Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The finishing touches on several contingency plans for attacking Iran

By David DeBatto

24/06/08 -- - Global Research Editor's note
We bring to the attention of our readers David DeBatto's scenario as to what might occur if one of the several contingency plans to attack Iran, with the participation of Israel and NATO, were to be carried out. While one may disagree with certain elements of detail of the author's text, the thrust of this analysis must be taken seriously.

"Israel has said a strike on Iran will be "unavoidable" if the Islamic regime continues to press ahead with alleged plans for building an atom-bomb." (London Daily Telegraph, 6/11/2008)

"Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany joined President Bush on Wednesday in calling for further sanctions against Iran if it does not suspend its uranium enrichment program." Mr. Bush stressed again that "all options are on the table," which would include military force. (New York Times, 6/11/2008)

We are fast approaching the final six months of the Bush administration. The quagmire in Iraq is in its sixth painful year with no real end in sight and the forgotten war in Afghanistan is well into its seventh year. The "dead enders" and other armed factions are still alive and well in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan again controls most of that country. Gas prices have now reached an average of $4.00 a gallon nationally and several analysts predict the price will rise to $5.00-$6.00 dollars per gallon at the pump by Labor Day. This, despite assurances by some major supporters of the decision to invade Iraq that the Iraq war "will pay for itself" (Paul Wolfowitz) or that we will see "$20.00 per barrel" oil prices if we invade Iraq (Rupert Murdoch).

One thing the Pentagon routinely does (and does very well) is conduct war games. Top brass there are constantly developing strategies for conducting any number of theoretical missions based on real or perceived threats to our national security or vital interests. This was also done prior to the invasion of Iraq, but the Bush administration chose not to listen to the dire warnings about that mission given to him by Pentagon leaders, or for that matter, by his own senior intelligence officials. Nevertheless, war gaming is in full swing again right now with the bullseye just to the right of our current mess – Iran.

It’s no secret that the U.S. is currently putting the finishing touches on several contingency plans for attacking Iranian nuclear and military facilities. With our ground forces stretched to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan, none of the most likely scenarios involve a ground invasion. Not that this administration wouldn’t prefer to march into the seat of Shiite Islam behind a solid, moving line of M1 Abrams tanks and proclaim the country for democracy. The fact is that even the President knows we can’t pull that off any more so he and the neo-cons will have to settle for Shock and Awe Lite.

If we invade Iran this year it will be done using hundreds of sorties by carrier based aircraft already stationed in the Persian Gulf and from land based aircraft located in Iraq and Qatar. They will strike the known nuclear facilities located in and around Tehran and the rest of the country as well as bases containing major units of the Iranian military, anti-aircraft installations and units of the Revolutionary Guard (a separate and potent Iranian para-military organization).

Will this military action stop Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons? Probably not. It will probably not even destroy all of their nuclear research facilities, the most sensitive of which are known to be underground, protected by tons of earth and reinforced concrete and steel designed to survive almost all attacks using conventional munitions. The Iranian military and Revolutionary Guard will most likely survive as well, although they will suffer significant casualties and major bases and command centers will undoubtedly be destroyed. However, since Iran has both a functioning Air Force, Navy (including submarines) and modern anti-aircraft capabilities, U.S. fighter-bombers will suffer casualties as well. This will not be a "Cake Walk" as with the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the Iraqi Army simply melted away and the Iraqi Air Force never even launched a single aircraft.

Not even close.

If the United States attacks Iran either this summer or this fall, the American people had better be prepared for a shock that may perhaps be even greater to the national psyche (and economy) than 9/11. First of all, there will be significant U.S. casualties in the initial invasion. American jets will be shot down and the American pilots who are not killed will be taken prisoner - including female pilots. Iranian Yakhonts 26, Sunburn 22 and Exocet missiles will seek out and strike U.S. naval battle groups bottled up in the narrow waters of the Persian Gulf with very deadly results. American sailors will be killed and U.S. ships will be badly damaged and perhaps sunk. We may even witness the first attack on an American Aircraft carrier since World War II.

That’s just the opening act.

Israel (who had thus far stayed out of the fray by letting the U.S. military do the heavy lifting) is attacked by Hezbollah in a coordinated and large scale effort. Widespread and grisly casualties effectively paralyze the nation, a notion once thought impossible. Iran’s newest ally in the region, Syria, then unleashes a barrage of over 200 Scud B, C and D missiles at Israel, each armed with VX gas. Since all of Israel is within range of these Russian built weapons, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and virtually all major civilian centers and several military bases are struck, often with a result of massive casualties.

The Israeli Air Force orders all three squadrons of their F-16I Sufa fighter/bombers into the air with orders to bomb Tehran and as many military and nuclear bases as they can before they are either shot down or run out of fuel. It is a one way trip for some of these pilots. Their ancient homeland lies in ruins. Many have family that is already dead or dying. They do not wait for permission from Washington, DC or U.S. regional military commanders. The Israeli aircraft are carrying the majority of their country’s nuclear arsenal under their wings.

Just after the first waves of U.S. bombers cross into Iranian airspace, the Iranian Navy, using shore based missiles and small, fast attack craft sinks several oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, sealing off the Persian Gulf and all its oil from the rest of the world. They then mine the area, making it difficult and even deadly for American minesweepers to clear the straits. Whatever is left of the Iranian Navy and Air Force harasses our Navy as it attempts minesweeping operations. More U.S casualties.

The day after the invasion Wall Street (and to a lesser extent, Tokyo, London and Frankfurt) acts as it always does in an international crisis – irrational speculative and spot buying reaches fever pitch and sends the cost of oil skyrocketing. In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iran, the price of oil goes to $200.00 - $300.00 dollars a barrel on the open market. If the war is not resolved in a few weeks, that price could rise even higher. This will send the price of gasoline at the pump in this country to $8.00-$10.00 per gallon immediately and subsequently to even higher unthinkable levels.

If that happens, this country shuts down. Most Americans are not be able to afford gas to go to work. Truckers pull their big rigs to the side of the road and simply walk away. Food, medicine and other critical products are not be brought to stores. Gas and electricity (what is left of the short supply) are too expensive for most people to afford. Children, the sick and elderly die from lack of air-conditioned homes and hospitals in the summer. Children, the sick and elderly die in the winter for lack of heat. There are food riots across the country. A barter system takes the place of currency and credit as the economy dissolves and banks close or limit withdrawals. Civil unrest builds.

The police are unable to contain the violence and are themselves victims of the same crisis as the rest of the population. Civilian rule dissolves and Martial Law is declared under provisions approved under the Patriot Act. Regular U.S. Army and Marine troops patrol the streets. The federal government apparatus is moved to an unknown but secure location. The United States descends into chaos and becomes a third world country. Its time as the lone superpower is over.

It doesn’t get any worse than this.

Then the first Israeli bomber drops its nuclear payload on Tehran.

David DeBatto is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Special Agent, Iraqi war veteran and co-author the "CI" series from Warner Books and the upcoming "Counter to Intelligence" from Praeger Security International.

© Copyright David DeBatto, Global Research, 2008

Deal Allows U.S. To Attack Any Country From Iraq

Baghdad - Voices of Iraq

Tuesday , 24 /06 /2008 Time 7:55:29

Baghdad, Jun 23, (VOI) – A Sunni legislator said on Monday that the security agreement to be signed between Baghdad and Washington would allow the latter to attack any country from Iraqi territories.

"The Iraqi-U.S. agreement contains several items that impinge upon the sovereignty of Iraq, including the right of the U.S. forces in Iraq to attack any nation and raid any Iraqi house and arrest people without prior permission from the Iraqi government," Khalaf al-Alyan, a member of parliament from the Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF), told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

U.S. President George W. Bush had signed a declaration of principles with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on December 1, 2007. It was planned to be ratified on July 31, 2008 to be effective as of January 1, 2009.

"The agreement grants the United States the right to set up a large number of bases in Iraq, ranging between 50 and 58 bases," said Alyan.

The IAF is composed of three key political components: Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), IAF leader Adnan al-Dulaimi's Iraq People's Congress (IPC) and Alyan's National Dialogue Council (NDC).

The IAF, which has 40 out of a total 275 seats, is the main bloc representing Arab Sunnis in the country's political process.

Meanwhile, Labid Abbawi, the undersecretary for foreign affairs, denied that the agreement contained an item allowing U.S. forces to use Iraqi territories as a springboard to threaten other countries.

"This item does not exist in the agreement because it simply runs counter to the policies of both Baghdad and Washington governments," Abbawi told VOI.

The deal governs the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after the year 2008. The U.S. presence in Iraq is currently relying on a mandate by the United Nations, renewed annually upon the request of the Iraqi government.

The agreement would not enter into effect if the Iraqi parliament did not approve it.

Where's the Anger?

By Howard Lisnoff

24/06/08 "Counterpunch" -- - About a week before a summer training institute for leaders of the antiwar movement I called the sponsoring organization, The War Resisters League, to learn why I hadn’t heard anything from the group after completing an application several months earlier to attend the conference. During the Vietnam War, that group was among the premier organizations in the antiwar movement. Activists, many from the group who had been conscientious objectors during World War II, filled their publication, Win Magazine, with great articles. I learned a lot from the War Resisters, and was inspired to become a military resister based partly on the group’s high idealism and action-based philosophy of resistance.

The training institute was scheduled to take place at the Voluntown Peace Trust in Voluntown, Connecticut. The land where that group is located was the site of a famous episode in the peace movement depicted in J. Anthony Lukas’ book Don’t Shoot—We Are Your Children (1971). The commune that had been established at the site was surrounded in the late 1960s by the far-Right group, The Minutemen, in what was perhaps a precursor to the Right-Wing, militaristic juggernaut of the past twenty-five years.

When I reached The War Resisters League’s office by phone, I had a lengthy conversation with a staffer for the group. The staffer told me that the institute had been cancelled. I guessed not enough people had signed up for the training. This cancellation came exactly one year after The War Resisters League decided not to hold a conference at the same site dealing with the issue of counter-recruitment. While over seventy-five percent of those polled in the U.S. are opposed to the war in Iraq, it is disconcerting that a major antiwar group can’t get enough people to take part in activist training!

Despite my disappointment at the cancellation of the training, the staffer and I discussed the issue of the call to “Support Our Troops,” which has become a mainstay of the antiwar movement since the war began in March 2003. He had a nuanced view of the slogan, believing that war resisters followed a continuum of beliefs that often began with strong feelings in support of the military, and often gravitated toward resistance as a result of what soldiers had experienced in the armed forces and while at war. Indeed, I agreed, to an extent, having moved from being a cadet in a R.O.T.C. brigade in college to open resistance to the Vietnam War and the military.

My significant objection to the “Support Our Troops” slogan, which has sometimes taken on the specter of cant, is that blanket support of the military allows for the glossing over of the imperialistic objectives of the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, wholehearted support is owed to those who have suffered the consequences of those wars; for those who have entertained thoughts of resistance to the military machine; and to soldiers who have become resisters. That support, however, must be tempered with the realities of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Haditha, so-called extraordinary rendition, the loss of many civil liberties at home, and the policies of torture and abuse that have been the hallmarks of the Bush-Cheney regime. The Nuremberg Principles were clear on the individual’s responsibility for war crimes. The Principles apply to both individual soldiers and heads of state.

