the economic realm, the financial tsunami of 2008 took care of any credibility in the Washington consensus. In its place was an as-yet-undefined Beijing consensus which has less specifics than the general idea of self-determination. Why would the Chinese people be interested in what Alan Greenspan and Henry Paulson have to tell them about how to run their economy when they have failure on their hands?

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:10 AM
November 11, 2008
Hey, No Biggie. Just the End of the World

Among the many major issues largely ignored during the campaign — vanishing water supplies, the giant and growing American gulag, our broken public school system, on and on — perhaps the most dangerous was nuclear disarmament.

To bring you up to date, here’s the introduction to a long piece by Matt Eckel at Foreign Policy Watch:

If there’s an element of foreign policy discourse in this country that I’ve actually found pretty heartening in recent months, it’s been the reevaluation of the role that nuclear weapons ought to play in global security affairs. For the first time in quite a while, the notion of seriously reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons has ceased to be the exclusive province of left wing peace activists, and has moved to the ‘respectable’ center of strategic thinking.

Recent articles in Foreign Affairs by people like Wolfgang Panofsky, Ivo Daalder and Jan Lodal, now-famous Wall Street Journal op-eds by George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, and the public statements of our new president-elect all point to the creation of an international environment in which nuclear weapons are few or non-existent, and play a recessed or irrelevant role in the geopolitics of the twenty-first century. It’s nice to see.

Lest my optimism get the better of me, however, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently gave a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stressing the need to modernize the American nuclear arsenal, and giving only passing mention to the notion of serious nuclear force reductions.

Secretary Gates has recently become something of a darling of the foreign policy community, in large part because he’s injected a welcome dose of pragmatism into the Bush Administration’s ideological brew, and while I’m not convinced that all such praise is warranted, I’ll give Mr. Gates credit for making a coherent and intellectually honest argument for updating our nuclear deterrent…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:01 PM
November 08, 2008
Return of the Warhogs?

If true, this is very, very disturbing news. Of all Bush’s many idiot moves, his efforts to restart the Cold War may in the long run turn out to be the most perilous to the world. Our best hope is that Obama was mistranslated, or that Kaczynski is a liar.

US President-elect Barack Obama will go ahead with plans to build part of a controversial missile defence system on Polish soil, Poland has announced.

President Lech Kaczynski’s office said the pledge was made during a telephone conversation between the two men.

Russia opposes the US plans, and early this week said it planned to deploy missiles on Poland’s border and electronically jam the US system.

This is the first signal that Mr Obama plans to continue George Bush’s policy.

(Since I posted this, both Agence France Presse and the Associated Press moved stories denying that Obama had made such a commitment. Let’s hope they’re right.)


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:15 PM
October 13, 2008
Lie to Me, Big Boy

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The deployment of US missile defenses in eastern Europe is in the US interest and not a move against Russia, a senior foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Thursday.

“I do not think Russia has a legitimate security concern here,” Richard Danzig, a former Navy secretary in the Clinton administration, told defense reporters here.

Danzig’s remarks to defense reporters here was a strong sign that a Democratic administration would continue to back the European missile defense system despite tensions with Moscow and misgivings among some Democratic lawmakers.

Another of those cases where we can only hope that Obama is lying to get elected. Although it’s hard to see the political benefit to him, in this instance. Where’s the public hue and cry for bringing back the cold war?

Unfortunately there’d be plenty of hue and cry if Obama were to be heard advancing a sane foreign policy toward, say, Pakistan — such as promising to call off the war against it which Bush is currently waging with strong support from both parties and, to the extent that they’re aware of it, the American public.

And what are we to think of a presidential candidate who promises to pull us out of an endless occupation of Iraq so that he can plunge us into an endless occupation of Afghanistan. Again, we can only pray that Obama is lying about that one, too.

And refer him back to Rudyard Kipling’s The Young British Soldier, which ends with this advice:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:53 PM
September 26, 2008
I See Russia, I See France, I See Sarah’s Underpants

More from the Metternich of Alaska. In a rational world, Katie Couric would be running for Vice President and Sarah Palin would be the bimbo interviewing her. (Video here)

COURIC: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land — boundary that we have with — Canada. [...]

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our — our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia —

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We — we do — it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is — from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:58 AM
September 25, 2008
Palin Parries Press’s Probing

Bet you’ve been wondering why Sarah Palin has been ducking the press. No, of course you haven’t. And you were right, because take a look. The potential president was just permitted to hold the world’s shortest Q & A with her traveling press corps — her first.

Jesus, this so embarrassing:

CNN: On the topic of never letting this happen again, do you agree with the way the Bush administration has handled the war on terrorism, is there anything you would do differently?

A: I agree with the Bush administration that we take the fight to them. We never again let them come onto our soil and try to destroy not only our democracy, but communities like the community of New York. Never again. So yes, I do agree with taking the fight to the terrorists and stopping them over there.

POLITICO: Do you think our presence in Iraq and Afghan and our continued presence there is inflaming islamic extremists?

A: I think our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security of our nation, again, because the mission is to take the fight over there. Do not let them come over here and attempt again what they accomplished here, and that was some destruction. Terrible destruction on that day. But since September 11, Americans uniting and rebuilding and committing to never letting that happen again.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:17 PM
August 31, 2008
God Bless You, Mr. Buchanan…

Hold on, did I just write those words about the man who once put the words in Reagan’s mouth? Yes, I did. Like the little girl in the nursery rhyme, when Pat is right he is very, very right and when he is wrong he is horrid. For an instance of the former:

[Truman, Johnson, Carter & Reagan] were not cowards. They simply would not go to war when no vital U.S. interest was at risk to justify a war. Yet, had George W. Bush prevailed and were Georgia in NATO, U.S. Marines could be fighting Russian troops over whose flag should fly over a province of 70,000 South Ossetians who prefer Russians to Georgians.

The arrogant folly of the architects of U.S. post-Cold War policy is today on display. By bringing three ex-Soviet republics into NATO, we have moved the U.S. red line for war from the Elbe almost to within artillery range of the old Leningrad…

For a dozen years, Putin & Co. watched as U.S. agents helped to dump over regimes in Ukraine and Georgia that were friendly to Moscow.

If Cold War II is coming, who started it, if not us?

The swift and decisive action of Putin’s army in running the Georgian forces out of South Ossetia in 24 hours after Saakashvili began his barrage and invasion suggests Putin knew exactly what Saakashvili was up to and dropped the hammer on him.

What did we know? Did we know Georgia was about to walk into Putin’s trap? Did we not see the Russians lying in wait north of the border? Did we give Saakashvili a green light?

Joe Biden ought to be conducting public hearings on who caused this U.S. humiliation…

The United States must decide whether it wants a partner in a flawed Russia or a second Cold War. For if we want another Cold War, we are, by cutting Russia out of the oil of the Caspian and pushing NATO into her face, going about it exactly the right way…

Go read the whole thing, though. It’s great stuff. Once again we see that the two ends of the American political circle can overlap at the extremes. There we unregenerate liberals now and then find ourselves in a surprising mind-meld with the Pat Buchanans and the Bob Barrs of the Paleolithic right.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:04 PM
June 19, 2008
We’re Number Two!

Peter sends wonderful news. The global leader in whom the world has least confidence is Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. One step above him is our own lovable scamp, George Walker Bush of Greenwich, Connecticut. Way to go, George! We always knew you didn’t have it in you.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:31 PM
June 13, 2008
Spreading Democracy, Bush Style

Headline from McClatchy Newspapers:


THOUSANDS OF ORDINARY PAKISTANIS
PROTEST GOVERNMENT, UNITED STATES

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Mullahs and communists, and it seemed everything in between, came out in Pakistan Friday in a massive rally against President Pervez Musharraf, seeking to force the government to restore the judges fired by the U.S.-backed president.

In a huge challenge to Musharraf, and also to the newly elected government, tens of thousands of ordinary Pakistanis confounded all expectations by coming out in noisy, excited support of an independent judiciary…

“Musharraf’s bluster, backed by the American administration, that caused this situation to continue in a stalemate,” said Aitzaz Ahsan, the charismatic leader of the lawyers’ movement, in an interview on top of his campaign truck, as it crawled through the streets of Rawalpindi. “I think that stalemate has now been broken.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:40 PM
June 12, 2008
Our Pygmy President

Dan Eggen, in the Washington Post

“For most other Europeans, it seems, the sprint cannot end soon enough. For years, protesters regularly crippled European capitals with massive anti-Bush demonstrations. Now, the president’s last scheduled visit to Europe this week is prompting a continental yawn, as Europeans look ahead to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as his successor.”

