Friday, October 31, 2008

The Evidence Establishes, Without Question, That Republican Rule Is Dangerous

Why It Is High Time to Fix This Situation, for the Good of the Nation

by John W. Dean

Occasionally, during the past eight years of writing this column, I have addressed the remarkably dangerous manner in which Republican Party officials rule the nation when they control one or more of the three branches of the federal government. Over the same period, I've also made this argument, even more directly and loudly, in three books on the subject.

In this column, I will be more pointed on this subject than I have ever been, while also repeating a few key facts that I have raised earlier -- because Election Day 2008 now provides the only clear remedy for the ills of Republican rule.

The Republican Approach to Government: Authoritarian Rule

Republicans rule, rather than govern, when they are in power by imposing their authoritarian conservative philosophy on everyone, as their answer for everything. This works for them because their interest is in power, and in what it can do for those who think as they do. Ruling, of course, must be distinguished from governing, which is a more nuanced process that entails give-and-take and the kind of compromises that are often necessary to find a consensus and solutions that will best serve the interests of all Americans.

Republicans' authoritarian rule can also be characterized by its striking incivility and intolerance toward those who do not view the world as Republicans do. Their insufferable attitude is not dangerous in itself, but it is employed to accomplish what they want, which it to take care of themselves and those who work to keep them in power.

Authoritarian conservatives are primarily anti-government, except where they believe the government can be useful to impose moral or social order (for example, with respect to matters like abortion, prayer in schools, or prohibiting sexually-explicit information from public view). Similarly, Republicans' limited-government attitude does not apply regarding national security, where they feel there can never be too much government activity - nor are the rights and liberties of individuals respected when national security is involved. Authoritarian Republicans do oppose the government interfering with markets and the economy, however -- and generally oppose the government's doing anything to help anyone they feel should be able to help themselves.

In my book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, I set forth the facts regarding the consequences of the Republicans' controlling government for too many years. No Republican -- nor anyone else, for that matter -- has refuted these facts, and for good reason: They are irrefutable.

The McCain/Palin Ticket Perfectly Fits the Authoritarian Conservative Mold

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican candidates, have shown themselves to be unapologetic and archetypical authoritarian conservatives. Indeed, their campaign has warmed the hearts of fellow authoritarians, who applaud them for their negativity, nastiness, and dishonest ploys and only criticize them for not offering more of the same.

The McCain/Palin campaign has assumed a typical authoritarian posture: The candidates provide no true, specific proposals to address America's needs. Rather, they simply ask voters to "trust us" and suggest that their opponents - Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden - are not "real Americans" like McCain, Palin, and the voters they are seeking to court. Accordingly, McCain and Plain have called Obama "a socialist," "a redistributionist," "a Marxist," and "a communist" - without a shred of evidence to support their name-calling, for these terms are pejorative, rather than in any manner descriptive. This is the way authoritarian leaders operate.

In my book Conservatives Without Conscience, I set forth the traits of authoritarian leaders and followers, which have been distilled from a half-century of empirical research, during which thousands of people have voluntarily been interviewed by social scientists. The touch points in these somewhat-overlapping lists of character traits provide a clear picture of the characters of both John McCain and Sarah Palin.

McCain, especially, fits perfectly as an authoritarian leader. Such leaders possess most, if not all, of these traits:

* dominating
* opposes equality
* desirous of personal power
* amoral
* intimidating and bullying
* faintly hedonistic
* vengeful
* pitiless
* exploitive
* manipulative
* dishonest
* cheats to win
* highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
* mean-spirited
* militant
* nationalistic
* tells others what they want to hear
* takes advantage of "suckers"
* specializes in creating false images to sell self
* may or may not be religious
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

Incidentally, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney also can be described by these well-defined and typical traits -- which is why a McCain presidency is so likely to be nearly identical to a Bush presidency.

Clearly, Sarah Palin also has some qualities typical of authoritarian leaders, not to mention almost all of the traits found among authoritarian followers. Specifically, such followers can be described as follows:

* submissive to authority
* aggressive on behalf of authority
* highly conventional in their behavior
* highly religious
* possessing moderate to little education
* trusting of untrustworthy authorities
* prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals and followers of religions other than their own)
* mean-spirited
* narrow-minded
* intolerant
* bullying
* zealous
* dogmatic
* uncritical toward chosen authority
* hypocritical
* inconsistent and contradictory
* prone to panic easily
* highly self-righteous
* moralistic
* strict disciplinarians
* severely punitive
* demanding loyalty and returning it
* possessing little self-awareness
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

The leading authority on right-wing authoritarianism, a man who devoted his career to developing hard empirical data about these people and their beliefs, is Robert Altemeyer. Altemeyer, a social scientist based in Canada, flushed out these typical character traits in decades of testing.

Altemeyer believes about 25 percent of the adult population in the United States is solidly authoritarian (with that group mostly composed of followers, and a small percentage of potential leaders). It is in these ranks of some 70 million that we find the core of the McCain/Palin supporters. They are people who are, in Altemeyer's words, are "so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

The Problem with Electing Authoritarian Conservatives

What is wrong with being an authoritarian conservative? Well, if you want to take the country where they do, nothing. "They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result," Altemeyer told me. "The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much more active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of 'old-time religion' on a crusade, and they generously give money, time and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away."

I would nominate McCain's "Joe the Plumber" as a new poster-boy of the authoritarian followers. He is a believer, and he has signed on. On November 4, 2008, we will learn how many more Americans will join the ranks of the authoritarians.

Frankly, the fact that the pre-election polls are close - after eight years of authoritarian leadership from Bush and Cheney, and given its disastrous results -- shows that many Americans either do not realize where a McCain/Palin presidency might take us, or they are happy to go there. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me, for there is only one way to deal with these conservative zealots: Keep them out of power.

This election should be a slam dunk for Barack Obama, who has run a masterful campaign. It was no small undertaking winning the nomination from Hillary Clinton, and in doing so, he has shown without any doubt (in my mind anyway) that he is not only qualified to be president, but that he might be a once-in-a-lifetime leader who can forever change the nation and the world for the better.

If Obama is rejected on November 4th for another authoritarian conservative like McCain, I must ask if Americans are sufficiently intelligent to competently govern themselves. I can understand authoritarian conservatives voting for McCain, for they know no better. It is well-understood that most everyone votes with his or her heart, not his or her head. Polls show that 81 percent of Americans "feel" (in their hearts and their heads) that our country is going the wrong way. How could anyone with such thoughts and feelings vote for more authoritarian conservatism, which has done so much to take the nation in the wrong direction?

We will all find out on (or about) November 5th.

Copyright © 2008 FindLaw

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the president.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Expanding War, Contracting Meaning

The Next President and the Global War on Terror

by Andrew J. Bacevich

A week ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration's conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.

President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent "war" sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem's actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror.

Anyone intent on identifying some unifying idea that explains U.S. actions, military and otherwise, across the Greater Middle East is in for a disappointment. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid down "Germany first" and then "unconditional surrender" as core principles. Early in the Cold War, the Truman administration devised the concept of containment, which for decades thereafter provided a conceptual framework to which policymakers adhered. Yet seven years into its Global War on Terror, the Bush administration is without a compass, wandering in the arid wilderness. To the extent that any inkling of a strategy once existed -- the preposterous neoconservative vision of employing American power to "transform" the Islamic world -- events have long since demolished the assumptions on which it was based.

Rather than one single war, the United States is presently engaged in several.

Ranking first in importance is the war for Bush's legacy, better known as Iraq. The President himself will never back away from his insistence that here lies the "central front" of the conflict he initiated after 9/11. Hunkered down in their bunker, Bush and his few remaining supporters would have us believe that the "surge" has, at long last, brought victory in sight and with it some prospect of redeeming this otherwise misbegotten and mismanaged endeavor. If the President can leave office spouting assurances that light is finally visible somewhere at the far end of a very long, very dark Mesopotamian tunnel, he will claim at least partial vindication. And if actual developments subsequent to January 20 don't turn out well, he can always blame the outcome on his successor.

Next comes the orphan war. This is Afghanistan, a conflict now in its eighth year with no signs of ending anytime soon. Given the attention lavished on Iraq, developments in Afghanistan have until recently attracted only intermittent notice. Lately, however, U.S. officials have awakened to the fact that things are going poorly, both politically and militarily. Al Qaeda persists. The Taliban is reasserting itself. Expectations that NATO might ride to the rescue have proven illusory. Apart from enabling Afghanistan to reclaim its status as the world's number one producer of opium, U.S. efforts to pacify that nation and nudge it toward modernity have produced little.

The Pentagon calls its intervention in Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom. The emphasis was supposed to be on the noun. Unfortunately, the adjective conveys the campaign's defining characteristic: enduring as in endless. Barring a radical re-definition of purpose, this is an enterprise which promises to continue, consuming lives and treasure, for a long, long time.