Following my conversation, I located information about the Voluntown Peace Trust. I recalled the high hopes and idealism I had felt while visiting there when it was simply a commune in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the literature for that group I found a statement that reads: “Individuals pursuing a just society frequently face isolation and exhaustion.”

Meanwhile, at a demonstration in the small town in Massachusetts where I live, I held a sign that read: “How Much Torture Is Enough?” One passerby, shouted in a growling tone from his car stopped at a red light: “That’s sick!” an obvious reference to the placard I held. It’s revealing that many in the U.S. can condone torture, or ignore what their government has done in their names, but cannot tolerate being confronted with the reality of that aberrant and illegal behavior.

Howard Lisnoff is an educator and freelance writer. He can be reached at howielisnoff@gmail.com .

Big Oil and the War in Iraq

by Derrick Z. Jackson

It took five years, the deaths of 4,100 US soldiers, and the wounding of 30,000 more to make Iraq safe for Exxon. It is the inescapable open question since the reasons given by President Bush for the invasion and occupation did not exist, neither the weapons of mass destruction nor Saddam Hussein’s ties to Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The New York Times reported last week that several Western oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, BP, and Chevron, are about to sign no-bid contracts with the Iraqi government. Western oil had a significant stake in Iraqi oil for much of the last century until the government nationalized the industry in 1972. The Associated Press quoted Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit as saying he believed the contracts were a first step toward production-sharing agreements. “These companies are in it for the money, not to make friends,” Gheit said.

This of course blows a hole in another ancient Bush fallacy, the one in which former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said “the oil wells belong to the Iraqi people” and former secretary of State Colin Powell seconded him by saying Iraqi oil “will be held in trust for the Iraqi people.” Former Deputy Defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz once claimed there was so much oil in Iraq that “When it comes to reconstruction, before we turn to the American taxpayer, we will turn first to the resources of the Iraqi government.”

No, all that is really happening is that while the American taxpayer is being turned inside out by the war, and while families bury the brave, the corporate colonialists get all the resources. Halliburton, the oil services company which Vice President Dick Cheney once led, last year reported a 49 percent rise in profits, to $3.5 billion.

KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary that provides food, shelter, and laundry services to soldiers, last year reported record profits and is about to share in a new 10-year, $150 billion contract. The controversial North Carolina-based private security firm Blackwater, whose guards shot and killed 17 Iraqis in one incident last year, has crossed the billion-dollar mark in government contracts, charging, according to the Raleigh News and Observer, $1,221 a day for security guards who are actually paid $500 a day.

This is despite repeated charges of waste, overcharging and recklessness, and a degree of patriotism that verges on betrayal. As many veterans were being treated amid appalling conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar last year moved from Texas to Dubai. The Globe last March reported on how KBR has avoided paying perhaps half a billion dollars in Social Security and Medicare taxes since the start of the invasion by hiring employees through shell companies in the Cayman Islands.

Now comes Big Oil itself, which is already basking in record profits. Its interest in Iraq, which has the world’s third-largest oil reserves according to the federal government, is utterly transparent. A decade ago, then-Chevron CEO Kenneth Derr said “I’d love Chevron to have access to” the Iraqi oil reserves. A Los Angeles Times news account just before the invasion said, “Maybe it’s a coincidence, but American and British oil companies would be long-term beneficiaries of a successful military offensive . . . Industry officials say Hussein’s ouster would help level the playing field . . . a bonanza for the US-dominated oil-services industry.”

Who will stop the bonanza or at least ensure that it is not an utter windfall for CEOs as US soldiers risk their lives keeping the peace and as Iraqis continue to struggle out of the rubble of the invasion? That is unclear. Of the two presumptive nominees for president, Democrat Barack Obama makes the most noise against oil profiteering and indeed, Republican John McCain has received more money overall from Big Oil. But Obama has received enough campaign contributions to leave it an open question as to how much leadership he would exert. We know Big Oil is in this for the money. Nothing says it is returning to Iraq in the name of the people.

–Derrick Z. Jackson

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company

Whoever Wins, Iraqis Lose

by Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail

BAQUBA - Iraqis seem divided on who they would like to see as the next U.S. president, but few believe that either will end the occupation.

“The U.S administration has committed a big mistake in Iraq,” Adil Ibrahim, a local physician in Baquba, capital city of Diyala province, located 40 km northeast of Bagdhdad, told IPS. “We hope that whoever wins the election, the new administration can mend the huge mistakes of this one.”

Some wish for Barack Obama to win because he claims to represent a great change in the history of the United States.

“Being a black man, he definitely carries different thoughts about the world,” Ali Hussein, a city employee, told IPS. “We sympathise with him since he has some kind of Muslim origins. He may view Arabs in a new and different way.”

Adding to this view, Naser Mahdi, a secondary school teacher, told IPS, “I feel he is totally different. The world needs new blood in rulers, and we hope that he might decrease the dominating authority of the United States.”

“Because the result of the race affects the lives of Iraqis, I wish that a Democrat could win the round in order to give Iraqis a better future,” schoolteacher Khalid Abid told IPS. “We still hope to be viewed with care and consideration. Things surely must change in Iraq after the elections.”

But Abdulla Hamid, a city resident, expressed deep concern over Obama’s recent speech at the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.

“What hope is there in a man who wears the Israeli flag and calls for a Jewish state with a unified Jerusalem,” Hamid told IPS. ” Obama clearly couldn’t care less about the Palestinians and the Arabs.”

Hamid referred to the fact that Obama appeared at the speech with a lapel pin comprised of both the U.S. and Israeli flags. In his speech, Obama’s call for a unified Jerusalem omitted Palestinians’ demands for their share of Jerusalem, which is a sacred city for them too.

Like most U.S. citizens, most Iraqis are not familiar with U.S. foreign policy. While Obama, the Democratic presidential hopeful, calls for a shift in the U.S. policy in Iraq, neither he nor his Republican rival, John McCain, talk about changing the National Security Strategy of the U.S., or the military document Joint Vision 2020, which calls for “full spectrum dominance” of the world by the U.S. military by the year 2020.

‘Full spectrum dominance’ means not just total control of land, air, and sea, but also of information and of space.

“The U.S. strategy is firm and unchanging,” a political analyst at Diyala University told IPS on condition of anonymity, given widespread fear of U.S. forces. “It makes no difference whether one wins or the other. The general strategy is well established, and is never affected by the changing of the president.”

“I do agree with this point of view,” local merchant Abdul-Rahman told IPS. “During the nineties we wished that Bill Clinton would win in order to stop the economic sanctions that caused us so much suffering. When Clinton became president, sanctions remained as they were, and even worsened.”

At that time, the majority of Iraqis had wished for Clinton to be president, but year after year of sanctions left them embittered.

Barak Obama has made public statements that he will withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. But his advisors speak of plans to keep at least 60,000-90,000 troops in Iraq, and at least until 2013, the year his first term in office would end if he is elected.

Many Iraqis appear to be skeptical of the promises made by Obama.

“I’ll believe the troops are gone from Iraq when they are no longer on our streets and their warplanes no longer bomb our homes,” a local merchant told IPS. ” All politicians are liars, even school children know this.”

Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq’s Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East.

© 2008 Inter Press Service

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Hedonists of Power

By Chris Hedges

23/06/08 "Truthdig" -- -- Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.

The past week was a good one if you were a courtier. We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation. We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like Tom Brokaw and Wolf Blitzer, that this talk show host was one of our nation’s greatest journalists, as if sitting in a studio, putting on makeup and chatting with Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have much to do with journalism.

No journalist makes $5 million a year. No journalist has a comfortable, cozy relationship with the powerful. No journalist believes that acting as a conduit, or a stenographer, for the powerful is a primary part of his or her calling. Those in power fear and dislike real journalists. Ask Seymour Hersh and Amy Goodman how often Bush or Cheney has invited them to dinner at the White House or offered them an interview.

All governments lie, as I.F. Stone pointed out, and it is the job of the journalist to do the hard, tedious reporting to shine a light on these lies. It is the job of courtiers, those on television playing the role of journalists, to feed off the scraps tossed to them by the powerful and never question the system. In the slang of the profession, these television courtiers are “throats.” These courtiers, including the late Tim Russert, never gave a voice to credible critics in the buildup to the war against Iraq. They were too busy playing their roles as red-blooded American patriots. They never fought back in their public forums against the steady erosion of our civil liberties and the trashing of our Constitution. These courtiers blindly accept the administration’s current propaganda to justify an attack on Iran. They parrot this propaganda. They dare not defy the corporate state. The corporations that employ them make them famous and rich. It is their Faustian pact. No class of courtiers, from the eunuchs behind Manchus in the 19th century to the Baghdad caliphs of the Abbasid caliphate, has ever transformed itself into a responsible elite. Courtiers are hedonists of power.

Our Versailles was busy this past week. The Democrats passed the FISA bill, which provides immunity for the telecoms that cooperated with the National Security Agency’s illegal surveillance over the past six years. This bill, which when signed means we will never know the extent of the Bush White House’s violation of our civil liberties, is expected to be adopted by the Senate. Barack Obama has promised to sign it in the name of national security. The bill gives the U.S. government a license to eavesdrop on our phone calls and e-mails. It demolishes our right to privacy. It endangers the work of journalists, human rights workers, crusading lawyers and whistle-blowers who attempt to expose abuses the government seeks to hide. These private communications can be stored indefinitely and disseminated, not just to the U.S. government but to other governments as well. The bill, once signed into law, will make it possible for those in power to identify and silence anyone who dares to make public information that defies the official narrative.

Being a courtier, and Obama is one of the best, requires agility and eloquence. The most talented of them can be lauded as persuasive actors. They entertain us. They make us feel good. They convince us they are our friends. We would like to have dinner with them. They are the smiley faces of a corporate state that has hijacked the government and is raping the nation. When the corporations make their iron demands, these courtiers drop to their knees, whether to placate the telecommunications companies that fund their campaigns and want to be protected from lawsuits, or to permit oil and gas companies to rake in obscene profits and keep in place the vast subsidies of corporate welfare doled out by the state.

We cannot differentiate between illusion and reality. We trust courtiers wearing face powder who deceive us in the name of journalism. We trust courtiers in our political parties who promise to fight for our interests and then pass bill after bill to further corporate fraud and abuse. We confuse how we feel about courtiers like Obama and Russert with real information, facts and knowledge. We chant in unison with Obama that we want change, we yell “yes we can,” and then stand dumbly by as he coldly votes away our civil liberties. The Democratic Party, including Obama, continues to fund the war. It refuses to impeach Bush and Cheney. It allows the government to spy on us without warrants or cause. And then it tells us it is our salvation. This is a form of collective domestic abuse. And, as so often happens in the weird pathology of victim and victimizer, we keep coming back for more.