Adrian Hamilton in The Independent:

“Not a tear was shed, nor a cheer raised. Not even the protesters have bothered to turn out as President Bush has wound his way around Europe on the final visit of his two-term occupancy of the White House. Instead, he has come almost like an anonymous diplomat to hold talks in private, say a few words to the cameras and — unless the UK has something very unexpected up its sleeve this weekend — to depart almost unrecognised, and certainly unacclaimed.
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:29 PM
June 06, 2008
The Death of Irony

Irony, considered one of the chief qualities distinguishing mankind from the lower orders, died yesterday on the National Mall following a long, long illness.

At the bedside were George W. Bush, George P. Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Frank Carlucci, principal architects of wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Laos, Libya, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Grenada, El Salvador, Somalia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq.

WASHINGTON — President Bush, whose administration has been dominated by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global battle against terrorism, helped break ground yesterday on a $185 million facility for the U.S. Institute of Peace — a government-funded think tank with the mission of preventing conflict and helping promote postwar stability operations…

George P. Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, said Bush will be remembered kindly for promoting the idea that wars must sometimes be launched to address potential threats before they are realized…

With Bush standing by his side, Shultz said of preventive war, “In your time, I think this is one important idea that has real legs and staying power.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:20 AM
May 23, 2008
War on Poverty Finally Won

In Namibia the cure for poverty has finally been found. It’s a sure-fire cure, one hundred percent effective. It’s money.

“The opponents of Basic Income Grants always have the reasoning that people will become dependent,” says Pastor Wilfred Diergaardt. “In fact, what we are seeing here is really lifting people up out of dependency into becoming human again.”

Claudia Haarman, one of the administrators of the project, agrees. “What makes people dependent is poverty, because they are dependent on other people, they are dependent to beg.”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:13 PM
April 28, 2008
Does the Al Kibar Bombing Mean War With Iran?

Daniel Levy continues to strike me as one of the most intelligent and informed commentators on Middle East issues, and a good writer to boot. (And we sure need informed comment on these subjects.) Levy has another fine piece up, this time at TPM, about revelations, or perhaps “revelations”, at Thursday’s Senate and House intelligence committee briefing on the Israeli bomb strike on Syria last September. Of course the briefing was closed, so what we have is from the press conference that followed.

The whole story of the bombing raid has not, I expect, been told. Probably no one knows it. It’s unlikely that anyone in any country has a complete accounting for the actions and inactions of Israel, Syria, and the US, to begin with. It’s unlikely that Israel or the US know precisely what has happening in Syria, or that the Syrians fully understand Israel’s motivations. Certainly each of the three governments includes contending factions, about which more in a moment.

In such situations my instinct is to look to the most reliable sources. Like Seymour Hersh. He’s not right 100% of the time, and his predictions can be pretty pessimistic. But he understands and practices the art of investigative journalism, and as a result generally knows what he’s talking about. My guess is, therefore, that his February report on the raid is currently the best available.

One argument against things being as they seem is that no one’s explained themselves. Why didn’t Syria respond to what under most circumstances would be considered an act of war? Why didn’t it become a UN issue? And why was Israel so circumspect afterward? When it bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981, says Hersh, “the Israeli government was triumphant, releasing reconnaissance photographs of the strike and permitting the pilots to be widely interviewed.” Not so this time.

Absent such data, inactions are being analyzed. In addition, pressures continue to be applied from multiple sides, thus causing some doubts about credibility of released information.

Whatever happened in Syria, what happened in Washington on Thursday could have been a propaganda effort. I mean, it’s not inconceivable.

…the evidence and photos, if they are to be taken at face value, were certainly impressive and convincing according to those who attended the briefing. Writing in the Washington Post, Robin Wright did add this note of caution: “The sole photograph shared with reporters depicting Syrian and North Korean officials together did not appear to be the Al Kibar reactor site.”

So how convincing is the evidence, really? Or perhaps more accurately, convincing to whom?

Levy proposes to break this problem into four questions. (One of the oddest features of TPM is the combination of high quality information with an apparent disinterest in typographical niceties such as spelling and punctuation, or in this case consistent capitalization.)

  1. What were the Syrians up to and why?
  2. Why now, and is it all about Matzah?
  3. And If Now, Was It Wise?
  4. Israel-Syria: Peace or War

There are those in the US — Levy mentions John Bolton’s Cheshire-cat smile at the press conference that followed the briefing — who would like, and therefore try to instigate, more conflict in the Middle East. Apparently life there has become boring.

Then there are those of us who fear that any more conflict added to an area with an existing surfeit of it would be unwise, and would create a world even less sane and much more dangerous.

In all three countries there are factions in the current governments ferociously opposing each others’ plans. And then there’s Iran, which may in the end be the real point made by those Israeli bombs.

Here in the US, the question is whether to start another war, to be known as Hopefully the Last Gasp of the Neocons. (The title for the sequel is still being debated.) Our government is by no means free of neocon influence. Despite never having been right, they keep insisting that theirs is the only view that makes sense, and they keep making alliances with people who see a profit to be made if they get their wish, a war on Iran.

Oddly enough, this Congressional briefing comes as Israel and Syria are said to be involved in what might turn out to be the forerunner of truly momentous negotiations. Syrian President Assad has reportedly said:

…direct negotiations need a sponsor and, unfortunately, this sponsor can only be the U.S. This is the reality of the situation. But the current administration has no vision and no will to support a peace process… perhaps with a future administration in the U.S., we would be able to speak of direct negotiations.

Why would he be interested in negotiations beginning January 21 of next year? Because Israel’s Ehud Olmert is said to be offering to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for a peace agreement based on UN resolutions and on international criteria. Levy thinks this is happening right now in part because the Knesset is dispersed for the Passover holiday, so it’s impossible to offer a no-confidence resolution.

As he says,

So here is a delicious and rare moment of Israeli-Syrian agreement: we both want to talk, the nature of the Syria-Israel issue is that we both need US facilitation, the Bush Administration is not interested and so, we will have to wait.

One can only imagine the depth of the chagrin, verging on despair, such negotiations would produce among the neocons, their compatriots in Israel, and the Left Behind crowd. Anything but peace! How can we stop it? How about pretending there’s a nuclear reactor in Syria we have to bomb, at the same time proving that our technology allows us to evade Syrian, and thus Iranian, air defense?

Apparently Olmert was against the release of any new details on the raid. He’s trying not to provoke a possible future negotiating partner. Says Levy:

This is one more demonstration that the neocons who pushed for this have their own agenda — and to the extent to which it dovetails an Israeli agenda — it is the agenda of the opposition on Israel’s far-right and has nothing to do with actual Israeli security interests (or any logical reading of American interests for that matter).

There is still of course the question of why none of this was taken to the IAEA over the past seven months or before.

Perhaps it wasn’t taken to the IAEA because, according to Hersh, their experts already examined the evidence and concluded it was, in Mohammed ElBaradei’s words, “unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.” It didn’t look like one in a lot of ways; for example, the main building was the right size horizontally but not vertically, and expected support and defense facilities were not nearby.

There are, it appears, factions in the US and in Israel, in both cases on the far right wing, that want war, and will try any trick they can think of to get it. But their time is running out; everyone’s aware of them; and I think the Joint Chiefs know the military can’t handle another war.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:42 AM
March 11, 2008
Makeshift Patriots in the White House

It appears the struggle to create a war with Iran is in its last throes.

Meanwhile, the uneasy partnership between Karl Rove and Dick Cheney continues. While Rovian operations take out political opponents like Don Siegelman in Alabama and Eliot Spitzer in New York, the Cheneyists struggle against the so-called adult leadership of war criminals like Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice, and the increasingly lonely rational Republicans in Congress. Wikipedia reports that

The final report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, issued on August 4, 1993, said that Gates “was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and was in a position to have known of their activities. The evidence developed by Independent Counsel did not warrant indictment…”

When such a person is your adult leadership, the outlook is sub-optimal indeed.

And sure enough, the makeshift patriots on the Dark Side have managed to gain one of their objectives: Admiral William “Fox” Fallon is resigning as Commander in Chief of Central Command, which includes Iran and Iraq. (Check out this map; I knew CentCom covered a lot of ground but I didn’t realize it was this much, basically Kenya to Kazakhstan.) Fallon is said to have called General (soon, presumably, Saint) David Petraeus, who reports to him, an ass-kissing little chickenshit. Evidence available to the public since the revelation of this remark suggests the characterization was not entirely without merit; but it was certainly unwelcome in the White House, and even more unwelcome in the Undisclosed Location. No doubt similar reactions followed the reports of Adm. Fallon responding to a question about a US war against Iran with “…not on my watch.’