In neighboring Pakistan, meanwhile, there is the war-hidden-in-plain-sight. Reports of U.S. military action in Pakistan have now become everyday fare. Air strikes, typically launched from missile-carrying drones, are commonplace, and U.S. ground forces have also conducted at least one cross-border raid from inside Afghanistan. Although the White House doesn't call this a war, it is -- a gradually escalating war of attrition in which we are killing both terrorists and noncombatants. Unfortunately, we are killing too few of the former to make a difference and more than enough of the latter to facilitate the recruitment of new terrorists to replace those we eliminate.

Finally -- skipping past the wars-in-waiting, which are Syria and Iran -- there is Condi's war. This clash, which does not directly involve U.S. forces, may actually be the most important of all. The war that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made her own is the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Having for years dismissed the insistence of Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, that the plight of the Palestinians constitutes a problem of paramount importance, Rice now embraces that view. With the fervor of a convert, she has vowed to broker an end to that conflict prior to leaving office in January 2009.

Given that Rice brings little -- perhaps nothing -- to the effort in the way of fresh ideas, her prospects of making good as a peacemaker appear slight. Yet, as with Bush and Iraq, so too with Rice and the Palestinian problem: she has a lot riding on the effort. If she flops, history will remember her as America's least effective secretary of state since Cordell Hull spent World War II being ignored, bypassed, and humiliated by Franklin Roosevelt. She will depart Foggy Bottom having accomplished nothing.

There's nothing inherently wrong in fighting simultaneously on several fronts, as long as actions on front A are compatible with those on front B, and together contribute to overall success. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Global War on Terror. We have instead an illustration of what Winston Churchill once referred to as a pudding without a theme: a war devoid of strategic purpose.

This absence of cohesion -- by now a hallmark of the Bush administration -- is both a disaster and an opportunity. It is a disaster in the sense that we have, over the past seven years, expended enormous resources, while gaining precious little in return.

Bush's supporters beg to differ, of course. They credit the president with having averted a recurrence of 9/11, doubtless a commendable achievement but one primarily attributable to the fact that the United States no longer neglects airport security. To argue that, say, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have prevented terrorist attacks against the United States is the equivalent of contending that Israel's occupation of the West Bank since in 1967 has prevented terrorist attacks against the state of Israel.

Yet the existing strategic vacuum is also an opportunity. When it comes to national security at least, the agenda of the next administration all but sets itself. There is no need to waste time arguing about which issues demand priority action.

First-order questions are begging for attention. How should we gauge the threat? What are the principles that should inform our response? What forms of power are most relevant to implementing that response? Are the means at hand adequate to the task? If not, how should national priorities be adjusted to provide the means required? Given the challenges ahead, how should the government organize itself? Who -- both agencies and individuals -- will lead?

To each and every one of these questions, the Bush administration devised answers that turned out to be dead wrong. The next administration needs to do better. The place to begin is with the candid recognition that the Global War on Terror has effectively ceased to exist. When it comes to national security strategy, we need to start over from scratch.

Copyright 2008 Andrew Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Two Parties, One Imperial Mission

The US Empire will Survive Bush

By Arno J. Mayer

October 29, 2008 --- The United States may emerge from the Iraq fiasco almost unscathed. Though momentarily disconcerted, the American empire will continue on its way, under bipartisan direction and mega-corporate pressure, and with evangelical blessings. It is a defining characteristic of mature imperial states that they can afford costly blunders, paid for not by the elites but the lower orders. Predictions of the American empire's imminent decline are exaggerated: without a real military rival, it will continue for some time as the world's sole hyperpower.

But though they endure, overextended empires suffer injuries to their power and prestige. In such moments they tend to lash out, to avoid being taken for paper tigers. Given Washington's predicament in Iraq, will the US escalate its intervention in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia or Venezuela? The US has the strongest army the world has ever known. Preponderant on sea, in the air and in space (including cyberspace), the US has an awesome capacity to project its power over enormous distances with speed, a self-appointed sheriff rushing to master or exploit real and putative crises anywhere on earth.

In the words of the former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld: "No corner of the world is remote enough, no mountain high enough, no cave or bunker deep enough, no SUV fast enough to protect our enemies from our reach." The US spends more than 20% of its annual budget on defense, nearly half of the spending of the rest of the world put together. It's good for the big US corporate arms manufacturers and their export sales. The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, purchase billions of dollars of state-of-the-art ordnance.

Instead of establishing classic territorial colonies, the US secures its hegemony through some 700 military, naval and air bases in over 100 countries, the latest being in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Rumania, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Ethiopia and Kenya. At least 16 intelligence agencies with stations the world over provide the ears and eyes of this borderless empire.

The US has 12 aircraft carriers. All but three are nuclear-powered, designed to carry 80 planes and helicopters, and marines, sailors and pilots. A task force centerd on a supercarrier includes cruisers, destroyers and submarines, many of them atomic-powered and equipped with offensive and defensive guided missiles. Pre-positioned in global bases and constantly patrolling vital sea lanes, the US navy provides the new model empire's spinal cord and arteries. Ships are displacing planes as chief strategic and tactical suppliers of troops and equipment. The navy is now in the ascendant over the army and the air force in the Pentagon and Washington.

The US military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean from 2006 to 2008 shows how the US can flex its muscles half-way around the globe (and deliver humanitarian relief at gunpoint for political advantage). At least two carrier strike groups with landing craft, amphibious vehicles, and thousands of sailors and marines, along with Special Operations teams, operate out of Bahrain, Qatar and Djibouti. They serve notice that, in the words of the current defense secretary, Robert Gates, speaking in Kabul in January 2007, the US will continue to have "a strong presence in the Gulf for a long time into the future".

A week later the undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, said in Dubai: "The Middle East isn't a region to be dominated by Iran. The Gulf isn't a body of water to be controlled by Iran. That's why we've seen the US station two carrier battle groups in the region." This is not new. In his farewell address in January 1980, weeks after the start of the hostage standoff in Tehran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter made it "absolutely clear" that an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf will be regarded as an assault on the US, and such an assault will be repelled by any means including military force. He said that the Russian troops in Afghanistan not only threatened a region that "contains more than two-thirds of the world's exportable oil" but were at the ready "within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world's oil must flow".

A quarter of a century later, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger updated the Carter Doctrine, displacing the threat from Moscow to Tehran: should Iran "insist on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervour, it simply cannot be permitted to fulfil a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world".

Ultra-modern conventional armed forces and weapons are ill-suited to fight today's asymmetrical wars against non-state actors resorting to sub-conventional arms and tactics. But supercarriers, supersonic aircraft, anti-missile missiles, military satellites, surveillance robots, and unmanned vehicles and boats are not going out of season. Intervention, direct and indirect, open and covert, military and civic, in the internal affairs of other states has been standard US foreign policy since 1945. The US has not hesitated to intervene, mostly unilaterally, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Bolivia and Colombia, in pursuit of its imperial interest.

Taking the USAID (United States Agency for International Development), Fulbright Programme and Congress for Cultural Freedom of the anti-Communist cold war as their model, the stalwarts of the new global war on terror have created equivalents in the State Department's Millennial Challenge and Middle East Partnership Initiative. The defense department enlists universities through Project Minerva to help with the new model counterinsurgency warfare and unconventional military state-building operations.

The US economy, syncretic culture and Big Science are unequalled. Despite huge fiscal and trade deficits, and the Wall Street banking and insurance meltdown, which have unhinged its financial system and rippled across the global economy, overall the US economy remains robust and pacesetting in creative destruction. Never mind the social costs at home and abroad. But its shrinking industrial and manufacturing sectors may be the weakest link.

The US still holds a substantial lead in research, development and patents in cybernetics, molecular biology and neuroscience. This is facilitated by publicly, privately and corporately funded research universities and laboratories that establish outposts overseas as they draw in brains from around the globe.

They remain the US model for the rest of the world, as do its globalising museums, corporate architectural idioms and marketing strategies (political and commercial). It is no surprise that the US reaps disproportionate harvests of Nobel Prizes, not only in economics but in the natural sciences; or that American English has become a global language. This is both cause and effect of the immense leverage of US multinationals. US popular and consumer cultures penetrate the most remote places on the planet. Along the shifting periphery Washington and K Street (the Washington street known for its lobbies) join forces with collaborating elites and regimes.

This American empire has significant family resemblances with past empires in its grab for critical natural resources, mass markets and strategic outposts. Americans know they have a considerable stake in the persistence of their imperium. Some social strata benefit more from its spoils than others. Still, it is profitable socially, culturally and psychologically, especially for its intelligentsia, liberal professions and media.

The empire has extraordinary reserves of hard and soft power for persisting in its interventionism. The US has the wherewithal and will to stay a face-saving course in Iraq. There is a deficit of combat troops for large conventional ground operations and a strategic incoherence in the face of irregular warfare against insurgent, guerrilla and terrorist forces. But the deficit of soldiers will be remedied. Private contractors will raise armed and civilian mercenaries, preferably at cut-rate wages from third world dependencies.