Chris Hedges, who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times, says he will vote for Ralph Nader for president.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

These Wars Are About Oil, Not Democracy

by Eric Margolis

The ugly truth behind the Iraq and Afghanistan wars finally has emerged.

Four major western oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Total are about to sign U.S.-brokered no-bid contracts to begin exploiting Iraq’s oil fields. Saddam Hussein had kicked these firms out three decades ago when he nationalized Iraq’s oil industry. The U.S.-installed Baghdad regime is welcoming them back.

Iraq is getting back the same oil companies that used to exploit it when it was a British colony.

As former fed chairman Alan Greenspan recently admitted, the Iraq war was all about oil. The invasion was about SUV’s, not democracy.

Afghanistan just signed a major deal to launch a long-planned, 1,680-km pipeline project expected to cost $8 billion. If completed, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) will export gas and later oil from the Caspian basin to Pakistan’s coast where tankers will transport it to the West.

The Caspian basin located under the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakkstan, holds an estimated 300 trillion cubic feet of gas and 100-200 billion barrels of oil. Securing the world’s last remaining known energy El Dorado is a strategic priority for the western powers.

But there are only two practical ways to get gas and oil out of land-locked Central Asia to the sea: Through Iran, or through Afghanistan to Pakistan. Iran is taboo for Washington. That leaves Pakistan, but to get there, the planned pipeline must cross western Afghanistan, including the cities of Herat and Kandahar.


In 1998, the Afghan anti-Communist movement Taliban and a western oil consortium led by the U.S. firm Unocal signed a major pipeline deal. Unocal lavished money and attention on the Taliban, flew a senior delegation to Texas, and hired a minor Afghan official, Hamid Karzai.

Enter Osama bin Laden. He advised the unworldly Taliban leaders to reject the U.S. deal and got them to accept a better offer from an Argentine consortium. Washington was furious and, according to some accounts, threatened the Taliban with war.

In early 2001, six or seven months before 9/11, Washington made the decision to invade Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and install a client regime that would build the energy pipelines. But Washington still kept sending money to the Taliban until four months before 9/11 in an effort to keep it “on side” for possible use in a war against China.

The 9/11 attacks, about which the Taliban knew nothing, supplied the pretext to invade Afghanistan. The initial U.S. operation had the legitimate objective of wiping out Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. But after its 300 members fled to Pakistan, the U.S. stayed on, built bases — which just happened to be adjacent to the planned pipeline route — and installed former Unocal “consultant” Hamid Karzai as leader.

Washington disguised its energy geopolitics by claiming the Afghan occupation was to fight “Islamic terrorism,” liberate women, build schools and promote democracy. Ironically, the Soviets made exactly the same claims when they occupied Afghanistan from 1979-1989. The Iraq cover story was weapons of mass destruction and democracy.

Work will begin on the TAPI once Taliban forces are cleared from the pipeline route by U.S., Canadian and NATO forces. As American analyst Kevin Phillips writes, the U.S. military and its allies have become an “energy protection force.”


From Washington’s viewpoint, the TAPI deal has the added benefit of scuttling another proposed pipeline project that would have delivered Iranian gas and oil to Pakistan and India.

India’s energy needs are expected to triple over the next decade. Delhi, which has its own designs on Afghanistan, is cock-a-hoop over the new pipeline plan.

Russia, by contrast, is grumpy, having hoped to monopolize Central Asian energy exports.

Energy is more important than blood in our modern world. The U.S. is a great power with massive energy needs. Domination of oil is a pillar of America’s world power. Let’s be realistic. Afghanistan and Iraq are about oil, nothing else.

–Eric Margolis

Copyright © 2008, Canoe Inc.

Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control

by Alan Fram and Eileen Putman

WASHINGTON - Is everything spinning out of control?

Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism.

Horatio Alger, twist in your grave.

The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country’s sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance.

The sense of helplessness is even reflected in this year’s presidential election. Each contender offers a sense of order - and hope. Republican John McCain promises an experienced hand in a frightening time. Democrat Barack Obama promises bright and shiny change, and his large crowds believe his exhortation, “Yes, we can.”

Even so, a battered public seems discouraged by the onslaught of dispiriting things. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll says a barrel-scraping 17 percent of people surveyed believe the country is moving in the right direction. That is the lowest reading since the survey began in 2003.

An ABC News-Washington Post survey put that figure at 14 percent, tying the low in more than three decades of taking soundings on the national mood.

“It is pretty scary,” said Charles Truxal, 64, a retired corporate manager in Rochester, Minn. “People are thinking things are going to get better, and they haven’t been. And then you go hide in your basement because tornadoes are coming through. If you think about things, you have very little power to make it change.”

Recent natural disasters around the world dwarf anything afflicting the U.S. Consider that more than 69,000 people died in the China earthquake, and that 78,000 were killed and 56,000 missing from the Myanmar cyclone.

Americans need do no more than check the weather, look in their wallets or turn on the news for their daily reality check on a world gone haywire.

Floods engulf Midwestern river towns. Is it global warming, the gradual degradation of a planet’s weather that man seems powerless to stop or just a freakish late-spring deluge?

It hardly matters to those in the path. Just ask the people of New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina. They are living in a city where, 1,000 days after the storm, entire neighborhoods remain abandoned, a national embarrassment that evokes disbelief from visitors.

Food is becoming scarcer and more expensive on a worldwide scale, due to increased consumption in growing countries such as China and India and rising fuel costs. That can-do solution to energy needs - turning corn into fuel - is sapping fields of plenty once devoted to crops that people need to eat. Shortages have sparked riots. In the U.S., rice prices tripled and some stores rationed the staple.

Residents of the nation’s capital and its suburbs repeatedly lose power for extended periods as mere thunderstorms rumble through. In California, leaders warn people to use less water in the unrelenting drought.

Want to get away from it all? The weak U.S. dollar makes travel abroad forbiddingly expensive. To add insult to injury, some airlines now charge to check luggage.

Want to escape on the couch? A writers’ strike halted favorite TV shows for half a season. The newspaper on the table may soon be a relic of the Internet age. Just as video stores are falling by the wayside as people get their movies online or in the mail.

But there’s always sports, right?

The moorings seem to be coming loose here, too.

Baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens stand accused of enhancing their heroics with drugs. Basketball referees are suspected of cheating.

Stay tuned for less than pristine tales from the drug-addled Tour de France and who knows what from the Summer Olympics.

It’s not the first time Americans have felt a loss of control.

Alger, the dime-novel author whose heroes overcame adversity to gain riches and fame, played to similar anxieties when the U.S. was becoming an industrial society in the late 1800s.

American University historian Allan J. Lichtman notes that the U.S. has endured comparable periods and worse, including the economic stagflation (stagnant growth combined with inflation) and Iran hostage crisis of 1980; the dawn of the Cold War, the Korean War and the hysterical hunts for domestic Communists in the late 1940s and early 1950s; and the Depression of the 1930s.

“All those periods were followed by much more optimistic periods in which the American people had their confidence restored,” he said. “Of course, that doesn’t mean it will happen again.”

Each period also was followed by a change in the party controlling the White House.

This period has seen intense interest in the presidential primaries, especially the Democrats’ five-month duel between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Records were shattered by voters showing up at polling places, yearning for a voice in who will next guide the country as it confronts the uncontrollable.

Never mind that their views of their current leaders are near rock bottom, reflecting a frustration with Washington’s inability to solve anything. President Bush barely gets the approval of three in 10 people, and it’s even worse for the Democratic-led Congress.

Why the vulnerability? After all, this is the 21st century, not a more primitive past when little in life was assured. Surely people know how to fix problems now.

Maybe. And maybe this is what the 21st century will be about - a great unraveling of some things long taken for granted.

© 2008 Associated Press

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Every Move You Make


19/06/08 "Counterpunch" Surveillance of private calls and emails. Cameras documenting every move. No habeas corpus. Unimpeded entry into personal financial records. Voting machines changing election outcomes with the flick of a switch. Protest defined as terrorism. Many people hope that the loss of civil rights Americans have endured since the onslaughts mounted by Bush Administration II is a political reality that can be reversed through electoral will.

Established mechanisms of political power are, of course, the immediately available means for attempting change. Notions of citizens’ rights, freedom, and democratic participation are compelling paradigms that have consistently stirred the bravery of U.S. citizens – and yet elder political scientist Sheldon Wolin, who taught the philosophy of democracy for five decades, sees the current predicament of corporate-government hegemony as something more endemic.

“Inverted totalitarianism,” as he calls it in his recent Democracy Incorporated, “lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual.” To Wolin, such a form of political power makes the United States “the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”

Wolin rightfully points out that the origins of U.S. governance were “born with a bias against democracy,” and yet the system has quickly lunged beyond its less-than-democratic agrarian roots to become a mass urban society that, with distinct 1984 flavorings, could be called techno-fascism. The role of technology is the overlooked piece of the puzzle of the contemporary political conundrum.

What are its mechanisms of control?

The use of telecommunications technologies for surveillance is obvious. So are willful alteration of computer data for public reportage, manipulation of television news for opinion-shaping, and use of microwave-emitting weapons for crowd control.

Less obvious are what could be called “inverted mechanization” whereby citizens blindly accept the march of technological development as an expression of a very inexact, some would say erroneous, concept of “progress.” One mechanism propagating such blindness is the U.S. government’s invisible role as regulatory handmaiden to industry, offering little-to-no means for citizen determination of what technologies are disseminated; instead we get whatever GMOs and nuclear plants corporations dish out. A glaring example is the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that, seeking to not repeat the “errors” of the nuclear industry, offers zero public input as to health or environmental impacts of its antennae, towers, and satellites – the result being that the public has not a clue about the very real biological effects of electromagnetic radiation. Inverted mechanization is thrust forward as well by unequal access to resources: corporations lavishly crafting public opinion and mounting limitless legal defenses versus citizen groups who may be dying from exposure to a dangerous technology but whose funds trickle in from bake sales. In his Autonomous Technology: Technics-Out-Of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought, political scientist Langdon Winner points out that, to boot, the artifacts themselves have grown to such magnitude and complexity that they define popular conception of necessity. Witness the “need” to get to distant locales in a few hours or enjoy instantaneous communication.

Even less obvious a mechanism of public control is the technological inversion that results from the fact that, as filmmaker Godfrey Reggio puts it, “We don’t use technology, we live it.” Like fish in water we cannot consider modern artifacts as separate from ourselves and so cannot admit that they exist.

Social critic Lewis Mumford was among the first to make sense of the systemic nature of technology. In The Pentagon of Power, he identified the underlying metaphor of mass civilizations as the megamachine. The assembly line -- of factory, home, education, agriculture, medicine, consumerism, entertainment. The machine -- centralizing decision-making and control. The mechanical – fragmenting every act until its relationship to the whole is lost; insisting upon the pre-determined role of each region, each community, each individual.

Mumford deftly peels away false hope from a social reality based on principles of centralization, control, and efficiency. In 1962 he peered into the future and saw the pentagon of power incarnate: “a more voluminous productivity, augmented by almost omniscient computers and a wider range of antibiotics and inoculations, with a greater control over our genetic inheritance, with more complex surgical operations and transplants, with an extension of automation to every form of human activity.”