Apparently Fallon’s approach was insufficiently aggressive.

The Persian Gulf right now is booming economically, and Fallon wants to harness that power to connect the failed states that pockmark the landscape to the outside world. In this choice, he sees no alternative.

“What I learned in the Pacific is that after a while the tableau of failed, failing, or dysfunctional states becomes a real burden on the functional countries and a problem for their neighborhood, because they breed unrest and insecurities and attract troublemakers very well. They’re like sewers, and they begin to fester. It’s bad for business. And when it’s bad for business, people tend to start restricting their investments, and they restrict their thinking, and it allows more barriers, so we’re back to building walls again instead of breaking them down. If you have to build walls, it means you’re moving backward.”

[WARNING: lyrics accompanying this video are not suitable for sensitive ears of any age.]


Fallon has no illusion about solving the Middle East or Central Asia during his tenure, but he’s also acutely conscious that with globalization’s rapid advance into these regions he may well be the last Centcom commander of his kind. Already Fallon sees the inevitability and utility of having a Chinese military partnership at Centcom, and he’d like to manage that inevitably from the start rather than have to repair damage down the line.

“I’d like to continue to do things that will be useful to the world and its inhabitants,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of good things, and I’ve seen a lot of stupid things.”

He omitted to specify the deciders in the cases of the stupid things he’d seen, or even which side they were on.

Discussing one of the incidents in which Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats showboated around and taunted American warships in the Strait of Hormuz,

Fallon’s eyes narrow and his voice becomes that whisper: “This is not how a country that wants to be a big boy in the neighborhood behaves. How are we supposed to take these guys seriously as players in the region? You’d like to deal with them as big-league players, but when they do this, it’s very tough.”

As before, there is the text and the subtext. Admiral William Fallon shakes his head slowly, and his eyes say, These guys have no idea how much worse it could get for them. I am the reasonable one.

And time will tell whether being reasonable will cost Admiral William Fallon his command.

Well, it has. I’m not one to glorify any part of military life or militarism, so I don’t mean to put Fox on a pedestal. I agree with Gibbon:

…as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.

Nowadays, as Thorstein Veblen pointed out, we’re more likely to vanquish our enemies with lawyers than soldiers. If you’re a threat to win a governorship we want, we’ll find a way to put you in jail on trivial or even trumped-up charges. If you’re a rising star, we’ll investigate your private life, and tell lies about your name, history, family, and religion. If you get elected President on a platform you copied from us, we’ll impeach you for adultery.

And if you try to stop our war machine, we’ll run over you.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:54 PM
February 16, 2008
Who Will Be the McMaster of Iraq?
In retrospect, I’m absolutely convinced that we lost the war wrong. We should have fought that war in an advisory mode and remained in that mode. When the South Vietnamese failed to come up and meet the mark at the advisory level, then we never should have committed US forces. We should have failed at the advisory effort and withdrawn. — Gen. Volney F. Warner, 1983

I’ve reached the epilogue of H.R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty, and it’s been quite a journey. The book covers the period from the inauguration of John Kennedy in 1961 to the point in July 1965 when Lyndon Johnson’s non-decision decisions fatally committed the United States to a land war in Asia, which nearly all of his advisors believed the US could not win. To get an idea of the granularity level McMaster is working at, check the first four (of fifteen) entries in the Table of Contents:

  1. The New Frontiersmen and the Old Guard
    1961–October 1962
  2. Havana and Hanoi
    October 1962–November 1963
  3. New War, New Leader
    November 1963–January 1964
  4. Graduated Pressure
    January–March 1964

At several critical points the narrative goes day by day, occasionally even hour by hour. The endnotes require eighty-two pages. It appears McMaster has gained access to nearly every relevant document, many of them unpublished memoirs or government memos that describe in detail what the participants were thinking about.

Anyone familiar with the history of the period will not be surprised by the duplicity and heartlessness of the main manager of the war, Robert Strange McNamara. If you saw The Fog of War, you know what I mean. McNamara is the kind of liar who lies to himself first and foremost, with the result that he can be convincing because he believes the lies he tells.

Certainly the war in Vietnam is the fault of LBJ above all; he handed McNamara the reins so he could concentrate on passing his Great Society legislation. That wasn’t a surprise to me, but I was taken aback by McMaster’s conclusion that Johnson’s personal insecurity was a large part of the problem. Unlike the current occupant, the President was actually the decider; but, like Bush, he was uncomfortable with dissent, so he continually reduced the size of the group with whom he was candid. When an advisor began to express doubts about the war, he was ignored, even if he happened to be the Vice President.

As a result the Joint Chiefs of Staff were cut out of the process of generating a strategy for fighting the war. When Johnson took office on November 22, 1963, American military folks were fighting in Vietnam, but neither the Vietnamese nor the American governments admitted that. Both claimed that US personnel performed in advisory roles only, which was true in the sense that American forces were not acting alone. Ground forces were always composed of Vietnamese soldiers accompanied by a few Americans, though the opposite ratios generally held when it came to the air war.

The Secretary of Defense, so called, held the top military brass in low esteem, in part because of his lack of knowledge of the military, in part because of his experience with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and in part because he believed he was smarter than they were and his systems analysis methods would solve every problem. This led McNamara to believe that he could control the American side of the war very precisely from Washington; so when he ordered bombing raids and the combination of bad weather and restrictions on military methods produced disappointing results, he blamed the military, despite their opposition to his methods. They might have been opposed to his goals as well, had they been given a clear picture of those goals; but you can’t provide a clear picture if you don’t have one yourself. At one point the National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy,

…told [Under Secretary of State George] Ball that there was no need for the United States to “follow a particular course down the road to a particular result.”

Right, we were only there killing people, and losing American lives, to see what would come of it. And to keep the profits rolling in for companies like Bell Helicopter. LBJ’s war cabinet believed, and said, that the US would be better off to fight and lose in Vietnam than to withdraw from the fight altogether.

Of course there’s plenty of blame to go around. An insecure President and a megalomaniac Defense Secretary were the main culprits, but the Joint Chiefs get some grief from McMaster too, which is probably why he’s still a Lieutenant Colonel.

The body charged with providing the president with military advice and responsible for strategic planning permitted the president to commit the United States to war without consideration of the likely costs and consequences. Comprehensive estimates of the number of troops necessary to win existed, but to conceal interservice divisions and to increase the likelihood that the president would approve the actions that they recommended, the Joint Chiefs suppressed them.

One study estimated that seven hundred thousand troops would be needed to win in Vietnam. The Army Chief of Staff thought five hundred thousand troops and five years would be required. But no one said anything, because McNamara and his allies in the administration had chosen a strategy they called graduated pressure, which severely limited the military’s ability to fight the war. The CIA was consistently reporting the difficulties faced by American strategists, but the American ambassador, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, removed the offending paragraphs before forwarding his reports to Washington. This inability to present the President with unvarnished analyses eventually led the director of the CIA to resign in frustration. But the Joint Chiefs simply buckled.

There are some striking similarities to the current war in Iraq. The ideological certainty of both administrations, though of different types, produced similar situations of willful blindness. This caused both administrations to ignore intelligence estimates that didn’t fit with what they wanted to hear. In both cases, many of the Americans making war strategy were innocent of military experience themselves. They believed passionately in the inherent superiority of American firepower, and equally strongly but less overtly in the superiority of Americans and the American way of life. These beliefs allowed both groups to retain their intentional ignorance of the objectives of those on the other side. McNamara et.al. persisted in thinking that Hanoi was playing a prestige game, and that rational calculations of cost would drive Ho Chi Minh to give up his ambitions to unify Vietnam.

William Bundy’s, [Michael] Forrestal’s, and [John] McNaughton’s education and experience in the law reinforced the analysts’ assumptions. In English common law, lawyers and judges must view human behavior through the lens of the “average reasonable man.” That theory underlay predictions of how Hanoi would respond to limited air strikes.

The problem was that all the evidence showed that Hanoi was not directed by average reasonable men. Ho told a French visitor that if they killed ten of his men for every man the Vietnamese killed, Ho would win the war. In the end, the Vietnamese were not going anywhere; the only way to beat them was to wipe them out. Graduated pressure was a strategy that clearly would not dissuade such opposition.

One is left with the impression that a good deal of the bungling of the invasion of Iraq is a replay of the disaster the US created in Vietnam. The main difference is that in the case of Iraq the Cheney administration knew exactly what it was going for. The PR was equally dishonest, but the goal was clear to the strategists: steal all the oil, even if we have to be there a hundred years to do so. American lives no longer mean more to the White House than foreign lives; dollars, and power, count.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 09:30 PM
December 04, 2007
NIE: Diplomatic Signal or Cheney Embarrassment? Or Both?