Washington masks its imperial self-interest with declamations about the promotion of civil rights, social welfare, women's liberation, the rule of law and democracy.

However, for US power elites, regardless of party, there is an absolute need and priority: until the implosion of the Soviet Union it was to lay the specter of communism; since 9/11 it is to slay the serpent of radical Islamism.

The Iraq Study Group's report of December 6, 2006, prepared by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission, was not so much concerned with the turmoil on the Tigris as with its impact on the US empire: "Iraq is vital to regional and even global stability, and is critical to US interests. It runs along the sectarian fault lines of Shiite and Sunni Islam, and of Kurdish and Arab populations. It has the world's second-largest known oil reserves. It is now a base of operations for international terrorism, including al-Qaida. Iraq is a centerpiece of American foreign policy, influencing how the United States is viewed in the region and around the world."

Iraq matters because, should it "descend further into chaos," it risks diminishing "the global standing of the United States". James Baker (Republican) and Lee Hamilton (Democrat) take it as given that Washington will continue to make the law in the Greater Middle East, as it has since 1945. The report is clear: "Even after the United States has moved all combat brigades out of Iraq, we would maintain a considerable military presence in the region, with our still significant force in Iraq and with our powerful air, ground, and naval deployments in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, as well as an increased presence in Afghanistan."

Baker-Hamilton turned for help to the best and the brightest of non- or bi-partisan organisations and think tanks that mushroomed since the Vietnam war. Several of these institutions, some of whose staffers prepared questions, position papers and partial drafts for the Iraq report, make no secret of their engagement.

The "bipartisan" Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was a major contributor to the Commission. Drawing trustees and advisers "equally from the worlds of public policy and the private sector," its aim is to "advance global security and prosperity in an era of economic and political transformation by providing strategic insights and practical solutions to decision makers."

The “non-partisan” International Republican Institute is deeply implicated in Iraq and chaired by John McCain; it means to "advance freedom and democracy worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law." And the non-profit National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, chaired by the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, works "to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide". The self-advertised bipartisan but far-right Washington Institute for Near East Policy claims "to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East [and to] promote an American engagement in the Middle East".

The Baker-Hamilton Commission also took counsel with ex-officials and pundits of certified research and public policy institutes like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the Rand Corporation and the American Enterprise Institute. Whatever their political proclivities, very few of the collaborators, associates and patrons of these policy centers rigorously question the political, economic or social costs and benefits of empire for the US and the world. Their disagreements and debates are about how best to secure, exploit and protect the empire.

Underscoring that the role of the US is unique in a world in which few problems can be resolved without it, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice affirms that "we Americans engage in foreign policy because we have to, not because we want to, and this is a healthy disposition - it is that of a republic, not an empire". Defense Secretary Gates says the US must keep its "freedom of action in the global commons and its strategic access to important regions of the world to meet our national security needs", which entails supporting a global economy contingent on ready access to energy resources.

Even centrist censors do not challenge Washington's unconditional support of Israel. They, like the neocons, oppose any hard-and-fast linkage between the Iraqi morass and the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. Both baulk at the Baker-Hamilton report's suggestion that the US "cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability". Democrats and Republicans are of one mind in their resolve to step up undercover operations in Iran backed by the threat of a full-scale economic blockade or military action.

Neither presidential candidate proposes an alternative to the imperial charge except perhaps to muffle the moralising and messianic rhetoric in contentious relations with Iran, China and India, and a resurgent Russia - all four driven by untried, nationally conditioned forms of capitalism. Both candidates have used foreign capitals as stages for attesting to their imperial bona fides and determination.

Arno J Mayer is emeritus professor of history at Princeton University.

This article first appeared in the excellent monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at The full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. All rights reserved © 1997-2008 Le Monde Diplomatique.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Northcom, Africom and Other Threats

by Chioma Oruh

Why remember May 4, 1970 in October 2008? It is the day that a clear message was sent with military might that Americans are not immune from attacks felt around the world. On May 4, 1970, also known as the May 4th Massacre, four students were killed and many more injured at Kent State University by the National Guard. These students non-violently protested the US attack on Cambodia and were made example of to show that militarism trumps civil rights. Now, in 2008, an era marked by increased military sophistication and unprecedented presence all over the globe, the US military boasts over 700 bases worldwide, and on October 1, 2008 established the Africa Command, or Africom - for the last standing continent that did not have a US military command. The real purpose and function of Africom remain unclear but what is no mystery is that whatever Africom is up to, the mission has begun and the governmental and civilian voices of dissent in Africa and the US have been unable to stop it.

October 1, 2008 not only marks history for US-Africa relations but also on that same day, the US also made history by deploying troop trained for combat in Iraq to the Ft. Jackson base in Georgia on a mission as unarticulated as Africom. According to the Army Times, the 3rd Infantry's 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) will serve under Northern Command, or Northcom, as an "on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks." Prior to the establishment of Africom, Northcom was the newest brand of US military expansionism. Established on October 1, 2002 under the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Northcom was created to support civilian authorities like the police and fire departments in natural and human disasters. It debuted in that capacity in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina where US troops along with Blackwater military contractor mercenaries patrolled the streets of New Orleans. Yet, 2008 marked history for Northcom as this is the first time that it has a unit solely under its command. In the words of Northcom's commander General Gene Renuart on, "On the first of October, we'll have an organized force, a trained force, an equipped force, a force that has an adequate command and control and is on quick response - 48 hours - to head off to a large-scale nuclear, chemical, biological event that might require Department of Defense support."

The idea of this quick response brigade trained for war should set off alarms in anyone that recalls incidences such as the May 4th Massacre. With vague definitions of who and what constitutes a terrorist and terrorist activities or even emergencies and disasters, many Americans are subject to becoming future victims of this new military mission. With economic instability caused by the housing crisis and the plummeting stock market, civil unrest is sure to rise. Will dissenters be branded terrorists? Additionally, what about the already active and increasing boldness of civil dissenters who demonstrate against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental injustices and human rights violations experienced by immigrants? What is their fate under this Northcom mission?

On the website of Northcom, they attempt to ease accusations of its potential to violate the Posse Comitatus Act - which prohibits military forces from becoming directly involved in law enforcement. However, Posse Comitatus does not prohibit military training or the distribution of weaponry to police departments. So in a bad situation, police departments that serve as first response can do so with sophisticated weaponry and war training and whatever they cannot accomplish will be followed by this second (and quick) response.

So, it appears that May 4, 1970 was not an exception in the state response to civil disobedience but it was a prelude to a rule that has firmed up its mission as of October 1, 2008. For all those who were in Washington, DC to protest Africom on October 27th; for all those that are still healing from the police attacks at the Democratic and Republican national conventions; for all who bear witness to these vulgar violations of democracy and the establishment of the military state, you are advised to ponder the words of Marcus Garvey and "keep cool." Although Garvey's wise counsel was of a different era, it still serves as food for the scared and brave:

Let no trouble worry you;

Keep cool, keep cool!

just be brave and ever true;

Keep cool, keep cool!

If they'd put you in a flame,

Though you should not bear the blame,

Do not start to raising cane,

Keep cool, keep cool.

"Keep Cool" by Marcus Garvey (1927)

Chioma Oruh is a graduate student at Howard University in the African Studies department, and can be contacted at Oruh is author of "Militarizing Africa: A Guidebook," which can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Discrimination Against Iraq Veteran in Long Island

Letter from Kristofer Goldsmith:

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing you as a Veteran, concerned that First Amendment Rights are not being protected in the United States. My name is Kristofer Goldsmith, and I am from Long Island New York. I spent the year of 2005 with the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad. While overseas I received the Army Commendation Medal, and was recommended for the Bronze Star Medal. I was quickly promoted to the rank of Sergeant after just over two years in service, and graduated from Fort Stewart's Non-commissioned Officer School with honors in May of 2006 at the age of twenty.

After coming home from Iraq I began suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and major depression, but for over a year managed my symptoms on my own, and continued to have a successful career. After being stop-lossed for a second deployment, my PTSD was aggravated beyond my control. I was removed from the Army under honorable conditions after a suicide attempt last summer. I am now rated by the VA as 50% disabled due to PTSD, chronic depression and other problems generated from my time in service.

I now continue my service to this great nation as a member of a group called "Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)." As a member of this non-profit organization I have traveled the country seeking to help the veterans of my generation find a welcoming community and get the benefits they were promised upon enlisting. I have testified before Congress, and worked the hill advocating for an end to the Stop-Loss policy and reminding Politicians of the cost of the Iraq war back at home. I have been fighting to make sure that recent Veterans return from overseas to an America prepared to care for it's wounded.

You may have heard of the 10 Veterans arrested outside the third Presidential Debate on October 15th 2008 at Hofstra University. I was the first of the ten to be handcuffed and charged with "Disorderly Conduct" for attempting to demand of the Presidential Nominees, John McCain and Barrack Obama, that they begin to address the issues most important to Veterans in this country. 1000 Veterans receiving care from the VA attempt suicide each month in this country. An average of 18 Veterans successfully kill themselves each month in America. The VA system has over half a million claims waiting to be processed in it's back-log. One third of the homeless people in this country are Veterans, meaning an estimated 200,000+ Veterans will be sleeping on the street tonight. These are the issues that I fight to push into mainstream America's living rooms.

