Not [and thanks, Xenophon].
This only surprises the same sort of people who would have never thought they wouldn't welcome us in Iraq as liberators and that everythingchangedon911.
Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.
On "Fox News Sunday" Feb. 25, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paralleled World War II with the state of Iraq when discussing what would happen if Congress were to revise the Iraq authorization:
... If Congress were now to revise the Iraq authorization, she said, out loud, with an adult present: "... it would be like saying that after Adolf Hitler was overthrown, we needed to change, then, the resolution that allowed the United States to do that, so that we could deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after he was overthrown."
The secretary's résumé reads that she has a master's degree and a Ph.D in political science. The interviewer should have demanded to see them, on the spot. Dr. Rice spoke 42 words. She may have made more mistakes in them than did the president in his State of the Union Address in 2003.
There is, obviously, no mistaking Saddam Hussein for a human being. But nor is there any mistaking him for Adolf Hitler.
Invoking the German dictator who subjugated Europe; who tried to exterminate the Jews; who sought to overtake the world is not just in the poorest of taste, but in its hyperbole, it insults not merely the victims of the Third Reich, but those in this country who fought it and defeated it.
Saddam Hussein was not Adolf Hitler. And George W. Bush is not Franklin D. Roosevelt - nor Dwight D. Eisenhower. He isn't even George H.W. Bush, who fought in that war...
And, please, Madame Secretary, if you are going to make that most implausible, subjective, dubious, ridiculous comparison; if you want to be as far off the mark about the Second World War as, say, the pathetic Holocaust-denier from Iran, Ahmadinejad - at least get the easily verifiable facts right: the facts whose home through history lies in your own department.
"The resolution that allowed the United States to" overthrow Hitler?
On the 11th of December, 1941, at 8 o'clock in the morning, two of Hitler's diplomats walked up to the State Department - your office, Secretary Rice - and 90 minutes later they were handing a declaration of war to the chief of the department's European Division. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor four days earlier, and the Germans simply piled on.
Your predecessors, Dr. Rice, didn't spend a year making up phony evidence and mistaking German balloon-inflating trucks for mobile germ warfare labs. They didn't pretend the world was ending because a tin-pot tyrant couldn't hand over the chemical weapons it turned out he'd destroyed a decade earlier. The Germans walked up to the front door of our State Department and said, "We're at war." It was in all the papers. And when that war ended, more than three horrible years later, our troops and the Russians were in Berlin. And we stayed, as an occupying force, well into the 1950s. As an occupying force, Madam Secretary!
If you want to compare what we did to Hitler and in Germany to what we did to Saddam and in Iraq, I'm afraid you're going to have to buy the whole analogy. We were an occupying force in Germany, Dr. Rice, and by your logic, we're now an occupying force in Iraq. And if that's the way you see it, you damn well better come out and tell the American people so. Save your breath telling it to the Iraqis - most of them already buy that part of the comparison.
"It would be like saying that after Adolf Hitler was overthrown, we needed to change then, the resolution that allowed the United States to do that, so that we could deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after he was overthrown."
We already have a subjectively false comparison between Hitler and Saddam. We already have a historically false comparison between Germany and Iraq. We already have blissful ignorance by our secretary of state about how this country got into the war against Hitler. But then there's this part about changing "the resolution" about Iraq; that it would be as ridiculous in the secretary's eyes as saying that after Hitler was defeated, we needed to go back to Congress to "deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after he was overthrown."
Oh, good grief, Secretary Rice, that's exactly what we did do! We went back to Congress to deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after Hitler was overthrown! It was called the Marshall Plan.
Gen. George Catlett Marshall!
Secretary of state!
The job you have now!
Twelve billion, 400 thousand dollars to stabilize all of Europe economically - to keep the next enemies of freedom, the Russians, out and democracy in! And how do you suppose that happened? The president of the United States went back to Congress and asked it for a new authorization and for the money. And do you have any idea, Madame Secretary, who opposed him when he did that? The Republicans!
"We've spent enough money in Europe," said Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio.
"We've spent enough of our resources," said former President Hoover.
It's time to pull out of there! As they stand up, we'll stand down!
This administration has long thought otherwise, but you can't cherry-pick life - whether life in 2007, or life in the history page marked 1945. You can't keep the facts that fit your prejudices and throw out the ones that destroy your theories. And if you're going to try to do that; if you still want to fool some people into thinking that Saddam was Hitler, and once we gave FDR that blank check in Germany he was no longer subject to the laws of Congress or gravity or physics, at least stop humiliating us...
President Bush reportedly met yesterday with Walid Jumblatt, a member of the Lebanese Parliament who has repeatedly called for U.S.-backed regime change in Syria.
After visiting the White House, Jumblatt addressed the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, which wields significant influence within the administration. “Many people say there won’t be a stable Lebanon without regime change in Syria,” Jumblatt said, adding that he “urged the Bush administration to aid opposition groups fighting the rule” of Syrian President Assad...
– “We are all happy when U.S. soldiers are killed [in Iraq] week in and week out. The killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq is legitimate and obligatory.”
– “The oil axis is present in most of the U.S. administration, beginning with its president, vice-president and top advisers, including (Condoleezza) Rice, who is oil-colored, while the axis of Jews is present with Paul Wolfowitz, the leading hawk who is inciting (America) to occupy and destroy Iraq.”
– “In November 2003, the United States revoked Jumblatt’s diplomatic visa for wishing out loud that Wolfowitz had been killed in a Baghdad rocket attack.”
While the White House has yet to comment on Jumblatt’s visit, his regime change talk yesterday “drew a round of applause from the AEI audience.”
I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
...Hersh says the U.S. has been “pumping money, a great deal of money, without congressional authority, without any congressional oversight” for covert operations in the Middle East where it wants to “stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.” Hersh says these funds have ended up in the hands of “three Sunni jihadist groups” who are “connected to al Qaeda” but “want to take on Hezbollah.”