Steve over at TWN quotes the recently released NIE on Iranian nuclear capabilities, which seems to be exactly what you’d expect: a nuanced attempt to tell the administration something of what it wants to hear without overtly lying or stating confidance where little exists.

E. We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely while it weighs its options, or whether it will or already has set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart the program.
~ Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might — if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

~ We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons — and such a decision is inherently reversible.

But how difficult is it really to specify the basis of a combination of carrots and sticks, backed by credible US statements, that would induce whatever entity runs Iran to bargain in good faith? Seems to me that if we told them we wouldn’t attack them unless they attacked us or our allies, and they believed it, everything else could be worked out. The problem is that the current US “strategic posture”, as announced by the Pentagon, is to exert a certain level of control over all the world, allowing no rivals in military power. This requires us to “take out” — a phrase until recently more associated in the US with food than bombs — any potential threat.

How could any conception of a world community, ordered or otherwise, contain the idea of one globally dominant country, claiming the sole right of intervening at any time, place, or hour, without everyone else feeling threatened? This seems to me an instantiation of the abstract object I call the Mythical Knockout Punch. Truman rode this sucker to the everlasting infamy of two needless massacres, thinking the Russians, little men that they were from Harry’s grand viewpoint, would be quaking in their boots with respect for the Americans, proudly standing tall; possibly they would even concede, like the Japanese.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that then as now the biggest problems were with policy rather than procedure, the politicians rather than the military men. Truman was advised not to the drop the bomb by:

Adm. William D. Leahy, President Truman’s chief of staff[…;] commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry H. “Hap” Arnold; Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet; Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., commander of the U.S. Third Fleet; and the famous “hawk” who commanded the 21st Bomber Command, Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall[…;] [Gen.] Dwight D. Eisenhower [commander-in-chief of Allied forces in Europe…]

He paid as little attention to them as our current Big Man did to active Generals like Shinseki and retired ones like Zinni and Clark. And in order to sell the policy of massacre to the American population, earnestly striving to win but equally sincerely tired of war, Truman fixed the facts around the policy (if you don’t believe this I suggest a dose of Gar Alperovitz).

One thing about Roosevelt’s war, though: it wasn’t naked aggression on our part. It may have been, in fact I expect it was, an intentional oversight at Pearl Harbor, in some ways like that of 9/11. Those who believe in war, like those who believe in tax cuts, have the gift of seeing validation in every event. Every set of ideas is self-reinforcing, as the cognitive psychologists demonstrate.

One idea that, to the philosopher’s surprise, continues to motivate despite its opposition to the real world as it’s experienced is that if you hit your opponent hard enough he’ll give up. Civilization is thus represented by one of its least civil activities, boxing.

But it seems a superficial notion at best. For example, in chess tournaments my threat indicator hits red as soon as I start thinking I’m winning. It’s an easy time to trip up and make an oversight, at exactly the moment the opponent is panicking and buckling down with all available energy. It’s extremely rare to find oneself in a situation of such dominance that resistance is truly futile. The resistance may be, as we call it today, asymmetric. But it’s unlikely to resign the game while breath remains.

Truman hit Stalin with everything he had, calling it the greatest thing in history. It did indeed scare the Russians, so much they instituted a crash program and quickly generated their own bomb. Knockout punches only work in boxing and video games, where the opponent’s anger and shame and need for revenge aren’t relevant because time has expired.

As long as we continue to invade countries and take their resources, or claim the right to kidnap who we will off the streets of allies like Britain at the President’s whim, no one would believe any guarantee of security we made. Nor should they. Friends, in short, will be few and hard to come by.

But perhaps George Friedman, who usually seems to me the most right-wing of the Stratfor folks on Middle East topics, is correct to suggest that the NIE might be a signal of US readiness to consider the possibility of thinking about negotiations with Iran. As long as they wouldn’t deny interest in nukes, it was hard for us to negotiate; but if the intelligence community can say that they’re working on nucular power but not nucular weapons, talking might be possible. After all, we allowed Syria to show up at the Annapolis photo ops, where of course there wasn’t any action to exclude them from, thus preserving their diplomatic feelings.

In any case, it’s looking less and less likely that Cheney will be able to add one more war to the trough before he returns to a few years (all spent in this country, of course) of fabulous wealth and privilege in that part of the private sector that benefits most from the destruction.

Bush, Cheney, and those we would call their henchmen if these disastrous decisions and situations were being reported from Haiti, or even Mexico, have committed crimes against humanity and peace, and war crimes to boot. They should be in the dock at The Hague. It’s our job to send them there if we wish to maintain some international credibility as a nation.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:58 AM
November 04, 2007
Washingtonian Oversimplification

Are you pro-“War on Terror” or anti-?

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? All the Republicans except Paul are pro-, in fact they’re for all wars, as long as we’re attacking enemies we know are too weak to resist us on the battlefield (thus 4GW). Clinton and Obama have both made it clear that they think the GWOT is a real thing, and that we face a threat from an Islamic Mussolini. To me that makes them excellent examples of the old Chomsky saw that you can’t reach a position of power in our government unless you believe that the US is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives. If there’s any conflict that we’re involved in — and there is, always, because it’s the only thing we excel at — we’re the aggrieved party. We may have been the invaders, and we may have invaded for no reason, indeed for less than no reason; but our inherent goodness and altruism prove that if we torture it’s because torture was required, and those who were tortured understand that.

Personally I agree with John Edwards that the GWOT is nothing more than a bumper sticker, a slogan used to concentrate wealth and eliminate civil liberties. Only the foolish and the power-hungry take it seriously. And the oil companies.

Which doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as terrorism. What is a B-2 if not a terror weapon? Bombing Iraqi cities has only one purpose, to terrorize. A case can be made that bombing German cities during World War II was an attempt to destroy the industrial base, thus shortening the war. I don’t personally buy it, but there’s a real argument to be made there. But flattening Fallujah, a war crime by any definition, had nothing to do with removing the insurgency’s industrial base; it was simply an attempt to terrify the population. That’s terrorism, and if we wanted it to stop we could stop doing it.

So am I saying that the US is the leading terrorist country in the world? Yes. Followed by Israel, much of whose terrorism the US funds.

The Bush administration’s double standards are as glaring as meteor impacts. When, in the summer of 2006, Israel used the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah to unleash a pre-programmed devastating war on Lebanon, destroying great swathes of the country, the Bush administration immediately gave the Israelis the green light. When 12 Turkish soldiers are killed and eight captured by PKK guerrillas based in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Bush administration urges Ankara to take it easy.

The “war on terror” is definitely not an equal-opportunity business.

It is a business, though. The current problem for the terrorism industry is the incompetence, indeed the idiocy, of its MBA CEO and his board. Their inability to understand the complexities of the world drives them to shrink the problem to the point where their little minds can wrap around it, the issue being that such grotesque simplification removes their ability to predict the outcome of their actions.

A reasonable view of the world allows its holder to predict results with a non-zero chance of being right. Unfortunately, a view of the world that is one hundred percent wrong can sometimes produce the same results. For instance, if someone doesn’t hate you, but you believe he does, you’ll act hatefully toward him, thus generating in him a strong distaste for you, which you will then interpret as confirmation of what you always thought, thus increasing your confidance in your misapprehension, and eventually changing it to a truism.

An oversimplified view of the world, on the other hand, regularly produces unexpected results.

US plans for Iraqi Kurdistan, stretching back to that 1990 Israeli-devised Turkish plan, are in jeopardy. And once again all because of the enemy within.

Washington played the ethnic card in Afghanistan, pitting Tajiks against Pashtuns; the result, apart from a never-ending war in Afghanistan, was that Pashtuns on both sides of the border united and are now destabilizing even further the US ally, Pakistan.

Washington played the Kurd card to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and as a beachhead for its control of the country after the invasion. Not only Iraq turned into a quagmire, Washington helped to plunge Kurdistan into the line of (Turkish) fire.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:43 PM
August 17, 2007
Global Economic Meltdown: Six Dollars a Gallon

Seems to me there’s only two basic positions: either oil is being created as we speak at a pace rapid enough to supply our needs, or we’ll reach the peak of oil production at some point, the so-called Hubbert Peak.

What We Don’t Know

Since we have sketchy data to infer from, we don’t know where we are on that curve with certainty. The Saudis, for instance, hold onto the best estimates for their remaining reserves like Bush holds onto information about torture memos and spying on Americans.

