Monday, March 31, 2008

A Third American War Crime in the Making

By Paul Craig Roberts

31/03/08 "ICH" -- -- The US Congress, the US media, the American people, and the United Nations, are looking the other way as Cheney prepares his attack on Iran.

If only America had an independent media and an opposition party. If there were a shred of integrity left in American political life, perhaps a third act of naked aggression--a third war crime under the Nuremberg standard--by the Bush Regime could be prevented.

On March 30, the Russian News & Information Agency, Novosti, cited “a high-ranking security source: “The latest military intelligence data point to heightened US military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran.”

According to Novosti, Russian Colonel General Leonid Ivashov said “that the Pentagon is planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran’s military infrastructure in the near future.”

The chief of Russia’s general staff, Yuri Baluyevsky, said last November that Russia was beefing up its military in response to US aggression, but that the Russian military is not “obliged to defend the world from the evil Americans.”

On March 29, OpEdNews cited a report by the Saudi Arabian newspaper Okaz, which was picked up by the German news service, DPA. The Saudi newspaper reported on March 22, the day following Cheney’s visit with the kingdom’s rulers, that the Saudi Shura Council is preparing “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors.”

And Admiral William “there will be no attack on Iran on my watch” Fallon has been removed as US chief of Central Command, thus clearing the way for Cheney’s planned attack on Iran.

The Iranians don’t seem to believe it, despite the dispatch of US nuclear submarines and another aircraft carrier attack group to the Persian Gulf. To counter any Iranian missiles launched in response to an attack, the US is deploying anti-missile defenses to protect US bases and Saudi oil fields.

Two massive failures by the American media, the Democratic Party, and the American people have paved the way for Cheney’s long planned attack on Iran. One failure is the lack of skepticism about the US government’s explanation of 9/11. The other failure is the Democrats’ refusal to begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush for lying to the Congress, the American people, and the world and launching an invasion of Iraq based on deception and fabricated evidence.

If an American president can start a war exactly as Adolf Hitler did with pure lies and not be held accountable, he can get away with anything. And Bush and his evil regime have.

Hitler launched World War II with his invasion of Poland after staging a “Polish attack” on a German radio station. On the night of August 31, 1939, a group of Nazis disguised in Polish uniforms seized a radio station in Germany. Hitler announced that “last night Polish troops crossed the frontier and attacked Germany,” a claim no more true than the Bush Regime’s claim that “Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.” Hitler’s lie failed, because his invasion of Poland, which began the next day allegedly in reprisal for the Polish attack, had obviously been planned for many months.

Iran is a beautiful and developed country. It is an ancient civilization. It has attacked no one. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Iran is permitted by the treaty to have a nuclear energy program. The Bush Regime’s case against Iran is based on the Bush Regime’s desire to deny Iran its rights under the treaty.

The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have repeatedly reported that they have found no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Despite all the disinformation from US Gen. Petraeus and other Bush Regime military lackeys, Iran is not arming the Iraqis who are resisting the American occupation.

If Iran were arming insurgents, the insurgents would have two weapons that would neutralize the US advantage in the Iraqi conflict: missiles to knock down US helicopter gunships and rocket-propelled grenades that knock out American tanks. The insurgents do not have these weapons and must construct clumsy anti-tank weapons out of artillery shells. The insurgents are helpless against US air power and cannot mass forces to take on the American troops.

Indiscriminate American violence has reduced Iraq to rubble. The civilian infrastructure is essentially destroyed--electricity, water and sewer systems, medical care and schools. Depleted uranium is everywhere poisoning everyone, including US troops. There is no economy, and half or more of Iraqis are unemployed. Literally no Iraqi family has escaped an injury or a death as a consequence of the US invasion. Millions of Iraqis have become displaced persons. A developed country with a professional middle class has been destroyed because of lies told by the President and Vice President of the US. The Bush Regime’s lies are echoed by a neoconservative media, and have gone unchallenged by the opposition party and an indifferent American public.

In Afghanistan, death and destruction rains on even the smallest village from the air. America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wars against the civilian populations.

Just as the world could not believe Hitler’s next horror and thus was always unprepared, the Iranians despite all the evidence cannot believe that even the Great Satan would gratuitously attack Iran based on nothing but lies about non-existent nuclear weapons.

Iran’s only chance would be to strike before the US delivers the first blow. Instead of using its missiles to take out the Saudi oil fields and to sink the US aircraft carriers, instead of closing the Strait of Hormuz, instead of arming the Iraqi Shi’ites and moving them to insurgency, Iran is perched like a sitting duck in denial even as the US and its Iraqi puppet Maliki move to eliminate Al Sadr’s Iraqi Shi’ite militia in order to avoid supply disruptions and a Shi’ite rebellion in Iraq when the US attack on Iran comes.

It is important to emphasize that Iran is making no moves toward war. Having tamed, blackmailed, and purchased Congress, the US media, and US allies and puppets, Cheney might delight in the arrogance with which he can now attack Iran free of any restraint or fabricated provocation. On the other hand, he might cover himself by orchestrating an “Iranian provocation” to justify his attack as a response. But like Hitler’s planned attack against Poland, Cheney’s attack on Iran has long been in the works.

On March 29 the Associated Press reported that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi “poured contempt on fellow Arab leaders” at the Arab summit that day. Gadhafi told the Arab “leaders,” many of whom are on the American payroll, that their American masters would turn on them all, just as America turned on Saddam Hussein after using him to fight a proxy war against Iran.

Saddam had once been an ally of Washington, Gadhafi reminded the Arabs, “but they sold him out.” Gadhafi told the American puppets, “Your turn is next.”

Gadhafi asked, “Where is the Arabs’ dignity, their future, their very existence?” If Arabs remain disunited, he predicted, “they will turn themselves into protectorates. They will be marginalized and turn into garbage dumps.”

Indeed, it is this disunity that permits the US to bomb and murder at will in the Middle East.

Paul Craig Roberts a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, has been reporting shocking cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. A new edition of his book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, a documented account of how Americans lost the protection of law, is forthcoming from Random House in March, 2008.

Delusionary, Dancing Bush

by Ray McGovern

Events of last week offer a metaphorical glimpse at the delusion pervading President George W. Bush’s White House and other enclaves of Iraq supporters in Washington. Bush and the First Lady spent last Monday clowning with the Easter Bunny (White House counsel Fred Fielding having donned the costume).

At the American Enterprise Institute war-cheerleaders, dressed as academicians, were delivering a panegyric on how peaceful and stable the situation in Iraq had become. The “surge,” they announced had nipped a civil war in the bud.

“The civil war is over,” AEI’s Fred Kagan, co-author of the surge, declared proudly. Brookings twins Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack led the cheering section.

Meanwhile, back in the southern Iraq city of Basra and elsewhere, full-blown civil war seemed about to explode. And in Baghdad, formerly protected folks were getting killed by mortar and rocket fire in what is customarily referred to as “the highly fortified Green Zone,” which has sequestered U.S. embassy and military officials as well as those of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government.

Two American officials and two Iraqi guards of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi died in the Green Zone attacks, which are continuing.

At ABC in New York, Good Morning America’s Diane Sawyer was trying hard Thursday to understand it all. Shaking her head in disbelief after four straight days of attacks on the Green Zone, she asked how a round “can actually get inside the embassy; how fortified is that?” ABC national security correspondent Jonathan Karl let her down easy, explaining that artillery fire can actually get “over the walls…so it does happen: they do get inside the embassy compound.”

A teaching moment. Mortar and artillery fire can actually get “over the walls.” Quick. Someone tell Gen. David Petraeus.

But Don’t Bother Bush

No need to drag the president away from the Easter Bunny with such nettlesome detail. Interestingly, it was Sawyer herself who asked Bush, during an interview on Dec. 16, 2003, where he gets his news and how he reacts to criticism. The president’s answer was revealing:

“Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got…it’s not just Condi and Andy [Andy Card, former chief of staff], it’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities, and they come in and say this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening.”

By Thursday, someone did tell the president about Maliki’s big gamble in taking on militias loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr in the Basra area, the stiff resistance Iraqi government forces encountered, and the application of U.S. ground and air support.

And someone told the president to take the line that the outbreak of major violence was “a positive moment,” and so that’s what he said. No matter that the upsurge in hostilities threatened to demolish the myth of a “successful surge.” The White House spin machine could be counted on to take care of that. And, for good measure, the shelling of the Green Zone could be blamed on Iran. Indeed, Petraeus was quick to label the projectiles “Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets.”

Reality? We Make Our Own

It is comfortable to stay in denial, and President George W. Bush basks in it. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska saw that early on. In June 2005 he told U.S. News & World Report:

“The White House is completely disconnected from reality…it’s like they’re just making it up as they go along.”

Would that someone had summoned the courage to tell Bush of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s observations about Iraq in the National Review on Feb. 24, 2006:

“Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans…Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality…different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.”

A few months later, on June 13, 2006, Bush flew to Baghdad to size up Prime Minister Maliki. The president told American troops gathered in the “heavily fortified Green Zone” that he had come “to look Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes-to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are. I believe he is.”

This, of course, was not the first display of the president’s propensity to draw significant impressions from eyeballing foreign leaders. Five years before, Bush had quickly taken the measure of Russia’s Vladimir Putin: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy…I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Souls can change, I suppose. But apparently not eyeballs. Maliki’s retinal scan apparently remains valid for at least two years, judging from the president’s automatic endorsement of Maliki’s major gamble last week in the Basra area. Bush has now ordered U.S. ground and air units to support Maliki’s effort. The general objective is to root out Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army units in the area, but the campaign faces formidable obstacles and does not appear to be going well.

Doesn’t Make a Lot of Sense? So?…

In the past, Bush has let himself be convinced by Vice President Dick Cheney’s “analysis” that increased enemy attacks were signs of desperation-an indication that the enemy is in its “last throes,” if you will. And it seems clear that Cheney is still, as Col. Larry Wilkerson has put it, “whispering in Bush’s ear.”

That is scary. There were abundant signs during Cheney’s recent visit to the Middle East that, among other things, he continues to be receptive to Israeli importuning, as Israeli president Shimon Perez put it on March 23, to deal with what both referred to as “the Iranian threat” before Bush leaves office. Bush and Cheney seem to have given Israeli leaders the impression that the Bush administration has made a commitment to do precisely that.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to the president’s father and who was appointed Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board by the son, took the unusual step of going public with a startling remark in Oct. 2004 that should give us all great concern. Just before he was sacked, the usually discreet Scowcroft told the Financial Times that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had George W. Bush “mesmerized.” Eyeballing again-this time in Bush’s direction, it appears.

And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with masterful tutoring from the psychologists in the Israeli Mossad, has shown he can duplicate the spell. Who can forget watching Olmert’s fulsome praise of George W. Bush during his recent visit to Israel and how Bush seemed to turn to putty. Aw shucks, he seemed to be saying. At least the Israelis respect me. And they are “mighty tough fellas.”