While most of my work with Iraq Veterans Against the War has been directed regionally or nationally, recently I've attempted to reach the high population of Veterans around my home, here on Long Island. The Annual Bellmore Family Street Festival is an event which has occurred just three blocks from my home each year since before I was born. I remember waiting each year as a child for my favorite part of the fair, the military recruiters and Veterans Groups who would set up their tents around Bellmore's Veterans Memorial Park at the corner of Broadway and Bedford Avenue. This year, home and out of the Army, I approached the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce requesting to set up a table at the Street Festival. At first, as a someone who was late in registry, I was granted space "44" in front of "Madison Smoothies" at the far northern end of Bedford Avenue, close to Oak Street. I was told that regardless of the fact that I am a Veteran of Iraq, if I were to table for Iraq Veterans Against the War, I would be segregated from the other Veterans Groups as to not offend them. The Executive Director/Festival Coordinator, Joni Caputo, explained to me that she was doing me a favor by letting me table at all due to my late registry, so I accepted the terms of the segregation from those at the Veterans Memorial.

The original dates for the Bellmore Street Fair were Saturday, September 27th and Sunday, September 28th. However, due to rain, I was notified by the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce that the fair would be pushed back a few weeks, to Saturday, October 25th, and Sunday, October 26th. At this time I was told by the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce that my space would still be available for the rescheduling, and I confirmed with them I was still planning on tabling.

On Thursday, October 23rd I received a call from the Bellmore Chamber notifying me that my space was now unavailable, and that I would not be allowed to table at the Street Fair. At this time I requested to share a tabling space with another organization, but was denied due to total lack of physical space on the street. Going further, I asked Executive Director Joni Caputo if I found someone willing to share their rented physical space, if I could then be allowed to table there. Her reply was something to the effect of "look, you can't table anywhere, because the Chamber decides who gets to use what space and where. No matter what, you cannot table at the fair."

Saturday, October 25th 2008, I walked along Bedford Avenue to look at the "total lack of physical space" on the street. What I saw on the front window of the Law Office that Joni Caputo works in made it clear as to why my space was suddenly "unavailable" at the last minute. Every Republican Candidate had their posters plastered on the front of this office. A cardboard cutout of John McCain with a sign attached saying "$3.00 for a picture" stood by the front door to the office. Signs for Congressman Peter King taped to the windows reminded me how when I spent a month in Washington DC this summer, King, my own representative, refused to grant me time for a meeting. I know that Peter King supports the troops, but only when they align themselves with his ultra-pro-war views. How could he deny me, an Iraq Veteran, one of his own constituents, time in his office?

Continuing my walk along Bedford this Saturday, I noticed a number of open spaces between tables, ignoring the spaces that were paid for by the store owner to keep their store front clear. When I reached the Veterans Memorial Park, I noticed that Times Magazine, and other Corporations had received preferential treatment from the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce, even more so than the actual Veterans who were placed behind the park in the parking lot and across the street. Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Patriot Riders, and other Veterans Organization all got representation at this event- and I've got it on video to prove it.

Sunday, October 26th 2008, I returned to the Bellmore Street Fair, to a more crowded day with the sun shining brightly. Again, I noticed that there was still plenty of empty space between tables at this event. I approached the Long Island Democrats, who allowed me to speak briefly on stage at the Obama Rally on October 15th; and asked them if they would mind it if I shared their space, since they had more than they could use. Because my organization does not endorse any candidate, I set my table up just to their side, as to provide a clear definitive separation from myself and the Obama campaigners.

On the table I set up I displayed voter information concerning the candidates records on Veterans Issues, Books and DVDs produced by IVAW, and other things. Most important to me, however, was my Army Times Magazines. I was displaying the pictures of all the service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few weeks. To my knowledge, the Military Times, is the only publication that prints pictures of those fallen warriors, and my purpose was to help the people of Bellmore put a face on the numbers. As a servicemember, as a Veteran, I know there are few things more offensive than to be regarded as "just a number."

At precisely 1:16pm I set up a table to the east side of the Mid-Nassau Democrats rented street space on Grand Avenue on the side of the Mediterranean Grill Diner. There I sat for over an hour and a half peaceably, talking to people as they walked by, distributing pieces of paper with websites that links them to Veterans Organizations and their voting issues. Many people approached me, thanking me for my service in the Army, and thanking me for my service out on the street that day. Around 2pm a short, stout woman wearing a green shirt labeled "STAFF" and "Kickin' it up Country" approached me demanding to know who said I could set up where I did. I replied with the name of the local democrat who had offered to share his space, as she angrily scurried off barking inaudibly with her clipboard. With my father present, who was wearing a shirt that says "Honor the Warrior, Not the War", I continued talking to the people on the street who were receiving me with warm welcome.

At approximately 2:30pm on Sunday the stout woman returned with about five other people with the green "STAFF" shirts. One bearded older gentleman with a goatee and ponytail who wore the green shirt of authority immediately demanded that I "pack [my] shit up now!" I explained to him that I was sharing a very clearly open spot with the Long Island democrats, and was causing no harm to anyone by being present. I told him in detail how I had reserved a spot, and when my spot was suddenly unavailable, I was suspicious that my views may have had something to do with my cancellation. He responded "do you think I give a fuck about your views? If you won't pack up your shit, I'll pack it up for you!" At this time he began taring at and piling up the pictures of the dead service members I had displayed to honor and remember on the table. Immediately I was extremely offended... Watching as this man disrespectfully manhandled the photographs of every single servicemember who had died over the last few months...

At this time I began packing my suitcase, to protect the pictures of my fallen brothers and sisters, as the man continued his rant and rage. My father then called the police afraid that I would be assaulted. Within seconds Officer Mobilio and at least four other officers from the Nassau County Police Department showed up. The man with the green shirt, who only identified himself as "Paul" continued to threaten me, even in the presence of the officers, as I was packing up and getting ready to leave. He then turned to my father and said "if you want to see assault, they'll (pointing to the police) be picking you up all over the street!" Upon voicing my concerns over the threat made to my father, Officer Mobilio just responded "they have the right to use force, to an extent".

Now I'm left to wonder, how is it that an Veteran who served in one of Our Nation's most current wars, is not allowed to express his views in his own home town? I'm offended that the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce and it's employees questions my patriotism, my love for country, and especially my love for my fellow Veterans. I have devoted every spare penny, every spare minute of my life over the last few months, since leaving active duty, to fight to honor and protect our nations Veterans. I say Support the Troops, All the Troops, and Respect their Rights, no matter what! When I enlisted in the Army I swore to "defend the Constitution of the United States," and I come home to people willing to trample all over my First Amendment Rights! I will not stand for this, and will expect to see those who stood in my way in court.

To reach the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce to find out why they would discriminate against an Iraq Veteran, and to find out who "Paul" is:

Joni Caputo - Executive Director/Festival Coordinator
Joe Verdi- Exhibit and Display Coordinator
Chamber of Commerce of the Bellmores
PO Box 861
Bellmore, NY 11710
Fax 615-409-0544

For Press looking for witness testimonies and comments, please write me at


Kristofer Goldsmith
Former Army Sergeant
Operation Iraqi Freedom III
Iraq Veterans Against the War

Monday, October 27, 2008

Needed for This Election: A Great Rejection

by Norman Solomon

It could be a start -- a clear national rejection of the extreme right-wing brew that has saturated the executive branch for nearly eight years.

What's emerging for Election Day is a common front against the dumbed-down demagoguery that's now epitomized and led by John McCain and Sarah Palin.

A large margin of victory over the McCain-Palin ticket, repudiating what it stands for, is needed -- and absolutely insufficient. It's a start along a long uphill climb to get this country onto a course that approximates sanity.

McCain's only real hope is to achieve the election equivalent of drawing an inside straight -- capturing the electoral votes of some key swing states by slim margins. His small window of possible victory is near closing. Progressives should help to slam it shut.

Like it or not, the scale of a national rejection of McCain-Palin and Bush would be measured -- in terms of state power and perceived political momentum -- along a continuum that ranges from squeaker to landslide. It's in the interests of progressives for the scale to be closer to landslide than squeaker.

As McCain's strategists aim to thread an electoral-vote needle, it cannot be said with certainty that they will fail. Who can credibly declare that an aggregate of anti-democratic factors -- such as purged voting rolls, onerous requirements for voter ID, imposed obstacles to voting that target people of color, inequities in distribution of voting machines, not counting some votes as they are cast, anti-Obama racism and other factors -- could not combine to bring a "victory" resulting in a President McCain and a Vice President Palin come Jan. 20, 2009?