Inverted totalitarianism is both inverted and totalitarian because of the power of modern mass technological systems to shape and control social realities, just as they shape and control individual understandings of those realities. Its contemporary existence is most definitely the result of the efforts of a group of right-wing fundamentalists who hurled themselves into power through devious means -- but today’s desperate social inequities, dire ecological predicament, and fascist politic are the offspring of long-evolving technological centralization and control as well.

The challenge is to see the whole and all its parts, not just the shiny new device that purports to make one’s individual life easier or sexier -- which in itself is a contributor to the making of political disengagement. The whole is a megamachine, with you and your liquid TV, Blackberry, and Prius a necessary cog.

Forging a survivable world is indeed going to take a change of administration -- for starters. The terrifying reality that is mass technological society suggests more: radical techno-socio-economic re-organization, and to that end spring visions informed by the indigenous worlds we all hail from, the regionalism of Mumford’s day, and today’s bioregionalism. Or visions of the forced localization that Peak Oil, economic collapse, climate change, and ecological devastation propose.

Chellis Glendinning is the author of six books, including Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy; My Name Is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization; and the forthcoming Luddite.com: A Personal History of Technology.

A MAD Foreign Policy: America’s Irrational Defense of Israel

by Robert Weitzel

“My number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.”
-Former House Speaker Richard Armey

Rocky was a boyhood friend. He was as big and as strong as his name. In his wild days, Rocky hung out with a runt whose obnoxious mouth regularly got my friend into serious bar fights. One night Rocky was beaten senseless when he stepped between the runt and someone with dangerous friends. I never understood his irrational defense of a guy with obvious “needs.”

But then — K Street realpolitik notwithstanding — I have difficulty understanding America’s irrational defense of Israel, a country whose “needs” are as much at odds with the security of my country as were the runt’s “needs” at odds with the health of my friend.

Earlier this month 7,000 activists and politicians attended the America Israel Public Forum Committee’s 2008 Policy Conference in Washington D.C. This was AIPAC’s premier pro-Israel event, which attracted a bipartisan who’s who of Congressional sycophants. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s keynote address drew nearly half the members of Congress.

Along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential candidates bent a knee and lowered their head in supplication, pledging an unwavering fealty along with an additional 30 billion taxpayer dollars in military aid to Israel.

John McCain told attendees, “The threats to Israel’s security are large and growing and America’s commitment must grow as well. I strongly support the increase in military aid to Israel . . . our shared interests and values are too great for us to follow any other policy.”

Barak Obama dittoed, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable . . . Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us . . . as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.”

As an American citizen, I’d like to think the number one “non-negotiable” of anyone who would be president is the security and the interests of the American people. Instead of reading from the same AIPAC-vetted script, McCain and Obama would better serve their country by reading from the same Constitution — the version enshrined in Washington D.C. not in Jerusalem.

AIPAC is the most powerful of the dozen or so major organizations and think-tanks that comprise the “Israel lobby” in the United States. This influential lobby dictates U.S. Middle East foreign policy: “You can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here,” admitted Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) upon leaving office in 2004.

Recently, former President Jimmy Carter pointed out that the Israel lobby makes or breaks American politicians depending on their willingness to promote Israel’s “security” as their number one foreign policy priority: “It’s almost political suicide . . . for a member of Congress who wants to seek reelection to take any stand that might be interpreted as anti-policy of the conservative Israeli government.”

Predictably, politicians wanting to keep their government and K Street paychecks merrily dance the mizinka, the Jewish traditional marriage (of convenience) polka.

Most detrimental to the democratic process, however, is the way the lobby manages the political and social discourse by tarring critics of Israel’s policies and actions regarding the Palestinians, Gaza and the West Bank with the brush of anti-Semitism, a black epithet that once applied is difficult, if not impossible, to scrub off.

But does our “non-negotiable” support for Israel make us more secure, or is it a MAD policy akin to the insane Cold War strategy of “mutual assured destruction?” Such a strategy may, in the war on terror between “radical Islam” and “freedom-loving democracies,” result in the mutual assured destruction of both the United States and Israel.

A Pentagon Defense Science Board report published in 2004 concluded, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies.” And the policy that motivates their young men to bring the Middle East conflict to America by crashing passenger planes into the most prominent symbols of our affluence and military might is our “non-negotiable,” irrational support for the policies of Israel’s right-wing government.

In 2003 it was in Israel’s national security interest to see Saddam Hussein and his perceived regional threat disappear, and to let the American military do the killing and the dying to ensure that it vanished. It was never about American security. Period!

While Israel and their American lobby are not exclusively responsible for the Iraq War, it was their cooked intelligence reports and political clout that both stiffened the spine of the neocon administration bent on war and weaken the knees of American politicians who would be voting for the war.

Likewise, Israel’s “security” demands that Iran not further its nuclear ambitions, peaceful or otherwise. It is once again in their best interest to let the U.S. do the killing. The Bush administration and Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain promised to do just that using American nukes. AIPAC is intent on holding them to their promise.

Former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, wrote in his 2006 book, “Target Iran,” “Let there be no doubt: If there is an American war with Iran, it is a war that was made in Israel and no where else.” That war will both inflame and unite the Arab world against Israel and its benefactor and will once again bring the “chickens home to roost” on American shores.

Keep in mind that Israel has never lost a major war since 1948. It has the most technologically advanced and deadly military in the region and, according to journalist Chris Hedges, is the world’s fourth largest arms dealer and security technology exporter. It has over 200 nuclear warheads, enough to wipe the Arab world off the map in minutes. It has accomplished all this with chutzpa and 154 billion in U.S taxpayer dollars — monies it is not required to account for, unlike other countries that receive U.S. aid.

Keep in mind also that it is official U.S. policy that Israel not expand its settlements in the occupied territories. However, Israel is constructing a 40-foot high “security barrier” in the West Bank — at a cost of one million U.S taxpayer dollars per mile — that will effectively annex 40 percent of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements and further the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. This MAD policy waves a shoe in the face of Palestinian Arabs who have struggled for sixty years to live free in the State of Palestine. Be assured, Arabs know who is footing the bill.

Past victimhood is no moral justification for Israel’s repressive, draconian “defensive” policies against Palestinian resistance, whether that resistance takes the form of slingshots or backpack explosives. Nothing excuses the killing of innocents on either side, but we do well to remember that terror bombing was midwife to the birth of the state of Israel. Indeed, Israeli historian Benny Morris speculates, “The Arabs may well have learned the value of terrorist bombings from the Jews.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Shamir argued that “neither Jewish ethics nor tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.” Defending his terrorist past to an interviewer in1998 he further claimed, “Had I not acted as I did, it is doubtful that we would have been able to create an independent Jewish state of our own.” No doubt Palestinian fighters are thinking the same regarding an independent Palestinian state of their own.

Since there is no overwhelming strategic or moral reason for the United States to continue its “non-negotiable” support of Israel, that country should be treated like any other ally and not like an over-indulged adolescent. It is time Israel makes its own way in the world. To assume it is incapable of doing so is anti-Semitism worthy of the brush stroke, and a MAD policy we can no longer afford.

More than likely, the runt would not have been as belligerent had Rocky not been watching his back.

[Author’s note: For a non-AIPAC vetted view of the Middle East conflict see Ramzy Baroud’s “The Second Palestine Intifada,” Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.]

Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience. His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He can be contacted at: robertweitzel@mac.com

Thursday, June 19, 2008

John Yoo, Totalitarian

By Paul Craig Roberts

19/06/08 "ICH" - -- - John Yoo stands outside the Anglo-American legal tradition. His views lead to self-incrimination wrung out of a victim by torture. He believes a president of the US can initiate war, even on false pretenses, and then use the war he starts as cover for depriving US citizens of habeas corpus protection. A US attorney general informed by Yoo’s memos even went so far as to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Constitution does not provide habeas corpus protection to US citizens.

Yoo’s animosity to US civil liberties made him a logical choice for appointment to the Bush Regime’s Department of Justice (sic), but his appointment as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, shatters that university’s liberal image.

Habeas corpus is a centuries-old British legal reform that stopped authorities from arbitrarily throwing a person into a dungeon and leaving him there forever without presenting charges in a court of law. Without this protection, there can be no liberty.

Yoo is especially adamant that “enemy combatants” have no rights to challenge the legality of their detentions by US authorities before a federal judge. Yoo would have us believe that the detainees at Guantanamo, for example, are all terrorists who were attacking Americans. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The question is whether any of the detainees are “enemy combatants.” Yoo would have it so because the president says it is so. As the president has already decided, what is the sense of presenting evidence to a judge? For Yoo, accusation by the executive branch is the determination of guilt.

But what we know about the detainees is that many are hapless individuals who were captured by war lords and sold to the Americans for the bounty that the US government offered for “terrorists.”

Some of the other detainees could be Taliban who were engaged in an Afghan civil war that had nothing whatsoever to do with the US. The Taliban were not fighting the US until the US invaded Afghanistan and began attacking the Taliban. This would make Taliban detainees prisoners of war captured by invading US troops. How POWs can be tortured, denied Geneva Conventions protections, and tried by military tribunals without the US government being in violation of US and international law is inexplicable.

Suppose you were a traveling businessman grabbed by a tribe and sold to the Americans. Would you consider it just to be detained in Gitmo, undergoing whatever abuse is dished out, for 5 or 6 years of your life, or forever, without family knowing what has become of you?

Perhaps the greatest injustice was done to John Walker Lindh, an American citizen who, like Americans of a previous generation who fought in the Spanish Civil War, was fighting for the Taliban in the Afghan civil war against the Northern Alliance. Suddenly the Americans entered the Afghan civil war on the side of the Northern Alliance. Lindh was captured and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

This kind of punishment is a new form of tyranny. It is not law, and it is not justice.

Lindh had no opportunity to withdraw once the US entered on the opposite side. The only point of treating Lindh as if he were some dangerous traitor was to demonstrate that American citizens can be treated to a Kafka-type experience and have the American public accept it.

Yoo stands for the maximum amount of injustice, illegality and unconstitutionality that can be committed in the name of the national security state.

No American security was at stake in Afghanistan or in Iraq, and none is at stake in Iran today. The Bush Regime may be creating security problems for Americans in the future by fomenting hatred of Americans among Muslims. This security problem is insignificant compared to the threat to our liberty and freedom posed by John Yoo and his Republican Federalist Society colleagues who are committed to tyranny in the name of “energy in the executive.”

Writing on the Wall Street Journal editorial page on June 17, Yoo denounced the five Supreme Court justices who defended the US Constitution against arbitrary “energy in the executive.”

Yoo believes that the Constitution and liberty rank below “the nation’s security.” Fortunately, Yoo wrote, a fix is at hand. “The advancing age of several justices” means that President McCain can give us more judges like Roberts (no relation) and Alito who will make certain that mere civil liberties don’t get in the way of arbitrary executive power justified by national security.