Attacking Iran

The point is that if Cheney and Olmert both whisper “attack Iran,” the president may give the order with the full expectation that-with Admiral William Fallon out of the way-a malleable secretary of defense and martinet generals and admirals left over from former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s reign will salute smartly and launch a much wider and more dangerous war in the Persian Gulf area. (After all, those rockets hitting the Green Zone are, according to Gen. Petraeus, “Iranian-provided, Iranian-made.”)

Why attack Iran? Israeli officials have not been reluctant to insist publicly that they want our impressionable president to take care of their Iran problem before he leaves office.

Last October, for example, Israeli ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor, rang several changes on the theme of Iran’s “threat” to Israel. In warning dripping with chutzpah and unintended candor, the Israeli ambassador served notice that countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions will take a “united United States in this matter,” lest the Iranians conclude that, “come January ‘09, they have it their own way.” Meridor stressed that “very little time” remained to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and the time frame he has in mind is clear.

Why attack Iran? Well, also, just because! Because, as Bush is fond of saying, he is commander in chief. And he considers the U.S. armed forces his plaything. And because he can. Never mind the consequences. When has anyone held George W. Bush accountable for consequences?

Worse still, Bush’s open-ended rhetorical commitment to defend Israel if attacked could spell big trouble. If Iran were to strike Israel, Bush has said, “We will defend our ally (sic), no ifs, ands, or buts.” That is great rhetoric; trouble is that it surrenders the initiative to the Israelis, who have it within their power to provoke the Iranians.

And, Please, No Jimmy Baker

Bush chafes at any thought that those he considers his father’s cronies could rein him in. Bete noire number one is the fella the president calls “Jimmy Baker.” Negotiate with Iran? Draw down troops? George W. Bush will instinctively do the opposite. If Baker says Guantanamo should be shut down (as he did, joining five other former secretaries of state last week), then keep it open.

But, most of all, enjoy the last ten months of “unitary executive” power.

That is perhaps most disturbing of all. George W. Bush is tap dancing through it all. And the worse things get, the more jocular he seems to become. Commenting on Bush’s recent manic behavior, Justin Frank, MD, author of Bush on the Couch, suggests that Bush is “acting like a kid planning to make a real mess as only he knows how-given his comfort with sadism, his lack of shame or conscience, and his propensity to take delight in breaking things.”

Trouble is that as he tap dances the next few months away, he is systematically destroying the armed forces of the United States, and there does not seem to be anyone with the courage to try to stop him.

Eight months ago, Dr. Frank and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) collaborated on an article we called “Dangers of a Cornered Bush.” The president and his imperial court now have ten more months to act out. The scenarios we explored in that memo are still worth pondering.

Let me close with a remark Seymour Hersh made last year, even though it may seem flippant and in no way conveys the enormity of the danger we face in the coming months:

“These guys are scary as hell…you can’t use the word ‘delusional,’ for it’s actually a medical term. Wacky. That’s a fair word.”

With so much destructive power at the disposal of George W. Bush, we need to be increasingly alert to signs that additional delusionary policies are about to be executed.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he worked closely with George H. W. Bush when he was C.I.A. Director and later at the White House. Ray is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Smart Way Out of a Foolish War

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

Sunday 30 March 2008

Both Democratic presidential candidates agree that the United States should end its combat mission in Iraq within 12 to 16 months of their possible inauguration. The Republican candidate has spoken of continuing the war, even for a hundred years, until "victory." The core issue of this campaign is thus a basic disagreement over the merits of the war and the benefits and costs of continuing it.

The case for U.S. disengagement from combat is compelling in its own right. But it must be matched by a comprehensive political and diplomatic effort to mitigate the destabilizing regional consequences of a war that the outgoing Bush administration started deliberately, justified demagogically and waged badly. (I write, of course, as a Democrat; while I prefer Sen. Barack Obama, I speak here for myself.)

The contrast between the Democratic argument for ending the war and the Republican argument for continuing is sharp and dramatic. The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for "staying the course" draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios. President Bush's and Sen. John McCain's forecasts of regional catastrophe are quite reminiscent of the predictions of "falling dominoes" that were used to justify continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Neither has provided any real evidence that ending the war would mean disaster, but their fear-mongering makes prolonging it easier.

Nonetheless, if the American people had been asked more than five years ago whether Bush's obsession with the removal of Saddam Hussein was worth 4,000 American lives, almost 30,000 wounded Americans and several trillion dollars - not to mention the less precisely measurable damage to the United States' world-wide credibility, legitimacy and moral standing - the answer almost certainly would have been an unequivocal "no."

Nor do the costs of this fiasco end there. The war has inflamed anti-American passions in the Middle East and South Asia while fragmenting Iraqi society and increasing the influence of Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent visit to Baghdad offers ample testimony that even the U.S.-installed government in Iraq is becoming susceptible to Iranian blandishments.

In brief, the war has become a national tragedy, an economic catastrophe, a regional disaster and a global boomerang for the United States. Ending it is thus in the highest national interest.

Terminating U.S. combat operations will take more than a military decision. It will require arrangements with Iraqi leaders for a continued, residual U.S. capacity to provide emergency assistance in the event of an external threat (e.g., from Iran); it will also mean finding ways to provide continued U.S. support for the Iraqi armed forces as they cope with the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The decision to militarily disengage will also have to be accompanied by political and regional initiatives designed to guard against potential risks. We should fully discuss our decisions with Iraqi leaders, including those not residing in Baghdad's Green Zone, and we should hold talks on regional stability with all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran.

Contrary to Republican claims that our departure will mean calamity, a sensibly conducted disengagement will actually make Iraq more stable over the long term. The impasse in Shiite-Sunni relations is in large part the sour byproduct of the destructive U.S. occupation, which breeds Iraqi dependency even as it shatters Iraqi society. In this context, so highly reminiscent of the British colonial era, the longer we stay in Iraq, the less incentive various contending groups will have to compromise and the more reason simply to sit back. A serious dialogue with the Iraqi leaders about the forthcoming U.S. disengagement would shake them out of their stupor.

Ending the U.S. war effort entails some risks, of course, but they are inescapable at this late date. Parts of Iraq are already self-governing, including Kurdistan, part of the Shiite south and some tribal areas in the Sunni center. U.S. military disengagement will accelerate Iraqi competition to more effectively control their territory, which may produce a phase of intensified inter-Iraqi conflicts. But that hazard is the unavoidable consequence of the prolonged U.S. occupation. The longer it lasts, the more difficult it will be for a viable Iraqi state ever to reemerge.

It is also important to recognize that most of the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq has not been inspired by al-Qaeda. Locally based jihadist groups have gained strength only insofar as they have been able to identify themselves with the fight against a hated foreign occupier. As the occupation winds down and Iraqis take responsibility for internal security, al-Qaeda in Iraq will be left more isolated and less able to sustain itself. The end of the occupation will thus be a boon for the war on al-Qaeda, bringing to an end a misguided adventure that not only precipitated the appearance of al-Qaeda in Iraq but also diverted the United States from Afghanistan, where the original al-Qaeda threat grew and still persists.

Bringing the U.S. military effort to a close would also smooth the way for a broad U.S. initiative addressed to all of Iraq's neighbors. Some will remain reluctant to engage in any discussion as long as Washington appears determined to maintain its occupation of Iraq indefinitely. Therefore, at some stage next year, after the decision to disengage has been announced, a regional conference should be convened to promote regional stability, border control and other security arrangements, as well as regional economic development - all of which would help mitigate the unavoidable risks connected with U.S. disengagement.

Since Iraq's neighbors are vulnerable to intensified ethnic and religious conflicts spilling over from Iraq, all of them - albeit for different reasons - are likely to be interested. More distant Arab states such as Egypt, Morocco or Algeria might also take part, and some of them might be willing to provide peacekeeping forces to Iraq once it is free of foreign occupation. In addition, we should consider a regional rehabilitation program designed to help Iraq recover and to relieve the burdens that Jordan and Syria, in particular, have shouldered by hosting more than 2 million Iraqi refugees.

The overall goal of a comprehensive U.S. strategy to undo the errors of recent years should be cooling down the Middle East, instead of heating it up. The "unipolar moment" that the Bush administration's zealots touted after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been squandered to generate a policy based on the unilateral use of force, military threats and occupation masquerading as democratization - all of which has pointlessly heated up tensions, fueled anti-colonial resentments and bred religious fanaticism. The long-range stability of the Middle East has been placed in increasing jeopardy.

Terminating the war in Iraq is the necessary first step to calming the Middle East, but other measures will be needed. It is in the U.S. interest to engage Iran in serious negotiations - on both regional security and the nuclear challenge it poses. But such negotiations are unlikely as long as Washington's price of participation is unreciprocated concessions from Tehran. Threats to use force on Iran are also counterproductive because they tend to fuse Iranian nationalism with religious fanaticism.

Real progress in the badly stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process would also help soothe the region's religious and nationalist passions. But for such progress to take place, the United States must vigorously help the two sides start making the mutual concessions without which a historic compromise cannot be achieved. Peace between Israel and Palestine would be a giant step toward greater regional stability, and it would finally let both Israelis and Palestinians benefit from the Middle East's growing wealth.

We started this war rashly, but we must end our involvement responsibly. And end it we must. The alternative is a fear-driven policy paralysis that perpetuates the war - to America's historic detriment.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. His most recent book is "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bush Totally Out of It on Iraq

by Matthew Rothschild

You got to wonder how out to lunch Bush really is these days.

At the very moment that civil strife was escalating in Iraq, even as Maliki’s forces were taking a beating in Basra and bombs were raining down on the Green Zone Bush declared that the violence in Iraq was “a very positive sign” because Maliki was stepping up.

Talk about a bloody silver lining. Maliki can’t even travel without a caravan of decoy limousines, according to Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent.

Nevertheless, at Wright-Patterson air force base on Thursday, Bush said: “The surge is doing what it was designed to do. It’s helping Iraqis reclaim security and restart political and economic life.”

He added: “It is bringing America closer to a key strategic victory in the war against these extremists and radicals.”

The reality, however, is that the huge uptick in violence in Iraq puts the lie to all the happy talk about the surge.

For the apparent success of the surge all along was due as much to the cease-fire by Muqtada al Sadr and his militia as it was to anything else.

And now that Maliki has gone after Sadr’s forces, the violence all over Iraq is skyrocketing.

It’s not just a case of the government going after a bunch of “bad guys,” as bad as Sadr and his forces are. They’ve been known to throw acid in the faces of unveiled women.

Sadr’s forces are among the most popular on the ground. And they are facing off against the rival militia forces of the SCIRI party. It’s one Shiite militia against another, and the United States has done what it said it would not do: We’re taking sides in a multi-sided civil war.

From here, things are likely to spin even further out of control, with even less political stability and even less economic activity (except for stealing oil), and even more deaths all around.

It is the surge, not the insurgency, that is in its last throes.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

How Lethally Stupid Can One Country Be?

By David Michael Green

Watching George W. Bush in operation these last couple of weeks is like having an out-of-body experience. On acid. During a nightmare. In a different galaxy.