There are disagreements among the participants about when the oily dance will come to a finale. Oil companies naturally don’t want people to cut back on their use of oil. For example, Exxon Mobil recently reported a quarterly profit of $10.3 billion, in light of which the executives at Royal Dutch Shell might have been shamed by their measly $8.7 billion over the same period. Anything that tends to get people talking about conserving or switching to realistic methods of transportation is generally anathema to Big Oil.

We probably won’t recognize the actual peak until we’re a bit past it.

What We Do Know

Some things, however, are clear. For instance, it’s uncontroversial that the cost of extracting oil goes up as more oil is pumped from that field, because the original pressure of compressed oil decreases and eventually must be supplemented by human ingenuity. It’s also well known that the world’s biggest oil fields are decades old and well into their useful lifecycle.

We’ve found most of the easy oil, says Michael Klare, and we’re headed into the era of tough oil. He cites one new project and two studies in support of his argument.

In the forty years since the discovery of oil in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, the largest field to be developed anywhere in the world is the Kashagan project in the Kazakh section of the Caspian Sea, currently estimated at 9-13 billion barrels. The project is big enough for Exxon Mobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Total (French), and Eni (Italian) to share interest. It was originally planned to be online in 2005 at a cost of $10 billion. The new estimate is 2010, for $19 billion. The government of Kazakhstan is threatening to take control of the project, but in fact it appears that the project faces a number of difficult issues.

The oil reservoir itself is buried beneath high-pressure strata of gas, making its extraction exceedingly tricky, and it contains abnormally high levels of deadly hydrogen sulfide; moreover, the entire field is located in a shallow area of the Caspian Sea that freezes over for five months of the year and is the breeding ground for rare seals and beluga sturgeon.

No doubt they’ll get that oil out, but it’ll be expensive.

Global Economic Meltdown

Two new reports, one from the International Energy Agency, part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the other submitted by the National Petroleum Council to the US Department of Energy, add fuel to the fire. In fact they throw gasoline onto it with predictions of significant near-term dislocations worldwide.

The IEA report, according to Klare, points out that demand for oil is increasing rapidly, especially in surging Asian economies like China and India. High prices at US pumps have not kept Americans from setting new records for distances driven. The demand does not show any signs of decreasing anywhere. To keep up with current demand, new demand, and declining production from older fields requires the production of five million new barrels a day. Since the older fields, like those in the US, can’t increase production, those five million barrels must come from

…Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela, and one or two other countries. These are not places that exactly inspire investor confidence of a sort that could attract the many billions of dollars needed to ramp up production enough to satisfy global requirements.

Read between the lines and one quickly perceives a worst-case scenario in which the necessary investment is not forthcoming; OPEC production does not grow by five million barrels per day year after year; ethanol and other substitute-fuel production, along with alternate fuels of various sorts, do not grow fast enough to fill the gap; and, in the not-too-distant future, a substantial shortage of oil leads to a global economic meltdown.

If we’re lucky. Which major power would lay down its arms rather than go to war over the dregs of the oil its military machine requires?

Even the Former Exxon Chairman…

The National Petroleum Council is a oil-industry association. Its recent report recommended, of course, more drilling in federal lands, but also increased fuel-efficiency standards.

Contributing to the buzz around its release was the identity of the report’s principal sponsor, former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond. Having previously expressed skepticism about global warming, he now embraced the report’s call for the taking of significant steps to curb carbon-dioxide emissions.

Like the IEA report, the NPC study does claim that — with the perfect mix of policies and an adequate level of investment — the energy industry would be capable of satisfying oil and gas demand for some years to come. “Fortunately, the world is not running out of energy resources,” the report bravely asserts. Read deep into the report, though, and these optimistic words begin to dissolve as its emphasis switches to the growing difficulties (and costs) of extracting oil and gas from less-than-favorable locations and the geopolitical risks associated with a growing global reliance on potentially hostile, unstable suppliers.

And the costs are significant. The NPC estimates that by 2030 the world will need to spend about $3,000 for each individual now alive, or $20 trillion, to ensure that enough oil exists to meet expected demand. Get out your wallet…

What’s Really Bad

Another area of agreement between the two reports:

Both reports claim that with just the right menu of corrective policies and an unrealistic streak of pure luck — as in no set of major Katrina-like hurricanes barreling into oil fields or refineries, no new wars in Middle Eastern oil producing areas, no political collapse in Nigeria — we can somehow stagger through to 2012 and maybe just beyond without a global economic meltdown.

That’s right, five years. After that, it gets ugly.

More competition among buyers, more difficult places to drill and extract, less stable host countries, aging fields with declining production.

What would six-dollar-a-gallon gas mean to the American Dream?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:15 PM
April 05, 2007
Egypt the Next Venezuela?

Richard at American Leftist pointed me to Lenin’s Tomb, from which comes this excerpt from his excerpt.

I say Egypt could be the next Venezuela — it would be more accurate to say that it would be far, far more significant than what is happening in Venezuela, much as one admires the popular movements and the political leadership shown thus far in that country.

The reasons are obvious: the overthrow of a pro-imperialist dictator subsidised by $2bn dollar donations from the Washington treasury each year, on the back of a massive wave of labour strikes and uprisings, would lay the grounds for a revolutionary transformation of the Middle East that no neoconservative would appreciate.

If Lenin’s predictions are on target, Bush actually could wind up in the history books as the man who brought democracy to the Middle East — although not at all in the way he imagined.

The thing that Bush and his neocon enablers can’t get their heads around is that free elections don’t necessarily lead to pro-western and pro-business capitalist regimes. Look at Hamas. Look at Venezuela. Look at Algeria. On and on.

In one of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels the hero is warned by his friend and mentor Meyer Meyer not to make the mistake of thinking that other people are basically pretty much like McGee, only with different faces.

This sounds too obvious to be worth saying, but in fact it’s a mistake that most of us make, most of the time. It explains why Bush thought Americans wanted him to gut Social Security; it explains why I thought Americans would gut Bush in the 2004 election.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:26 PM
February 22, 2007
English Speakers Face Existential Threat

In the current Newsweek Evan Thomas has an unusually vapid review of a book by Andrew Roberts which may or may not be equally vapid, depending on how accurately Thomas has described it. The review is in a section called “Ideas,” and here is Thomas’s: People who speak English are really, really special, and the rest of you owe us a really, really lot.

This idea is hardly worth engaging, and so let’s pass on to one which is worth engaging — although only because it has invaded the national brain like some ghastly tumor threatening the very values that Thomas supposes us to possess:

The English-speaking peoples have been seriously threatened by force four times: twice by German aggression, once by Soviet totalitarianism, and most recently by Islamic fanaticism. The forces of freedom and democracy reeled after the first blows—at Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor in World War II and at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. “The English-speaking peoples rarely win the first battle,” writes Roberts, “but they equally rarely lose the subsequent war.”

All right, everybody. Let’s relax for a minute here.

The English-speaking peoples are not seriously threatened by force from Islamic fanaticism. The only major war subsequent to 9/11 was one we sought in Iraq, and it lasted only a few weeks. Everything after that has a badly botched occupation.

The 9/11 attacks and World War II are no more parallel than longitude and latitude are parallel, no matter how badly George W. Bush wants to be Winston Churchill. (I might mention here that I myself would very much like to be Dame Judi Dench, although the odds are against it.)

The only human force that can seriously threaten the existence of the United States, let alone the English-speaking peoples, would be a full-scale military attack from a combination of opponents. A coalition of Russia, Japan and China might pull it off.

But in the real world this will not happen, because the United States, Russia and China all have atomic weapons and Japan could have them by next Tuesday.

This is why North Korea and Iran are in such a scramble to get nuclear weapons: not to attack us, but to make sure we don’t attack them. The strategy works very well, as may be seen in the case of North Korea. Next thing we know, Bush will visit Pyongyang, nation-building.

Returning to the real world, the war on terror is not a war. Osama attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with stolen airliners and kamikaze pilots because, lacking an air force, he was incapable of war. One engages in terrorism not because one is powerful, but precisely because one is weak.

Terrorism is almost always about real estate, as in Ireland, Chechnya, Spain, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, and elsewhere around the globe. If the United States had remained neutral in the land dispute between the Israel and its Arab neighbors, there would have been no 9/11.

And if we were now to become neutral in that dispute, there would be no more 9/11s. That is the only way to end Islamic terrorism in this country. Every informed American with a double-digit I.Q. knows that; the only meaningful question left is whether our continued blind support of Israel is somehow worth whatever it costs in future terror attacks.

We have been misled to believe that we are mired in an apocalyptic clash between the forces of Islamic darkness and the forces of English-speaking light. But it only seems that way because Bush responded to an act of terror with an act of war against an evil but in this case innocent bystander.