Hersh summed up his scoop in stark terms: “We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11...”
by SEYMOUR M. HERSH
Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?
Issue of 2007-03-05
In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that “realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region.”
After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”
Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said...
The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser...
“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line...”
The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed.
Last November, Cheney flew to Saudi Arabia for a surprise meeting with King Abdullah and Bandar. The Times reported that the King warned Cheney that Saudi Arabia would back its fellow-Sunnis in Iraq if the United States were to withdraw. A European intelligence official told me that the meeting also focussed on more general Saudi fears about “the rise of the Shiites.” In response, “The Saudis are starting to use their leverage—money.”
In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.
The split between Shiites and Sunnis goes back to a bitter divide, in the seventh century, over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis dominated the medieval caliphate and the Ottoman Empire, and Shiites, traditionally, have been regarded more as outsiders. Worldwide, ninety per cent of Muslims are Sunni, but Shiites are a majority in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, and are the largest Muslim group in Lebanon. Their concentration in a volatile, oil-rich region has led to concern in the West and among Sunnis about the emergence of a “Shiite crescent”—especially given Iran’s increased geopolitical weight...
The Saudis are driven by their fear that Iran could tilt the balance of power not only in the region but within their own country. Saudi Arabia has a significant Shiite minority in its Eastern Province, a region of major oil fields; sectarian tensions are high in the province. The royal family believes that Iranian operatives, working with local Shiites, have been behind many terrorist attacks inside the kingdom, according to Vali Nasr. “Today, the only army capable of containing Iran”—the Iraqi Army—“has been destroyed by the United States. You’re now dealing with an Iran that could be nuclear-capable and has a standing army of four hundred and fifty thousand soldiers.” (Saudi Arabia has seventy-five thousand troops in its standing army.)
Nasr went on, “The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis”—Sunni extremists who view Shiites as apostates. “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.”
The Saudi royal family has been, by turns, both a sponsor and a target of Sunni extremists, who object to the corruption and decadence among the family’s myriad princes. The princes are gambling that they will not be overthrown as long as they continue to support religious schools and charities linked to the extremists. The Administration’s new strategy is heavily dependent on this bargain.
Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.
This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran...”
The focus of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, after Iran, is Lebanon, where the Saudis have been deeply involved in efforts by the Administration to support the Lebanese government. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is struggling to stay in power against a persistent opposition led by Hezbollah, the Shiite organization, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah has an extensive infrastructure, an estimated two to three thousand active fighters, and thousands of additional members.
Hezbollah has been on the State Department’s terrorist list since 1997. The organization has been implicated in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed two hundred and forty-one military men. It has also been accused of complicity in the kidnapping of Americans, including the C.I.A. station chief in Lebanon, who died in captivity, and a Marine colonel serving on a U.N. peacekeeping mission, who was killed. (Nasrallah has denied that the group was involved in these incidents.) Nasrallah is seen by many as a staunch terrorist, who has said that he regards Israel as a state that has no right to exist. Many in the Arab world, however, especially Shiites, view him as a resistance leader who withstood Israel in last summer’s thirty-three-day war, and Siniora as a weak politician who relies on America’s support but was unable to persuade President Bush to call for an end to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. (Photographs of Siniora kissing Condoleezza Rice on the cheek when she visited during the war were prominently displayed during street protests in Beirut.)
The Bush Administration has publicly pledged the Siniora government a billion dollars in aid since last summer. A donors’ conference in Paris, in January, which the U.S. helped organize, yielded pledges of almost eight billion more, including a promise of more than a billion from the Saudis. The American pledge includes more than two hundred million dollars in military aid, and forty million dollars for internal security.
The United States has also given clandestine support to the Siniora government, according to the former senior intelligence official and the U.S. government consultant. “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”
American, European, and Arab officials I spoke to told me that the Siniora government and its allies had allowed some aid to end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with Al Qaeda.
During a conversation with me, the former Saudi diplomat accused Nasrallah of attempting “to hijack the state,” but he also objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”
Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.
The largest of the groups, Asbat al-Ansar, is situated in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.
In 2005, according to a report by the U.S.-based International Crisis Group, Saad Hariri, the Sunni majority leader of the Lebanese parliament and the son of the slain former Prime Minister—Saad inherited more than four billion dollars after his father’s assassination—paid forty-eight thousand dollars in bail for four members of an Islamic militant group from Dinniyeh. The men had been arrested while trying to establish an Islamic mini-state in northern Lebanon. The Crisis Group noted that many of the militants “had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.”
According to the Crisis Group report, Saad Hariri later used his parliamentary majority to obtain amnesty for twenty-two of the Dinniyeh Islamists, as well as for seven militants suspected of plotting to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut, the previous year. (He also arranged a pardon for Samir Geagea, a Maronite Christian militia leader, who had been convicted of four political murders, including the assassination, in 1987, of Prime Minister Rashid Karami.) Hariri described his actions to reporters as humanitarian.
In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. “We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here,” he said.
...Martin Indyk, of the Saban Center, said, however, that the United States “does not have enough pull to stop the moderates in Lebanon from dealing with the extremists.” He added, “The President sees the region as divided between moderates and extremists, but our regional friends see it as divided between Sunnis and Shia. The Sunnis that we view as extremists are regarded by our Sunni allies simply as Sunnis.”
...The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.
Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.
I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)
The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”
The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”
The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.
“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.”
Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on “24”). Al Qaeda is “on the march” rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces — it’s “not ready for transition,” according to the Pentagon’s last report — but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
This is why the entire debate about the Iraq “surge” is as much a sideshow as Britney’s scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what’s going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. . . .