As he presides over the latest disaster of his administration (No, it's not a terrorist attack -- that was 2001! No, it's not a catastrophic war -- that was 2003! No, it's not a drowning city -- that was 2005! This one is an economic meltdown, ladies and gentlemen!) bringing to it the same blithe disengagement with which he's attended the previous ones, you cannot but stop and gaze in stark comedic awe, realizing that the most powerful polity that ever existed on the planet twice picked this imbecilic buffoon as its leader, from among 300 million other choices. Seeing him clown with the Washington press corps yet once again -- and seeing them fawn over him, laugh in all the right places, and give him a standing ovation, also yet once again -- is the equivalent of having all your logic circuits blown simultaneously. Truly, the universe has a twisted and deeply ironic sense of humor. Monty Python is about as funny -- and as stiff -- as Dick Nixon, by comparison.

It's simply incomprehensible. It's not so astonishing, of course, that a country could have a bad leader whose aims are nefarious on the occasions when they are competent enough to rise to that level of intentionality. Plenty of countries have managed that feat, especially when -- as was the case with Bush -- every sort of scam is employed to steal power, and then pure corruption and intimidation used to keep it. History is quite littered indeed with bimbos and petty criminals of this caliber. What is harder to explain is how the citizens of a country of such remarkable achievements in other domains, and with the capacity to choose, allow this to happen. And then stand by silently watching for eight years as the tragedy unfolds before their eyes.

But let's give credit where credit is due. This is precisely by design. This is exactly the outcome intended by the greatest propaganda-promulgating regime since Hermann Göring set fire to the Reichstag. It was Göring himself who famously reminded us that, "Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." Sure worked in Germany. And it worked even better here, because these guys were so absolutely careful to avoid exposing the costs of their war to those who could demand its end. For example, by some counts, there are more mercenaries in Iraq, at extremely high cost, than there are U.S. military personnel.

There's only one reason for that. If the administration implemented the draft that is actually necessary to supply this war with adequate personnel, the public would end both the war and the careers of its sponsors, post haste. For the same reason, this is the first American war ever which has not only not been accompanied by a tax increase, but has in fact witnessed a tax cut. Likewise -- to "preserve the dignity" of the dead, of course -- you are no longer permitted to see photographs of flag-draped caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base. And the press are embedded with forces who are also responsible for their safety, which is just a fancy way of saying that they're so censored they make Pravda look good. It is, in short, quite easy for average Americans to get through their day, every day, without the war impacting their lives in any visible respect, and that is precisely what hundreds of millions of us are doing, week in and week out. All of this is courtesy of an administration that couldn't run a governmental program to save its own life -- but, boy, it sure as hell knows how to market stuff.

Perhaps Americans and American democracy are no wiser or better than any other people or political system, even today, even after the worst century of warfare in human history, even after the mirror-image experience of Vietnam. Maybe the experience of Iraq hasn't even changed them, and they'll once again follow like lemmings when led to war by pathetic creatures such as George W. Bush, 50 years from now. Or five years from now. Or even five months from now, as Dick Cheney tees up a confrontation with Iran in order keep Democrats out of the White House and himself out of jail.

Sure, presidents and prime ministers, no less than kings and führers, will lie their countries into war. Sure, they're very good at it and getting better all the time. Definitely a frightened people are more prone to stupidity than those lucky enough to contemplate in the luxury of quiet safety. Without question, it helps an awful lot -- if you're just Joe Sixpack, out there trying to figure out international politics in between a long day's work, helping the kids with their algebra homework, and the Yankee game -- to have a checking-and-balancing Congress, a responsible opposition party, and/or a critical media helping you to understand the issues accurately, rather than gleefully capitulating to executive power at every opportunity. But that by no means excuses a public who was fundamentally far more lazy than they were ignorant or confused. And lazy is one thing when you're talking about a highway bill or even national healthcare. But when it comes to war, lazy is murder.

I don't think it took a giant leap of logic to understand that this war was bogus from the beginning, even based on what was known at the time. The war was sold on three basic arguments, each of which could have been easily dismantled even then with a little thoughtful consideration.

The first was WMD, of course. So, OK, perhaps your average American didn't know that the United States government (including many in the current administration) had actually once supplied Saddam Hussein the material to make these evil weapons and had covered for him at the United Nations and elsewhere when he used them. This historical myopia is very much part of the problem, of course. Americans are so ready to denounce supposed enemies without doing the slightest bit of historical homework to make sense of the situation. If you don't know that the United States actually canceled elections and helped assassinate a "democratic" president in Vietnam, of course you're going to support war there. If you don't know that the United States toppled a democratically elected Iranian government to steal the country's oil and then installed a brutal dictatorship in its place, of course you're going to be angry at U.S. diplomats being held hostage. And if you don't bother to learn the true history of Iraq, perhaps you'll find the WMD argument quite persuasive.

But, in fact, even without the historical background information, it never made a damn bit of sense. Iraq had been pulverized by war and sanctions for over 20 years prior to 2003. Two-thirds of its airspace was controlled by foreign militaries. Its northern region was effectively autonomous, a separate country in all but name. It was in no position to attack anyone. Moreover, it hadn't attacked anyone -- not the United States or anyone else. Indeed, it hadn't even threatened to attack anyone. Shouldn't that be part of the calculation in determining whether to go to war? Do we really want to give carte blanche to any dry (we hope) drunkard in the White House who today wants to bomb Norway ("They're stealing our fish!") or tomorrow wants to invade Burkina Faso ("They dress funny!")?

Too often, of course, the historical answer to that question has unfortunately been yes, we apparently do want to do that. But let's consider the massive warning signs in this case, even apart from what could be known about the administration's lies at the time. Shouldn't it have been enormously problematic that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? Even the administration never had the gall to make that claim. Wasn't it transparent to anyone that America had plenty on its plate already in dealing with the enemy we were told we had, rather than adding a new adventure to the pile? And why wasn't this thing selling throughout the world, or even amongst the traitorous half of the Democratic Party in Congress? Remember how everyone at home and abroad -- yes, including the French -- supported the United States and its military actions in Afghanistan only 12 months before? Shouldn't it have been a warning sign of epic proportions that these same folks wouldn't countenance a war in Iraq just a year later? That the administration had to yank its Security Council resolution off the table, even after breaking both the arms of every member-state around the horseshoe table, because it could still only get Britain and two other patsies to lie down for this outrage, out of a total of 15, and nine needed to pass?

And how about the logic of that whole WMD thing, after all? Did anyone ever stop to think that 36 other countries were thought to have clandestine WMD programs, including around a dozen that are pretty hostile to the United States? Did anyone not remember that the Soviets once had nearly 25,000 strategic nuclear warheads pointed in our direction? What ever happened to the logic of deterrence? To mutually assured destruction? And what about the mad rush to go to war, preempting the U.N. weapons inspectors from doing their job? Are we really OK with the notion that instead of "risking" whatever would have been at risk by giving the inspectors another six or eight weeks to finish up, we've instead bought this devastating war down on our own heads for no reason at all?

The second rationale for war was the bogus linkage between Iraq and al Qaeda. The extent and ramifications of this lie are so significant that the White House, it was just recently revealed, squelched a Pentagon report showing no connections between the two. Remember how definitive Cheney and the rest were of this supposed al Qaeda linkage, based pretty much entirely on a meeting between two operatives in Prague which likely didn't even take place? Now we find out that the Department of Defense has spent the last five years combing through a mere 600,000 documents, and found zero evidence of such a link. Not some evidence. Not mixed evidence. Zero evidence.

Then, once again, there's the matter of that whole pesky logic thing. Pay attention now, class. What do we know about al Qaeda? They are devoted to religious war -- jihad -- in the name of replacing governments across the Middle East with theocracies, or better yet recreating the old Islamic caliphate stretching across the region, right? Right. Now if this vision could have more thoroughly contradicted Saddam's agenda for a secular dictatorship seeking regional domination on his own Stalinist terms, it is hard to imagine how. You don't need a Ph.D. in international politics to see that these two actors were about as antithetical to each other as the Republican Party is to integrity.

Lastly, Bush's little adventure in Mesopotamia was supposed to bring democracy to the region, remember? Never mind, of course, that there has long already been a fairly thriving Islamic democracy, right next door. Oops! It's called Turkey. And let's not forget Mr. Bush's long-standing devotion to democracy, as he amply demonstrated in the American election of 2000. Or as he has continually manifested by bravely and publicly pushing the Chinese to democratize. Just as he has with his pals in Egypt and especially the family friends running Saudi Arabia, the recipient of more American foreign aid than nearly any other country in all the world.

What is clear is that the reasons given to the American public for the war in Iraq were entirely bogus. This much is already on the public record, from the Downing Street memos and beyond. Even if we can only speculate on why they actually invaded -- oil, glory, personal insecurity, Israel, clobbering Democrats, Middle Eastern dominance -- what we know for sure is that the rationale fed to the public was a knowingly fabricated pack of scummy lies. It wasn't about WMD, it wasn't about links to al Qaeda, and it sure wasn't about democracy.

But even if we can't identify the true motivations within the administration for invading, we can surely begin to see the costs. Probably a million Iraqi civilians are dead. Over 4 million are displaced and now living as refugees. Together, these equal a staggering one-fifth of the population of the entire country. Meanwhile, the remaining four-fifths are living in squalor, fear and a psychological damage so extensive that it is hard to grasp. America has lost 4,000 soldiers, with perhaps another 30,000 gravely wounded. Hundreds of thousands more will be scarred for life from their experiences in the hell of Mr. Bush's war. Our military is broken and incapable of responding to a real emergency, at home or abroad. Our economy will sustain a blow of perhaps $3 trillion before all is said and done. Our reputation in the world is in the toilet. We have turned the Iranian theocracy into a regional hegemon. And we have massively proliferated our own enemies within the Islamic community. That would be one hell of an expensive war, even if the reasons given for it were legitimate. It is nearly incomprehensible considering that they were not.

This week, a man died in France, the last surviving veteran of World War I, a devastating conflict that -- even a century later -- nobody can really explain to this day. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, John McCain and Joe "Make-me-SecDef-Mac-oh-please-pick-me-Mac" Lieberman parachuted into Iraq for photo-ops to sustain the war they don't have the integrity or the guts to abandon. Never mind that their visits had to be by surprise, and that they stroll around the Green Zone wearing armored vests -- surely the most powerful measures of the war's success imaginable. Of course, to be fair, we've only been at it for five years now. Perhaps after the remaining 95 on McCain's agenda go by, Americans will finally be safe enough in Iraq to announce their visits in advance.

So, happy anniversary, America! You put these people in charge, and then -- after seeing in explicit in detail what they were capable of -- you actually did it again in 2004! You stood by in silence watching the devastation wrought upon an innocent people, produced in your name and financed by your tax dollars. And you continue to do just that again, now in Year Six.

Brilliant! Put on your party hat, America. You won the prize.

You've successfully answered the musical question, "How lethally stupid can one country be?"