Under these circumstances, the wider the real margin for Obama over McCain, the less likely that McCain can claim sufficient electoral votes to become president.

Progressives are mostly on board with the Obama campaign, even though -- on paper, with his name removed -- few of his positions deserve the "progressive" label. We shouldn't deceive ourselves into seeing Obama as someone he's not. Yet an Obama presidency offers the possibilities that persistent organizing and coalition-building at the grassroots could be effective at moving national policy in a progressive direction. In contrast, a McCain presidency offers possibilities that are extremely grim.

Some progressives, as a matter of principle, have come to a different conclusion. They're eager to cast their votes for a presidential candidate (Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney) who can't win.

Of course people's votes are entirely their own, to do with as they see fit. But the right to do something is distinct from the wisdom of doing it.

Last week, a mass email from the Nader for President 2008 campaign began by telling supporters: "Ralph Nader is at 5 percent in The Show Me State -- Missouri. And he's moving up. That's according to the most recent CNN/Time Missouri poll." The celebratory tone of the message was notable. Nader was polling at 5 percent in a crucial swing state -- where polls showed that McCain and Obama were in a dead heat. No wonder, on the same day as the email message, McCain spoke at rallies in suburbs of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Nader's potential effect on the election may be too small to increase the chances of a McCain victory. But from all indications, even if McCain and Obama were tied in polls across the country, the Nader campaign would be proceeding as it is now. What does that tell us about the logic of pressing forward with a vanguard approach even if it might serve the interests of right-wing forces that most progressives are straining to roll back in this election?

From the 1960s through the '90s, Ralph Nader had an unparalleled record of fighting for progressive reform. But the 2008 campaign of Nader and running-mate Matt Gonzalez has a frozen-in-time quality. Their campaign makes an electoral argument that focuses largely on Democrats, not Republicans. Much of Nader's pitch for votes is centering on the charge that Democrats are as corporate and compromised as ever -- and in many ways he's right. But he ignores the reality that Republican leaders keep getting worse and more right-wing; they are clearly more dangerous than many assumed a decade ago.

The historical trend is clear: Bush-Cheney have been further right and more reckless than even Newt Gingrich, who was further right than Ronald Reagan, who was further right than his Republican predecessors. And Palin speaks for herself.

My former co-author Jeff Cohen puts it this way: "Focusing on Democratic corruption is not the problem. The problem is developing an electoral strategy that fails to acknowledge how increasingly extremist Republicans are. It reminds me of that George Carlin joke: ‘Here's a partial score from the West Coast -- Dodgers 5.' An electoral strategy has to assess the current positions of BOTH teams."

At this point, is an Obama victory a cinch? Maybe not. Consider this New York Times reporting published on Oct. 24: "Pollsters say there has never been a year when polling has been so problematic, given the uncertainty of who is going to vote in what is shaping up as an electorate larger than ever. While most national polls give Mr. Obama a relatively comfortable lead, in many statewide polls, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are much more closely matched. Even a small shift in the national number could deliver some of the closer states into the McCain camp, making an Electoral College victory at least possible."

In fact, it's possible that Obama could win a clear victory in the popular vote while McCain manages to claim enough electoral votes to move into the White House. Crucial to such an outcome would be Missouri (which, as the Times notes, "has been a bellwether in every White House race during the last century except 1956"). Is taking that risk worth the satisfaction of getting a couple percent of the vote for Ralph Nader for president in 2008?

The Nader campaign actually seems to be gunning for swing states in the stretch drive of the campaign, as if to maximize the chances that the Nader-Gonzalez ticket could be a factor in how the electoral votes end up being divided. Last week the Nader campaign announced that, beginning on Oct. 28, "Mr. Nader will make his final rounds campaigning in traditional swing states Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania."

All year, the Nader campaign has been asking rhetorical questions such as (in the words of an Oct. 22 press advisory): "Why is it that so-called liberals and progressives continue to support Democratic candidates like Obama whose campaign slogans and rhetoric do not match their stated positions and voting records?"

And: "Why do we progressives continue to delude ourselves that we stand for core, liberal values and then work for candidates who demonstrate that they have no commitment to these values?"

This fall, the answers to these largely valid questions revolve around a truth that trumps many others: A McCain-Palin administration would be such a disaster that we want to do what we can to prevent it.

When I've spoken to dozens of audiences during the two months since the Democratic National Convention (where I was an elected Obama delegate), there's been an overwhelmingly positive response when I make a simple statement about Obama and the prospects of an Obama presidency: "The best way to avoid becoming disillusioned is to not have illusions in the first place."

Looking past the election, progressives will need to mobilize for a comprehensive agenda including economic justice, guaranteed healthcare for all, civil liberties, environmental protection and demilitarization.

The forces arrayed against far-reaching progressive change are massive and unrelenting. If an Obama victory is declared next week, those forces will be regrouping in front of our eyes -- with right-wing elements looking for backup from corporate and pro-war Democrats. How much leverage these forces exercise on an Obama presidency would heavily depend on the extent to which progressives are willing and able to put up a fight.

It's a fight we should welcome.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Unworthy, unacceptable behavior

By Danielle Mead Skjelver

This week I learned of the burning of an Obama yard sign in Rugby. Were this mere vandalism, why choose one of two Obama signs instead of one of the many McCain signs around town? This was a pointed attack which goes to the argument that it was a political statement. Speaking as a Republican, if this act was indeed politically motivated, it shames my party.

If this were any other form of vandalism, race would not enter the discussion. It is the specific choice of burning, and burning in front of a home, that smacks of racism. This is not standard vandalism, for there is but one image with which this act identifies — a burning cross.

Unacceptable as vandalism alone is, this is more than destruction of property. Even if not intended to invoke the most visceral image of the recent South, this is precisely the image the sign burning brought to mind for many in this town. I have little doubt that this was indeed the image those responsible intended to conjure in the minds of those who dared support a candidate who was not white.

My husband, a United States Marine, defends the American right to free speech, and I will not stand by while the cowardly attempt is made to intimidate my fellow citizens out of the expression of this most precious right.

This behavior is unworthy of Rugby. It is unworthy of America. We are better than this.

Danielle Mead Skjelver is a Rugby resident.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

America’s logic of death in Iraq

By Paul J. Balles

26 October 2008

Paul J. Balles views the USA’s logic of death in Iraq whereby its lawless disdain for the occupied and its repeated crimes against humanity stimulate resistance, which the USA in turn uses as an excuse to continue its criminal behaviour.

"The war in Iraq is not covered to its potential because of how dangerous it is for reporters to cover it," says Liam Madden, a former Marine and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. "That's left a lot of misconceptions in the minds of the American public about what the true nature of military occupation looks like."

Michael Prysner, a corporal in the Army Reserve, complains:

“I tried hard to be proud of my service, but all I could feel was shame. Racism could no longer mask the reality of the occupation. These are human beings. I've since been plagued by guilt. I feel guilt any time I see an elderly man, like the one who couldn't walk who we rolled onto a stretcher and told the Iraqi police to take him away. I feel guilt any time I see a mother with her children, like the one who cried hysterically and screamed that we were worse than Saddam as we forced her from her home. I feel guilt any time I see a young girl, like the one I grabbed by the arm and dragged into the street.”

Prysner adds:

“We were told we were fighting terrorists; the real terrorist was me, and the real terrorism is this occupation. Racism within the military has long been an important tool to justify the destruction and occupation of another country. Without racism, soldiers would realize that they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires who send us to war.”

Iraq Veterans Against the War argues that well-publicized incidents of US brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family of Iraqis in the town of Haditha are not the isolated incidents perpetrated by "a few bad apples", as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. They are part of a pattern, the group says, of "an increasingly bloody occupation".

As of 23 October 2008, according to Just Foreign Policy, the number of Iraqis slaughtered since the US invaded Iraq totalled 1,273,378. "The number is shocking and sobering,” they say. “It is at least 10 times greater than most estimates cited in the US media, yet it is based on a scientific study of violent Iraqi deaths caused by the US-led invasion of March 2003."

Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Yingling, former deputy commander of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, who served two tours in Iraq, writes, "Events over the last two decades demonstrate that insurgency and terrorism are the most likely and most dangerous threats our country will face for the foreseeable future. Our enemies have studied our strengths and weaknesses and adapted their tactics to inflict the maximum harm on our society."

The invasion and occupation of Iraq will wind up costing us three trillion dollars, according to Nobel-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, whose notable book The Three Trillion-Dollar War makes clear that theirs is a conservative estimate.

"One can almost hear Bin-Laden's evil laughter echoing from the depths of his cave," comments Justin Raimondo. "Al-Jazeera released a video of Bin-Laden in November of 2004 in which he boasted of the success of his strategy of bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy... he jeered that every dollar spent by al-Qaeda in its terrorist campaign has cost the Americans a million."

In the beginning of his book, Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer observes:

"US forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama Bin-Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains Bin Laden's only indispensable ally."