Yet Mr. Bush still denies reality. Ten days ago he told the American Enterprise Institute that “the Taliban have been driven from power” and proposed that America help stabilize the Pakistan border by setting up “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” (remember that “Gulf Opportunity Zone” he promised after Katrina?) to “give residents the chance to export locally made products to the United States, duty-free.” In other words, let’s fight terrorism not by shifting America’s focus from Iraq to the central front, but by shopping for Taliban souvenirs!
Five years after 9/11, the terrorists would seem to have us just where they want us — asleep — even as the system is blinking red once again.
Can it happen here? Is it happening here already? That depends, as a recent president might have said, on what the meaning of "it" is.
To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel "It Can't Happen Here," "it" plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America's most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe's fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as "it."
If "it" denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then "it" hasn't happened here and isn't likely to happen anytime soon.
For contemporary Americans, however, "it" could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis's darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today - along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.
For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Today we live in a state of tension between the enjoyment of traditional freedoms, including the protections afforded to speech and person by the Bill of Rights, and the disturbing realization that those freedoms have been undermined and may be abrogated at any moment.
Such foreboding, which would have been dismissed as paranoia not so long ago, has been intensified by the unfolding crisis of political legitimacy in the capital. George W. Bush has repeatedly asserted and exercised authority that he does not possess under the Constitution he swore to uphold. He has announced that he intends to continue exercising power according to his claim of a mandate that erases the separation and balancing of power among the branches of government, frees him from any real obligation to obey laws passed by Congress, and permits him to ignore any provisions of the Bill of Rights that may prove inconvenient...
Everyone knows - although not everyone necessarily wishes to acknowledge - that the Bush administration misled the American people about the true purposes and likely costs of invading Iraq. It invented a mortal threat to the nation in order to justify illegal aggression. It has repeatedly sought, from the beginning, to exploit the state of war for partisan advantage and presidential image management. It has wasted billions of dollars, and probably tens of billions, on Pentagon contractors with patronage connections to the Republican Party...
Bolstered by political impunity, especially in a time of war, perhaps any group of politicians would be tempted to abuse power. But this party and these politicians, unchecked by normal democratic constraints, proved to be particularly dangerous. The name for what is wrong with them - the threat embedded within the Bush administration, the Republican congressional leadership, and the current leaders of the Republican Party - is authoritarianism.
The most obvious symptoms can be observed in the regime's style, which features an almost casual contempt for democratic and lawful norms; an expanding appetite for executive control at the expense of constitutional balances; a reckless impulse to corrupt national institutions with partisan ideology; and an ugly tendency to smear dissent as disloyalty. The most troubling effects are matters of substance, including the suspension of traditional legal rights for certain citizens; the imposition of secrecy and the inhibition of the free flow of information; the extension of domestic spying without legal sanction or warrant; the promotion of torture and other barbaric practices, in defiance of American and international law; and the collusion of government and party with corporate interests and religious fundamentalists.
What worries many Americans even more is that the authoritarians can excuse their excesses as the necessary response to an enemy that every American knows to be real. For the past five years, the Republican leadership has argued that the attacks of September 11, 2001 - and the continuing threat from jihadist groups such as al Qaeda - demand permanent changes in American government, society, and foreign policy. Are those changes essential to preserve our survival - or merely useful for unscrupulous politicians who still hope to achieve permanent domination by their own narrowly ideological party? Not only liberals and leftists, but centrists, libertarians, and conservatives, of every party and no party, have come to distrust the answers given by those in power.
The most salient dissent to be heard in recent years, and especially since Bush's reelection in 2004, has been voiced not by the liberals and moderates who never trusted the Republican leadership, but by conservatives who once did.
Former Republican congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, who served as one of the managers of the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives, has joined the American Civil Liberties Union he once detested. In the measures taken by the Bush administration and approved by his former colleagues, Barr sees the potential for "a totalitarian type regime..."
The fundamental problem for America and its allies in Iraq is not Iranian interference, it is incoherent US foreign policy in the Middle East. If you think this is just opinion, try comprehending US-Middle East relations.
You will need strong coffee to follow this, and aspirin afterwards.
While no state has friends like people do, officials talk of friendly and enemy states. Though oversimplified, a friends/enemies assessment might be easiest to follow, so let's give it a whirl.
America considers the Shiite-dominated, democratically elected Iraqi government a friend. The anti-democratic insurgency in Iraq is almost completely Sunni and supported by two Sunni-dominated dictatorships in Syria and Saudi Arabia.
US policy is to support the development of democracy in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. So that should make these states US enemies and Iran, a Shiite-dominated semi-democracy helping the majority Iraqi Shiites fight anti-democratic Sunni insurgents, a US friend, right?
Not according to President George W. Bush. Dictatorial Syria is an enemy because it allegedly helps Sunni insurgents against the Iraqi government. Clear enough. But Iran is doing the opposite. Doesn't that make Iran the enemy of my enemy, and thus my friend?
But Bush considers Shiite-dominated Iran, a friend of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, an enemy.
Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has long been proclaimed a US ally. But 15 of 19 hijackers who attacked the United States on 9/11 were Saudis. Saudi Sunnis are assisting Iraqi Sunnis in attacking US troops and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.
So if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but this is not so for Iran, how can the friend of my enemy who attacks me and my friend be my friend?
But Bush argues Saudi Arabia is.
Another Mid-Eastern group, Iraqi Kurds, are friends to America. But the Turks, American allies, regard Kurds as enemies and vice versa. The Iranians are enemies of the Kurds, so the Turks regard Iranians, enemies of their enemies, as friends. Thus Turks treat US allies as enemies and US enemies as friends, so how can they be friends?
But officially, they are.
As Muslims, the Syrians, Iranians, Saudi Arabians and all three factions of Iraqis hate Israelis and regard them as enemies. Democratic Israel has long been supported by US arms and aid, so Muslims attack the United States as friends of their enemy.