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles ( but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Police: US Airstrike Kills 8 in Basra


BAGHDAD (AP) — A U.S. warplane strafed a house in the southern city of Basra, killing eight civilians, including two women and a child, Iraqi police said Saturday.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the report, which came a day after the first American airstrikes were launched in Basra during a week-old offensive against militant followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Seven other people were wounded when the plane fired on a house in Basra's Hananiyah neighborhood overnight, a local policeman said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

The Surge--Is It Soup Yet?

by Gary Brecher

Many people seem to enjoy repeating “the is Surge working, the Surge is working…” over and over again on television. So just before we pop the Champaign at the fifth-year anniversary party for the invasion of Iraq, and celebrate the completion of the freshman year of our ballyhooed “new strategy,” perhaps we should ask, “is the Surge working—really?

Sure, it’s working fine, just like my sister’s car. I had to drop her off at the garage where they were looking over her Ford Probe. It’d been overheating since she bought it, and there was something wrong with the alternator, too. But she didn’t have the money to fix it, so she asked the mechanic, “Can’t I just keep leaving the heater on and adding water and using my battery charger?”

The mechanic blinked a couple times and said, “Yeah, you could do that….” Meaning, “You could, if you want to drive around sweating, wait for the charger to power up when you’re late for work, and generally ruin your life for the sake of a hopeless junker.”

That’s the best answer I can give on the Surge: if you’re willing to go on throwing away men and money—about $3 trillion according to that Nobel Prize hotshot Stiglitz—to prop up a lost cause, then yeah, it’s working great! Just like my sister’s dumb techniques; they kept the car on the road all right, but she’d have been way better off just junking it, which she ended up doing anyway. Stiglitz argues that the real reason why the dollar has tanked and credit has crunched and all the mortgages are going bust is because we broke the bank in Iraq, pouring all those billions in to persuade the local gangbangers not to shoot at us.

That’s the Surge.

The only reason people think “it’s working” is that our strategy, pre-Surge, was so bad that pretty much anything would be a step up. The easiest way to win “Most Improved” is to have a lousy start to your season. And it doesn’t get much lousier than our counterinsurgency performance from 2003-2006. Just how bad was it? I yield the floor to the Honorable Sen. Lindsay Graham, who said in an interview that he can’t believe how good our troops’ morale is now, compared to when they were “going around waiting to be shot.” Whoops! Somebody drag the senator away from the mic.
But that’s the hard truth: U.S. troops were riding around blind, getting ambushed by guys we couldn’t even identify, failing to do the most basic job of counterinsurgency warfare—intelligence. Petraeus is a hero to the neocons—they’ve lauded him and Fred Kagan and his wife called Commanding General Raymond Odierno “the Patton of Counterinsurgency”—but all Patraeus did was apply standard counterinsurgency techniques to Iraq—four years late.

The reason it took so long is that CI warfare contradicts the U.S. Army’s emphasis on firepower and logistics. Running a successful CI campaign means shooting less and socializing more, getting to know the locals—not because they’re so durn cute and there’s so much culture to appreciate, but so you can figure out which doors to kick in, which locals to interrogate.
You’d think the U.S. Army would know how to do that after getting involved in so many irregular wars since 1945. You’d be wrong. Colonel John A. Nagl said it best: “…in 2003 most Army officers knew more about the U.S. Civil War than they did about counterinsurgency.”

Nagl has written a manual on CI as well as a history of it, Learning to Eat Soup with A Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.

But it would be wrong to stop the buck on the Army’s desk. The blame for our failure to gather intelligence on the Iraqi insurgency rests right where the blame for this whole mess belongs: with the neocons’ big lie that we were going to be welcomed as liberators and have rose petals thrown in front of our tanks. If that’s what you’re forcing yourself to see, who needs intelligence? What are you going to do, spy on the locals making their welcome bouquets? “Base, I’ve got a visual on three individuals aiming what appear to be daisies at the convoy! Permission to throw Hershey’s Kisses at them, Sir!”

So when the insurgency got going we had no idea who the enemy was, and what was worse, nobody in the Bush administration even wanted to know. They kept saying, until it was a running joke, that it was nothing but “deadenders,” Saddam’s cousins just being sore losers. And they had no response except massive, random firepower. Which does not work. Spraying the neighborhood with automatic weapons is what every frustrated occupying army ends up doing when they’re ambushed (Haditha, Blackwater, etc.). And when they do, the guerrillas rejoice, because that kind of fire usually hits civilians. And every family that loses a kid turns insurgent—maybe not as combatants but as informers, lookouts, or human shields.

It took more than three years of American soldiers “driving around waiting to be shot” to convince the administration to give standard counterinsurgency tactics a try. And in the end, it wasn’t all those GIs who’d been killed or maimed that changed their minds. It was losing the 2006 elections. At that point Bush’s people forced his hand: Rummie was out, and Petraeus was greenlighted to set up a standard CI plan for the Sunni Triangle, “The Surge.”

The Surge was billed at the time as an increase in U.S. troop numbers in Baghdad, but looking back, the increase was the least important part of the new plan.

The real plan had two elements. First, winning the Sunni over by bribing them. We’re bribing every Sunni chief or officer who’ll take our money. The second element was to connect our units to a particular neighborhood. This is basic to any CI effort. You want your troops to settle in, get to know the place.

The new plan divided Baghdad into nine districts. Primary responsibility for security was with a brigade of the Iraqi Army, with a battalion of U.S. troops for backup. More important, every Iraqi brigade had American embeds right down to NCO level.

If you’ve read Nam memoirs you’ll be yelling, “But this is what the grunts said way back in 1968! We should’ve stayed in one place, trained the locals, not gone out on search-and-destroy missions re-taking the same places over and over again!”

Hey, don’t tell me, tell whoever was in charge—if anybody really was from 2003-2006. Anybody remember how many times we “took” Fallujah?

Sure, we’d been doing PR stuff from the start, but it was just photo ops, giving kids candy, trying to make “liberated” Baghdad 2003 look like Paris 1944.

That sentimental stuff is not what CI is about. Real CI warfare means handing out bags of cash, not candy. From 2003 to 2006 most of our bribes went to Shia militia chiefs—we were going to buddy up with Shia majority, the guys bad old Saddam used to oppress. Then, about two years back, a thought wormed its way into Cheney’s tiny brain: “Hey, Iraq is right next to Iran! And, um, isn’t Iran also Shi’ite? So, like, if we strengthen the Iraqi Shias—wait, I can get this—uh…we’re just letting Iran take over! And that’s not good, that’s terrible!”

The neocons are so truly, totally stupid this hadn’t occurred to them. I really don’t know what to say about stupidity like this. In any other country, every neocon from Bush to the lamest columnist in your local rag would be crow food by now, impaled on tetherball poles for an “Ooopsie” like that. I guess Americans are the forgiving type.

So after three years of killing Sunnis and cuddling up to the Shia, Cheney did a U-turn: everybody go hug a Sunni! Even if he’s still holding the wire on that IED!

The Sunni bosses took the cash and racheted down the IED attacks. In Jan./Feb. 2007 we had 164 kia; in Jan/Feb 2008 it’s down to 69, a 58% cut. If that’s what you mean by “working,” then the Surge works great.

There’s a way we could have used bribes to the Sunni officer corps much more effectively—just by keeping Saddam’s army on the payroll and putting them in new uniforms right after we took Baghdad. Then we could have jailed (or killed) the Sunni hard core, the guys who weren’t going to accept occupation. We didn’t do it because the official story was that except for Saddam’s sore-loser cousins in Tikrit, every man, woman, and donkey in Iraq loved us—and when that failed, we blasted Sunni neighborhoods indiscriminately. That was another mistake. You don’t attack an entire ethnic group; that just convinces them they have no option but to fight you. What a good counterinsurgency operation tries to do is split the insurgent ethnic group into two factions. That way they’re too busy killing each other to bother attacking the occupier.

The British did it successfully against the Irish in 1921 by signing a treaty with Michael Collins’s faction of the IRA, then arming it in a civil war against the anti-treaty faction that sprang up. The Israelis are trying the same thing now, arming and funding the softie Abbas and trying to encourage his Fatah faction into a war with Hamas. The trouble is, when you side with the softies, they fight soft—take, for example, Abbas’s fighters who are having trouble staying in the ring with the crazies in Hamas.

That’s one of the paradoxes of CI warfare: the bravest locals are always the insurgents. That’s why Nam memoirs always have a sneaking admiration for the VC/NVA and total contempt for ARVN. It’s the weaklings like ARVN or Fatah who’ll go along with the occupier. So you’re usually paying a ton of cash for the “loyalty” of men without much fight in them.

The “Fallujah Brigade” in 2004 was our first try at buying off Sunni fighters, and it was a fiasco. Before the Marines gave up and disbanded the “Brigade” at gunpoint, it set a world record for treachery and cowardice. The “Brigade” fled every firefight, and most of the deserters defected to the insurgents, taking the shiny weapons we’d given them. But the last straw was when the Brigade’s officers were implicated in the kidnap/torture/murder of ING Lt. Col. Sulaiman Hamid Fitkan, the one local who really was on our side and had some guts. That was when the Marines decided that with allies like this, we didn’t need enemies.

Developing reliable local allies takes a long time, and we don’t have that kind of time, because U.S. counterinsurgency policy is always linked in to the four-year election cycle. The Sunni, the Shia, and the Iranians don’t have that pressure. They can wait us out. That’s what they call Long War Doctrine: guerrillas can’t win on the battlefield, so they focus on surviving. The occupiers, they’re betting, will eventually leave—because the occupier can leave, and the guerrillas can’t. It doesn’t take much to keep that kind of war going. A few hundred people can do it if they have the neighborhood solidly behind them.

The Long War strategy is why it’s ridiculous for Fred Kagan to say that “the Iraq civil war was over” by February 2008. Nothing is ever “over” in irregular warfare. You get lulls in the fighting, but pretending that these are neat, clean endings is as ridiculous as calling Odierno “the Patton of counterinsurgency.” Counterinsurgencies don’t have Pattons. They don’t depend on brilliant generals or superb hardware; they come down to a long, slow grinding battles of will between the occupier and the locals. And the locals usually win, because anybody with a choice will vacate the Hell that is a guerrilla war zone. The locals usually win because they can’t leave; the occupier usually gets sick of the mess and exits.

You may have heard about successful counterinsurgency wars. Fact is, there aren’t many of them and they usually involve a tiny, easily-identified minority. Nagl talks a lot about Malaya in his book, but the fact is that in Malaya the British could simply isolate and wipe out the Chinese militants because the ethnic Malay majority hated the ethnic Chinese from way back.

We can’t wipe out the Sunni that easily. They’re not the kind of vulnerable little minority you can zap with anything short of nukes. There are more than five million of them; they’re used to war and being in charge; and when you come down to it, they don’t have much else to do.

They’re happy to take our money now, but you can bet they’re also assigning men to check out our new post-Surge routines. That’s standard irregular warfare practice. When the occupier changes his habits, the guerrillas wait, watch, and then strike. Even if the older, calmer Sunni chiefs want to take our money and relax, there’ll be some young bloods who want to see American blood again, and they’ll form their own little gangs. It always happens; we talk about “The Sunni” like they’re one big family, but every tribe has its own little fault lines, and the pressure of cooperating with an occupier always cracks them open.