Nor are the Iraqis reacting to Bush’s occupation with some fiendish and unfair new form of combat called “asymmetrical warfare” in which they cunningly “adapt to the enemy” in new and hitherto unimaginable ways. No, the Iraqis are reacting to occupation by a more powerful enemy in the same way that resistance fighters reacted to Hitler’s storm troopers. They are improvising against an occupying army the best they can.

Nor should we be surprised if the neighbors lend a hand. They do so for the same reasons that the Soviets supported Tito and British agents aided guerrillas all over Europe. The neighbors don’t want to be the next ones occupied.

Fortunately even if Bush turns Iran into his very own Cambodia, we will eventually be forced to withdraw from the Middle East just as Nixon did from Southeast Asia.

In both misbegotten struggles, our opponents were clear in what they wanted — our absence — and we were unclear about what we wanted. Our presence? Did we really want to stay? For how long? Forever? Why?

Was such a dubious prize worth the life of even one George Walker Bush or Richard Bruce Cheney? Like millions of other Americans they didn’t think so. But that, of course, was then.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:09 PM
November 04, 2006
He’s Baaack

I suspect that not many Americans are aware of the upcoming election.

Sure, everyone knows that Tuesday’s the day we have a chance to throw out a bunch of politically, financially, and morally corrupt Republicans. You can’t escape that. Every news outlet from CNN to HBO is talking about broken government and rigged voting machines.

But in Nicaragua, which Ronald Reagan famously characterized as only two days from Brownsville, Texas, Reagan’s nemesis Daniel Ortega seems poised for victory in the election to be held on Sunday.

As you would expect, the world’s premier democracy is assisting in the process of making sure the Nicaraguan people have a fair chance to choose their government. Yeah, right. In fact, the US has threatened to eliminate American investment in Nicaragua and warned of imminent violence in the streets should Ortega win. This paroxysm of illegal and idiotic reaction has, perhaps not surprisingly, brought an old criminal back to the scene of the crime.

More than once he said he was a private citizen on a private visit. But when your name is Oliver North and you are in Nicaragua on the eve of an election, there might, not for the first time, be a credibility problem.

[…]

Mr North was fired by Mr Reagan in 1987 after it was revealed that he sold weapons to Iran to fund the Contras, a scheme widely believed to have had the backing of the then president.

The decorated Vietnam veteran admitted he lied to Congress and was convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity, blocking an inquiry and destroying documents. The sentence was overturned on the grounds that his televised congressional testimony may have prejudiced his right to a fair trial.

Personally, I more or less believed Ronnie when he said he didn’t know. I mean, if you’re hatching a secret plan, why would you ask him what he thought? This was a President who believed he had fought in World War II because he was in some war movies. Perhaps Alzheimer’s was already clouding his mind, or perhaps he simply remained the idiot he’d always been. Either way, I can’t imagine him providing any useful information, advice, tips, or words of encouragement. Nor can I imagine him objecting on legal or moral grounds. Plus, you might have to check with Nancy’s astrologer to get the optimum moment for trading guns for hostages.

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North claims to be a private citizen because the anti-Ortega he supports is not the anti-Ortega that the Bush administration supports.

The US ambassador and senior US officials have warned the impoverished nation of dire consequences if they vote for Ortega. But to Mr North’s chagrin they have backed another conservative candidate, Eduardo Montealegre, instead of Mr Rizo. The US embassy was said to be furious about his arrival, obliging him to call it a private visit.

Before flying out on Monday the former marine laid a wreath at Parque de la Paz, a monument to fallen Contra fighters. In an apparent reference to Mr Ortega’s regional allies, Mr North said Nicaragua had suffered enough from the influence of outsiders.

The Guardian doesn’t say whether Ollie meant that sarcastically; but I doubt he’s able to get past his inflated ego to realize the sheer hypocrisy he embodies.

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like American threats are much respected around the world these days. Sure, Bush is seen as the second-greatest danger to world peace, but everyone knows he’s got nothing to work with. After Tuesday he’ll have to beg the House for money to prosecute his illegal wars, and it’s unlikely he’ll have enough time to do so while he’s preparing his defense for all the illegal actions he’s taken.

So it appears that the Nicaraguans are ignoring this round of American threats. Ortega is polling around 33%, in an election where 35% of the vote plus a lead of at least five percentage points is enough to win the Presidency in the first round.

Apparently the Nicaraguans are still angry about those 30,000 deaths in the Contra war.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:58 AM
July 27, 2006
Two Worlds Diverge

People seem to think the Bush policy in the Middle East is failing (though I don’t agree; it seems to me his policy is to do nothing, which is pretty hard to mess up).

Instead of leading the coalition, then, Bush is explaining his position to allies, reviving memories of his first-term doctrinal differences. “When it looks like we’re the odd man out, it tends to cement certain images,” said Dennis Ross, a Middle East negotiator under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. “The U.S. is actually doing the right thing. But are we seen as being active enough in terms of putting together a constructive plan?”

Ross said Bush could use the situation to bolster his case about the threat of a nuclear Iran, given its ties to Hezbollah. “Iran acts pretty reckless when they don’t have a nuclear shield. How would they act if they did have a nuclear shield?” he said.

Breathtaking. I mean, as Americans in Iraq, let’s talk about the recklessness of other countries, who haven’t invaded anyone lately.

Okay, play along with me for a minute. Let’s design some abstract worlds and see how we feel about them.

World number one begins with no state in the region having nuclear bombs. Suppose, then, that Iran was the first to brandish the weapons. Would that be a danger? Well, I’m no Middle East expert, but my guess is it would. In such a situation, which state in the Middle East might be a tempting target? Again, IANA expert, but Israel comes to mind. Israel’s vaunted military machine would be obliterated by nuclear weapons just like everyone else’s. Iran might become the regional bully, invading its neighbors on any pretense.

World number two begins with one state in the region already in possession of nuclear bombs. Suppose, for example, that Israel had 200 nuclear bombs and some experts claimed it was really more like 400. In this world, if Iran fired its nuke at, say, Tel Aviv, Israel would wipe Iran off the map.

Would you think that Iran having a nuke was as dangerous in the second world as it was in the first one? If so, why? Is it because Iran might use the bomb to terrorize (knowing it could never win), while Israel would never resort to the Samson option, no matter how hard-pressed? Or is that Israel might have to fight Iran and you don’t want Iran to pose a challenge? Really, I don’t understand the reasoning here.

The quote from Dennis Ross seems to me to assume that our first world is the real one, but of course the second is closer to the truth. Israel does not admit to having nuclear weapons, nor does the US government admit knowing about the bombs. Such an admission would seem to make US assistance to Israel illegal, to begin with.

So we act as if Israel was outmanned and outgunned and struggling for its survival, as Ira Chernus describes.

Why need a war every few years? Turn for a moment from Ha’aretz, often called the Hebrew equivalent of the New York Times, to the real New York Times, where Israeli novelist Etgar Keret pulled back the curtain. Among Israeli Jews, Keret wrote, after the attack on Lebanon began, “there was a small gleam in almost everyone’s eyes, a kind of unconscious breath of relief. … We long for a real war to take the place of all those exhausting years of intifada when there was no black or white, only gray … Once again, we’re a small country surrounded by enemies, fighting for our lives, not a strong, occupying country forced to fight daily against a civilian population. So is it any wonder that we’re all secretly just a tiny bit relieved?”

The idea of Israel as a tiny victim fighting for its life may be comforting for Israelis, but it is an illusion. My sister and her family are obviously scared, with good reason. Some Israelis have died, and every life is precious. But she goes to work every day as usual. It sounds like her biggest immediate problem is her dog, who trembles and whimpers at the continual sound of Israeli gunfire. “Massive wave of Katyushas strikes northern Israel; No injuries reported,” she reads in the latest Ha’aretz headline.

On the other side of the border, my brother-in-law writes, “most of the Shi’ite villages and towns that have been pounded are destroyed. … The Israelis have continually pounded the Shi’ite Dahia neighborhood [of Beirut], a Hezbollah stronghold, into rubble. The entire population, numbering perhaps up to two hundred thousand people were compelled to abandon their homes.” Well over 200 civilians have already died, and the Israeli Air Force talks about weeks more of the same.

In fact, everyone knows that in the present circumstances Israel could not be conquered even by all its neighbors acting in concert in a surprise attack. Which is a good thing, knowing you can’t be conquered by a surprise attack. It’s such a good thing that we might want to consider distributing it to everyone in the region.

In the end, it seems to me that if any country has nuclear weapons, all countries will want to have to have them.

The recent actions of the United States prove that even well-respected countries are untrustworthy when it comes to snatching power. No individual country will keep us all safe. We either co-operate or we fight it out.