But the United States dismisses these sentiments because, it says, Muslim countries are not full democracies while Israel is, and as a fellow democracy, the United States supports Israel. Yet when democratic elections in Palestine return a majority who sees Israelis as enemies, the United States refuses to support the Palestinian democratic government, making its support not a matter of supporting democracy but apparently of supporting Judaism against Islam.
This makes Muslims regard the United States as a friend of their enemy, and thus their enemy. Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, who was an American ally against America's Soviet enemy but is now an enemy, explicitly claims this is the basis of enmity. Al- Qaeda, a theocratic Sunni group, hates Shiites and democracy, so it should befriend the majority Sunni dictatorship Syria and be an enemy of Shiite-dominated, semi-democratic Iran.
Yet the opposite is the case. Shiite Iran allegedly shelters al-Qaeda terrorists while Syria kills them.
This explains US-Iran enmity, but not US-Syria enmity.
But if whoever shelters al-Qaeda is a US enemy, why is Pakistan considered a US friend?
Pakistan has agreed with its pro-al- Qaeda, pro-Taleban border tribes not to enter or permit US forces to attack their territory. This makes them shelterers of US enemies. The democratically elected Afghan government has even become hostile to the dictatorship in Pakistan for sheltering its enemies, the Taleban and al-Qaeda.
Since Pakistan is enemy to Afghanistan, America's ally, they are enemies of our friends and friends of our enemies, so they must be enemies, right?
Apparently not. India has been repeatedly attacked by Islamic terrorists like the United States, so they should be friends. Pakistan shelters terrorists who attack India, Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States. But the United States has tilted repeatedly in Pakistan's favor when India and Pakistan have fought.
If you are totally confused by now, you join me, friend.
As my wife's Appalachian ancestors used to say, if you find yourself between a Hatfield and a McCoy - two famously feuding families - get out of the way.
Picking friends and enemies among these feuds and historic Mid-East disputes leads to demonstrable incoherence. It just makes everyone doubt outsiders' intentions.
BAGHDAD, Feb. 23 — American troops seized and then released the eldest son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, perhaps the most powerful Shiite political leader in Iraq, after he crossed the border from Iran into Iraq on Friday morning.
Allies of the Hakim family denounced the detention as a serious insult, and a senior adviser to the family asserted that American forces also had assaulted several guards. The Hakims control the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the backbone of the Shiite political alliance that has dominated politics during the occupation.
State-run television said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite who depends on Mr. Hakim’s support, intervened to help release the son, Amar Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.
In an interview after he was released from an American military base in Kut, Amar al-Hakim said that American forces had treated him roughly and that their justification for seizing him — that he crossed the border with an invalid passport — was untrue.
An official with the Iraqi force that guards the border said American troops had been lying in wait to apprehend the Hakim convoy as it drove into Iraq...
...The son is himself a senior official in Mr. Hakim’s political movement and has often taken a leading role in building support for his father’s political efforts throughout Shiite-dominated southern Iraq. A Hakim aide suggested that the son was being groomed to take control of the family’s political dynasty.
The detention worsened relations with the Hakims — who spent years in exile in Iran and remain close to Tehran — two months after American forces raided the Hakims’ elaborate Baghdad compound near the Green Zone and detained two Iranians whom they accused of running guns and planning sectarian attacks.
That raid came just a few weeks after the elder Mr. Hakim met with President Bush in Washington. Mr. Hakim has generally been an ally of the United States presence, but he has criticized the Americans for what he said was favoring the interests of Sunnis over Shiites.
The incident comes at a delicate moment in the relationship between the United States and Iran, which American officials have accused of fomenting violence in Iraq and supplying Shiite militias with the deadliest munitions employed against the American military’s armored vehicles, armor-piercing explosives known as explosively formed penetrators, or E.F.P.’s.
One of Amar al-Hakim’s most prominent public roles of late has been canvassing the Shiite provinces of southern Iraq to build support for his father’s controversial plan to cleave nine Shiite provinces into an autonomous region that would have wide authority over its security and natural resources...
A senior adviser to the Hakim family, Haitham al-Husseini, described the son as being in his mid-30s and said he was considered an heir to his father’s political movement. Mr. Hakim also has a younger son, Moshin, who serves as a political adviser, and two daughters.
Amar al-Hakim was in Iran no longer than five days, said Mr. Husseini, who added that he was probably visiting relatives or other people the family knew from their years in exile during the rule of Saddam Hussein. He said the Americans had held Amar al-Hakim a good part of the day. The convoy was stopped “without any justification,” Mr. Husseini said. “Some of the guards were beaten by the U.S. forces.”
An American military official declined to comment on the allegation that Mr. Hakim’s guards had been beaten but said he had been detained because he possessed an expired passport and was traveling with men who had a large number of guns.
But after his release at the provincial governor’s office in Kut, Mr. Hakim said his passport was valid and the Americans detained him a few miles from the Iranian border on Friday morning.
“They arrested me and my guards in an unsuitable way, and they bound my hands and blindfolded me,” he said. “They took our phones, bags, money, documents and the guards’ weapons, and sent us to an American base.”
An Iraqi correspondent for The New York Times said Mr. Hakim showed a passport that had an expiration date of Sept. 17, 2007, and quoted him saying, “They claim the reason for the arrest was because my passport had expired, but as you can see my passport expires on the 17th of September...”
VIENNA: Intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to United Nations inspectors by US spy agencies has mostly turned out to be unfounded, diplomatic sources in Vienna say.
The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco surrounding the Iraq war, have coincided with a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran is defying a UN Security Council ultimatum to freeze its nuclear program.
The report sets the stage for a fierce international debate on imposing stricter sanctions on Iran. It also raises the possibility of US military action against Iranian nuclear sites.
At the heart of the debate are accusations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. But most of the tip-offs have led to dead ends when investigated by the agency's inspectors.
"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," an agency diplomat said. "They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities. Now [the inspectors] don't go in blindly. Only if it passes a credibility test..."
"First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one official said. "The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer."