And that’s just the Sunni. Step back and look at the bigger picture, and you get really depressed. The Shia are quiet right now, but they’re not too happy about us bribing and cozying up to Sunni militias that have been car-bombing their mosques for years. If anything’s keeping them calm, it’s their advisors in Iranian intelligence telling them to stay still till the U.S. elections.

Iran owns Iraq now; we’re just housesitting. The Mullahs are so cocky that Ahmadinejad strolled into Baghdad a few weeks back, taunting the US, and got a big hug from our man Maliki.

The real shocker is that Ahmadinejad drove downtown from the airport. Nobody drives from the airport into Baghdad. Bush has to zip in on a chopper when he visits, because the road is bandit country. Think about what it means that the leader of Iran can take the scenic route into town, waving and smiling—not because he’s brave but because he knows it’s safe. And remember, the enemy in Baghdad is supposed to be the Sunni, old Mahmud’s enemies as well. What does it say that even on their turf, the turf of the guys we’re paying now, Ahmadinejad walks around untouched?

Then there’s Kurdistan, quiet for now but due for some action soon. They have their own Arab/Kurd faultline running just where the massive Kirkuk oilfields happen to be. Not a good bet for quiet times ahead.

You might also consider that even Petraeus just admitted that the Iraqi political parties haven’t made any of the big conciliatory moves they were supposed to make as their part of the deal. There was a really grotesque case in March 2008, where a Baghdad court acquitted two high-ranking Shi’ites from the Health Ministry who’d been borrowing government ambulances to kidnap Sunnis from local hospitals and then torture them to death.

That’s just business as usual in Iraq, but people in DC still act surprised that these dudes haven’t put on the powdered wigs and started acting like Washington and Monroe yet. Any day now, I guess…any minute now….

And we get all of this for the bargain price of $3 trillion dollars (so far) and 30,000 American casualties. You tell me: five years after the farce began and a year after the institution of our new strategy, is The Surge really working?

Gary Brecher writes “The War Nerd” column in The eXile, the English-language bi-weekly based in Moscow.

Friday, March 28, 2008

America’s Ruling Clique

By Charles Sullivan

Neoconservatives derive much of their political strength from the portrayal of big government as the enemy of the people: a belief that plays only too well in America. Big government is indeed the enemy of the people when it does not serve the people’s interests, or when it betrays them.

Where the neoconservatives and the chicken hawks have been spectacularly successful is in the field of perception management. The super rich—or the ruling clique—constitutes no more than 0.1 percent of the US population. Yet they control the mainstream media, every branch government, the electoral process and the country’s major financial institutions.

Thus, 99.9 percent of the people are being manipulated and cannibalized by a tiny but powerful minority. It is the interests of this powerful minority that are served by government and it is their interests that are defined as the national interest or as national security; and it is hardly benign. Robbing the poor to pay the rich causes irreparable harm to the victim.

There is a continual conflict between the super rich and the remaining 99.9 percent of the people in this nation. Not only is democracy subverted when a tiny minority rules over a large majority, the majority is diminished and betrayed, and social and economic servitude is instituted. The relationship is not only adversarial; it is fundamentally unequal and unjust. You have a situation where a large majority suffers all of the hardships and makes all of the sacrifices but the small minority reaps the reward, without incurring any risk themselves. One should never call this intolerable and immoral situation a democracy.

Through subversion, coercion, and intense perception management the ownership class always gets what it wants, and almost always at the expense of the working class. We pay the price and someone else reaps the financial reward.

Consider, for example, the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States military and who has benefited financially. The military, comprised almost entirely of working class women and men, is being used to secure Iraq’s nationalized oil fields and turning them over to private firms and foreign investors. Those firms have profited from the theft of Iraqi oil by the United States armed forces without running any risks themselves.

The armed forces ran the risks for them, and turned the profits over to private oil companies who subsequently realized record profits. The entire country has been similarly privatized by a host of corporate predators. War is a form of corporate welfare cloaked in patriotic language. One need only follow the money to understand what it is really about.

Similarly, George Bush is not fighting a war against terrorism as he purports: he is committing unconscionable acts of terrorism against innocent people, and his cohorts in congress are providing him the funds to do so. It is not Islamic terrorists that are spying on law-abiding citizens and intercepting their emails or tapping their phone lines; it is the United States government, authorized by Bush.

The president behaves like a fascist dictator because he is a fascist dictator representing the interests of the ruling clique, while masquerading as a protectorate of the people and the national interest. Never lose sight of the fact that Bush is an emissary for the ruling class to which he belongs and it is on their behalf that he is acting, not ours.

Consider also the fact that thousands of no bid contracts were awarded to private corporations with connections to the Bush White House—such as Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater during the occupation of Iraq. Thus, it is evident that terms such as free trade and free markets are not only misleading, they are disingenuous and fraudulent.

Not only is the ruling clique stealing the wealth of other nations through overt militarism, they are simultaneously bankrupting our nation’s economy. Their intent is to privatize government in hopes of changing it from a service oriented entity into a for profit body. Their goal is to eliminate all social spending in order to further facilitate the ruling clique’s personal wealth creation, and to finance future military invasions; to impose capitalism on the world by means of brute force and coercion.

If they are successful, those with enough money to buy services that are now provided by the government will continue to enjoy those services. Those who cannot afford to pay: the poor, the elderly, the sick or injured, the unemployed and uneducated, will just have to suffer and die. They will be forced to subsist on whatever they can beg, barrow, or steal and slip into the realm of non-persons. It is worth noting that the infrastructure for delivering those goods and services were created with public funds. As always, we are talking about socializing costs and privatizing profits.

Paradoxically, neoconservatives and their media cohorts have succeeded in persuading working class people of modest incomes, conservative and liberal alike, into supporting a wide range of policies that are detrimental to their class, especially those with the lowest incomes.

That is the role that neoconservative icons like Rush Limbaugh plays in the corporate propaganda apparatus. While actually part of the ruling clique, Limbaugh has persuaded his followers that he and his economic brethren are on their side. In reality, Limbaugh and his class are preying upon the fears and prejudices of his followers while accruing tremendous personal wealth from their support, much like George Bush. Such is the power of disinformation, fear, and propaganda.

Limbaugh’s mindless blathering is like the kiss of Judas. He and his kind are impervious to scientific fact and without empathy for the people they so ruthlessly exploit.

Leaving no economic stone unturned, the ruling clique is even privatizing the military. The average soldier assigned the rank of private first class receives a yearly salary of about $40,000; whereas a mercenary working for Blackwater—a private defense contractor—doing the same job in the same place, earns about $400,000. The mercenary soldier costs tax payers ten times more than the government soldier for the same services and is not accountable to anyone.

The privatization of the military began under former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and it continues to this day. Private contractors have such close ties with government these days that it is difficult to tell where the private sector ends and government begins. There are revolving doors that continuously sweep corporate executives into government and government officials into corporate board rooms. That is how fortunes are made in Washington: through crony capitalism and theft.

Rumsfeld, a man who sanctions torture, has long deified Milton Friedman, of the Chicago School of Economics; and it is Friedman’s economic and social theories that are being put into practice. Lest anyone think that the disciples of capitalism are limited to the neocons, they aren’t. Every contending presidential candidate is a Friedman disciple. The president, his entire cabinet, and virtually every member of congress are disciples of Milton Friedman; and that is why voting does not often significantly change policies: the ideology behind them remains the same, regardless of who is in power.

That is where this country is heading but most Americans are sitting on their hands and allowing it to happen. The people need to know what is being done to them and who is responsible. We the people must organize and mobilize to protect ourselves from the ruling cabal or we will be forever cannibalized by them.

Like it or not, we are all in this together and long term survival will depend upon our ability to organize and to cooperate with one another. It will require long term economic boycotts, strikes, work slow downs, dramatically curtailed consumption, civil disobedience, sustained protests, self-education and personal sacrifice. The key is to get organized as quickly as possible.

Charles Sullivan is a nature photographer, free-lance writer, and activist residing in the Ridge and Valley Province of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cheney Believes War Is Not the People’s Business

by Helen Thomas

Back in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s worst days when he was grappling with the Vietnam quagmire and raucous anti-war protests at home, he said that in the big decisions about war and peace: “The people should be in on the take offs as well as the landings.”

Tell that to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who apparently couldn’t care less what Americans think - except every four years at election time.

Cheney made that clear in an intriguing interview with ABC News on his recent Middle East trip. Despite the difficulties surrounding the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq five years ago, Cheney insisted, “It was the right thing to do.”

When the interviewer told him that two-thirds of Americans say the war in Iraq is not worth fighting, Cheney scoffed. The administration would not be “blown off course by the fluctuations in public opinion polls,” he vowed.

Cheney went on to claim that Abraham Lincoln would never have succeeded in the Civil War if he had paid attention to polls. White House press secretary Dana Perino later indicated that Bush was on the same page.

Asked about Cheney’s remarks to ABC, Perino said the Bush administration realizes its popularity polls are very low (30 percent) “but largely that’s because of people being unhappy about the war, about the fact that it has gone on five years … and we’re aware of that.She added that both Bush and Cheney have long believed the reason they are leaders is because they do “not chase popularity polls but … hold themselves to a standard that requires people not to like them.”

She went on to explain that the administration would like people to support the president’s decisions but that such a hope is “unrealistic” in time of war. “And while we’re not able to change public opinion, we have to follow a principle,” she said, “and stand on principle.”

Reminded that she was saying, in effect, that the people had no say about the war, Perino replied that they have “input” every
four years, adding: “And that’s the way our system is set up.”

As long as Congress cowers sheep-like and does not retrieve its constitutional power to declare war, an imperial Bush-style presidency will prevail.

The war against Iraq was built on falsehoods - weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and ties to al-Qaida that were a fantasy. The administration used these phony rationales to scare the American people into fearing a threat from a third-world country.

Since the administration’s original propaganda has now been revealed to be bogus, Bush has resumed his claim that it was necessary to rid the world of a tyrant, Saddam Hussein - a friend of the U.S., incidentally, in earlier times.

His aides remain loyal to their chant that Iraq is “the central front in the war on terrorism.”

Any port in a storm seems to be the strategy of White House spin-masters.

Determined to ignore the reality that the war is a debacle and the killing will go on, Bush last year came up with the “surge” theory of dispatching 30,000 more troops to Iraq in hopes of bringing Iraqi submission.

There has been a lessening of violence in Iraq. Could it be that there are fewer attacks on American troops because we are paying huge sums of money to Sunni Iraqis to persuade them to stop attacking Americans and instead go after al-Qaida?

Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will leave Baghdad in May to report to Bush and Congress on the status of the war and talk about a timetable for a drawdown of more troops - or even propose a pause in withdrawals.

Next November, the American voters will decide on a new president. Before then, reporters will be remiss if they fail to nail the candidates on whether the views of the people on questions of war and peace will count with them.