Thus, America and coalition forces occupy a country illegally for five years. They have a lawless disdain for the people under occupation. They commit repeated crimes against humanity. This stimulates an understandable resistance. The occupiers use the resistance as an excuse to continue their criminal behaviour.

The resistance to genocide spreads, adding to hatred and anti-Western extremism. The US spends three trillion dollars on its continuing idiocy, adding to an unparalleled financial crisis. Osama Bin-Laden sits in his cave laughing.

Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. For more information, see

McCain with Bush 90 percent of time

By Pamela Ann Moeller

Valley City, N.D.

Our country, as a result of the Bush administration, still awaits success against al-Qaida, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. We flounder in an administration-brokered economic catastrophe that threatens every city in this nation. We pay through the nose for health care or do without because we can’t get insurance. Some of us are losing our homes because we were taken in by greedy and unregulated mortgage brokers, and many of us have watched the value of our retirement funds sink like the proverbial lead balloon.

Generally, the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Ninety percent of the time John McCain voted with the Bush administration. That suggests we can anticipate a 10 percent difference in a McCain administration from the current one. A 10 percent change in our situation in the world, in our economy, in earmarks, health care, unregulated “free” enterprise and energy policies isn’t good enough, even if it’s positive change. McCain’s chosen running mate, Sarah Palin, has incited hostility and dangerous rage in describing Barack Obama as “palling around with terrorists,” and in tolerating other slanderous accusations against him. It appears the only values and ethics she respects are her own.

“Experience” means little or much depending on what kind it is and how it is used. Experience acquired supporting the Bush administration, or in the self-limited view of a novice governor, doesn’t promise much help to our country in the current dire straits. Nor do “experience” as “mavericks” with temper control issues, shooting from the hip and contempt for others offer much encouragement.

We need people in the executive offices who we can rely on to think things through carefully, weigh decisions thoughtfully and face crises calmly. We need people we can count on to know and honor the Constitution, people with a deep and wide knowledge base at their fingertips, and the humility to seek out the most qualified people to serve on the administrative team. We need people who bring authentic presence and wisdom into the room when they meet heads of state from other countries.

We need unequaled competence, excellence in knowledge, ability, integrity and wisdom in our president and vice president. We need, in McCain’s own words, “a steady hand” at the tiller.

That’s why I’m voting for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wrecked Iraq

What the Good News From Iraq Really Means

by Michael Schwartz

As the Smoke Clears in Iraq: Even before the spectacular presidential election campaign became a national obsession, and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression crowded out other news, coverage of the Iraq War had dwindled to next to nothing. National newspapers had long since discontinued their daily feasts of multiple -- usually front page - reports on the country, replacing them with meager meals of mostly inside-the-fold summary stories. On broadcast and cable TV channels, where violence in Iraq had once been the nightly lead, whole news cycles went by without a mention of the war.

The tone of the coverage also changed. The powerful reports of desperate battles and miserable Iraqis disappeared. There are still occasional stories about high-profile bombings or military campaigns in obscure places, but the bulk of the news is about quiescence in old hot spots, political maneuvering by Iraqi factions, and the newly emerging routines of ordinary life.

A typical "return to normal life" piece appeared October 11th in the New York Times under the headline, "Schools Open, and the First Test is Iraqi Safety." Featured was a Baghdad schoolteacher welcoming her students by assuring them that "security has returned to Baghdad, city of peace."

Even as his report began, though, Times reporter Sam Dagher hedged the "return to normal" theme. Here was his first paragraph in full:

"On the first day of school, 10-year-old Basma Osama looked uneasy standing in formation under an already stifling morning sun. She and dozens of schoolmates listened to a teacher's pep talk -- probably a necessary one, given the barren and garbage-strewn playground."

This glimpse of the degraded conditions at one Baghdad public school, amplified in the body of Dagher's article by other examples, is symptomatic of the larger reality in Iraq. In a sense, the (often exaggerated) decline in violence in that country has allowed foreign reporters to move around enough to report on the real conditions facing Iraqis, and so should have provided U.S. readers with a far fuller picture of the devastation George Bush's war wrought.

In reality, though, since there are far fewer foreign reporters moving around a quieter Iraq, far less news is coming out of that wrecked land. The major newspapers and networks have drastically reduced their staffs there and -- with a relative trickle of exceptions like Dagher's fine report -- what's left is often little more than a collection of pronouncements from the U.S. military, or Iraqi and American political leaders in Baghdad and Washington, framing the American public's image of the situation there.

In addition, the devastation that is now Iraq is not of a kind that can always be easily explained in a short report, nor for that matter is it any longer easily repaired. In many cities, an American reliance on artillery and air power during the worst days of fighting helped devastate the Iraqi infrastructure. Political and economic changes imposed by the American occupation did damage of another kind, often depriving Iraqis not just of their livelihoods but of the very tools they would now need to launch a major reconstruction effort in their own country.

As a consequence, what was once the most advanced Middle Eastern society -- economically, socially, and technologically -- has become an economic basket case, rivaling the most desperate countries in the world. Only the (as yet unfulfilled) promise of oil riches, which probably cannot be effectively accessed or used until U.S. forces withdraw from the country, provides a glimmer of hope that Iraq will someday lift itself out of the abyss into which the U.S. invasion pushed it.

Consider only a small sampling of the devastation.

The Economy: Fundamental to the American occupation was the desire to annihilate Saddam Hussein's Baathist state apparatus and the economic system it commanded. A key aspect of this was the closing down of the vast majority of state-owned economic enterprises (with the exception of those involved in oil extraction and electrical generation).

In all, 192 establishments, adding up to 35% of the Iraqi economy, were shuttered in the summer and fall of 2003. These included basic manufacturing processes like leather tanning and tractor assembly that supplied other sectors, transportation firms that dominated national commerce, and maintenance enterprises that housed virtually all the technicians and engineers qualified to service the electrical, water, oil, and other infrastructural systems in the country.

Justified as the way to bring a modern free-enterprise system to backward Iraq, this draconian program was put in place by the President's proconsul in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III. The result? An immediate depression that only deepened in the years to follow.

One measure of this policy's impact can be found in the demise of the leather goods industry, a key pre-invasion sector of Iraq's non-petroleum economy. When a government-owned tanning operation, which all by itself employed 30,000 workers and supplied leather to an entire industry, was shuttered in late 2003, it deprived shoe-makers and other leather goods establishments of their key resource. Within a year, employment in the industry had dropped from 200,000 workers to a mere 20,000.

By the time Bremer left Iraq in the spring of 2004, the inhabitants of many cities faced 60% unemployment. Meanwhile, the country's agriculture, a key component of its economy, was also victimized by the dismantling of government establishments and services. The lush farming areas between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers suffered badly. The once-thriving date palm industry was a typical casualty. It suffered deadly infestations of pests when the occupation eliminated a government-run insecticide spraying program. Even oil refinery-based industrial towns like Baiji became cities of slums when plants devoted to non-petroleum activities were shuttered.

This economic devastation fueled the insurgency by generating desperation, anger, and willing recruits. The explosion of resistance, in turn, tended to obscure -- at least for western news services -- the desperate circumstances under which ordinary Iraqis labored.

As violence has subsided in Baghdad and elsewhere, demands for relief have come to the fore. These are not easily answered by a still largely non-functional central government in Baghdad whose administrative and economic apparatus was long ago dismantled, and many of whose key technical personnel had fled into exile. Meanwhile, in early 2006, the American occupation declared that further reconstruction work would be the responsibility of Iraqis. It is not clear into what channels the growing discontent over an economy that remains largely in the tank and a government that still cannot deliver ordinary services will flow.

Electricity: A critical factor in Iraq's collapse has been its decaying electrical grid. In areas where the insurgency raged, facilities involved in producing and transmitting electricity were targeted, both by the insurgents and U.S. forces, each trying to deprive the other of needed resources. In addition, Bremer eliminated the government-owned maintenance and engineering enterprises that had been holding the electrical system together ever since the U.N. sanctions regime after the 1991 Gulf War deprived Iraq of material needed to repair and upgrade its facilities. Maintenance and replacement contracts were given instead to multinational companies with little knowledge of the existing system and -- due to cost-plus contracting -- every incentive to replace facilities with their own proprietary technology. In the meantime, many Iraqi technicians left the country.

The successor Iraqi governments, deprived of the capacity to manage the system's reconstruction, continued the U.S. occupation policy of contracting with foreign companies. Even in areas of the country relatively unaffected by the fighting, those companies did the lucrative thing, replacing entire sections of the electric grid, often with inappropriate but exquisitely expensive equipment and technology.

A combination of factors -- including pressure from the insurgency, the soaring costs of security, and an almost unparalleled record of endemic waste and corruption -- led to costs well beyond those originally offered for the already overpriced projects. Many were then abandoned before completion as funding ran out. Completed projects were often shabbily done and just as often proved incompatible with existing facilities, introducing new inefficiencies.