IAEA officials do not comment on intelligence passed to the watchdog agency by foreign governments, saying all such assistance is confidential...
...Florida's prosecutors are floating a proposal to the Legislature to give them the power to secretly falsify public court records -- with a judge's approval -- for undercover law enforcement purposes.
Spurred by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, the draft bill would limit the authority to manufacture and plant fake documents in court files to 180 days. But it also provides for an unlimited number of 30-day extensions...
A second, longer version of the bill has been prefiled with the House. It would convey authority to falsify any public record to prosecutors, judges, mayors, sheriffs, coroners and other public officers unless they were acting corruptly...
The Miami Herald reported late last year how judges and prosecutors in Miami-Dade had official court records altered and kept secret dockets to disguise what was happening in some court cases.
Two cases were uncovered in which court dockets were altered to cover up the felony convictions of informants, but more are known to exist. Chief Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo said authorities have altered the public records of informants for two decades...
Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols says a high-ranking FBI official "apparently" was directing Timothy McVeigh in the plot to blow up a government building and might have changed the original target of the attack, according to a new affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Utah.
The official and other conspirators are being protected by the federal government "in a cover-up to escape its responsibility for the loss of life in Oklahoma," Nichols claims in a Feb. 9 affidavit.
Documents that supposedly help back up his allegations have been sealed to protect information in them, such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah had no comment on the allegations. The FBI and Justice Department in Washington, D.C., also declined comment.
Nichols does not say what motive the government would have to be involved in the bombing.
The affidavit was filed in a lawsuit brought by Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue, who believes his brother's death in a federal prison was linked to the Oklahoma City bombing. The suit, which seeks documents from the FBI under the federal Freedom of Information Act, alleges that authorities mistook Kenneth Trentadue for a bombing conspirator and that guards killed him in an interrogation that got out of hand.
Trentadue's death a few months after the April 19, 1995, bombing was ruled a suicide after several investigations. The government has adamantly denied any wrongdoing in the death.
In his affidavit, Nichols says he wants to bring closure to the survivors and families of the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which took 168 lives. He alleges he wrote then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004, offering to help identify all parties who played a role in the bombing but never got a reply.
Nichols is serving a life sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo. McVeigh, who carried out the bombing, was executed in 2001.
McVeigh and Nichols were the only defendants indicted in the bombing. However, Nichols alleges others were involved.
McVeigh told him he was recruited for undercover missions while serving in the military, according to Nichols. He says he learned sometime in 1995 that there had been a change in the bombing target and that McVeigh was upset by that.
"There, in what I believe was an accidental slip of the tongue, McVeigh revealed the identity of a high-ranking FBI official who was apparently directing McVeigh in the bomb plot," Nichols says in the affidavit.
Nichols also says that McVeigh threatened him and his family to force him to rob Roger Moore, an Arkansas gun dealer, of weapons and explosives. He later learned the robbery was staged so Moore, who was in on the phony heist, could deny any knowledge of the bombing plot if the stolen items were traced back to him, Nichols claims...
... how remote controlled can we make these things? A friend of mine whose job is working with radio controls on commercial ocean-going ships, tells me he could set the hyperblimp up to travel anywhere in the U.S.A., with ham radio repeating stations, sending video images back to yours truly, in hodunk, Utah. And what, I wonder, about cell phone technology? If these are in the realm of feasibility for a sixth grade teacher to develop in his "spare time" (on a teacher's salary!), I suppose that there is a very bright future for hyperblimps...
...I look at the religious right, the radical religious right, those people who want to create a Christian nation, as a mass movement. I don’t give them much religiosity at all. I think they have acculturated the Christian religion with the worst aspects of American imperialism and American capitalism.
They prey on the despair of tens of millions of Americans in this country who have been completely disenfranchised and shunted aside with the creation of this American oligarchy. That is the engine of the movement. These people, their lives have become train wrecks, their communities have been physically obliterated with the flight of manufacturing jobs, or they live in these soulless exurbs, in places like Orange County, with no community center, no community rituals—you know, they don’t even have sidewalks.
And they’re lonely, and they’re alienated, and they’re lost. And that’s the fodder that demagogues use to amass totalitarian movements. And they do that by offering these people a world of magic, of belief in destiny and miracles and angels, that Jesus has a plan for them.
And they essentially remove them from the reality-based world. That’s what creationism is about. And everybody who’s written about despotic movements, from Hannah Arendt to Karl Popper to Fritz Stern to Robert Paxton, cites this despair as being the kindling that allows despotic, totalitarian movements to tear apart the open society.
So for me the radical Christian right is very much a manifestation of the inequities and the injustices that plague American society. We now live in a country where the top 1 percent control more wealth, or have more wealth, than the bottom 90 percent combined. The absolute destruction of the working class—and much of my family has been a victim of this—has now been accompanied by an assault on the middle class. So anything that can be put on software, from engineering to finance to architecture, can get outsourced, where it’ll end up in India, where they’ll work for a third of the wages, with no health insurance, no benefits.
These kinds of assaults against the working and middle class are absolutely deadly to a democratic state. And that’s something that even the Greeks wrote about. I mean, Plutarch and Thucydides understood that...
I'm reminded, constantly, of the two-year old remark by the anonymous State Department official: "I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, 'There's been a military coup,' and then it all makes sense."
If only it were that simple, and modestly malevolent. That used to make sense of this world for me, too. Now, it doesn't make enough sense. Now, I'm waking with the crazy notion, "There's been a coup by esoteric Nazis, and it didn't happen yesterday." Or perhaps I'm not truly awake yet. Could be. Hope so. Because my inner life has taken on the complexion of a lucid nightmare.
In other words, what's a poor blogger to do, when Hellboy begins to appear more "reality-based" than Wolf Blitzer Reports...?
A paid FBI informant was the man behind a neo-Nazi march through the streets of Parramore that stirred up anxiety in Orlando's black community and fears of racial unrest that triggered a major police mobilization.