If it were up to me, I’d open with the position that no country in the Middle East should have nuclear weapons. Nor should any country have to fear attack by its neighbors, whether biological, chemical, or conventional. We need some sort of international guarantor of the soverignty of states, some sort of grouping of nations committed to international coöperation…

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:17 PM
July 21, 2006
Solid Wind

One need only watch the latest news with a discerning eye and ear to understand that the Israeli military is now acting as a proxy for the United States — or vice-versa — obviously a chicken and egg situation, depending on whose neocon vision one has in mind.

Never one to mince words, but perhaps one to occasionally understate his meaning, George Orwell previously reminded us:

One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Alas, not much has changed since Orwell penned those words. As evidence, I offer up or portion of Newt Gingrich’s WWIII essay that appeared yesterday in the Guardian UK.

The ceasefire called for by the recent and ill-advised G-8 communiqué would do the opposite. It would simply allow the terrorists to organize and prepare for the next round of killing and bloodshed.

The nature of the threat — with Iran at the epicenter — is at its core ideological. The ideological wing of Islam that is irreconcilable to modern civilization. And while not operationally connected, the events of just the last seven weeks throughout the world share the common strategic goal of defeating the West and its values. It could be accurately described as a third world war.

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Posted by Buck Batard at 06:57 AM
April 12, 2006
The Big Dawg Is Back! Woof, Woof!

Anybody else notice that the Bush Administration’s threats to bomb or even nuke Iran, crazy though they are, at least aren’t coming with any threats of a ground invasion? Which (minus the nukes) puts American foreign policy back where it was under Bill Clinton: drop bombs wherever and whenever desired, but no ground troops. This wasn’t a morally or tactically sufficient foreign policy then, and it won’t be now. But still an improvement over 2003.

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Posted by Wayne Uff at 06:11 AM
March 22, 2006
So What If Iran Has a Bomb?
Of course, a fundamental part of the non-proliferation bargain is the commitment of the five nuclear States recognized under the non-proliferation treaty — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — to move toward disarmament. Recent agreements between Russia and the United States are commendable, but they should be verifiable and irreversible. A clear road map for nuclear disarmament should be established — starting with a major reduction in the 30,000 nuclear warheads still in existence, and bringing into force the long-awaited Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

If the global community is serious about bringing nuclear proliferation to a halt, these measures and others should be considered at the non-proliferation treaty review conference next year.

In areas of longstanding conflict like the Middle East, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction — while never justified — can be expected as long as we fail to introduce alternatives that redress the security deficit. We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security — and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use.

When it’s all put this simply, it’s hard to figure out what the hell we’re doing.

Take a look at Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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.

The United States signed that treaty. Has the US “pursued negotiations in good faith … on a treaty of general and complete [nuclear] disarmament”? Of course it hasn’t. US policy has been to tell other countries, “Do what makes it easy for us to control you, not what makes it easy for you to be independent”. Given how much, and how many, nations were beholden to the US after the Second World War, this policy worked for a while, especially when the Soviet Union could be invoked as the boogeyman. These days, overuse and dishonesty have turned the policy into a boy crying wolf.

Truly, it’s not surprising that other countries have decided to attempt to ensure their own territorial integrity by acquiring a weapon even the schoolyard bully would fear: a nuke. This kind of escalation is directly related to bullying and aggression by the strongest power, the only country to mount thousand-bomber raids over cities, and the only country to use nuclear weapons. So far.

When you see Iraq attacked, and North Korea harangued, it’s extremely difficult to avoid the conclusion that you’ll be invaded unless you have a nuclear bomb. If you’re Iran, you’re gonna get that damn bomb built ASAP no matter what it takes. Says Bill Greider:

It’s time for a real public debate, [New York Times reporter David] Sanger suggests. He doesn’t paint a happy picture as he lays out the new power equation of nuclear proliferation — Iran with the bomb becomes the dominant regional power in the Mideast — but he suggests the most plausible option may be “containment.” Working out unsentimental relationships with Iran and other nuclear wannabes means terms that define clearly how far is too far to go. Muddling through sounds less satisfying than war-making, but it worked well enough during the decades of the cold war. At least nobody dropped the big one.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 05:58 AM
February 23, 2006
Terrorists on Both Sides

Obvious hypocrisy coupled with military and economic weakness are creating a difficult environment for Bush administration foreign policy. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving group, and the implications for the world, at least in the long term, are in my opinion quite positive.

The economic weakness is obvious: we have to borrow money from China to go adventuring in Iraq. The adventure in Iraq has made the military weakness painfully clear: the mighty US is not simply tied down by the insurgency, it is in the process of losing another insurgent war, as US commanders admit, and breaking the military as it does so.

You’re probably aware that US Secretary of State Rice is traveling in the Middle East, trying to persuade Arab countries to withhold funding from the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinians elected the wrong people. So far she’s met with no success:

The lengthy news conference with [Egyptian Foreign Minister] Aboul Gheit, filled with banter and cross talk by the two diplomats, underscored the daunting and at times contradictory challenge Rice faces as she tries to fashion an international response to Hamas’s unexpected victory in Palestinian legislative elections. In effect, she urged pressure on the victor of an election she has hailed as fair and transparent, while seeking the support of an autocratic government that she has demanded must become more free.

As we would expect from the group of reflexive liars currently in the White House, Secretary Rice is apparently able to make her case with a straight face. At least, the Post’s Glenn Kessler, in two successive articles about Rice’s trip, says nothing about eruptions of laughter from the Secretary or her audience.

Her failure in Egypt, reported yesterday, was matched by her failure in Saudi Arabia, reported today:

Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab donor to the Palestinians, said Wednesday it would continue that aid despite the prospect of a Hamas-led cabinet, though it also expressed support for peace initiatives rejected by Hamas that allow for the eventual recognition of Israel.

“We wish not to link the international aid to the Palestinian people to considerations other than their dire humanitarian needs,” said the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met one-on-one for nearly 2 1/2 hours with King Abdullah.

One gets the sense that the Secretary’s hosts were snickering behind her back as

…Rice confronted the contradictions of the administration’s Middle East policy.

On trips to the region in the past year, she repeatedly pushed Arab governments to step up monetary support for the Palestinians while arguing that they must open up their political systems. This week, in her first trip since Hamas’s unexpected victory Jan. 25, she has urged caution in supporting a Palestinian legislature that came to power in a democratic election.

Lies about WMD in Iraq were followed by a rebranding of the war as a push for democracy. Of course, the only people fooled were Americans. In the Middle East, the US is now pushing to “destabilize” the Palestinian Authority because the voters chose Hamas in an election widely regarded as legitimate. We’re all for democracy, as long as you choose our favored candidates. Naturally, our favored candidates were not only corrupt but widely known to be so. Nevertheless, US strategic thinkers claim to have been shocked at the ouster of the Fatah party.

Even more hypocritically, the US now demands that Hamas, whose most powerful weapons are suicide bombers, must renounce violence if it wants US funding; but we make no such demands on Israel, whose most powerful weapons are nuclear bombs, of which the country is said to have between two hundred and four hundred. All US funding of Israel is illegal, according to Chomsky, precisely because of those nuclear weapons, so we never mention them; the US government does not even officially recognize that the weapons exist. But Hamas is considered a terrorist organization, while the government of Israel is called a democracy.

Zionists point out, accurately, that Hamas does not accept the existence of the state of Israel; therefore, they claim, Hamas is not legitimate. But Israel has so far managed to prevent the Palestinians from having any state at all; it continues to take more Palestinian land, and to work to make any future Palestinian state non-viable. Everyone in the world, except for Americans, sees this situation for what it is. This is why so many vote tallies at the UN are on the order of 150–4, with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands joining Israel and the US against the world. And Ariel Sharon, judged by his own government to be responsible for the massacre of civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and for that reason banned from the post of Minister of Defense, is now lionized as a peacemaker.

The hypocrisy hole just gets deeper and deeper.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:38 AM
February 17, 2006
Do They Actually Think This Will Work?

Could there be a more wrong-headed scheme than the Bush administration’s plan to spend $75 million on propaganda in Iran?

Aggressive war against a poorly armed Iraq was more immediately destructive, I grant you. And true American interests will suffer more in the long run from geostrategic adventurism than from propaganda blitzes.

But the recent approaches to Iraq and Iran are more than bird-brained blunders by a bungling bunch of Bush business buddies and body-buriers. (Alliteration in commemoration of the ordeal of Harry Whittington, to whom we wish a full and speedy recovery.)