In one altogether-too-typical case, Bechtel installed 26 natural gas turbines in areas where no natural gas was available. The turbines were then converted to oil, which reduced their capacity by 50% and led to a rapid sludge build-up in the equipment requiring expensive maintenance no Iraqi technicians had been trained to perform. In location after location, the turbines became inoperative.

Even before the invasion, the decrepit electrical system could not meet national demand. No province had uninterrupted service and certain areas had far less than 12 hours of service per day. The vast investments by the occupation and its successor regimes have increased electrical capacity since the invasion of 2003, but these gains have not come close to keeping up with skyrocketing demand created by the presence of hundreds of thousands of troops, private security personnel, and occupation officials, as well as by the introduction of all manner of electronic devices and products in the post-invasion period. Recent U.N. reports indicate that, in the last year, electrical capacity has slipped to less than half of demand. With priority going to military and government operations, many Baghdad neighborhoods experience less than two hours of publicly provided electricity a day, forcing citizens and business enterprises to utilize expensive and polluting gasoline generators.

In spring of this year, 81% of Iraqis reported that they had experienced inadequate electricity in the previous month. During the heat of summer and the cold of winter, these shortages create real health emergencies.

In 2004, the U.N. estimated that $20 billion in reconstruction funds would be needed for a fully operative electrical grid. The estimates now range from $40 billion to $80 billion.

Water: The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow through the country from the northwest to the southeast, have since time immemorial irrigated the rich farming land that lay between them, nurtured the fish that are a staple of the Iraqi diet, and provided water for animal and human consumption. American-style warfare, with its reliance on tank, artillery, and air power, often resulted in the cratering of streets in upstream Sunni cities like Tal Afar, Falluja, and Samarra where the insurgency was strongest. One result was the wrecking of already weakened underground sewage systems. In the Sadr City section of Baghdad, for instance, where much fighting has taken place and American air power was called in regularly, there is now a lake of sewage clearly visible on satellite photographs.

The ultimate destination of significant parts of the filth from devastated sewage systems was the two rivers. Five years worth of such waste flowing through the streets and into those rivers has left them thoroughly contaminated. Their water can no longer be safely drunk by humans or animals, the remaining fish cannot be safely eaten, and the contaminated water reportedly withers the crops it irrigates.

Iraq's never-adequate water purification system has proven woefully insufficient to handle this massive flow of contamination, while inadequate electric supplies insure that the country's few functional purification plants are less than effective.

In many cities, the sewage system must be entirely reconstructed, but repairs cannot even begin without a viable electrical system, a reinvigorated engineering and construction sector, and a government capable of marshalling these resources. None of these prerequisites currently exist.

Schools: Education has been a victim of all the various pathologies current in Iraqi society. During the initial invasion, the U.S. military often commandeered schools as forward bases, attracted by their well-defined perimeters, open spaces for vehicles, and many rooms for offices and barracks. Two incidents in which American gunfire from an occupied elementary school killed Iraqi civilians in the conservative Sunni city of Falluja may have been the literal sparks that started the insurgency. Many schools would subsequently be rendered uninhabitable by destructive battles fought in or near them.

Under the U.S. occupation's de-Baathification policy, thousands of teachers who belonged to the Baath Party were fired, leaving hundreds of thousands of students teacherless. In addition, the shuttering of government enterprises deprived the schools of supplies -- including books and teaching materials -- as well as urgently needed maintenance.

The American solution, as with the electric grid, was to hire multinational firms to repair the schools and rehabilitate school systems. The result was an orgy of corruption accompanied by very little practical aid. Local school officials complained that facilities with no windows, heating, or toilet facilities were repainted and declared fit for use.

The dwindling central government presence made schools inviting arenas for sectarian conflict, with administrators, teachers, and especially college professors removed, kidnapped, or assassinated for ideological reasons. This, in turn, stimulated a mass exodus of teachers, intellectuals, and scientists from the country, removing precious human capital essential for future reconstruction.

Finally, in Baghdad, the U.S. military began installing ten-foot tall cement walls around scores of communities and neighborhoods to wall off participants in the sectarian violence. As a result, schoolchildren were often separated from their schools, reducing attendance at the few intact facilities to those students who happened to live within the imprisoning walls.

This fall, as some of these walls were dismantled, residents discovered that many of the schools were virtually unusable. The Times's Dagher offered a vivid description, for instance, of a school in the Dolaie neighborhood which "is falling apart, and overwhelmed by the children of almost 4,000 Shiite refugee families who have settled in the Chukouk camp nearby. The roof is caving in, classroom floors and hallways are stripped bare, and in the playground a pile of burnt trash was smoldering."

The Dysfunctional Society: Much has been made in the U.S. presidential campaign of the $70 billion oil surplus the Iraqi government built up in these last years as oil prices soared. In actuality, most of it is currently being held in American financial institutions, with various American politicians threatening to confiscate it if it is not constructively spent. Yet even this bounty reflects the devastation of the war.

De-Baathification and subsequent chaos rendered the Iraqi government incapable of effectively administering projects that lay outside the fortified, American-controlled Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad. A vast flight of the educated class to Syria, Jordan, and other countries also deprived it of the managers and technicians needed to undertake serious reconstruction on a large scale.

As a consequence, less than 25% of the funds budgeted for facility construction and reconstruction last year were even spent. Some government ministries spent less than 1% of their allocations. In the meantime, the large oil surpluses have become magnets for massive governmental corruption, further infuriating frustrated citizens who, after five years, still often lack the most basic services. Transparency International's 2008 "corruption perceptions index" listed Iraq as tied for 178th place among the 180 countries evaluated.

The Iraq that has emerged from the American invasion and occupation is now a thoroughly wrecked land, housing a largely dysfunctional society. More than a million Iraqis may have died; millions have fled their homes; many millions of others have been scarred by war, insurgency and counterinsurgency operations, extreme sectarian violence, and soaring levels of common criminality. Education and medical systems have essentially collapsed and, even today, with every kind of violence in decline, Iraq remains one of the most dangerous societies on earth.

As its crisis deepened, the various areas of social and technical devastation became ever more entwined, reinforcing one another. The country's degraded sewage and water systems, for example, have spawned two consecutive years of widespread cholera. It seems likely that this year, the disease will only subside when the cold weather makes further contagion impossible, but this "solution" also guarantees its reoccurrence each year until water purification systems are rebuilt.

In the meantime, cholera victims cannot rely on Iraq's once vaunted medical system, since two-thirds of the country's doctors have fled, its hospitals are often in a state of advanced decay and disrepair, drugs remain scarce, and equipment, if available at all, is outdated. The rebuilding of the water and medical systems, however, cannot get fully underway unless the electrical system is restored to reasonable shape. Repair of the electrical grid awaits a reliable oil and gas pipeline system to provide fuel for generators, and this cannot be constructed without the expertise of technicians who have left the country, or newly trained specialists that the educational system is now incapable of producing. And so it goes.

On a daily basis, this cauldron of misery renews powerful feelings of discontent, which explains why American military leaders regularly insist that the country's current relative quiescence is, at best, "fragile." They believe only the most minimal reductions in U.S. forces in Iraq (still hovering at close to 150,000 troops) are advisable.

Even if Washington prefers to ignore Iraqi realities, military officials working close to the ground know that the country's state of disrepair, and an inability to deal with it in any reasonably prompt way, leaves a population in steaming discontent. At any moment, this could explode in further sectarian violence or yet another violent effort to expel the U.S. forces from the country.

Copyright 2008 Michael Schwartz

Michael Schwartz's new book, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket, 2008), has just been released. It explains just how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling sectarian civil war inside that country. A professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University, Schwartz has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency. His work on Iraq has appeared in numerous outlets, including TomDispatch, Asia Times, Mother Jones, and Contexts.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Iraq: Did the Surge Work?

by George Hunsinger

Violence, Alexander Solzenitsyn once observed, finds refuge in falsehood, even as falsehood is supported by violence. "Anyone who has once acclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose falsehood as his principle." (Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1972) A practical rule can be deduced. Where there is violence, look for falsehood; where there is falsehood, look for violence. If Solzenitsyn is correct, they go together.

According to conventional wisdom, it seems that the "surge" in Iraq was a huge success. For example, a recent CNS News story was headlined: "With Success of Surge, NY Times' Iraq War Coverage Drops to All-Time Low" (October 21, 2008). The Times' coverage has dropped 60 per cent since 2004, and this is not terribly different from other news outlets. The media has lost interest in Iraq. Whether the surge really "worked," however, is another story.

In September 2007, Juan Cole, the respected Middle East expert, wrote an article called "Big Lies Surround the Iraq 'Surge.'" At that time he stated: "US troop deaths in Iraq have not fallen and . . . violence in Iraq has not fallen because of the Surge. Violence is way up this year." But, one might reply, that was then and this is now. How do matters stand more than a year after this gloomy verdict? A widespread consensus exists today throughout the political campaigns and the mainstream media that the great success of the Surge is beyond doubt.