That revelation came Wednesday in an unrelated federal court hearing and has prompted outrage from black leaders, some of whom demanded an investigation into whether the February 2006 march was, itself, an event staged by law-enforcement agencies.
The FBI would not comment on what it knew about the involvement of its informant, 39-year-old David Gletty of Orlando, in the neo-Nazi event. In court Wednesday, an FBI agent said the bureau has paid its informant at least $20,000 during the past two years.
"Wow," Gletty said when reached by phone late Wednesday. "It is what it is. You were there in court. I can't really go into any detail now."
Orlando City Councilwoman Daisy Lynum, whose district includes the march route west of Interstate 4, said she wants to know who was behind the march, the neo-Nazis or the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies.
"If it was staged, I would feel very uncomfortable and would ask for a full-scale investigation," Lynum said. "To come into a predominantly black community which could have resulted in great harm to the black community? I would hate to be part of a game. It's a mockery to the community for someone else to be playing a game with the community..."
...He offers no boldness. Dr. King set out to change the social, economic, and political structures of this country. He described the change as a "third way" beyond capitalism and socialism. King's "third way" is far different than Bill Clinton's "third way," promoted by Obama and all those around Hillary, who tout the Clintons as the second and third coming of Camelot.
The Clinton "third way" is Republican Party politics in slow motion. Under Bill Clinton, U.S. troops weren't trapped in Iraq, but just as many, if not more, Iraqis died as a result of his policies. His destruction of the welfare system, his embrace of capital punishment and other punitive and discriminatory crime policies, his bowing to Wall Street all made him palatable to Republicans.
The hope in Obama's title is for a mixture of Kennedyism, Reaganism, and Clintonism packaged as the new face of multicultural America. At its core, this is what The Audacity of Hope promotes, instead of any fundamental progressive change.
Nonetheless, it comes as no surprise that The Audacity of Hope is a New York Times bestseller. The book arrives amidst the hype of an upcoming and wide-open Presidential race, the collective angst over the country moving in the wrong direction, an economy that working people know isn't as good as they are being told it is, and a war that has washed away - at home and abroad - the country's preexisting false sense of moral superiority. As the line in Ethan and Joel Cohen's 2000 movie, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, goes, "Everybody's looking for answers."
Yet, does Obama's book provide any real answers? It there anything in it that will help stimulate measurable change? Or, is it all just talk, posturing, and positioning for personal political goals? Is it an orchestrated, consciously plotted pretext to inoculate a politician from the perceived liabilities of race, lineage and inexperience?
The answers are no, no, yes, yes...
Give Obama credit for copping to the fact that his "treatment of the issues is often partial and incomplete." Overall, the treatise reads like a very, very long speech of sound bites and clichés arranged by topic and issue and connected by conjunctions, pleasantries, and apologies. Pleasantries like wishing for a return to the days when Republicans and Democrats "met at night for dinner, hashing out a compromise over steaks and cigars." Or, leading with apologias to describe painful parts of United States history or softening a rightfully deserved blow as when he describes racist southern Senator Richard B. Russell as "erudite." Or accusing his mom of having a "incorrigible, sweet-natured romanticism" about the ‘60s and the civil rights era as he waxes romantically about Hubert Humphrey's Democratic Party. It's like he did not have a clue about the 1964 struggles of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
The shame of Obama's lack of depth is that Hamer's conflict over representation pretty much set the table for how the Democratic Party deals with blacks today. But of course he was only three years old and living in Hawaii when Lyndon Johnson went on national television to give a speech so that Hamer's image and the MFDP challenge would be off the airwaves. Hamer's fight was a precursor to the candidacy of Shirley Chisholm, the first black to seriously run for President in 1972 (if you exclude Dick Gregory's 1968 bid). Chisholm continued Hamer's fight for a greater black and female voice in politics and government.
Throughout, Obama proffers an unnaturally romantic view of the Democratic Party for a person of his age. His appreciation of party seems as times deeper than his understanding of the civil rights movement, which comes across as antiseptic. And he goes out of his way to comfort whites with a critique of black Americans that could tumble out of the mouth of William Bennett. "Many of the social or cultural factors that negatively affect black people, for example, simply mirror in exaggerated form problems that afflict America as whole: too much television (the average black household has the television on more than eleven hours per day), too much consumption of poisons (blacks smoke more and eat more fast food), and a lack of emphasis on educational attainment," he writes. "Then there's the collapse of the two-parent black household, a phenomenon that...reflects a casualness towards sex and child rearing among black men..."
...African Americans will pay a special, historical price if a corporate-molded Black politician becomes the titular leader of an unreconstructed U.S. imperial state - and, make no mistake about it, Barack Obama is an imperialist. No one but a deep-fried imperialist could describe U.S. behavior in Iraq as "coddling" the Iraqis, as Obama said to an establishment foreign policy gathering in Chicago, late last year. His Iraq War De-escalation Act, carefully calibrated to make him appear slightly less belligerent than Hillary Clinton, allows the U.S. to wage war until March 31, 2008, at the very least, and to maintain a military presence in the country thereafter. It is a sham measure, more helpful in buying time for Bush than in encouraging effective dissent.
At his core, Obama is not opposed to U.S. violations of other nations' sovereignty; he simply opposes "dumb wars" - as he told a reporter for the Chicago Reader - meaning, aggressions executed by less-than-bright American Commanders-in-Chief. U.S.-designated "interests," not adherence to international law, are paramount - the fundamental tenet of imperialism...
Both Barack Obama's Republican opponents and the centrist Democrats who support his presidential candidacy agree on one thing. They all agree that black opinion on the senator is both uninformed and irrelevant.