In many ways George W. Bush’s approach to Iraq was typically American. In fact, it was a replay of his father’s script: the struggle to find a publicly acceptable justification, enormous loss of life for unacknowledged reasons, oil companies making out like bandits, lots of public money missing (a Bush family trademark), the weak and poor suffering the most as usual, all reprised. Many of the same war criminals at the helm, in fact.

Jonathan Kwitny wrote a book called Endless Enemies, one of the theses of which I took to be that the US has become dependent on having an enemy to justify the enormous transfer of wealth represented by the so-called defense budget. Therefore, if no enemy exists, one must be constructed. The natural course of events, if the world stage quiets, is for the US to engage in, or perhaps invent, rancorous encounters with its chosen opponent, which it uses to justify an invasion; the whole shebang, naturally, designed as a stage for the nightly news back home. This craft of stage design is nowadays the most useful, or at least used, lesson of the whole US experience in Vietnam.

The results haven’t been pretty.

In 1991, two days before the Persian Gulf War ended, the first President Bush wrote in his diary: “It’s surprising how much I dwell on the end of the Vietnam syndrome.” For the elder Bush and others who saw the Vietnam syndrome acting as a drag on American foreign and defense policy, the best remedy was to show that the country had learned how to use force effectively. After U.S. forces had evicted Saddam Hussein’s invading army from Kuwait, the president said, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

With the second President Bush, we seem to have kicked the lessons as well as the syndrome. With Rumsfeld still in office, the Powell doctrine is out the window: we no longer use overwhelming force, we don’t expect to sustain the commitment, and we don’t think we’ll need an exit strategy: it’ll happen, like stuff does, on its own. We don’t really worry about domestic support, because we’ve emasculated Congress and we know how to rig elections.

Bill Greider has characterized the goal of the ruling right as rolling back the twentieth century. Indeed, forcing the recognition that the less advantaged have equal rights has been a hard slog throughout history. The more advantaged, and especially the really, really more advantaged, don’t need any more competition than they have, so they don’t go out of their way to develop it by providing food, health care, and education to everyone. With the enormous concentrations of wealth we’ve seen recently, and more importantly the enormous gap between the rich and poor, the highly advantaged have tremendous amounts of capital to put into ventures, adventures, and ads to distract and obfuscate.

But I find it hard to believe, even knowing the skill and resources available to the Republican propaganda machine, that $75 million of American money can profitably be spent to influence the Iranian public. Do they really think ads and American music will reconcile Iranians to Americans bombing their nuclear facilities? If so, we’ve spent $4 million on our image in Iran over the last two years, but this year we’ll need to boost that quite a bit.

The US is to increase funds to Iranian non-governmental bodies that promote democracy, human rights and trade unionism. It began funding such bodies last year for the first time since Washington broke off ties with Iran in 1980. A US official said all existing citizens’ groups and non-governmental organisations in Iran had been heavily infiltrated by the Tehran government, so the US would seek to help build new dissident networks.

See, if I were to read in an Iranian newspaper that the government of Iran was openly planning to build new dissident networks here in the US, I don’t think I’d take it well. If the Iranians were to protest that they didn’t understand why we hated them, I’d be even more confused.

In the end, isn’t it obvious that the best outcome for the US would be a stable, peaceful Iran? That, it seems to me, is more likely to arrive in the shape of some sort of popular government than the form they have now where the clerics have veto power over the elected representatives.

A few years ago, Iran seemed to an untrained eye to be groping toward a reasonable relationship with Europe and the US. When George W. Bush’s strategic thinkers decided that it was part of the Axis of Evil, it was suddenly recast as Defender of the Faith, a role it knows and feels comfortable with. Being seen as such by the Moslem world is said to be an important motivation for the Iranian leadership, as is defending their own territory against a superpower with an army next door.

Are we so addicted to action movies that we can’t imagine just leaving well enough alone? There’s no Defender without an Attacker. If the US hadn’t been perceived as such a threat, Iran might have continued to evolve its governmental structure in democratic, or at least moderate, directions. By overtly interfering and attempting to dictate outcomes, we’ve forced many Iranians to take more radical stances against us. So now we have the Secretary of State asking Congress for $75 million, in addition to $10 million already allocated for this year, “to broadcast US radio and television programmes into Iran, help pay for Iranians to study in America and support pro-democracy groups inside the country.”

Some of that money will buy television and radio broadcasts of American propaganda (by which I don’t mean to imply that it’s necessarily false) into Iran. Possibly some of it will become covert aid to groups considered sufficiently pro-American. But won’t this mean that any group with policies we like is immediately suspect among Iranians, for exactly that reason? A US favorite who became popular would be vulnerable to the charge of being “soft on the Great Satan”.

American propaganda in Iran is more likely in my opinion to provoke a negative than a positive reaction. To the argument that, absent American pressure, Iran will get a nuclear bomb, I reply that Iran will get a nuclear bomb if it wants one whether we like it or not — our only alternatives are to negotiate the terms, or put off the decision by bombing nuclear facilities. It’s not clear that Iran wants the bomb, though it certainly wants the attention and bargaining power associated with the threat — Iranians, after all, were playing chess throughout much of the European Dark Ages, and in chess it’s often said that “the threat is stronger than the execution”. But it is clear that Iran sees Israel with a few hundred nuclear weapons, plus matching delivery mechanisms, and feels vulnerable.

I would argue that ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons is a worthwhile goal. But to be a credible leader on that issue, the US would have to begin to live up to its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Agreement by taking steps to eliminate all nuclear weapons. That was the original agreement, and the enticement offered by the nuclear powers to the rest in exchange for renouncing nuclear aspirations.

As long as we’re perceived as wanting ours, while making sure no one else gets theirs, we’ll be attacked in unconventional ways, such as terrorism and insurgencies. No amount of experimentation with different-size nuclear explosions — tactical nukes, bunker-busters, and the like — can keep that from happening. Human nature will find a way to strike back against repression and ill-use.

We’re trying to lead by fear and force, but these methods only provoke resistance. We need, I believe, to stop bombing and start co-opting.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 03:07 AM
January 10, 2006
Over A Billion New Chumps

Sure, China is a economic phenomenon right now, but don’t think there aren’t a few cultural bumps in moving from communism to capitalism.

Kai Rysdall is running NPR’s “Marketplace” segment out of Shanghai this week, and this morning his colleague Jocelyn Ford reported that the formerly torrid housing market in that new mega-city has recently slowed somewhat, causing residential real estate prices to drop. She says that typical Chinese home buyers have never owned before, so they are surprised and outraged at the drop in prices, and many of them want their money back.

Here’s a message from those of us practiced in the ways of capitalism to our new Chinese colleagues: it’s you and me holding the bag, not the bank. It’s not all cellphones, champagne and luxury automobiles; when things go south, the little guy gets the hose. Money back? Bwah-haa-haaa-haaa! Welcome to capitalism, chump.

UPDATE: Chuck sent a link to a nice Robert Reich piece about the transition to capitalism in China.

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Posted by Wayne Uff at 06:32 AM
December 21, 2005
Either Way, It’s All Thumbs

More Bush Administration incompetence, or just more thumbing its nose at the international community? You decide:

Despite U.S. assurances that any mistreatment of prisoners will be investigated and punished, German prosecutors have been waiting since May for the American government to respond to charges that the CIA kidnapped and mistreated a German citizen named Khaled al-Masri.
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Posted by Wayne Uff at 10:43 PM
October 17, 2005
Judy Does The World

Over at Poynter online, we get another take on Judith from Barbara Crossette. And from Avedon Carol we get a glimpse of one person who might be said to be a “highly placed friend”.

Obscured behind the large issues of weapons of mass destruction and Joseph Wilson’s links with the CIA is another story. Over the last year or so, Judith Miller also wrote a series of damaging reports on the “oil for food” scandal at the United Nations — in particular, personally damaging to Secretary General Kofi Annan because the reports were frequently based on half-truths or hearsay peddled on Capitol Hill by people determined to force Annan out of office. At the UN, this was interpreted as payback for the UN’s refusal to back the US war in Iraq. As a former NYT UN bureau chief [now retired] I have been asked repeatedly by diplomats, former US government officials, journalists still reporting from the organization and others why Times editors did not step in to question some of this reporting — a lot of it proved wrong by the recent report by Paul Volcker — or why the paper seemed to be on a vendetta against the UN. The Times answered that question Sunday in its page one report on the Miller affair. Ms. Run Amok had at least one very highly placed friend at the paper, and many Timespeople were afraid to tangle with her because of that. Note also, that Ambassador John Bolton, a severe critic of the UN and a figure so controversial he could not face a confirmation hearing in the Senate, was one of the administration officials who took time to visit Miller in jail.

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Posted by Buck Batard at 05:26 PM