–Helen Thomas

© 2008 The Salt Lake Tribune

Apathy As Troops Die Unforgivable

By Joseph L. Galloway

This week, the Iraq War claimed its 4,000th American killed in action, but that sad and tragic milestone came as the war seems to have slipped off the evening news, off the front pages and from the minds of the American people.

I suppose this benign neglect of so important and damaging an event is combat fatigue on the part of the public. No doubt the White House is happy to see Iraq shoved to a back burner, just as all three presidential candidates are relieved to talk about something else, anything else, but their half-baked ideas about the war.

Shame on them, and shame on us, for such callous indifference to the service, sacrifice and suffering of the families of the dead, wounded and injured troops who've given so much for so little in return.

Vice President Dick Cheney again stuck both feet in his mouth by saying and then repeating that we should remember that our military is composed entirely of volunteers; that our troops all volunteered for this duty, this burden, this sacrifice.

What's your point, Mr. Vice President? That because they volunteered to serve our country in uniform it's OK to squander their lives in a war of choice, your choice and your president's, and that it somehow matters less than if they'd been dragooned into service by press gangs or a draft like the one you dodged with five deferments during the Vietnam War because, you said, you had "better things to do"?

The 58,249 Americans who were killed in the war of your youth had better things to do than rest under their white marble, government-issue tombstones. I'm certain, too, that the 4,000 Americans who've died in the war that you and President Bush launched five years ago for no good reason and several that weren't true had better things to do than die under your command.

No sooner did you and your boss begin celebrating "victory" in the surge in Iraq than new problems erupted in one of the most critical parts of the country, the southern Shiite Muslim city of Basra and nearby oil fields and ports.

Iraq government soldiers are fighting it out with the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for control of Basra, and the truce that's helped keep a fragile peace in Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods began to unravel. Sadr's militiamen rained mortars and rockets on the Green Zone — the headquarters of the Iraqi government and American diplomats and military commanders — as a pointed reminder of who still holds some good cards in this game.

Sadr turned off his murderous militia for reasons of his own last August, and casualty figures for American forces began falling sharply because Shiite militias were responsible for as much as 65 percent of U.S. casualties. If Sadr now turns his war back on, our casualty figures could rise as swiftly as they fell.

We'll get a good idea from the fighting in Basra about how strong the American-trained Iraqi Army really is as it goes up against Sadr's militiamen. The Iraqi police — American-trained but heavily infiltrated by another militia, the Iranian-backed Badr Organization — ran for their lives early in the fighting.

By the time the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, arrives in Washington during the second week of April to report to the president and the Congress on the achievements of the surge, he may have less good news to report.

But none of this makes a damn bit of difference if most Americans don't care and don't want to know anything, good or bad, about Iraq, the war and our troops. That's the sort of apathy and know-nothingness that elected and then re-elected Bush and Cheney. They're what happens when fewer than half the eligible voters in this great experiment in democracy and freedom even care enough to vote on Election Day.

Meantime, our volunteer troops — who comprise about one-half of 1 percent of our population of 300 million — soldier on, bearing the burden and making all the sacrifices on behalf of all the rest of us.

The war that Americans don't want to know about drags on because its authors don't care what you think or even if you think. In fact, they'd prefer that you didn't think or ask any pesky questions that they can't answer without lying.

Galloway is a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers, a former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers andco-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once … and Young."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Costs of War

by Zia Mian

Five years ago the United States attacked and occupied Iraq. It has lost militarily, politically and morally. The end of the war may be in sight. But the consequences will endure, as will the deep-seated impulse among America’s leaders for global intervention without constraint.

The war has exposed the limits of American military power. The promise of a high-tech war of “shock and awe” quickly crumbled and has been all but forgotten. The abiding images of the war, even in America, will not be cruise missiles over Baghdad but torture at Abu Ghraib and the massacre at Fallujah. People will remember a brutal counter-insurgency. The recent Winter Soldier hearings in Washington, DC, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, have started to reveal some of the daily horrors of the occupation forces.

Five years into the war, 4,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and over 30,000 wounded. Now 160,000 U.S. soldiers are fighting in Iraq on extended tours of duty. The U.S. army has started to crack under the strain. Faced with home-made bombs and suicide bombers, the United States has turned to increased aerial bombing. The Washington Post reported there were five times more U.S. air strikes in Iraq in 2007 than in 2006, involving an increase from an average of four a week in 2006 to about four bombs a day in 2007, with bombs ranging between 500 to 2000 pounds of explosive each. In what it called “one of the largest strikes since the 2003 invasion,” the Post reported that in January 2008 U.S. planes dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives in 10 minutes on one area. Such attacks are a sure recipe for higher civilian casualties.

Civilian Casualties

The war has come at grievous cost to Iraq’s people. It has been estimated that almost 7,500 Iraqi civilians were killed in the initial invasion. A national survey by the Iraqi government and the UN World Health Organization released in January 2008 found that 151,000 Iraqis had died from violence between the March 2003 invasion and June 2006 (the range is between 104,000 and 223,000).

Other estimates put the casualty figures higher. A household survey-based study published in The Lancet found that as of July 2006 “as a consequence of the coalition invasion of March 18, 2003, about 655,000 Iraqis have died above the number that would be expected in a non-conflict situation… About 601,000 of these excess deaths were due to violent causes.”

Many have died since then. Iraq Body Count, which tracks civilian deaths in Iraq using credible media reports and NGOs and offers what can be taken as a minimum casualty estimate, has found that “the most violent 12-month period in Iraq’s recent history extended from July 2006 to June 2007.” The daily toll went down for a few months, but Iraq Body Count reported that as of the end of February 2008 the number of civilian deaths from violence was higher than in the preceding month “for the first time since September 2007.” March 2008 has proved to be very bloody.

There are many ways to die a violent death in Iraq. Not all can be attributed directly to the American-led occupation forces. But almost all can be attributed to the occupation and the resistance that it has elicited (with all its horrors) and the anarchy it has unleashed. Robert Fisk has reported in The Independent that suicide bombings in Iraq may have killed over 13,000 people and wounded even more. As he points out, the first suicide bombings were aimed at the invading American forces. There have been over 1,100 since then.

Along with the dead and injured are the displaced. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that “as of September 2007, there were believed to be well over 4 million displaced Iraqis around the world, including some 2.2 million inside Iraq and a similar number in neighboring countries.” Three million of these were displaced after 2003. It estimates that “60,000 Iraqis are being forced to leave their homes every month by continuing violence.”

For the Iraqi survivors, the legacy of occupation will be punishing. The years of daily humiliation and violence by outsiders, the collusion and collaboration by the self-serving and the desperate, an armed resistance based around sectarian religious and ethnic identities, and the embrace of self-destruction as a political act that is at the heart of suicide bombing, will poison Iraqi society for a generation if not longer.

Costs to America

America has paid a heavy political price, and not just in the now-all-too-familiar collapse of U.S. standing in world opinion. Even its allies have been abandoning it. Eighteen countries have pulled their troops out of the so-called “coalition of the willing” in Iraq. Almost all the remaining countries that sent troops have reduced their forces. Twelve countries have fewer than a hundred soldiers each in Iraq. These allies - Mongolia, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Latvia - are small countries that are reliant on U.S. aid, and this war is the price charged for closer political ties. The isolation of the United States that this reflects will have enduring consequences.

The United States has paid heavily in other ways for this war. It has spent over $500 billion on this war and is currently spending over $10 billion a month, about $275 million a day. A Congressional Research Service analyst reported in late 2007 that by then the Iraq war had already cost the United States about 65% as much as the total cost of the Vietnam war, which lasted for 12 years.

There is much more to come. Joseph Stiglitz, the American Nobel-laureate economist, and Linda Bilmes estimate that the Iraq war will eventually cost the United States between $3 trillion and $5 trillion. This bill includes military spending, replacing destroyed and prematurely worn-out equipment, the increase in oil prices due to the war, the interest on debts incurred to pay for the war, the loss of economic productivity due to reservists (part-time soldiers) sent to Iraq, and the cost of many years of health care for returning wounded soldiers. This war spending, along with the money spent on the war in Afghanistan and nuclear weapons, has raised the military budget above $600 billion, a factor that has worsened the economic slump now underway.

Public Opinion

It is no surprise that American public opinion remains resolutely opposed to the war. A recent poll by USA Today and Gallup found almost 60% believed that it was a mistake to have sent troops to Iraq in the first place. It found that over half of Americans now believe the Bush administration “deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”

But the war is fading from the media. Stories about the war were about 3% of the news in February 2008, down from 15% in July 2007. Fading coverage has combined with weariness about what to do about the war, a looming economic crisis, and the presidential election campaign to dull public knowledge about the war. A recent Pew poll found that only 28% of Americans knew the current U.S. death toll in Iraq. More people underestimated the actual casualties. Six months ago over half of the public had an accurate sense of American deaths in Iraq.

The Iraq war has broken the Bush presidency, cost the Republicans control of Congress, and may lose them the White House. The growing sentiment among Americans that the United States should mind its own business and not try to manage the affairs of the rest of the world may be enough to restrain future leaders from a similar illegal assault on another nation.

But we have been here before. It is worth remembering that thirty years ago many believed the painful lessons of the Vietnam War and American defeat would restrain American interventions overseas. But it took right-wing politicians, led notably by Ronald Reagan, barely five years to begin rallying the public to overturn the “Vietnam Syndrome” and demand that America show it had “the means and the determination to prevail.” They prevailed. The challenge after Iraq will be to make sure this does not happen again.

It will not be easy. The presidential election campaign offers John McCain who still supports the Iraq war and would it seems go to war against Iran if he could, and Hillary Clinton who is unabashed about her willingness to use force.

But even Barack Obama, who many hope will pave the way to a new era in American politics, has affirmed his commitment to the use of American military power. In his July 2007 Foreign Affairs essay “Renewing American Leadership,” he wrote “To renew American leadership in the world, we must immediately begin working to revitalize our military. A strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace… We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests… I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary… We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability.”

The path from empire will be no easy walk.

Zia Mian, a Foreign Policy In Focus ( columnist, directs the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia at the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.

Copyright © 2008, Institute for Policy Studies

Generals bin Laden and Bush

by Mark Danner and Tom Engelhardt

Today, in his usual remarkable way, Mark Danner takes stock of the president's failed War on Terror abroad. One day, we will also need to take full stock of George W. Bush's War on Terror at home. After all, conceptually speaking, the War on Terror lay at the heart of everything he and his top officials hoped for in an administration – in, as they called it, a "unitary executive" that would be unrestrained by the checks and balances of either Congress or the courts. The announcement (not declaration) of "war" was, in fact, a necessity for this administration, the only lever available with which to pry a commander-in-chief presidency out of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Without the president's self-proclaimed War on Terror, there would have been no "war" at all, and so no "wartime" atmosphere or "wartime" presidency to be invoked to cow Congress into backing Bush's future war of choice in Iraq. Without "war" and "wartime," it would have been impossible to bring the American people along so readily and difficult to apply "war rules" from the Guantanamo prison complex in Cuba and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Otherwise, as Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris recently pointed out in the New Yorker, how could American officials and commanders have designated those prisoners seized by the U.S. military in Iraq as "'security detainees,' a label that had gained currency in the war on terror, to describe 'unlawful combatants' and other prisoners who had been denied POW status and could be held indefinitely, in isolation and secrecy, without judicial recourse."