In a Yoo-McCain regime, the terrorists you will have to fear are those in your own government, against whom you will have no protection whatsoever.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, an assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury during the Reagan Administration, is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

War, Economy Can't Be Decoupled

by Rep. Ron Paul

What is the importance of the war in Iraq relative to other current issues? This is a question I am often asked, especially as Americans continue to become increasingly aware that something is very wrong with the economy. The difficulty with the way the question is often asked relates to the perception that we are somehow able to divide such issues, or to isolate the cost of war into arbitrarily defined areas such as national security or international relations. War is an all-encompassing governmental activity. The impact of war on our ability to defend ourselves from future attack, and upon America 's standing in the world, is only a mere fraction of the total overall effect that war has on our nation and the policies of its government.

The cost of this particular war is enormous, and therefore it's of great importance. There is no single issue that is more important at this particular time. The war has, of course, made us less safe as a nation and damaged our credibility with allies and hostile nations alike. Moreover, years of growing deficits have been spurred on by the high price tag of war, and the decision to pay that price primarily by supplemental spending rather than traditional "on-budget" accounting.

War takes what would otherwise be productive economic capacity and transfers both that capacity and the wealth it would generate in normal, peaceful times into far less economically viable activities. It also impacts budget priorities in ways that are detrimental to our nation. I have often pointed to the fact that we are building bridges in Iraq while they are collapsing in the United States .

All war, but most particularly war funded by monetary inflation, bleeds a country in multiple ways. Obviously, many of the young people who are in the military literally give their blood, and sometimes their lives, fighting in wars of this type. Meanwhile, those who do not fight the war, but fund it, are forced to pay both the immediate costs, as well as seeing their long-term purchasing power erode, as the twin pillars of debt and inflation are foisted upon the backs of current taxpayers and future generations. Neither conspiracy nor coincidence explains steep increases in the price of gas as the war drags on. No, this is simply a reality of the inflationary policies that, among other things, make this war possible.

As people are continually asked to choose whether our nation's teetering economy or the failed foreign policy of the past several decades is more important as we look forward, it is well for those of us who understand that these two issues are closely linked to continue to explain this fact to our fellow citizens. To fix the problem requires a proper diagnosis.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

War and the Common Good

by Anthony Gregory

We are used to hearing discussion of political issues boiled down to a conflict between the individual and the greater good. Nearly anyone’s pet project for government can be sold as a way to promote the common, or general interest – a mission so compelling that the interests of mere individuals must be sacrificed.

Before relating this to war, it is important to consider what it means to take the individual’s side on such questions. It is not to be atomistic, to believe humans do not need to cooperate with one another and form groups, social organizations and institutions of law. Far from it. Those who favor individual rights simply believe that out of a respect for the dignity and rights of the individual come community, business, society, religious groups and all the other crucial organizations of social life. We thrive on social cooperation and indeed individualists are its great defenders. We see compulsion against the individual as a great threat to civil society. We believe that when coercion replaces voluntarism, the very basis of civilization is in jeopardy. Thus do we favor the market and community and family – it is only that we see these groups as being at their best when they respect the dignity of the individual. While we understand that, in terms of human progress, the group is indeed, in a sense, more than the sum of the parts, losing sight of the freedom of each individual involved undermines the strength and humanity of such groups. We see no conflict between individual rights and the common good; rather they are inextricably intertwined.

Furthermore, we argue that private, individual selfishness, whether benign or destructive, can never be abolished by the public sector. The state only elevates flawed, selfish human beings to a position of unchecked, lawless authority over others.

And indeed, the focus on individual dignity and rights has been a focus of our culture, of America, of the West, going back many centuries. It pervades our relatively liberal culture and is seen on both the right and left. Prolifers focus on the dignity of the individual life of the unborn. Prochoicers stress the importance of the personal right to choose of the individual woman. Whether the issue is guns, drugs, taxes, or the freedom to worship, most Americans are somewhat receptive idea that the individual is the premier unit in society, on whose freedom rests the greater good of society as a whole.

At the same time, the conservatives who defend individual freedom as it concerns economics attack the left for being carried away with the personal liberty of individuals in the social context. They see calls for social tolerance as always an excuse for selfish, libertine behavior. Leftists respond that conservatives are shilling for greedy and rich CEOs, who care more about their own pocketbooks than the good of humanity. It is not so much that either group is devoid of an individualistic impulse; they only apply the principle that the individual good leads to the social good in different contexts, and inconsistently.

But there exists a strong streak throughout our society of believing in individual rights. There exists a resistance to the extreme forms of coerced collectivism that have plagued totalitarian nations, and much the rest of the world. And while much of the last century was a story of violently competing forms of collectivism, there is certainly a form of civil individualism that has survived, even improved in ways, and to this we owe the blessings of our civilization.

As it concerns the issues of empire, of national defense, of the military state, however, there appears to be a double standard. Those who most loudly condemn collectivism as it relates to domestic policy are often among the loudest in support of war collectivism. Consider many of the outspoken followers of Ayn Rand. Rand did some crucial work in battling the modernist, collectivist zeitgeist of her time. She was certainly no blind follower of the idea that the greater good trumps the rights of the individual. And yet she was not immune to a severe blind spot as it regarded war. In her famous novella Anthem, the first-person protagonist, living in a collectivist dystopia, comes upon an ethical and philosophical epiphany when he discovers the word, "I." He and his society had been conditioned to only use the word "we" – by discovering the word "I," he discovered the idea of the individual. This is a powerful book in imparting the lesson that the very conception of individual rights is itself largely a cultural phenomenon.

And yet, how did Rand discuss matters on questions of foreign policy? Often in terms of “we.” Even when she criticized the Vietnam war, it was mainly from a vantage point of lamenting the fact that “we” must sacrifice our treasure and blood to liberate and socially reform “them” – “them,” who were not deserving of our individualist culture. At her worst, she said that the oil under Arab land was properly “ours” and that “they” had stolen it.

Many of her followers have taken this much further. They saw 9/11 as an attack of “them” against “us.” And so “we” must retaliate – not just against the individual attackers, many of whom, incidentally, died in the suicide mission. No, “we” must remake the whole Middle East in “our” image. Americans become indistinguishable from one another and from their government. So do Arabs and Muslims. The act of living in an oppressive nation alone means you have to sacrifice you rights to the great crusade for democracy. And total democracy, which many individualists have taken up as a sort of end in itself, is, in reality, of course not the same as ethical individualism.

Belligerent nationalism has for centuries been a particularly odious and destructive form of collectivism. It ranks up there with communism in its capacity to create human misery by dispensing with the lives of mere individuals. In fact, even communism benefited greatly from nationalist impulses throughout the world. And surely, not only the egoistical individualists like Rand’s worst followers are currently enthralled by it. Much of the conservative movement, and certainly the Republican establishment, have signed on to the imperialist cause, willing to throw the individual under the collectivist warfare state bus. Much of the Christian Right has forgotten about the central tenets of their faith concerning the dignity of the individual; for them, the American nation state is what most deserves defending. The left, too, when it talks about the war often sees it not in terms of individual rights so much as in terms of national priorities, a tragedy for the country, underfinanced collectivist projects at home and disrespect for the American nation-state from the international community. They sometimes attack the idea that corporate fat cats profit off the war more than the war itself.

But what is lost in the fog of war is the dignity and freedom of the individual, something of such importance that, as the conservatives understood it when we were talking about communism, its absence means the breakdown and collapse of civilization, of the common good, of the well-being of society at large. Let us look at what the empire means for the individual, for only then can we even grasp what it means for the greater good.

Let’s start with the beleaguered taxpayer. The empire and war on terror are costing each American taxpayer thousands of dollars a year. Before going further, we must reflect on just this cost. To varying degrees, classical liberals, libertarians and conservatives have long stood up for the rights of the individual not to be taxed for governmental social services. By what right can a bureaucrat seize someone’s hard-earned income, even for a good cause? This is crucial, because even if liberating foreigners is a good cause that can be done by the government, so would be the feeding of foreigners, or the feeding and housing of the domestic poor. But the free marketers have for years shown that, in practice, an agency that confiscates wealth with the threat of imprisonment cannot properly be termed an agency of compassion. In practice, because of its institutional nature, the welfare state does not succeed in eliminating poverty. And yet how can an agency that takes wealth from people who earn it, and threatens them with time in a cage if they resist, be any more an agency for liberation, for rights protection, than it is for compassion? It would seem that the same practical and ethical arguments against seizing a man’s income for welfare would apply to warfare as well.

Some libertarians will defend warfare state taxation. Ayn Rand certainly did. But let us remember that the American Revolutionaries who seceded from the British were not rebelling against Social Security taxes, or taxes that went to the welfare state. They were protesting relatively low taxes to fund empire, some of which was being sold as being in their best interest.

Of course, much of the taxation is indirect. It comes in the form of credit expansion, inflation and thus a weakened dollar, leading to higher prices. The corporate state is empowered, the little guy’s priorities are pushed to the side. This process, incidentally, also leads to malinvestment and the business cycle, which are horrific for the economy and the greater good.

The beleaguered taxpayer is forgotten in the midst of war. For some reason it is considered trivial to mention this. It is wrong to focus on what a taxpayer would have chosen to spend his money on if it weren’t taken away, even as the left dreams about what the government could have spent it on if not on war.

Consider what the taxpayer could have done with that money if it were not taken at all. He could help secure his retirement, send his kids to a better school, spend more time with the family, start or strengthen a business, give to charity, or do a hundred things that bolster civil society and the productive economy, rather than feed the military-industrial complex and finance mass killing abroad. If it were really in his interest to finance national defense, he would do so freely on his own. When the choice is stripped from him, we should not be surprised that the loot lines the pockets of corporate interests and fails to bring about international peace.

The warfare state is, on net, a huge drain on the economy. It has not made us richer. We live in a comparatively rich nation because of the relatively free market, to which the warfare state is always and everywhere a premier threat. Indeed, the Progressive Era, New Deal and Great Society never did nearly the violence to the free market, ushering in central planning, than the great wars in American history. The New Deal itself was simply a domestic version of Wilson’s World War I economic policies, with many of the same institutions resurrected under different names and many of the same personalities, as Robert Higgs has shown.

The loss in hard-earned wealth is only the beginning. The warfare-security state endangers individual liberty like no other threat. It destroys the privacy of the individual. It supplants the free economy with central planning. Sometimes it brings on rationing and a fullblown command economy. Dissent is no longer a protected right. The freedom of an individual to travel, to speak his mind, to work and live in private liberty is thrown aside completely in the march of war.

Those accused of threatening the security of the collective have virtually no rights at all. He can be detained indefinitely in a dungeon on the outskirts of the empire. He can be cruelly interrogated. His guilt is presumed.

Habeas corpus emerged in medieval England, largely as a tool of some courts to assert jurisdiction over others. The individualist principle that one could not be detained without cause, and that all imprisoned subjects had at a minimum access to a judge was born in the midst of competing and overlapping jurisdictional conflicts. Eventually, the writ of habeas corpus – which originated in the King’s own royal courts – were turned against the King himself. The American revolutionaries demanded it as a constitutional safeguard, at which point it took on a modern, individualist character. After hundreds of years of struggle, a crucial mechanism for protecting the individual against unjust imprisonment was claimed.