To hear the mainstream media, black dissatisfaction with Senator Obama is all about his black African father, his white American mother, his light complexion and his Columbia and Harvard Law degrees. The day after Rush Limbaugh called the senator a "half-frican" on the air, the term was in the mouths of ignorant black talk show hosts in multiple cities. Black America was then admonished and chided by white Republicans and Democrats of all colors for not embracing Senator Obama based on some foolish standard of black authenticity.
This is a racist calumny and slur of the first magnitude against all of black America...
In many quarters of black America there are sane, solid and sensible reasons for black voters to question whether Barack Obama will represent them at all. Many remember that his first act as a US Senator was to refuse to stand with California Senator Barbara Boxer in opposition to Ohio's nullification of hundreds of thousands of black votes. Obama's second, third and fourth significant acts were when he declined to ask any difficult, pointed or revealing questions of Condoleezza Rice and two of the president's disastrous Supreme Court nominees, and he actually voted for two out of three of these. Obama's sixth and seventh important acts as a senator were to vote for a bill that made it nearly impossible for ordinary people to sue giant corporations who rob, defraud, maim or kill, and another vote to renew the hated Patriot Act which he vigorously campaigned against. And though Senator Obama now claims to oppose the war in Iraq, he remains advocate of bombing Iran to start yet another.
This commentator was at Obama's 2004 Illinois primary election victory party. The white and black people there that night imagined that they had elected another Paul Wellstone or a Harold Washington, a senator who would bring their concerns to the halls of power, whether the powerful were ready to hear them or not. One wonders what they think today.
Black America is rightly worried. We are an eighth the nation's population and half its prisons, but we cannot get a member of the black caucus, Senator Obama included, to question the nation's policy of racially selective mass incarceration in public. We do have issues that matter to us, and if Barack Obama does not address them, he is truly somebody else's candidate, not ours.
President Bush has now definitively stated that bombs known as explosively formed penetrators — EFPs, which have proved especially deadly for U.S. troops in Iraq — are made in Iran and exported to Iraq. But in November, U.S. troops raiding a Baghdad machine shop came across a pile of copper disks, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order. This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs.
The truth is that EFPs are simple to make for anyone who knows how to do it. Far from a sophisticated assembly operation that might require state supervision, all that is required is one of those disks, some high-powered explosive (which is easy to procure in Iraq) and a container, such as a piece of pipe. I asked a Pentagon analyst specializing in such devices how much each one would cost to make. "Twenty bucks," he answered after a brief calculation. "Thirty at most."
EFPs work by using explosives to compress, melt and shoot a metal projectile — formed from those disks, molded in a concave shape — in a particular direction. They are feared above all else by troops in Iraq because not only can they punch a hole through the armor of an M-1 tank, they are small and light, and thus far easier to carry and plant undetected than the traditional Iraqi improvised explosive device, which is often made from hefty artillery shells.
"You can do as much or more damage with a 5-pound EFP, which is aimed, as with a 200-pound conventional IED, where most of the energy is dissipated away from the target," the Pentagon analyst said. The U.S. has (belatedly) responded to the IED threat by "up-armoring" Humvees and other vulnerable vehicles, but EFPs can cleave through the very thickest armor "like butter," as one Iraq veteran told me.
As of now, these weapons represent only a small fraction of the bombs used against U.S. forces. Last month, according to my Pentagon sources, out of 3,000 IEDs directed at occupation troops, only 2.5% were EFPs. But a further statistic explains why these particular weapons are so feared by soldiers encased in their armored vehicles: Despite the relatively tiny number deployed, since November they have accounted for fully 15% of U.S. bomb casualties, and that percentage is ticking up. Anyone pondering the implications of this trend need only look to the Israeli experience in Lebanon during the 1990s to see where it might end. "These bombs drove the Israelis out of Lebanon," a former Pentagon weapons-effects expert told me unequivocally.
Hezbollah's expertise with EFPs is one reason why the administration, despite minimal intelligence, has been quick to blame Hezbollah's Iranian allies for the proliferation of the devices in Iraq. But EFPs have a venerable history. The IRA used them with lethal effect against British troops in Northern Ireland, as did French resistance fighters against the Germans in World War II. It is only a question of time before someone shows the Taliban how to make them, and then NATO forces in Afghanistan will begin the same ordeal.
Despite their known lethality, these weapons weren't taken into account by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's program of military "transformation." Indeed, Rumsfeld bequeathed the Army the Future Combat Systems, a $168-billion extravaganza of computers, sensors and robots deemed by its proponents so deadly to a foe that armor on U.S. military vehicles might be dispensed with altogether.
Once it became impossible to ignore the threat of all kinds of "home-made" bombs, and EFPs in particular, Rumsfeld responded in orthodox fashion by throwing money at the problem.
A "joint IED defeat" task force was created to address the issue, and last year it was granted $3.32 billion, but with little result. True, each Humvee patrolling Iraqi roads now carries two specially designed jammers, costing $100,000 apiece, that jam radio signals detonating roadside bombs. The other side has simply switched to wire detonators or infrared systems. One hundred towers spouting remote cameras, at $12 million each, watch main roads for bomb planters, with no improvement in attack and casualty statistics.
Rumsfeld's mentor, defense intellectual Andrew Marshall, marketed the phrase "revolution in military affairs" as a justification for high-tech programs such as Future Combat Systems. But those copper disks represent the real revolution in military affairs, and it is not in our favor.
For more, see David Hambling at Defense Tech, who describes what modern EFPs look like and suggests that "if EFP mines were being supplied by an outside source, you might expect to see something a lot slicker."
Luckily, invading US forces didn't leave entire munition dumps unguarded, for then, tons of high explosives could have been looted by the insurgency.
India, China and Russia account for 40 per cent of the world’s population, a fifth of its economy and more than half of its nuclear warheads. Now they appear to be forming a partnership to challenge the US-dominated world order that has prevailed since the end of the Cold War.
Foreign ministers from the three emerging giants met in Delhi yesterday to discuss ways to build a more democratic “multipolar world”.