Every hope the Bush administration's top officials had of future power hinged on the War on Terror that preceded actual war anywhere. True, in World War I, not 19 hijackers, but a single assassin triggered the mobilizing of the armies of all the Great Powers of Europe, which did indeed lead to global war. But after 9/11, on the provocation of 19 men (and the scattered bands behind them), only one power mobilized, which meant, by the standards of history, there was no war to be had. Only aggression.

On the domestic power grab that the president and his men (and a few women) believed would lead not just to a global Pax Americana, but to a Pax Republicana at home, the equivalent of a National Intelligence Estimate has yet to arrive. But the recent, little noted loss of the previously safe Illinois seat of former House of Representatives Majority Leader Dennis Hastert – a contest into which a strapped National Republican Congressional Committee poured $1.2 million (20 percent of the cash it had on hand) against a neophyte Democratic candidate – is a striking sign that Bush's Pax Republicana may prove anything but generational. In the meantime, consider with Mark Danner, author most recently of The Secret Way to War, the fate of that global Pax Americana which the War on Terror was intended to bring about. Tom

Taking Stock of the War on Terror

A defeat only American power could have brought about
by Mark Danner

[This essay was adapted from an address first delivered in February at the Tenth Asia Security Conference at the Institute for Security and Defense Analysis in New Delhi.]

To contemplate a prewar map of Baghdad – as I do the one before me, with sectarian neighborhoods traced out in blue and red and yellow – is to look back on a lost Baghdad, a Baghdad of our dreams. My map of 2003 is colored mostly a rather neutral yellow, indicating the "mixed" neighborhoods of the city, predominant just five years ago. To take up a contemporary map after this is to be confronted by a riot of bright color: Shia blue has moved in irrevocably from the East of the Tigris; Sunni red has fled before it, as Shia militias pushed the Sunnis inexorably west toward Abu Ghraib and Anbar province, and nearly out of the capital itself. And everywhere, it seems, the pale yellow of those mixed neighborhoods is gone, obliterated in the months and years of sectarian war.

I start with those maps out of a lust for something concrete, as I grope about in the abstract, struggling to quantify the unquantifiable. How indeed to "take stock" of the War on Terror? Such a strange beast it is, like one of those mythological creatures that is part goat, part lion, part man. Let us take a moment and identify each of these parts. For if we look closely at its misshapen contours, we can see in the War on Terror:

Part anti-guerrilla mountain struggle, as in Afghanistan;

Part shooting-war-cum-occupation-cum-counterinsurgency, as in Iraq;

Part intelligence, spy v. spy covert struggle, fought quietly – "on the dark side," as Vice President Dick Cheney put it shortly after 9/11 – in a vast territory stretching from the southern Philippines to the Maghreb and the Straits of Gibraltar;

And finally the War on Terror is part, perhaps its largest part, Virtual War – an ongoing, permanent struggle, and in its ongoing political utility not wholly unlike Orwell's famous world war between Eurasia, East Asia, and Oceania that is unbounded in space and in time, never ending, always expanding.

Snowflakes Drifting Down on the War on Terror

President Bush announced this virtual war three days after Sept. 11, 2001, in the National Cathedral in Washington, appropriately enough, when he told Americans that "our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil."

Astonishing words from a world leader – declaring that he would "rid the world of evil." Just in case anyone thought they might have misheard the sweep of the president's ambition, his National Security Strategy, issued a few months later, was careful to specify that "the enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism – premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents."

Again, a remarkable statement, as many commentators were quick to point out; for declaring war on "terrorism" – a technique of war, not an identifiable group or target – was simply unprecedented, and, indeed, bewildering in its implications. As one counterinsurgency specialist remarked to me, "Declaring war on terrorism is like declaring war on air power."

Six and a half years later, evil is still with us and so is terrorism. In my search for a starting point in taking stock of those years, I find myself in the sad position of pondering fondly what have become two of the saddest words in the English language: Donald Rumsfeld.

Remember him? In late October 2003, when I was in Baghdad watching the launch of the so-called Ramadan Offensive – five simultaneous suicide bombings, beginning with one at the headquarters of the Red Cross, the fiery aftermath of which I witnessed – then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was in Washington still denying that an insurgency was underway in Iraq. He was also drafting one of his famous "snowflakes," those late-night memoranda which he used to rain down on his terrorized Pentagon employees.

This particular snowflake, dated Oct. 16, 2003, and entitled "Global War on Terrorism," reads almost poignantly now, as the defense secretary gropes to define the war that it has become his lot to fight: "Today we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror," he wrote. "Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?"

Rumsfeld asks the right question, for beyond the obvious metrics like the number of terrorist attacks worldwide – which have gone up steadily, and precipitously since 9/11 (for 2006, the last year for which State Department figures are available, by nearly 29 percent, to 14,338); and the somewhat subtler ones like the percentage of those in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world who hold unfavorable opinions of the United States (which soared in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and have fallen back just a bit since) – apart from these sorts of numbers which, for various and obvious reasons, are problematic in themselves, the key question is: How do you "take stock" of the War on Terror? At the end of the day, as Secretary Rumsfeld perceived, this is a political judgment, for in its essence it has to do with the evolution of public opinion and the readiness of those with certain political sympathies to move from holding those opinions to taking action in support of them.

What "metrics" do we have to take account of the progress of this "evolution"? Well, none really – but we do have the guarded opinions of intelligence agencies, notably this rather explicit statement from the U.S. government's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of April 2006, entitled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," which reads in part: "Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision" – those metrics again – "a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although still a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic distribution. If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide."

Dark words, and yet that 2006 report looks positively sanguine when set beside two reports from a year later, both leaked in July 2007. A National Intelligence Estimate entitled "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland" noted that al-Qaeda had managed – in the summary in the Washington Post – to reestablish "its central organization, training infrastructure, and lines of global communication," over the previous two years and had placed the United States in a "heightened threat environment. … The U.S. Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years."

This NIE – the combined opinion of the country's major intelligence agencies – only confirmed a report that had been leaked a couple days before from the National Counterterrorism Center, grimly entitled "Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West." This report concluded that al-Qaeda, in the words of one official who briefed its contents to a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, was "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago," "has regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," and has managed to create "the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives." Another intelligence official, summarizing the report to the Associated Press, offered a blunt and bleak conclusion: al-Qaeda, he said, is "showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."

Given these grim results, one must return to one of the more poignant passages in Secretary Rumsfeld's "snowflake," released to flutter down on his poor Pentagon subordinates back in those blinkered days of October 2003. Having wondered about the metrics, and what could and could not be measured in the War on Terror, the secretary of defense posed a critical question: "Does the U.S. need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?"

For me, the poignancy comes from Mr. Rumsfeld's failure to see that, in effect, he and his boss had already "fashioned" the "broad, integrated plan" he was asking for. It was called the Iraq War.

General Bin Laden

That the Iraq War is "fueling the spread of the jidahist movement," as the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate put it, has been a truism of intelligence reporting from the war's beginning; indeed, from before it began. "[T]he Iraq conflict has become the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating support for the global jihadist movement" – this point from the 2006 NIE is truly an example of a "chronicle of a war foretold" (to borrow from Garcia Marquez). In fact, that NIE cites the "Iraq jihad" as the second of four factors "fueling the jihadist movement," along with "entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness"; "the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations"; and "pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims."

Any attempt to "take stock of the War on Terror" must begin with the sad fact that the story of that war has largely become the story of the war in Iraq as well, and the story of the Iraq War (all discussion of the so-called Surge aside) has been pretty much an unmitigated disaster for U.S. security and for the United States position in the Middle East and the world. Which means that telling the story of the War on Terror, a half dozen years on – and "taking stock" of that War – merges inevitably with the sad tale of how that so-called war, strange and multiform beast that it is, became subsumed in a bold and utterly incompetent attempt to occupy and remake a major Arab country.

That broader story comes down to a matter of two strategies and two generals: General Osama bin Laden and General George W. Bush. General bin Laden, from the start, has been waging a campaign of indirection and provocation: that is, bin Laden's ultimate targets are the so-called apostate regimes of the Muslim world – foremost among them, the Mubarak regime in Egypt and the House of Saud on the Arabian peninsula – which he hopes to overthrow and supplant with a New Caliphate.

For bin Laden, these are the "near enemies," which rely for their existence on the vital support of the "far enemy," the United States. By attacking this far enemy, beginning in the mid-1990s, bin Laden hoped both to lead vast numbers of new Muslim recruits to join al-Qaeda and to weaken U.S. support for the Mubarak and Saud regimes. He hoped to succeed, through indirection, in "cutting the strings of the puppets," eventually leading to the collapse of those regimes.

In this sense, 9/11 proved the culmination of a long-term strategy, following on a series of attacks of increasing lethality during the mid to late 1990s in Riyadh, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Aden. The 9/11 attackers used as their climactic weapon not transcontinental airliners or box cutters but the television set – for the image was the true weapon that day, the overwhelmingly powerful image of the towers collapsing – and used it not only to "dirty the face of imperial power" (Menachem Begin's description of what terrorists do), but also to provoke the United States to strike deep into the Islamic world.

It is clear from various documents and from the assassination, days before 9/11, of Afghan Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood, that bin Laden expected this American counter-strike to come in Afghanistan, which would have given al-Qaeda the opportunity to do to the remaining superpower what it had done – so the myth went, anyway – to the Soviet Union a dozen years before: trap its arrogant, hulking military in a quagmire and, through patient, unrelenting guerrilla warfare, force it to withdraw in ignominious defeat. In the event, of course, the Americans, by relying on air bombardment and on the ground forces of their Afghan allies in the Northern Alliance, avoided the quagmire of Afghanistan – at least in that initial phase in the fall of 2001 – and instead offered bin Laden a much greater gift. In March 2003, they invaded Iraq, a far more important Islamic country and one much closer to the heart of Arab concerns.

General Bush

Why did General George W. Bush do it? Lacking in legitimacy and on the political defensive, the president and his administration moved instantly to transform the War on Terror into an ideological crusade, one implicitly crafted as a New Cold War.

"They hate our freedoms," Bush told Congress and the nation a few days after the 9/11 attacks. "Our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with one another. … We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions – by abandoning every value except the will to power – they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."

Drawing a lurid picture of a New Cold War, with terrorists playing the role of communists, Bush rallied the country behind the War on Terror, obliterating the subtleties of the struggle against al-Qaeda and with them the critique of U.S. Middle East policy implicit in the assault. "This is not about our policies," as Henry Kissinger put it soon after the attack. "This is about our existence." In this view, the attack came not because of what the United States actually did in the Middle East – what regimes it supported, for example – but because of what it stood for: the universalist aspirations it symbolized. Iraq quickly became part of this crusade, the great struggle to protect, and now to spread, freedom and democracy.

One can argue long and hard about the roots of the Iraq War, but in the end one must tease out a set of realist compulsions (centrally concerned with the restoration of American credibility and American deterrent power) and idealist aspirations (shaped around the so-called Democratic Domino effect). The realist case was well summarized, once again, by Henry Kissinger, who, when asked by a Bush speechwriter why he supported the Iraq War, replied: "Because Afghanistan wasn't enough." In the conflict with radical Islam, he went on, "They want to humiliate us and we have to humiliate them." The Iraq war was essential in order to make the point that "we're not going to live in the world that they want for us."

Ron Suskind, in his fine book The One Percent Doctrine, puts what is essentially the same point in "geostrategic" terms, reporting that, in meetings of the National Security Council in the months after the 9/11 attacks, the main concern "was to make an example of [Saddam] Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."

Set alongside this was the "democratic tsunami" that was to follow the shock-and-awe triumph over Saddam. It would sweep through the Middle East from Iraq to Iran and thence to Syria and Palestine. ("The road to Jerusalem" – so ran the neoconservative gospel at the time – "runs through Baghdad.") As I wrote in October 2002, five months before the Iraq War was launched, this vision was detailed and well elaborated:

"Behind the notion that an American intervention will make of Iraq 'the first Arab democracy,' as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put it, lies a project of great ambition. It envisions a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq – secular, middle-class, urbanized, rich with oil – that will replace the autocracy of Saudi Arabia as the key American ally in the Persian Gulf, allowing the withdrawal of United States troops from the kingdom. The presence of a victorious American Army in Iraq would then serve as a powerful boost to moderate elements in neighboring Iran, hastening that critical country's evolution away from the mullahs and toward a more moderate course. Such an evolution in Tehran would lead to a withdrawal of Iranian support for Hezbollah and other radical groups, thereby isolating Syria and reducing pressure on Israel. This undercutting of radicals on Israel's northern borders and within the West Bank and Gaza would spell the definitive end of Yasser Arafat and lead eventually to a favorable solution of the Arab-Israeli problem.

"This is a vision of great sweep and imagination: comprehensive, prophetic, evangelical. In its ambitions, it is wholly foreign to the modesty of containment, the ideology of a status-quo power that lay at the heart of American strategy for half a century. It means to remake the world, to offer to a political threat a political answer. It represents a great step on the road toward President Bush's ultimate vision of 'freedom's triumph over all its age-old foes.'"

One can identify two factors underlying this vision: first, the great enthusiasm for a moralistic foreign policy based on universalized principles and democratic reform that dated back to containment's main rival, the "rollback" movement of the 1950s, and that had been revivified by the thrilling series of Eastern European revolutions of the late 1980s and by scenes of popular, American-aided democratic triumph (as it was then thought to be) in Afghanistan; and, second, the recognition that terrorism, at the end of the day, was a political problem that arose from a calcified authoritarian order in the Middle East and that only a dose of "creative destabilization" could shake up that order. "Transforming the Middle East," in Condoleezza Rice's words, "is the only guarantee that it will no longer produce ideologies of hatred that lead men to fly airplanes into buildings in New York and Washington."

The latter perception – that terrorism as it struck the United States arose from political factors and that it could only be confronted and defeated with a political response – strikes me as incontestable. The problem the administration faced, or rather didn't want to face, was that the calcified order that lay at the root of the problem was the very order that, for nearly six decades, had been shaped, shepherded, and sustained by the United States. We see an explicit acknowledgment of this in the "Bletchley II" report drafted after 9/11 at Defense Department urging by a number of intellectuals close to the administration: "The general analysis," one of its authors told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, "was that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from, were the key, but the problems there are intractable. Iran is more important. … But Iran was similarly difficult to envision dealing with. But Saddam Hussein was different, weaker, more vulnerable…"

A Very Complicated War

In this sense, many of the Bush administration's leading Iraq War backers comprised a kind of guerrilla force within the U.S. government, fighting against a long-standing strategic alignment in the Middle East. This guerrilla status, which defined many of the government's most knowledgeable Middle East hands as enemies to be isolated and ignored, helps to account, at least in part, for a great many of the extraordinary incompetencies and disasters of the war itself. That the roots of the war lie in stark opposition to established U.S. policy also helps explain the central conundrum of the current U.S. strategic position in Iraq and the Middle East. This was defined for me with typical concision and aplomb by Ahmed Chalabi in Baghdad last year. "The American tragedy in Iraq," said Chalabi, "is that your friends in Iraq are allied with your enemies in the region, and your enemies in Iraq are allied with your friends in the region."

Chalabi's concision and wit are admirable (and typical); but his point, once you look at the map, is obvious. The United States has made possible the rise to power in Iraq of a Shi'ite government which is allied with its major geopolitical antagonist in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran. And the United States has been fighting with great persistence and distinctly mixed results a Sunni insurgency which is allied with the Saudis, the Jordanians, and its other longtime friends among the traditional Sunni autocracies of the Gulf.

This is another way of saying that the U.S. policy built on the famous meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King ibn Saud aboard Roosevelt's cruiser on the Great Bitter Lake near the end of World War II – a policy that envisioned a vital, mutually beneficial, and enduring alliance between the Saudis and the Americans – having been put in grave question by the Saudi insurgents at the controls of those mighty airliners of September 11th, now smashed full on into the strategic assault perpetrated by the Bush administration insurgents led by Paul Wolfowitz and his associates. Their "creative destabilization" was aimed not just at Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but at more than a half century of American policy in the Middle East.

Al-Qaeda, opportunistic as always, was willing to play this game, seizing on the occupation of Iraq as the golden opportunity it most certainly was and focusing on the Shi'ite-Sunni divide on which U.S. policy was foundering. The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's famous intercepted letter to Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden, in which the insurgent leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia told the al-Qaeda potentates – the front office, as it were – that his aim in Iraq was to "awaken the sleeping Sunnis" by launching a vast bombing campaign against the "Shi'ite heretic," describes precisely both the national and regional strategy: "If we manage to draw them into the terrain of partisan war, it will be possible to tear the Sunnis away from their heedlessness, for they will feel the weight of the imminence of danger."

This is a strategy that, after the bombing of the revered al-Askari mosque and shrine in Samarra in February 2006, bore terrible fruit. My map that shows divisions running through Baghdad will show, if you zoom out, those same divisions running through Iraq and beyond its borders. Like the former Yugoslavia, Iraq is a nation that gathers within itself the cultural and sectarian fault lines of the region; the Sunni-Shia divide running through Iraq in effect runs through the entire Middle East. The United States, in choosing this place to stage its Democratic Revolution, could hardly have done al-Qaeda a better favor.

At this moment, the Iraq War is at a stalemate. Confronted with a growing threat from those "enemies allied with its friends in the region," the Sunni insurgents, the Bush administration has adopted a practical and typically American strategy: it has bought them. The Americans have purchased the insurgency, hiring its foot soldiers at the rate of $300 per month. The Sunni fighters, once called insurgents, we now refer to as "tribesmen" or "concerned citizens."

This has isolated al-Qaeda, a tactical victory. But because these purchased Sunni fighters have not been accepted by the Shi'ite government – the allies of our enemies – the United States has set in motion a policy that will require, to keep violence at current levels, its own permanent presence in the country. This at a time when two in three Americans think the war was a mistake and when both surviving Democrat candidates vow to begin bringing the troops home "on day one" of a Democratic administration.

On the horizon, after such a withdrawal, is a re-ignition of the civil war at an even more brutal level, helped by the American rearming of the Sunni forces – and indeed the American arming of Shia government forces as well. It is a curious reality, if we look again at the regional map, that the current geostrategic situation in the Middle East resembles nothing so much as the Iraq-Iran War of the 1980s, in which the United States, along with Egypt, the Saudis, and the Jordanians supported Saddam Hussein's Iraq in its great war against Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. We see a similar array of forces today, with these two differences: First, we must move the line of conflict about two hundred miles west, shifting it from the Iraq-Iran border to a line running through Baghdad along the Tigris River. Second, the United States is now arming and supporting both sides. And behind the current configuration and the supposed "success of the Surge" looms the darkening threat of regionalization – a region-wide struggle fought over the body of Iraq in the wake of an American withdrawal. It has become, to appropriate a phrase, a Very Complicated War.

A Defeat Only American Power Could Have Brought About

Whether or not this darkest of dark visions comes to pass, that very complicated war in Iraq, as the intelligence analysts and our own eyes tell us, will continue to pay vast dividends into the account of political grievances with which terrorist groups recruit. This has only partly to do with the original al-Qaeda itself (or "al-Qaeda prime," as some analysts now call it); for however much it has managed to "reconstitute" itself, the true game has moved elsewhere, toward "viral al-Qaeda" – "spontaneous groups of friends," in the words of former CIA analyst and psychiatrist Marc Sageman, "as in [the] Madrid and Casablanca [bombings], who have few links to any central leadership, [who] are generating sometimes very dangerous terrorist operations, notwithstanding their frequent errors and poor training."

While U.S. and allied intelligence agencies have had considerable success attacking the various formal nodes of al-Qaeda prime on the Arabian peninsula and elsewhere, those struggles have about them the air of the past; we have really passed into a different era, the era of the amateurs. Today's network is self-organized, Internet reliant, and decentralized, dependent not on armies, training, or even technology but on desire and political will. And we have ensured, by the way we have fought this forever war, that it is precisely these vital qualities our enemies have in large and growing supply.

So how, finally, do we "take stock of the War on Terror"? Let me suggest three words:

1. Fragmentation – brought about by "creative destabilization," as we see it not only in Iraq but in Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere in the region.
2. Diminution – of American prestige, both military and political, and thus of American power.
3. Destruction – of the political consensus within the United States for a strong global role.

Gaze for a moment at those three words and marvel at how far we have come in a half-dozen years.

In September 2001, the United States faced a grave threat. The attacks that have become synonymous with that date were unprecedented in their destructiveness, in their lethality, in the pure apocalyptic shock of their spectacle. But in their aftermath, American policymakers, partly through ideological blindness and preening exaggeration of American power, partly through blindness brought about by political opportunism, made decisions that led to a defeat only their own actions – that only American power itself – could have brought about.

A small coven of America's enemies, using the strategy of provocation so familiar in guerrilla warfare, had launched in spectacular fashion on that bright September morning a plan to use the superpower's strength against itself. To use a different metaphor, they were trying to make good on Archimedes' celebrated boast: having found the perfect lever and place to stand, they proposed to move the Earth. To an extent I am sure even they did not anticipate, in their choice of opponent – an evangelical, redemptive regime scornful of history and determined to remake the fallen world – lay the seeds of their success.

Mark Danner is the author, most recently, of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror (2004) and The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War's Buried History (2007). He has covered the Iraq war from its beginning for the New York Review of Books. He teaches at both Bard College and the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His work is archived at

Copyright 2008 Mark Danner