And this is vital in every way. Committing a crime against the state, or society, or an individual has been taken to be very serious. But what about the crime of the state in detaining an innocent person? Think of what it would be like to be detained indefinitely, knowing you’re innocent. This was the case for many in Guantanamo, many of whom have finally been freed. I can’t imagine it. But as true individualists, we must respect the dignity of every peaceful person held inside a cage. To paraphrase Augustine, a greater good that rests upon unjust imprisonment is no greater good at all.

This principle has been turned back on its head. Once again, habeas corpus is the executive’s prerogative. Alberto Gonzales claimed there was no right to it in the Constitution. People have been rounded up, detained, shipped around the globe, shoved in torture cells in Guantanamo and elsewhere – all in the name of collective security, in the name of the greater good. Many detainees have been tortured. The idea in vogue is that sometimes you have to completely strip an individual of his humanity in order to save humanity. This is the path toward barbarism and savagery. It is the road to the same mentality that allowed the Stalinists and Nazis to have their way.

But this compromise of individual rights has yielded no successes for the nation as whole. It has only eroded our culture’s commitment to the rights of the individual. It has led to the demonization of the “other” – the other who lives outside our collective. It also helped bring about the fantastically disastrous Iraq war, as some of the key pre-war intelligence – if we are to call it that – came out of torture. If you forget about the individual dignity, the intrinsic humanity of the prisoner you have before you, you have already failed to see the forest, and the trees, and they will all burn down in the heat of war collectivism.

The very idea of weighing individual liberty against national security is an egregious collectivist notion we must reject. There is no national security, no collective worth preserving, where we are not safe against unjust detention and oppression by the state.

As bad as all this is, the worst attacks on the individual come with war itself. Nation-building, occupying foreign countries to instill American values and institutions – all this is utopian central planning on the scale of the 20th-century socialists and modernists. And the conservatives, of course, have near infinite faith in it. But a new modern man cannot be created through command and control at home. A whole nation cannot be built abroad with curfews, bombs and razor wire.

Bombing has got to be among the most barbaric practices in modern life. “This is war,” we are told. And so people must die. Individuals do not count, they are only aggregates, only numbers, and the Pentagon doesn’t even care about the statistical side of the equation. Lost completely is any sense that these are human beings being destroyed.

When a bomb hits a neighborhood, civilians are killed. This happened even when the domestic police in Philadelphia bombed an apartment complex back in 1985, and we can go on and on about how militarism has displaced any sense of individualism in domestic policing. But in foreign affairs, mass killing is a matter of policy.

In the 20th century, the century of gulags, concentration camps, mass conscription and centrally planned workers paradises, America emerged as the most bomb-happy regime in world history. While, at least intellectually, the crimes of fascism and communism have imparted some lessons, there is no comparable understanding of the significance of 20th-century strategic bombing. In Japan, 60 cities were destroyed. In Germany, the number was more than 100. In the Korean war, Truman pinpointed civilian dams and devastated the country with thousands of tons of ordnance and millions of gallons of napalm. In Vietnam, between one and three million individuals were killed by US bombing campaigns. That’s about as many people as Pol Pot killed in Cambodia. For much of the post–World War II 20th century, the US built up its nuclear weapons cache, the mere existence of which should dispel any myths that ours is a government overly concerned with the rights of the individual.

These were individuals who were slaughtered by a program of systematic civilian-killing. They had families, and lives, and passions. They had their favorite music, they had their faith, they had their dreams and futures. They, just like the victims of Communism and fascism, were victims of mechanized, modernist mass murder. I do think one day people will look back at the 20th century as, in part, the era when the US government murdered millions of people from the air.

In today’s world, there is less support for strategic bombing as a matter of policy. There were barbaric calls after 9/11 for nuking the Middle East. Conservatives did say that the way to save face in Iraq was to pull out, but not before killing many thousands with a nuclear blast in the Sunni triangle. This murderous policy prescription must be seen in the full moral light in deserves, or else we will not evolve much as a species.

But there has been some change. I don’t think Americans would be too happy if Bush nuked Iraq or Iran like Truman did Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is all to the good.

However, the underlying premise that killing innocents abroad is acceptable has persisted. The trade sanctions against Iraq claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. In our society, killing one child is seen as an unforgiveable act. A child is the most precious thing in this world. And of course women and men have the right not to be killed, too. But the 1990s sanctions are seen as, at most, a sort of error in policy planning. They didn’t work, we sometimes hear. Unfortunately, they worked all too well at the only murderous purpose they could possibly serve in the real world. They worked in killing hundreds of thousands of innocent children, each one as precious as an American child.

Shock and Awe made me sick to my stomach. Baghdad was a city with a culture, with civil life, with some degree of liberalism even. Of course, most important, there were human beings there. The best thing Michael Moore has ever done was to show footage of Baghdad before and after bombing. Right-wingers hated this scene, because it forced Americans to confront the faces of some of the people their political leaders killed. It’s ironic that these same conservatives stress all the supposed good things happening in Iraq that the media won’t cover, while they seem completely unwilling to discuss the many good things happening in Iraq before Shock and Awe. Many of those good things happened to people who are not alive today.

And while Shock and Awe was in some ways a more precision bombing than Dresden, it was still mass murder. It was still totally immoral in every respect. Had Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, had he even been best friends with Osama, had he been involved in 9/11 it would still not excuse the dispensing of the individual lives of men, women and children – none of them in any way the enemy – who just happened to live in Saddam’s neighborhood.

If bombing a neighborhood in retaliation could be excused, so too can terrorism in countless forms. The terrorism of September 11, insofar as it was a response to US aggression in the Middle East – and, as we know, there was plenty of it for decades – would be considered legitimate by the logic of the defenders of bombings. Surely, Iraq has been more a victim of the US than vice versa – does this mean Iraqis are allowed to do to American civilians what the US did in Afghanistan and Iraq? Of course not. American individuals had a right not to be murdered on 9/11, despite the evils of their government. This principle must be universal. Dropping bombs in a way that predictably leads to innocent deaths is nothing short of deliberate homicide, no matter what your home address.

This brings me to a particularly ghastly collectivist concept, the idea of “collateral damage.” The idea is that the innocent people killed in a bombing are not the target, and so the bombing can be an act of self-defense. But this principle surely does not hold in civil life. If a neighbor of yours has trespassed on your property, even caused violence against you and your family, you have no right to kill his kids, no right to attack his neighbor, no right to lift a finger against anyone but the aggressor. The right to self-defense is fundamental, but is grounded in property rights. Practicing it, just like practicing any other right, does not absolve you in your violations of the rights of third parties. Being threatened does not give you a blank check on other people’s life and liberty. “Collateral damage” is simply a euphemism for mass murder.

There are some theorists who posit that it is sometimes acceptable to kill the innocent in bombings because of the so-called human shield analogy. If an aggressor is about to kill you, and he has taken a hostage, and the only way to shoot him first is to kill the hostage, do you not have a right to do it? The warmongers say without the right to inflict collateral damage, we would be overtaken by an enemy with tanks covered with babies.

Now, this is quite an irony. Our individual ethic against killing civilians is unrealistic, they say, because in the real world you are always confronted with a human shield, or a ticking time bomb, or an invading army with babies strapped to their tanks. Of course, the real world is nothing like that. And surely invaders and aggressors will still hesitate to embrace such a strategy regardless of our lifeboat ethics, because they know people, when pressed, will even violate their principles to save their lives.

In principle, I believe the human shield retains the right not to be shot. But even if not, this question is divorced from reality. They try to personalize the question of bombing civilians by bringing it down to the individual level. But we are not talking about the odd incident when an individual is confronted with a choice between violating his principles or death. Many of us might cave to survive. We might lie, steal, even kill, if forced into the lawless environment of a Hobbesian world. And, generally speaking, people are more forgiving, even of those who trespass against them, when there are very extreme circumstances.

The human shield analogy is really a way to obscure the real issue. We are not talking about an individual fighting back for dear life, and accidentally or incidentally killing an innocent person. We are talking about the warfare state, about aggressive invasions, about airmen far above cities and dropping flaming death upon little babies, not out of immediate self-defense in any sense at all. The attempt to apply emergency individual ethics to the military, a socialist institution, should raise flags for the true individualist. For the individual is accountable to his victims and their heirs, as well as to public opinion. The state, by definition, is not. It is above the law. It is its own judge so long as it garners public legitimacy and blind loyalty. Insofar as it is successful at this, the state is a lawless machine. If an individual violates someone’s property rights in an emergency, there is some recourse, some real chance for making amends and getting forgiveness. The warfare state is a totally different animal.

And, in practical terms, if we want to avoid these Hobbesian cruelties of the battlefield, we should stay the hell out of war.

Sometimes even opponents of war forget about the methodological individualist analysis. In a sense, the true individualist is also the most empathetic to the individual soldier. Yes, he is morally responsible for all of his actions, and yet he too has an individual human dignity that must not be forgotten. Even in a terrible war, some soldiers do defensible, even heroic things. They serve as medics. They defend individual rights in isolated instances. And many of them don’t even want to be there, but they are being forced to finish their term of service. The warfare state is, by the way, the one enterprise where the rights of the individual worker are completely thrown aside. He has no right to quit. We have indentured servitude in the military. The philosophy of individual, inalienable rights is the only one that truly stands up for the soldier who, in good conscience, wants to walk away from the horrors in which he finds himself. And so, if we respect the individual soldier, we should champion his right to quit his job.

The individualist ethic has been twisted to defend the warfare state and modern American imperialism. It is, however, to be delivered through collectivist means. This is the giveaway. This is how we know it’s a bankrupt argument. Liberating individuals cannot be justly done at the expense of violating the rights of others.

For a while, individualism helped to curb the empire. A desire not to be taxed for the benefit of foreigners constrained the warfare state.

Conservatives and objectivists, among others, were well versed in the America First argument against global intervention.

But with 9/11 we saw the limits of this ethic. Individualists felt threatened and became collectivists at once. They ironically saw the American state as the collective most protective of individualism, and so favored an expansion of that collectivism to protect themselves.

But a purely egoistical ethic, much like a nationalist orientation in non-intervention, is perhaps not enough. We need to move beyond it to respect individuals abroad. The individual slaughtered in Iraq is no less an individual, no less entitled to his rights, than an individual in America taxed or regulated out of business, or thrown in jail for consuming illegal drugs. The sacrifice of foreign lives to an American imperial agenda, along with the sacrifice of American lives, freedoms and wealth, is a practice and program wholly at odds with the natural law ethic of individual liberty and dignity on which Western Civilization, and indeed all of human society, so precariously rests.

Thus do I urge us to take all the arguments we would make against communism, fascism and domestic coercive collectivism in all its forms, and apply them with equal vigor and moral courage to the issues of war and peace. It is true that we do, indeed, believe in a greater good, in public vibrancy, in civil society and in community. We are not individualists at the expense of society, but indeed see a good society itself as a function of respecting the individuals who compose it. Our arguments on economics demonstrate we are not blind to the social good that emanates from our individualist ethic. Without some sense of goodness for the individual, in fact, it is hard even to determine what a good society is. And this ethic, if it is being trampled anywhere, it is in the realm of foreign policy and the warfare state.