It was the second such meeting in the past two years and came after an unprecedented meeting between their respective leaders, Manmohan Singh, Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin, during the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July.
It also came only four days after Mr Putin stunned Western officials by railing against American foreign policy at a security conference in Munich.
The foreign ministers, Pranab Mukherjee, Li Zhao Xing and Sergei Lavrov, emphasised that theirs was not an alliance against the United States. It was, “on the contrary, intended to promote international harmony and understanding”, a joint communiqué stated.
Their formal agenda covered issues ranging from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Korea to energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and trade. The subtext, however, was clear: how to use their growing economic and political muscle to prevent Washington from tackling such issues alone.
“In the long term, they feel that the whole structure of international relations has to shift in their direction,” said Vinod C. Khanna, of the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi. “What has happened is that quite independently they’ve reacted very similarly to recent international events.”
Mr Mukherjee said: “We agreed that cooperation rather than confrontation should govern approaches to regional and global affairs. We also agreed on the importance of the UN.”
Diplomats say that it is premature to talk of a strategic axis between the world’s largest and two most populous nations because they still have more in common with the West than with each other.
Delhi was close to Moscow in Soviet times, but has forged a new friendship with Washington. Chinese relations were soured by its border wars with India in 1962 and the Soviet Union in 1969, and by its arms sales to Pakistan. Russia appears keener than China or India to challenge American hegemony. But there has been a convergence of interests as each struggles to make the transition from a command economy to free markets. Since 2003 they have found further common ground in opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq.
One area of agreement is opposition to outside interference in separatist conflicts in Chechnya, the northeast of India and the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.
Another is energy. India and China are desperate for Russian oil and gas, and Moscow is worried about its dependence on Western markets. But their most significant common ground is opposition to US military intervention in Iran. The joint statement did not mention Iran, but the three countries have taken a common stance in calling for a negotiated solution through the International Atomic Energy Agency. None of them wants a nuclear-armed Iran, but Russia sells Tehran nuclear technology and India and China need Iranian gas.
Occupation authorities in Iraq have awarded a $293 million contract effectively creating the world's largest private army to a company headed by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a former officer with the Scots Guard, an elite regiment of the British military, who has been investigated for illegally smuggling arms and planning military offensives to support mining, oil, and gas operations around the world. On May 25, the Army Transportation command awarded Spicer's company, Aegis Defense Services, the contract to coordinate all the security for Iraqi reconstruction projects.
Under the "cost-plus" contract, the military will cover all of the company's expenses, plus a pre-determined percentage of whatever they spend, which critics say is a license to over-bill. The company has also been asked to provide 75 close protection teams -- comprised of eight men each -- for the high-level staff of companies that are running the oil and gas fields, electricity, and water services in Iraq.
Major Gary Tallman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army, explained that the contract was to create an "integrator" or coordination hub for the security operation for every single reconstruction contractor and sub-contractor. "Their job is to disseminate information and provide guidance and coordination throughout the four regions of Iraq."
In Iraq, there are currently several dozen groups that provide private security to both the military and the private sector, with more than 20,000 employees altogether. The companies include Erinys, a South African business, that has more than 15,000 local employees charged with guarding the oil pipelines; Control Risks Group, a British company that provides security to Bechtel and Halliburton ; and North Carolina-based Blackwater Consulting, which provides everything from back-up helicopters to bodyguards for Paul Bremer, the American ambassador in charge of the occupation...
In Sierra Leone, Spicer's efforts have been heralded by the private military industry as the "work of angels." In 1998, Sandline was contracted to sell 30 tons of arms to the forces of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former leader of Sierra Leone, in contravention of a UN arms embargo but in apparent cooperation with Craig Murray, a junior staffer at the British Foreign Office.
Doug Brooks, the president of International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), a non-profit advocacy group for private military companies including Sandline, says the company's assistance in Sierra Leone saved the lives of thousands of civilians. "Sandline was remarkably effective," Brooks said. "Their goal of restoring the democratically elected government was achieved. They maintained a low profile but played a critical role in the success."
Nonetheless, Sandline's Sierra Leone project provoked a furor and multiple government investigations in Britain when it was discovered that the contract violated the United Nations embargo on providing arms to either side in the military conflict. Spicer maintains that he was unaware that the scheme was illegal and the government eventually agreed to draw up new rules on arms trafficking and the conduct of private military companies in Britain.
Spicer's work in Papua New Guinea, another public relations fiasco, was not even a military success. The eastern half of the South Pacific island of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea (PNG), was a British and German colony and then an Australian protectorate until 1975. That year, both PNG and the outlying island of Bougainville, some 500 miles northeast of the capital, Port Moresby, declared independence. PNG quickly took over Bougainville, where an Australian company, CRA (now part of Rio Tinto, the world's largest mining company), had begun to mine copper in 1972.
In 1989, local landowners shut down the Bougainville copper mine to protest the environmental destruction it caused and to demand independence. In February 1997, the PNG government, which had received about 44 percent of its revenue from the mine, paid Sandline International $36 million to rout the Bougainvilleans.
The very next month, PNG Prime Minister Julius Chan sacked the military commander, Brigadier General Jerry Singarok, for denouncing the contract with Sandline and arguing that the money would be better spent on his own troops, who were desperately underpaid and ill-equipped. Riots ensued after soldiers loyal to Singarok led protests that included at least 2,000 civilians. The soldiers arrested and deported a number of the Sandline contractors.
Less than a month later, dressed in crumpled jeans, Spicer was led into a Papua New Guinea court. His suitcase, bulging with $400,000 in cash, was produced as evidence of his contract with the disgraced government. At the hearings, Spicer revealed that one aspect of the project (code-named "Operation Oyster") was to wage a psychological campaign against the Bougainvilleans with the help of Russian style attack helicopters (see Give War a Chance: the Life and Times of Tim Spicer for more on Sandline)...