The so-called Surge -- a euphemism for escalation -- was designed to increase security in Iraq. U.S. presence in the country was to be increased by 30,000 personnel along with a three-fold contribution in Iraqi forces. Additional troops were to be provided by coalition partners. Baghdad was selected as the center of the campaign. If security could be increased for the country's largest city, the rest would surely follow. A Shi'ite and Sunni "fault line" ran throughout the city.

In January 2007, a year after being launched, the Surge was widely acclaimed as a triumph. Contrary to naysayers like Cole, violence across the country was said to be down by 60 percent. Al Qaeda in Iraq, expelled from Baghdad and Anbar Province, was said to be on the run, and the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior reported that it was 75 percent destroyed. Not only was the violence in Iraq reduced, but Al Qaeda was being decimated.

Again, however, Cole, who relies on independent sources in the original languages, argued otherwise. What actually seems to have happened, he wrote in the summer of 2008, was that, first, the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad were disarmed by the escalation troops. Then, "once these Sunnis were left helpless, the Shiite militias came in at night and ethnically cleansed them."

Mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad ended up with almost no Sunnis. In 2007 Baghdad went from being predominantly Sunni to being overwhelmingly Shiite. According to Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress, Baghdad, once having a 65 percent Sunni majority, "is now 75 percent Shia."

"My thesis," wrote Cole, "would be that the U.S. inadvertently allowed the chasing of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs out of Baghdad (and many of them had to go all the way to Syria for refuge). Rates of violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, just because there were fewer mixed neighborhoods."

Cole's thesis has received important confirmation. According to Bob Woodward, in his new book The War Within (Simon & Schuster, 2008), the biggest factor behind the reduced violence in Iraq was "very possibly" not the Surge, but a resort to Death Squads. A "Top Secret" memo viewed by Woodward indicates that the Sunnis were systematically targeted and assassinated. What took place was reminiscent of the infamous Phoenix Program instituted by the U.S. in Vietnam. It was a strategy of summary executions.

Yet another confirmation appeared in a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of California. Based on an examination of satellite photos across Baghdad, the study observed that Sunni neighborhoods, which showed a dramatic decrease of nighttime light in Sunni neighborhoods, had been abandoned by their inhabitants. The surge, the study concluded, "has had no observable effect." The study attributed the tremendous decline in Baghdad's Sunni population to relocations and ethnic cleansing.

Tom Hayden raises some disturbing questions. "Why were the targets killed instead of being detained? How many targeted individuals were killed or made to disappear? . . . How are the operations consistent with US constitutional law and international human rights standards?" Why has thee been no congressional investigation?

According to UN reports, the number of Iraqi refugees has spiked during the Surge. Between 2.5 and 4 million are now estimated to exist outside their country, while another 2.5 are internal refugees. At least 2 million Sunni refugees cannot return to their homes without fear of being slaughtered.

People's lives remain shattered. One in four has had a family member who was murdered. "The humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world," according to the Iraqi Red Cross/Red Crescent. Iraq's health care system is "now in worse shape than ever."

Unemployment remains high, sanitation and electrical facilities remain degraded, families use up to a third of their monthly income to buy drinking water. Tens of thousands are being held in detention camps. According to the UN, "the detention of children in adult detention centers violates U.S. obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as accepted international human rights norms." (AP, May 19, 2008)

Resorting to Death Squads, while ignoring the humanitarian crisis and touting the Surge, seems to offer yet another instance of Solzenitsyn's bleak prognosis that violence seeks refuge in falsehood.

George Hunsinger teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary

Final Text of Iraq Pact Reveals a US Debacle

by Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - The final draft of the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces agreement on the U.S. military presence represents an even more crushing defeat for the policy of the George W. Bush administration than previously thought, the final text reveals.

The final draft, dated Oct. 13, not only imposes unambiguous deadlines for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by 2011 but makes it extremely unlikely that a U.S. non-combat presence will be allowed to remain in Iraq for training and support purposes beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces.

Furthermore, Shiite opposition to the pact as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty makes the prospects for passage of even this agreement by the Iraqi parliament doubtful. Pro-government Shiite parties, the top Shiite clerical body in the country, and a powerful movement led by nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that recently mobilized hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in protest against the pact, are all calling for its defeat.

At an Iraqi cabinet meeting Tuesday, ministers raised objections to the final draft, and a government spokesman said that the agreement would not submit it to the parliament in its current form. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told three news agencies Tuesday that the door was "pretty far closed" on further negotiations.

In the absence of an agreement approved by the Iraqi parliament, U.S. troops in Iraq will probably be confined to their bases once the United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31.

The clearest sign of the dramatically reduced U.S. negotiating power in the final draft is the willingness of the United States to give up extraterritorial jurisdiction over U.S. contractors and their employees and over U.S. troops in the case of "major and intentional crimes" that occur outside bases and while off duty. The United States has never allowed a foreign country to have jurisdiction over its troops in any previous status of forces agreement.

But even that concession is not enough to satisfy anti-occupation sentiments across all Shiite political parties. Sunni politicians hold less decisive views on the pact, and Kurds are supportive.

Bush administration policymakers did not imagine when the negotiations began formally last March that its bargaining position on the issue of the U.S. military presence could have turned out to be so weak in relation with its own "client" regime in Baghdad.

They were confident of being able to legitimize a U.S. presence in Iraq for decades after the fighting had ended, just as they did in South Korea. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had declared in June 2007 that U.S. troops would be in Iraq "for a protracted period of time".

The secret U.S. draft handed to Iraqi officials Mar. 7 put no limit on either the number of U.S. troops in Iraq or the duration of their presence or their activities. It would have authorized U.S. forces to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain certain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security", according to an Apr. 8 article in The Guardian quoting from a leaked copy of the draft.

When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded a timetable for complete U.S. withdrawal in early July, the White House insisted that it would not accept such a timetable and that any decision on withdrawal "will be conditions based". It was even hoping to avoid a requirement for complete withdrawal in the agreement, as reflected in false claims to media Jul. 17 that Bush and Maliki had agreed on the objective of "further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq" rather than complete withdrawal.

By early August, however, Bush had already reduced its negotiating aims. The U.S. draft dated Aug. 6, which was translated and posted on the internet by Iraqi activist Raed Jarrar, demanded the inclusion of either "targeted times" or "time targets" to refer to the dates for withdrawal of U.S. forces from all cities, town and villages and for complete combat troop withdrawal from Iraq, suggesting that they were not deadlines.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Baghdad Aug. 21, the United States accepted for the first time a firm date of 2011 for complete withdrawal, giving up the demand for ambiguous such terms. However, the Aug. 6 draft included a provision that the U.S. could ask Iraq to "extend" the date for complete withdrawal of combat troops, based on mutual review of "progress" in achieving the withdrawal.

Because it had not yet been removed from the text, U.S. officials continued to claim to reporters that the date was "conditions-based", as Karen DeYoung reported in the Washington Post Aug. 22.

The administration also continued to hope for approval of a residual force. U.S. officials told DeYoung the deal would leave "tens of thousands of U.S. troops inside Iraq in supporting roles...for an unspecified time". That hope was based on a paragraph of the Aug. 6 draft providing that the Iraqi government could request such a force, with the joint committee for operations and coordination determining the "tasks and level of the troops..."

But the Oct. 13 final draft, a translation of which was posted by Raed Jarrar on his website Oct. 20, reveals that the Bush administration has been forced to give up its aims of softening the deadline for withdrawal and of a residual non-combat force in the country. Unlike the Aug. 6 draft, the final text treats any extension of that date as a modification of the agreement, which could be done only "in accordance to constitutional procedures in both countries".

That is an obvious reference to approval by the Iraqi parliament.

Given the present level of opposition to the agreement within the Shiite community, that provision offers scant hope of a residual U.S. non-combat force in Iraq after 2011.

Another signal of Iraqi intentions is a provision of the final draft limiting the duration of the agreement to three years -- a date coinciding with the deadline for complete withdrawal from Iraq. The date can be extended only by a decision made by the "constitutional procedures in both countries".

The final draft confirms the language of the Aug. 6 draft requiring that all U.S. military operations be subject to the approval of the Iraqi government and coordinated with Iraqi authorities through a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee.

The negotiating text had already established by Aug. 6 that U.S. troops could not detain anyone in the country without a "warrant issued by the specialized Iraqi authorities in accordance with Iraqi law" and required that the detainees be turned over to Iraqi authorities within 24 hours. The Oct. 13 "final draft" goes even further, requiring that any detention by the United States, apart from its own personnel, must be "based on an Iraqi decision".

The collapse of the Bush administration's ambitious plan for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq highlights the degree of unreality that has prevailed among top U.S. officials in both Washington and Baghdad on Iraqi politics. They continued to see the Maliki regime as a client which would cooperate with U.S. aims even after it was clear that Maliki's agenda was sharply at odds with that of the United States.

They also refused to take seriously the opposition to such a presence even among the Shiite clerics who had tolerated it in order to obtain Shiite control over state power.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam ", was published in 2006.

© 2008 Inter Press Service