Communism failed because it broke too many eggs and never made an omelette. The worker’s paradise constituted the total destruction of the worker as individual, the total negation of his dignity, the total trashing of his individual rights. Thus did the whole plan fail, and thank goodness.

We are seeing a similar crumbling of American society, a degeneration of civil life and cultural mores, a lowering of moral standards. We are seeing decay and cultural corruption, and while I never badmouth the market, there is a sense in which materialism has threatened to overtake cultural reflection. The greatest traditions in law and individualism itself are under attack.

We are seeing our economy stagnate and our personal freedoms lost day by day. The partisans of empire are struggling to keep alive global American hegemony, but they are on the losing side of history.

But we do want things to go as painlessly and peacefully as possible. We do not want Americans to have to suffer a shock or global markets to be tossed into disarray.

I believe the key is to reclaim, refine and always strengthen our understanding of what it is that has led to the success story of Western civilization, the Industrial Revolution and the American experience: It is respect for the dignity and humanity and rights of each individual. Insofar as this country has wavered, it has been disastrous and oppressive. Insofar as it championed these principles, humanity, culture and all we take for granted have flourished.

The warfare state is the greatest of all threats to the individual in our time. It is a threat materially, philosophically, spiritually, culturally and intellectually. It displaces all the voluntary, civil associations we champion – the family, community, church and honest business. It is the total negation of the dignity of the individual, the rights of all men and women to live their lives in liberty. It is a mixture of cold, anti-libertarian modernism and barbarism, the worst remnants of the Middle Ages combined with a new callousness and technocratic fervor. It is the most persistent form of American collectivism. It is an unparalleled threat to world peace. It is the greatest enemy of humanity and individual liberty in our midst.

One day the modern warfare state will be looked upon the way we look upon the failed socialist experiments of a past time, the way we look upon chattel slavery, the way we look upon the gravest and most universally reviled episodes of the individual being dispensed with to make way for the march of collectivism and institutional inertia.

The first step is similar to the step Ayn Rand described in Anthem, although I don’t think she applied it consistently. It is to understand that the individual is the principal component of human society, and that all individuals, wherever they live, have by their nature certain rights that no government is permitted to violate. It is to realize that dispensing with this principle is to dispense with our chance at having a greater good whatsoever. It is to understand that with war come bombings, standing armies, conscription, surveillance, inflation, censorship and taxation – any of which is an affront to the dignity of the individual.

It is to understand that the warfare state, like totalitarianism, is incompatible with the individualist ethic on which society depends. Such an understanding helped prevent communism from taking root in this nation, sparing Americans the suffering so many others endured to learn the lessons of fullblown economic central planning. The American empire cannot last forever in its current state. But only by championing the rights of the individual and opposing the warfare state out of principle can we hope to see the empire crumble with as little pain as possible for those caught underneath. Only by embracing the principle of individualism – the principle that truly guards the common good and is the most damning of all indictments of the militaristic warfare state – can we hope to see the empire die and never return.

June 17, 2008

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

Copyright © 2008 Future of Freedom Foundation

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


By Sherwood Ross

A conference to plan the prosecution of President Bush and other high administration officials for war crimes will be held September 13-14 at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover .

"This is not intended to be a mere discussion of violations of law that have occurred," said convener Lawrence Velvel, dean and cofounder of the school. "It is, rather, intended to be a planning conference at which plans will be laid and necessary organizational structures set up, to pursue the guilty as long as necessary and, if need be, to the ends of the Earth."

"We must try to hold Bush administration leaders accountable in courts of justice," Velvel said. "And we must insist on appropriate punishments, including, if guilt is found, the hangings visited upon top German and Japanese war-criminals in the 1940s."

Velvel said past practice has been to allow U.S. officials responsible for war crimes in Viet Nam and elsewhere to enjoy immunity from prosecution upon leaving office. "President Johnson retired to his Texas ranch and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was named to head the World Bank; Richard Nixon retired to San Clemente and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was allowed to grow richer and richer," Velvel said.

He noted in the years since the prosecution and punishment of German and Japanese leaders after World War Two those nation's leaders changed their countries' aggressor cultures. One cannot discount contributory cause and effect here, he said.

"For Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Yoo to spend years in jail or go to the gallows for their crimes would be a powerful lesson to future American leaders," Velvel said.

The conference will take up such issues as the nature of domestic and international crimes committed; which high-level Bush officials, including Federal judges and Members of Congress, are chargeable with war crimes; which foreign and domestic tribunals can be used to prosecute them; and the setting up of an umbrella coordinating committee with representatives of legal groups concerned about the war crimes such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, among others.

The Massachusetts School of Law at Andover was established in 1988 to provide an affordable, quality legal education to minorities, immigrants and students from low-income households that might otherwise be denied the opportunity to obtain a legal education and practice law. Its founder, Dean Velvel, has been honored by the National Law Journal and cited in various publications for his contributions to the reform of legal education.

(To attend or for further information Jeff Demers at demers@msl.edu (978) 681-0800; or Sherwood Ross, media consultant to MSL, at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com)


Monday, June 16, 2008

The Greatest Story Never Told

Finally, the U.S. Mega-Bases in Iraq Make the News
by Tom Engelhardt

It’s just a $5,812,353 contract — chump change for the Pentagon — and not even one of those notorious “no-bid” contracts either. Ninety-eight bids were solicited by the Army Corps of Engineers and 12 were received before the contract was awarded this May 28th to Wintara, Inc. of Fort Washington, Maryland, for “replacement facilities for Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.” According to a Department of Defense press release, the work on those “facilities” to be replaced at the base near Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, is expected to be completed by January 31, 2009, a mere 11 days after a new president enters the Oval Office. It is but one modest reminder that, when the next administration hits Washington, American bases in Iraq, large and small, will still be undergoing the sort of repair and upgrading that has been ongoing for years.

In fact, in the last five-plus years, untold billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction and upgrading of those bases. When asked back in the fall of 2003, only months after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer then “tasked with facilities development” in Iraq, proudly indicated that “several billion dollars” had already been invested in those fast-rising bases. Even then, he was suitably amazed, commenting that “the numbers are staggering.” Imagine what he might have said, barely two and a half years later, when the U.S. reportedly had 106 bases, mega to micro, all across the country.

By now, billions have evidently gone into single massive mega-bases like the U.S. air base at Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It’s a “16-square-mile fortress,” housing perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops, contractors, special ops types, and Defense Department employees. As the Washington Post’s Tom Ricks, who visited Balad back in 2006, pointed out — in a rare piece on one of our mega-bases — it’s essentially “a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq.” Back then, air traffic at the base was already being compared to Chicago’s O’Hare International or London’s Heathrow — and keep in mind that Balad has been steadily upgraded ever since to support an “air surge” that, unlike the President’s 2007 “surge” of 30,000 ground troops, has yet to end.

Building Ziggurats

While American reporters seldom think these bases — the most essential U.S. facts on the ground in Iraq — are important to report on, the military press regularly writes about them with pride. Such pieces offer a tiny window into just how busily the Pentagon is working to upgrade and improve what are already state-of-the-art garrisons. Here’s just a taste of what’s been going on recently at Balad, one of the largest bases on foreign soil on the planet, and but one of perhaps five mega-bases in that country:

Consider, for instance, this description of an air-field upgrade from official U.S. Air Force news coverage, headlined: “‘Dirt Boyz’ pave way for aircraft, Airmen”:

“In less than four months, Balad Air Base Dirt Boyz have placed and finished more than 12,460 feet of concrete and added approximately 90,000 square feet of pavement to the airfield… Without the extra pavement courtesy of the Dirt Boyz, fewer aircraft would be able to be positioned and maintained at Balad AB. Having fewer aircraft at the base would directly affect the Air Force’s ability to place surveillance assets in the air and to drop munitions on targets… The ongoing flightline projects at Balad AB consist of concrete pad extensions that will provide occupation surfaces for multiple aircraft of various types.”

Or here’s a proud description of what Detachment 6 of the 732nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron did on its recent tour in Balad:

“‘We constructed more than 25,000 square feet of living, dining and operations buildings from the ground up,’ said Staff Sgt. John Wernegreen… ‘This project gave the [U.S.] Army’s [3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment] and Iraqi army [soldiers] a place to carry out their mission of controlling the battlespace around the Eastern Diyala Province.’”

And here’s a caption, accompanying an Air Force photo of work at Balad: “Airmen of the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and equipment team repair utility cuts here June 11. The team replaced approximately 30 cubic meters of concrete over newly installed power line cables.” And another: “Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator, contours a new sidewalk here, June 10. Sidewalk repair is being accomplished throughout the base housing area to eliminate tripping hazards.” (The sidewalks on such bases go with bus routes, traffic lights, and speeding tickets — in a country parts of which the U.S. has helped turn into little more than a giant pothole.)

Or how about this caption for a photo of military men on upgrade duty working on copper cable as “part of the new tents to trailers project.” It’s little wonder that, in another rare piece, NPR’s defense correspondent Guy Raz reported, in October 2007, that Balad was “one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up… all with an eye toward the next few decades.”

Think of this as the greatest American story of these years never told — or more accurately, since there have been a few reports on a couple of these mega-bases — never shown. After all, what an epic of construction this has been, as the Pentagon built a series of fortified American towns, each some 15 to 20 miles around, with many of the amenities of home, including big name fast-food franchises, PXes, and the like, in a hostile land in the midst of war and occupation. In terms of troops, the President may only have put his “surge” strategy into play in January 2007, but his Pentagon has been “surging” on base construction since April 2003.

Now, imagine as well that hundreds of thousands of Americans have passed through these mega-bases, including the enormous al-Asad Air Base (sardonically nicknamed “Camp Cupcake” for its amenities) in the Western desert of Iraq, and the ill-named (or never renamed) Camp Victory on the edge of Baghdad. Troops have surged through these bases, of course. Private contractors galore. Hired guns. Pentagon officials. Military commanders. Top administration figures. Visiting Congressional delegations. Presidential candidates. And, of course, the journalists.

It has been, for instance, a commonplace of these years to see a TV correspondent reporting on the situation in Iraq, or what the American military had to say about Iraq, from Baghdad’s enormous Camp Victory. And yet, if you think about it, that camera, photographing ABC’s fine reporter Martha Raddatz or other reporters on similar stop-overs, never pans across the base itself. You don’t even get a glimpse, unless you have access to homemade G.I. videos or Pentagon-produced propaganda.

Similarly, last year, the President landed at Camp Cupcake for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with reporters in tow. You could see shots of him getting off the plane (just as he does everywhere), goofing around with troops, or shaking hands with the Iraqi prime minister but, as far as I know, none of the reporters with him stayed on to give us a view of the base itself.

Imagine if just about no one knew that the pyramids had been built. Ditto the Great Wall of China. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Coliseum. The Eiffel Tower. The Statue of Liberty. Or any other architectural wonder of the world you’d care to mention.

After all, these giant bases, rising from the smashed birthplace of Western civilization, were not only built on (and sometimes out of bits of) the ancient ruins of that land, but are functionally modern ziggurats. They are the cherished monuments of the Bush administration. Even though its spokespeople have regularly refused to use the word “permanent” in relation to them — in fact, in relation to any U.S. base on the planet — they have been built to long outlast the Bush administration itself. They were, in fact, clearly meant to be key garrisons of a Pax Americana in the Middle East for generations to come. And, not surprisingly, they reek of permanency. They are the unavoidable essence — unless, like most Americans, you don’t know they’re there — of Bush administration planning in Iraq. Without them, no discussion of Iraq policy in this country really makes sense.

And that, of course, is what makes their missing-in-action quality on the American landscape so striking. Yes, a couple of good American reporters have written pieces about one or two of them, but most Americans, as we know, get their news from television and — though no one can watch all the news that flows, 24/7, into American living rooms, it’s a reasonable bet that a staggering percentage of Americans have never had the opportunity to see the remarkable structures their tax dollars have paid for, and continue to pay for, in occupied Iraq.

This is the sort of thing you might expect of Bush-style offshore prisons, or gulags, or concentration camps. And yet Americans have regularly and repeatedly seen what Guantanamo looks like. They have seen something of what Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq looks like. But not the bases. Perhaps one explanation lies in this: On rare occasions when Americans are asked by pollsters whether they want “permanent bases” in Iraq, significant majorities answer in the negative. You can only assume that, as on many other subjects, the Bush administration preferred to fly under the radar screen on this one — and the media generally concurred.

And let’s remember one more base, though it’s never called that: the massive imperial embassy, perhaps the biggest on the planet, being built, for nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars, on a nearly Vatican-sized 104-acre plot of land inside the Green Zone in Baghdad. It will be home to 1,000 “diplomats.” It will cost an estimated $1.2 billion a year just to operate. With its own electricity and water systems, its anti-missile defenses, recreation, “retail and shopping” areas, and “blast-resistant” work spaces, it is essentially a fortified citadel, a base inside the fortified American heart of the Iraq capital. Like the mega-bases, it emits an aura of American, not Iraqi, “sovereignty.” It, too, is being built “for the ages.”

A Land Grab, American-style

The issue of the mega-bases in Iraq first surfaced barely days after Baghdad had fallen. It was on April 20, 2003, to be exact, and on the front-page of the New York Times in a piece headlined, “Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Key Iraq Bases.” Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt wrote: “American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future,” including what became Camp Victory. The story, and the very idea of “permanent” bases, was promptly denied by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — then essentially disappeared from the news for years. (To this day, again as far as I know, the New York Times has never written another significant front-page story on the subject.)

Now, however, the bases are, suddenly and startlingly, in the news (and, of course, being written about and discussed on TV as if they had long been part of everyday media analysis). This week, in fact, they hit the front page of the Washington Post, due to protests by Iraqi leaders close to the Bush administration. They were angered by, and leaking like mad about, American strong-arm tactics in negotiations for a long-term Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would officially embed American-controlled bases in Iraq for the long-term, potentially tie the hands of a future American president on Iraq policy, and represent a sovereignty grab of the first order. (A typical comment from a pro-Maliki Iraqi politician in that Post piece: “The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq…”)

The growing Iraqi protests — in the streets, in parliament, and among the negotiators — certainly helped spark coverage in this country. A persistent and intrepid British reporter, Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, helpfully broke the story of Bush administration demands days before it became significant news here.

But most of the credit should really go to the Bush administration itself, which, despite the long-term flow of events in Iraq, still wanted it all. Greed, coupled with desperation, seems to have done the trick. In all the years of the occupation, the officials of this administration have had a tin ear for the post-colonial era they inhabit. It’s never penetrated their consciousness that the greatest story of the twentieth century was the way previously subjected and colonized peoples had gained (or regained) their sovereignty.

The administration indicated this, back in 2003, with its very dream of garrisoning a major, potentially hostile, intensely nationalistic Arab nation in the heart of the oil lands of the planet. That the building of enormous American bases and the basing of troops in relatively peaceful Saudi Arabia after the First Gulf War led to disaster — think: Osama bin Laden — mattered not a whit to top administration officials.

It couldn’t have been clearer just how little they cared for Iraqi sovereignty or pride when L. Paul Bremer III, George W. Bush’s personal representative and viceroy in Baghdad, before officially “returning sovereignty” to the Iraqis in June 2004, signed the infamous (though, in this country, little noted) Order 17. As the law of the land in Iraq, among other things, it ensured that all foreigners involved in the occupation project would be granted “freedom of movement without delay throughout Iraq,” and neither their vessels, nor their vehicles, nor their aircraft would be “subject to registration, licensing or inspection by the [Iraqi] Government.” Nor in traveling would foreign diplomats, soldiers, consultants, security guards, or any of their vehicles, vessels, or planes be subject to “dues, tolls, or charges, including landing and parking fees,” and so on.

When it came to imports, including “controlled substances,” there were to be no customs fees or inspections, taxes, or much of anything else; nor was there to be the slightest charge for the use of Iraqi “headquarters, camps, and other premises” occupied, nor for the use of electricity, water, or other utilities. And all private contractors were to have total immunity from prosecution anywhere in the country. This was, of course, freedom as theft. Order 17 would have seemed familiar to any nineteenth century European colonialist. It granted what used to be termed “extraterritoriality” to Americans. Think of it as a giant get-out-of-jail-free card for an occupying nation.

Now, imagine, that, even after years of disaster, even in a state of discontrol, with unsecured global oil supplies surging toward $140 a barrel, the Bush administration remained in the same Order 17 frame of mind. They began their negotiations with the Iraqis accordingly. Cockburn (and other journalists subsequently) would report that they were asking for Order 17-style immunity for the U.S. military and all private contractors in the country, as well as the use of up to 58 bases, even though they evidently “only” had 30 major ones in the country. (A leading politician of the Badr Organization claimed that American negotiators were actually pushing for the use of a startling 200 facilities across the country.)

They also evidently insisted on control over Iraqi air space up to 29,000 feet, the right to bring troops in and out of the country without informing the Iraqis, and the right to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security,” again without notification to the Iraqis, no less approval of any sort. They may even have insisted on the freedom to strike other countries from their Iraqi bases, again without consultation or approval. In addition, reported Cockburn, they were attempting to force their Iraqi counterparts to agree to such a deal by threatening to deny them at least $20 billion in Iraqi oil funds on deposit in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Gulf News reported as well that, under the American version of the agreement, “Iraqi security institutions such as Defense, Interior and National Security ministries, as well as armament contracts, will be under American supervision for ten years.” This was partially confirmed by the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, who reported on a multi-year contract just awarded to a private contractor by the Pentagon to supply “mentors to officials with Iraq’s Defense and Interior ministries… [ who] would ‘advise, train [and] assist… particular Iraqi officials.’”

Had the Bush administration exhibited the slightest constraint, they might have constructed a far more cosmetic version of the permanent garrisoning of Iraq. They might have officially turned the mega-bases over to the Iraqis and leased them back for next to nothing. They could have let the stunning facts they had built on the ground speak for themselves. They could have offered “joint commands” and other palliative remedies (as they are now evidently considering doing) that would have made their long-term sovereignty grab look far less significant — without necessarily being so. But their ability to strategize outside the (Bush) box has long been limited.

Think of them as “the me generation” on steroids, going global and imperial. Or give them credit for consistency. They’re mad dreamers who still can’t wake up, even when they find themselves in a roomful of smelling salts.

Instead, with their secret SOFA negotiations, they’ve attempted to fly under the radar screens of both the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi people. They wanted to embed permanent bases and a long-term policy of occupation in Iraq in perpetuity without letting the matter rise to the level of a treaty. (Hence, no advice and consent from the U.S. Senate.)

Not surprisingly, this episode, too, is threatening to end in debacle. The Iraqi leadership is in virtual revolt. Across the political spectrum, as Tony Karon of the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog has written, the negotiations have forced upon the Iraqis “a kind of snap survey or straw poll… on the long-term U.S. presence, and goals for Iraq” from which the Americans are likely to emerge the losers.

The idea of timetables for American departure is again being floated in Iraq. According to Reuters, “A majority of the Iraqi parliament has written to Congress rejecting a long-term security deal with Washington if it is not linked to a requirement that U.S. forces leave,” and unnamed American officials are now beginning to mutter about no SOFA deal being achieved before the Bush administration leaves office.

The administration’s man in Baghdad, Prime Minister Maliki, has declared the initial U.S. proposal at a “dead end” and has even begun threatening to ask American forces to leave when their UN mandate expires at year’s end. (Though much of this may be bluff on his part, what choice does he have? Given Iraqi attitudes toward being garrisoned forever by the U.S. military, no Iraqi leader could remain in a position of even passing power and agree to such terms. It would be like stamping and sealing your own execution order.)

The Sadrists are in the streets protesting the American presence and their leader has just called for a “new militia offensive” against U.S. forces. The pro-Iranian, but American-backed, Badrists are outraged. (”Is there sovereignty for Iraq — or isn’t there? If it is left to [the Bush administration], they would ask for immunity even for the American dogs.”) The Iranians are vehemently voting no. Opinion in the region, whether Shiite or Sunni, seems to be following suit. The U.S. Congress is up in arms, demanding more information and possibly heading for hearings on the SOFA agreement and the bases. Presidential candidate Barack Obama has insisted that any deal be submitted to Congress, the very thing the Bush administration has organized for more than a year to avoid.

And miracle of all miracles, the mainstream media is finally writing about the bases as if they mattered. Someday, before this is over, all of us may actually see what was built in our names with our dollars. That will be a shock, especially when you consider what the Bush administration has proved incapable of building, or rebuilding, in New Orleans and elsewhere in this country. In the meantime, the President appears headed for yet another self-inflicted defeat.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site, has just been published. Focusing on what the mainstream media hasn’t covered, it is an alternative history of the mad Bush years. A brief video in which Engelhardt discusses the American mega-bases in Iraq can be viewed by clicking here.

[Sources for this piece and further reading: In his recent articles, as in his past unembedded reporting, Patrick Cockburn has shown what a good journalist can still do for the rest of us. Special thanks go to Nick Turse for his superb and speedy research on this piece and to Christopher Holmes for superb proofreading on demand. In gathering material, I’ve also relied on a number of sites, including Juan Cole’s invaluable Informed Comment blog (which I visit daily without fail), those splendid hunter-gatherers of the news at Antiwar.com and Cursor.org’s daily Media Patrol, Dan Froomkin’s superb White House Watch blog in the Washington Post, and sharp-eyed Paul Woodward at his War in Context blog. For those of you who want to get a little more sense of the endless base-building activities of the Bush administration, check out the chatty newsletter (PDF file) of the Redhorse Association, “a group of past and present members of the U.S. Air Force Prime Beef and Red Horse combat engineer units.”]

Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt