Sunday, November 30, 2008

Worried By Obama's Picks? Support Anti-War Groups

by John Nichols

Tens of millions of Americans prayed for peace as they celebrated Thanksgiving Day, and they will do so many more times during the coming Holiday Season.

Even non-believers will acknowledge that prayer can be powerful - providing measures of solace, insight and inspiration.

But prayer is made meaningful when it is linked to action.

So how do we act upon a prayer for peace?

By acknowledging that, despite all the spin from the Bush administration and its Republican allies and the acquiescence of too many of members of the Democratic opposition, America remains mired in a pair of undeclared wars that continue to cost previous lives of young Americans soldiers and innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fantasists will claim that the occupation of Iraq has become less horrific, yet the truth is that the death and destruction is merely less reported. Fifteen American soldiers have been killed so far this month. Thirty-three American soldiers have been severely wounded in recent weeks. For Iraqis, the toll is much higher: Hundreds dead, thousands of wounded each and every month. No wonder polling suggests that the one thing uniting Iraqis is a desire for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from that country.

It is now just as bad in Afghanistan, where circumstances have grown dramatically worse. The American death for the year has risen to more than 150 - three times the number for the entire first year of the occupation. Soldiers are being wounded at a rate that is becoming competitive with Iraq. And civilians are being killed and maimed in such numbers by U.S. bombing raids that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Washington's man in Kabul, warns that battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is being lost. This week, Karzai met with a United Nations Security Council to demand a timeline for the end of the foreign military intervention in his country.

The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are not "good wars."

They are neither moral nor responsible.

And they are certainly not necessary.

These military misadventures are in conflict with any sincere prayer for peace.

So how do we act upon a prayer for peace?

By supporting efforts to end the occupations.

The biggest lie of the last few years has been the claim that there is not a viable peace movement in this country. In fact, every state and many communities across the country have peace and justice networks that are doing great work. (You'll find a great master list of organizations on the United for Peace and Justice website.)

From Washington state's Port Townsend Peace Movement to Veteran for Peace Chapter 1 in Walpole, Maine, there are dozens of local, regional and state groups that need support. The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice is one worthy recipient of Holiday season donations. The group has been highlighting and supporting nonviolent activism for peace by groups in Iraq, educating Wisconsinites about the fact that the Iraqi people want foreign military forces withdrawn from their country. Online donations can be made at

Nationally, consider Peace Action, which says: "At Peace Action we take concrete steps to promote and more peaceful and just world by building a community of engaged and active citizens. We never forget that it's not the policy, but the people whose lives are at stake that matter most.

"Your money will be use to press for an end to the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. We're reaching out to the millions of Obama supporters who voted for real progressive change to push for reductions in runaway military spending and direct that money to fund human needs."

It is easy to donate online to Peace Action at:

© 2008 The Nation

Israel's Settlement on Capitol Hill

by Robert Weitzel

Soon after the sand settled following the Six Day War in 1967, Jewish settlements began dotting the hills in the occupied territories. These settlements are typically located on the high ground to better control the surrounding landscape. Today there are 127 Jewish settlements with a population exceeding 468,000 in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and in the suburbs of East Jerusalem—the last of nearly 8,000 settlers were removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

According to a recent Amnesty International report, “In the first six months of 2008 Israel has expanded settlements in the West Bank/East Jerusalem at a faster rate than in the previous seven years.”

Unbeknownst to most Americans, Israel’s westernmost settlement is not located in Palestine-Israel, but is 6000 miles away on the high ground overlooking Foggy Bottom in Washington D.C.

This Capital Hill settlement of pro-Israel lobbies and think tanks strategically controls the high ground overlooking the United States’ Middle East policy landscape by having made kibbutzniks of most members of the executive and legislative branches of the government—including President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden (a wannabe Zionist), and future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (a born Zionist).

While Israel’s hilltop settlements in the occupied territories—violating over 30 UN Security Council resolutions since 1968—are “facts on the ground” that make the two state peace solution unlikely, their hilltop settlement in the center of the world’s only superpower makes it equally unlikely that Israel’s right-wing government will feel compelled to end their “self defensive” brutalization of the Palestinian people, which has been condemned by the international community (UN, EU) as crimes against humanity.

John Holmes, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that Israel’s blockade of vital supplies to the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket attacks “amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law.”

Collective punishment is forbidden by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.” A “protected person” is someone who is under the control of an “Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Only the most ideologically blinkered individual would fail to recognize the Gaza Strip as occupied territory.

Israel’s current blockade of Gaza, which began on November 4, is resulting in what the UN Relief and Works Agency is calling a humanitarian catastrophe. Before the blockade, 1000 truckloads of food, fuel and essential supplies per day were necessary to sustain the 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned behind the concrete and barbed wire of the 25-mile long border. Eighty percent of Gazans live on two dollars a day and depend on international aid to survive. Since the border crossings were sealed, less than 100 truckloads have been permitted through.

The imprisoned Palestinians—50 percent of whom are younger than 15—are slowly starving. They lack the fuel to generate electricity for lighting, water purification, and sewage treatment. The erratic, intermittent electrical power puts the lives of patients in intensive care wards and those who are connected to live-sustaining equipment in grave peril. The lack of basic medicines such as antibiotics and insulin pose an equally fatal threat.

Twenty human rights organizations and all Israeli and international journalists have been barred from entering the Gaza Strip since the blockade began. A letter of protest signed by most major news organizations was sent to Prime Minister Olmert. Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror responded to the letter by saying that Israel was afraid journalists would inflate the Palestinians’ suffering. No one is allow to speak out on behalf of this beleaguered population.

President-elect Obama has been speaking out “swiftly and boldly” about the economic catastrophe threatening our 401Ks, but his silence regarding the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe threatening the lives of Palestinians is both deafening and telling of the price he’s willing to pay to maintain his status as kibbutznik-in-good-standing in Israel’s westernmost hilltop settlement.

Obama’s unconditional support for Israel’s policy of “self defense,” preemptive attacks, and repressive occupations is not one iota different from that of George W. Bush, an internationally recognized war criminal. This is not an encouraging beginning for a man whose battle cry was “change we can believe in.”

By any rational, humanitarian standard, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians amounts to collective punishment and crimes against humanity. Perpetrators of such crimes, whether they are individuals or governments or willing allies, are criminals who should one day sit in the dock of the International Court of Justice in The Hague—just as defendants sat in a Nuremberg court 60 years ago—and be held accountable for their crimes.

Until Israel’s hilltop settlement in our nation’s capital is dismantled, allowing for the possibility of a just and lasting peace in Palestine-Israel, its influence on both branches of our government and its insidious affect on US Middle East policy will continue to make willing—or unwitting—kibbutzniks of all Americans. We will be held as complicit, and as culpable, as the citizens of the country whose leaders sat in the dock at Nuremberg.

The world will ask, “Why didn’t you do something to stop it?”

The majority of us will reply, “We didn’t know!”

Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience. He can be contacted at:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Conquest of New England


It is a deep thing that people still celebrate the survival of the early colonists at Plymouth — by giving thanks to the Christian God who supposedly protected and championed the European invasion. The real meaning of all that, then and now, needs to be continually excavated. The myths and lies that surround the past are constantly draped over the horrors and tortures of our present.

Every schoolchild in the United States has been taught that the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony invited the local Indians to a major harvest feast after surviving their first bitter year in New England. But the real history of Thanksgiving is a story of the murder of indigenous people and the theft of their land by European colonialists – and of the ruthless ways of capitalism.

In mid-winter 1620 the English ship Mayflower landed on the North American coast, delivering 102 exiles. The original native people of this stretch of shoreline had already been killed off. In 1614 a British expedition had landed there. When they left they took 24 Indians as slaves and left smallpox behind. Three years of plague wiped out between 90 and 96 per cent of the inhabitants of the coast, destroying most villages completely.

The Europeans landed and built their colony called “the Plymouth Plantation” near the deserted ruins of the Indian village of Pawtuxet. They ate from abandoned cornfields grown wild. Only one Pawtuxet named Squanto had survived–he had spent the last years as a slave to the English and Spanish in Europe. Squanto spoke the colonists’ language and taught them how to plant corn and how to catch fish until the first harvest. Squanto also helped the colonists negotiate a peace treaty with the nearby Wampanoag tribe, led by the chief Massasoit.

These were very lucky breaks for the colonists. The first Virginia settlement had been wiped out before they could establish themselves. Thanks to the good will of the Wampanoag, the settlers not only survived their first year but had an alliance with the Wampanoags that would give them almost two decades of peace.

John Winthrop, a founder of the Massachusetts Bay colony considered this wave of illness and death to be a divine miracle. He wrote to a friend in England, “But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection.”

The deadly impact of European diseases and the good will of the Wampanoag allowed the settlers to survive their first year.

In celebration of their good fortune, the colony’s governor, William Bradford, declared a three-day feast of thanksgiving after that first harvest of 1621.

The peace that produced the Thanksgiving Feast of 1621 meant that the Puritans would have 15 years to establish a firm foothold on the coast. Until 1629 there were no more than 300 settlers in New England, scattered in small and isolated settlements. But their survival inspired a wave of Puritan invasion that soon established growing Massachusetts towns north of Plymouth: Boston and Salem. For 10 years, boatloads of new settlers came.

And as the number of Europeans increased, they proved not nearly so generous as the Wampanoags.

On arrival, the Puritans and other religious sects discussed “who legally owns all this land. ”They had to decide this, not just because of Anglo-Saxon traditions, but because their particular way of farming was based on individual–not communal or tribal–ownership. This debate over land ownership reveals that “rule of law” does not mean “protect the rights of the masses of people.”

Some settlers argued that the land belonged to the Indians. These forces were excommunicated and expelled. Massachusetts Governor Winthrop declared the Indians had not “subdued” the land, and therefore all uncultivated lands should, according to English Common Law, be considered “public domain.” This meant they belonged to the king. In short, the colonists decided they did not need to consult the Indians when they seized new lands, they only had to consult the representative of the crown (meaning the local governor).

The colonists embraced a line from Psalms 2:8. “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Since then, European settler states have similarly declared god their real estate agent: from the Boers seizing South Africa to the Zionists seizing Palestine.

The European immigrants took land and enslaved Indians to help them farm it. By 1637 there were about 2000 British settlers. They pushed out from the coast and decided to remove the inhabitants.

The Shining City on the Hill

Where did the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies of Puritan and “separatist” pilgrims come from and what were they really all about?

Governor Winthrop, a founder of the Massachusetts colony, said, “We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” The Mayflower Puritans had been driven out of England as subversives. The Puritans saw this religious colony as a model of a social and political order that they believed all of Europe should adopt.

The new ideas of the Puritans served the needs of merchant capitalist accumulation. The extreme discipline, thrift and modesty the Puritans demanded of each other corresponded to a new and emerging form of ownership and production. Their so-called “Protestant Ethic” was an early form of the capitalist ethic. From the beginning, the Puritan colonies intended to grow through capitalist trade–trading fish and fur with England while they traded pots, knives, axes, alcohol and other English goods with the Indians.

The New England were ruled by a government in which only the male heads of families had a voice. Women, Indians, slaves, servants, youth were neither heard nor represented. In the Puritan schoolbooks, the old law “honor thy father and thy mother” was interpreted to mean honoring “All our Superiors, whether in Family, School, Church, and Commonwealth.” And, the real truth was that the colonies were fundamentally controlled by the most powerful merchants.

The Puritan fathers believed they were the Chosen People of an infinite god and that this justified anything they did. They were Calvinists who believed that the vast majority of humanity was predestined to damnation. Those who rejected the narrow religious rules of the colonies were often simply expelled “out into the wilderness.”

The Massachusetts colony (north of Plymouth) was founded when Puritan stockholders had gotten control of an English trading company. The king had given this company the right to govern its own internal affairs, and in 1629 the stockholders simply voted to transfer the company to North American shores–making this colony literally a self-governing company of stockholders!

In US schools, students are taught that the Mayflower compact of Plymouth contained the seeds of “modern democracy” and “rule of law.” But by looking at the actual history of the Puritans, we can see that this so-called “modern democracy” was (and still is) a capitalist democracy based on all kinds of oppression and serving the class interests of the ruling capitalists.

In short, the Puritan movement developed as an early revolutionary challenge to the old feudal order in England. They were the soul of primitive capitalist accumulation. And transferred to the shores of North America, they immediately revealed how heartless and oppressive that capitalist soul is.

In the Connecticut Valley, the powerful Pequot tribe had not entered an alliance with the British (as had the Narragansett, the Wampanoag, and the Massachusetts peoples). At first they were far from the centers of colonization. Then, in 1633, the British stole the land where the city of Hartford now sits–land which the Pequot had recently conquered from another tribe. That same year two British slave raiders were killed. The colonists demanded that the Indians who killed the slavers be turned over. The Pequot refused.

The Puritan preachers said, from Romans 13:2, “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” The colonial governments gathered an armed force of 240 under the command of John Mason. They were joined by a thousand Narragansett warriors. The historian Francis Jennings writes: “Mason proposed to avoid attacking Pequot warriors which would have overtaxed his unseasoned, unreliable troops. Battle, as such, was not his purpose. Battle is only one of the ways to destroy an enemy’s will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same end with less risk, and Mason had determined that massacre would be his objective.”

The colonist army surrounded a fortified Pequot village on the Mystic River. At sunrise, as the inhabitants slept, the Puritan soldiers set the village on fire.

William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth, wrote: “Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.”

Mason himself wrote: “It may be demanded…Should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? But…sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.”

This so-called “Pequot war” was a one-sided murder and slaving expedition. Over 180 captives were taken. After consulting the bible again, in Leviticus 24:44, the colonial authorities found justification to kill most of the Pequot men and enslave the captured women and their children. Only 500 Pequot remained alive and free. In 1975 the official number of Pequot living in Connecticut was 21.

Some of the war captives were given to the Narragansett and Massachusetts allies of the British. Even before the arrival of Europeans, Native peoples of North America had widely practiced taking war captives from other tribes as hostages and slaves.

The remaining captives were sold to British plantation colonies in the West Indies to be worked to death in a new form of slavery that served the emerging capitalist world market. And with that, the merchants of Boston made a historic discovery: the profits they made from the sale of human beings virtually paid for the cost of seizing them. The slave trade, first in captured Indians and soon in kidnapped Africans, quickly became a backbone of New England merchant capitalism.

In 1641 the Dutch governor Kieft of Manhattan offered the first “scalp bounty”–his government paid money for the scalp of each Indian brought to them. A couple years later, Kieft ordered the massacre of the Wappingers, a friendly tribe. Eighty were killed and their severed heads were kicked like soccer balls down the streets of Manhattan. One captive was castrated, skinned alive and forced to eat his own flesh while the Dutch governor watched and laughed. Then Kieft hired the notorious Underhill who had commanded in the Pequot war to carry out a similar massacre near Stamford, Connecticut. The village was set fire, and 500 Indian residents were put to the sword.

A day of thanksgiving was proclaimed in the churches of Manhattan. As we will see, the European colonists declared Thanksgiving Days to celebrate mass murder more often than they did for harvest and friendship.

The Conquest of New England

By the 1670s there were about 30,000 to 40,000 white inhabitants in the United New England Colonies–6000 to 8000 able to bear arms. With the Pequot destroyed, the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonists turned on the Wampanoag, the tribe that had saved them in 1620 and probably joined them for the original Thanksgiving Day.

In 1675 a Christian Wampanoag was killed while spying for the Puritans. The Plymouth authorities arrested and executed three Wampanoag without consulting the tribal chief, King Philip. The Wampanoag went to war.

The Indians applied some military lessons they had learned: they waged a guerrilla war which overran isolated European settlements and were often able to inflict casualties on the Puritan soldiers. The colonists again attacked and massacred the main Indian populations.

When this war ended, 600 European men, one-eleventh of the adult men of the New England Colonies, had been killed in battle. Hundreds of homes and 13 settlements had been wiped out. But the colonists won.

In their victory, the settlers launched an all-out genocide against the remaining Native people. The Massachusetts government offered 20 shillings bounty for every Indian scalp, and 40 shillings for every prisoner who could be sold into slavery. Soldiers were allowed to enslave any Indian woman or child under 14 they could capture. The “Praying Indians” who had converted to Christianity and fought on the side of the European troops were accused of shooting into the treetops during battles with “hostiles.” They were enslaved or killed. Other “peaceful” Indians of Dartmouth and Dover were invited to negotiate or seek refuge at trading posts–and were sold onto slave ships.

It is not known how many Indians were sold into slavery, but in this campaign, 500 enslaved Indians were shipped from Plymouth alone. Of the 12,000 Indians in the surrounding tribes, probably about half died from battle, massacre and starvation.

After King Philip’s War, there were almost no Indians left free in the northern British colonies. A colonist wrote from Manhattan’s New York colony: “There is now but few Indians upon the island and those few no ways hurtful. It is to be admired how strangely they have decreased by the hand of God, since the English first settled in these parts.”

In Massachusetts, the colonists declared a “day of public thanksgiving” in 1676, saying, “there now scarce remains a name or family of them [the Indians] but are either slain, captivated or fled.”

Fifty-five years after the original Thanksgiving Day, the Puritans had destroyed the generous Wampanoag and all other neighboring tribes. The Wampanoag chief, King Philip, was beheaded. His head was stuck on a pole in Plymouth, where the skull still hung on display 24 years later.

The descendants of these Native peoples are found wherever the Puritan merchant capitalists found markets for slaves: the West Indies, the Azures, Algiers, Spain and England. The grandson of Massasoit, the Pilgrim’s original protector, was sold into slavery in Bermuda.

Runaways and Rebels

But even the destruction of Indian tribal life and the enslavement of survivors brought no peace. Indians continued to resist in every available way. Their oppressors lived in terror of a revolt. And they searched for ways to end the resistance. The historian MacLeod writes: “The first `reservations’ were designed for the `wild’ Irish of Ulster in 1609. And the first Indian reservation agent in America, Gookin of Massachusetts, like many other American immigrants had seen service in Ireland under Cromwell.”

The enslaved Indians refused to work and ran away. The Massachusetts government tried to control runaways by marking enslaved Indians: brands were burnt into their skin, and symbols were tattooed into their foreheads and cheeks.

A Massachusetts law of 1695 gave colonists permission to kill Indians at will, declaring it was “lawful for any person, whether English or Indian, that shall find any Indians traveling or skulking in any of the towns or roads (within specified limits), to command them under their guard and examination, or to kill them as they may or can.”

The northern colonists enacted more and more laws for controlling the people. A law in Albany forbade any African or Indian slave from driving a cart within the city. Curfews were set up; Africans and Indians were forbidden to have evening get-togethers. On Block Island, Indians were given 10 lashes for being out after nine o’clock. In 1692 Massachusetts made it a serious crime for any white person to marry an African, an Indian or a mulatto. In 1706 they tried to stop the importation of Indian slaves from other colonies, fearing a slave revolt.

Looking at this history raises a question: Why should anyone celebrate the survival of the earliest Puritans with a Thanksgiving Day? Certainly the Native peoples of those times had no reason to celebrate.

The ruling powers of the United States organized people to celebrate Thanksgiving Day because it is in their interest. That’s why they created it. The first national celebration of Thanksgiving was called for by George Washington. And the celebration was made a regular legal holiday later by Abraham Lincoln during the civil war (right as he sent troops to suppress the Sioux of Minnesota).

Washington and Lincoln were two presidents deeply involved in trying to forge a unified nation-state out of the European settlers in the United States. And the Thanksgiving story was a useful myth in their efforts at U.S. nation-building. It celebrates the “bounty of the American way of life,” while covering up the brutal nature of this society.

Friday, November 28, 2008

THE GREAT SHAME: Bush's legacy is our failure

by Allan Uthman

When the networks projected an Ohio win for Obama on November 4th, I counted up the remaining states, and realized that Obama was going to win. Like a lot of people that night, I wanted to celebrate. I gladly turned off the TV and went out to get drunk.

As they were everywhere, people were out in the streets of Buffalo, NY, too that night. Shouting, singing, crying, forming impromptu drum circles and dance troupes. Strangers hugging each other, cars honking as they crawled by—this was unprecedented behavior in the Queen City, where the people generally exude a dull aura of eternal defeat. Maybe this was what it would look like if the Bills actually won a Super Bowl.

Of course, people were celebrating Obama’s victory, but I think the main source of jubilation was that the end of the Bush administration, and Republican rule, was finally in sight. There were many cries of “Obama!” that night, but there were just as many people expressing a superlative relief, like a long over-strained muscle finally relaxing, that our long national nightmare was finally over.

I, too, am glad—elated, really—that Bush’s absurd, colossally tragic reign is nearing an end. But that doesn’t change the fact that we failed. We all failed. Congress failed, the courts failed, and the American people failed. We have suffered through two terms of plainly illegitimate, nakedly contemptuous tyranny in a country that was designed to facilitate overthrowing tyrants, and we failed to do so.

I have no doubt that Obama, as disappointing as he will no doubt turn out to be, is a vast improvement over the past eight years, and may even be the best president of my lifetime—a dubious achievement at best. But it’s not enough to look forward and move on. If anything is to be learned from the Bush disaster, it’s important to look back, and to understand how terrible our failure has been.

As citizens, our expectations have fallen far and fast. When Nixon ignored a subpoena, the nation was outraged. Even Republican congressmen were vocally outraged, and Nixon was forced to resign to avoid impeachment. When Nixon tried to fire a special prosecutor, his Attorney General resigned. Then his Deputy Attorney General resigned. When Reagan lied to the people about crimes far worse than Nixon’s, it was a scandal, but our expectations had already been dramatically lowered. There were hearings, but no impeachment. A few years later, a Republican congress abused the impeachment process as an instrument of prudery, in an act of supreme political perversion.

And then the real rape of American government began, starting with Bush v. Gore. Now, the president, and even his former employees, ignore subpoenas as a matter of routine. They can exact political retribution on CIA agents (Scott McClellan recently revealed that Bush told him he was responsible for the Valerie Plame leak), and get nothing but a few critical editorials in return. They can fake us into a costly, bloody war, and no one will do anything but bitch about it. They torture people to generate false intel, and nothing comes of it. Nothing.

All this is to end on January 20th, presumably. But Bush’s underhanded tactics will not end on that day. Still, he is showing us what “sprinting to the finish” means, as he furiously works to undermine the incoming Democrats in as many ways as possible. For one, Bush is generating a last-minute smorgasbord of polluter-friendly regulatory rollbacks, setting new lows in terms of water quality and global warming emissions, setting new, lower standards for “acceptable” levels of coal slurry in streams, of melamine in food products, and generally manifesting their shamelessness and hostility toward American citizens. New DoJ rules permit the FBI to engage in prolonged infiltration and surveillance of subjects who are not suspected of wrongdoing, and increased latitude in selecting these subjects based on their race and religion.

Over 90 such new “regulations” have occurred or are in the works, and while executive orders are fairly easy for an incoming president to reverse, changing new department-generated regulations entails a long and arduous process. This extends Bush’s disastrous impact well into the next term.

And so does this: Reports abound that scores of loyal Bush mid- and low-level appointees in many departments are in the process of “burrowing,” that is, changing their job status from political appointments, which change with each administration, to career civil service positions, which will make it hard for Obama to fire them when he takes office. The object is clear: to surround Obama with hostile operatives, hamstringing his agenda at every turn with leaks, foot-dragging and other forms of sabotage. Smooth transition, indeed.

Because congress and the American people have been asleep at the switch, the Obama administration will be spending much of the next four years struggling to simply undo most of what Bush has left them. It will only be a few months before our amnesiac press starts to blame Obama for the inevitable economic collapse, environmental catastrophe, and foreign policy blowback Bush will leave him. The next few years will reveal even darker secrets still unknown to us, a predictable result of tolerating the shadowy machinations of the most secretive administration ever.

All of this could have and should have been avoided, if the congress or the American people had any sense of duty, or responsibility, or really any sense at all. The fact that Bush, Cheney, and the rest will walk out of the White House and back into lives of decadent opulence and ballooning bank accounts is a shame, a damn shame of historic proportions. And the shame is ours. Bush is the worst outlaw ever to occupy the White House, and it is not enough that he simply leave. The message we have sent to power-mad, totalitarian presidents of the future is clear: Do whatever you want; we will do nothing to stop you. The press will do everything in its power to gloss over your worst excesses, and marginalize your critics, and when the public finally catches on, the press will simply ignore you in favor of optimistic coverage of your possible successors. At least that’s how it works for Republicans.

Bush lied about Iraq; it’s nothing if not clear at this point. And what the hell did we do about it? Bush failed miserably in New Orleans, dashing the image of Republican competence. But what did we do about it? Even now, as Bush’s economic team fools us into pouring an insane, gargantuan amount of money into the largest banks in the world, pulling a classic scare-and-switch tactic we should all be familiar with by now, nobody even murmurs about holding him accountable. As we all hold our breath and wait for Obama to take office, we allow the most craven, criminal administration in American history to keep right on pillaging our laws, our money, and our collective sense of decency right to the end. We, as a nation, are a miserable failure.

It’s just not enough that it will soon be over. It’s not enough that we managed to get through it. It’s not enough that the Republicans are in disarray, apparently headed toward a schism. These people should be in jail. They should serve as an example to all who come after them, that there is only so much corruption, malfeasance, and rank incompetence that this nation will put up with. Instead, their scot-free exit signals the impotence of this country in the face of an all-out hijacking of its government.

So sure, celebrate a victory for relative sanity in Obama’s win. But at the same time, we should be lamenting an all-out defeat for accountability. An eight-year crime wave has swept through the most powerful democracy in the world, and the only people being punished are you and me. And maybe we deserve it, because the true failure is ours.

A Return to Liberal Warmongering? Peace Advocates Must Continue the Battle

By Doug Bandow

Barack Obama is nothing if not an accomplished politician. Despite a background as a community activist, conventional liberal stance in the Illinois state senate, extraordinarily liberal voting record in the US Senate, and celebrated anti-Iraq war position, as president-elect he has raced to the center. In doing so he has reassured Americans worried that he wanted to become redistributionist-in-chief. But he also has generated widespread fear that his foreign policy will turn into a slightly housebroken version of Bush-McCain neoconservatism.

We can't say we weren't warned. The foreign policy pronouncements of candidate Obama were notable for their barely muted hawkishness. Thus, the fight against promiscuous military intervention by Washington must continue, only now against the incoming Democratic administration.

President-elect Barack Obama has declared that with his appointments he hopes to "combine experience and fresh thinking." On the national security side, at least, the experience is obvious. But the fresh thinking is entirely absent.

The most disconcerting sign of the future, of course, is the expected appointment of the Amazon warrior, Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. She voted for the Iraq war and undoubtedly would have backed it even more enthusiastically if it had been proposed by her husband. It took the debacle created by the Bush administration's incompetent occupation as well as the political dynamics of the Democratic primary to turn her into a not altogether convincing war critic.

During the campaign she also famously imagined herself as visiting Bosnia under fire as First Lady, almost single-handedly bringing peace to a broken land. Whatever her actual role in setting Clinton administration policy, she embraced her husband's aggressive war against Serbia, which had neither attacked nor threatened to attack the US or any US ally. The result of that policy was to dismember Serbia, leave the Western allies to preside over two episodes of violent ethnic cleansing within Kosovo by America's nominal allies, the ethnic Albanian majority, and create a precedent for intervention in the name of ethnic liberation, most recently deployed by Russia against Georgia. The geopolitical mess continues, with the majority of states refusing to recognize Kosovo and the statelet barred from UN membership by a Russian veto.

The famous three a.m. phone call ad sold Sen. Clinton's image as a warrior goddess. If anyone wondered which country she was targeting in her brief TV time on the telephone, it likely was Iran. No US presidential campaign is complete without the obligatory pander to supporters of Israel, and Sen. Clinton cheerfully played the part. Confusing the duty to protect America with that of defending Israel, she announced that if Iran used nuclear weapons to attack Israel – which possesses an estimated 200 nuclear weapons, presumably for use in just such a contingency – "we will attack Iran" and "we would be able to totally obliterate them."

Nor has she used her time on the Senate Armed Services Committee to challenge any of the foreign policy nostrums promoted by her husband or President George W. Bush. For instance, NATO enlargement has made America less secure and contributed to the Russia-Georgia war, but is holy writ for the foreign policy establishment. Permanent US garrisons in South Korea and Japan are similarly seen as inevitable – which sparked Sen. John McCain to muse about keeping an American force in Iraq for a hundred or even thousand years.

The Clinton administration's Balkans policy (as well as threat to invade Haiti and transformation of the Somalia feeding mission into nation-building) created a precedent for so-called humanitarian intervention. Indeed, she has called for NATO involvement in Sudan's Darfur region. There is no recent conflict in which she has opposed American participation. To the extent she will formulate as well as implement Obama administration policies, it is likely to be more of the same: multiple wars and threats of wars.

The other members of the President-elect Obama's national security team are unlikely to balance against the Amazon warrior. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to stay on. He has demonstrated both competence and restraint, in a welcome contrast to Donald Rumsfeld. But whether as the odd Republican out Gates will be inclined to weigh in on foreign policy, and whether he will be listened to if he does, is less clear. Nor has he ever suggested significant changes in existing policy: for instance, he is one of the declining number of optimists about finding a military solution in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, expected to become National Security Adviser, is no more likely to act as a voice of "change." Gen. Jones, who once commanded NATO, is widely seen as competent and nonpartisan. In the military he was tasked more with implementing than formulating foreign policy, but he has never suggested that he is inclined to rethink today's policy of promiscuous intervention in every region of the world. He is an advocate of higher military spending, and his most famous proposal was disastrously bad: to place a NATO force, presumably including Americans, in the West Bank. Is there is a dumber region in which to station American soldiers and Marines? Maybe Iraq, but then the Palestinian territories come in at a strong second place.

There will be other appointments, but the assortment of deputy, under, and assistant secretaries at State and Defense will have a more limited role in making policy. Their impact is more likely to be at the margin – unlikely to shift the Obama administration's basic direction. There also will be intelligence officials, but the first indications there are not reassuring. CIA veteran John Brennan was the leading candidate to head the agency before dropping out because of criticism of his public support for such practices as waterboarding and rendition.

Perhaps the best hope is that members of the "team" will spend most of their time battling one another. The rapprochement between President-elect Obama and Sen. Clinton more likely is one of convenience than of conviction. Sen. Biden has spent his entire Senate career on the Foreign Relations Committee, of which he currently is chairman, and as vice president is certain to assert himself. Gen. Jones reportedly has requested Kissinger-like authority, likely to spark turf battles with Secretary of State Clinton, as well as with other cabinet members over such issues as energy. Will Secretary Gates be able to transcend his status as a Bush holdover rather than an Obama loyalist?

Disappointing as the administration seems likely to be, it never looked any other way to those of us who avoided being infected by Obamamania. The argument for Sen. Obama was that whoever he was, he was neither the warrior goddess nor the tempestuous, erratic Republican who sang about the possibility of bombing Iran and who thought President Clinton was a wimp for refusing to order a ground invasion of Serbia. Put bluntly: the alternatives to Sen. Obama were worse.

But Barack Obama never presented himself as a candidate of peace. Rather, he used his prescient opposition to the Iraq war to create an image that attracted most people on the foreign policy Left. However, even his comments on Iraq were carefully calculated: he proposed a 16-month withdrawal and said he would rely on the advice of military commanders, but said ever less on the issue as it faded from public debate.

He joined his opponents in advocating an expensive expansion of the Army and Marine Corps. On Afghanistan and Pakistan he was more hawkish than John McCain, proposing a troop buildup in the former and overt cross-border raids against the latter. Sen. Obama attended the AIPAC convention and pandered as obscenely as his opponents. Although urging a dialogue with Iran, he promised to do "everything in my power" to stop Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and refused to rule out use of military force.

Sen. Obama started out with an evenhanded approach to the Russia-Georgia war, but quickly followed Sen. McCain in backing Georgia's impulsive, irresponsible Mikheil Saakashvili, who, evidence increasingly indicates, triggered the conflict with an unprovoked invasion of the territory of South Ossetia. Sen. Obama proposed an extensive democracy-promotion program and advocated concerted action in humanitarian crises, such as Darfur. Never once did he question any of Washington's antiquated Cold War alliances. In fact, after his election he called up South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and promised to "strengthen" an alliance which has lost any role in today's world.

To shore up his foreign policy credentials Sen. Obama chose his colleague Joe Biden as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee. Yet Sen. Biden was an uber-hawk on the Balkans, pushed NATO expansion up to Russia's borders, backed the Iraq war, flew to Tbilisi to embrace Saakashvili in the latter's aggressive war, and speaking of Israel declared: "You don't have to be a Jew to be a Zionist." Not only is Sen. Biden a master political panderer, but it has been decades since he, just like Sen. McCain, has seen a war that he didn't want America to fight.

In short, the Obama-Biden ticket never presented itself as anything but hyper-interventionist. Some of Sen. Obama's supporters wanted to believe that he was dissembling on these and other issues for political reasons. And maybe he was, though his appointments so far suggest otherwise. In any case, it is dangerous to assume that one's candidate is telling the truth when you like what he says, but that he is lying to the world to win votes when you disagree with him. After all, if he is an unregenerate and unashamed liar, why should you believe he ever is telling you the truth?

The argument for Obama really was primarily an argument against McCain: the latter saw war as a first resort against most everyone – Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Serbia. The only thing that seemed to occasionally hold Sen. McCain in check was the fear that the American people would not back new foreign adventures, such as engaging in nation-building in Africa. And, in the important case of Iraq, Sen. Obama got the most important decision, whether to go to war, right. Unlike Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama appears to value rational judgment, believe there are some limits to Washington's power to transform the world, and recognize that war normally is not the best answer to every international problem.

The president-elect's rush to embrace the liberal interventionist establishment in choosing his foreign policy staff suggests that the next four years will be a lot like the last eight in substance if not tone, and a lot like the previous eight years in both substance and tone. This means that anyone who believes in a foreign policy of peace and nonintervention must continue the battle. The fight against the Bush-McCain neocons is over. The fight against the Obama-Clinton liberal interventionists is about to begin.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Overlooked Exit Strategy

By Bruce Fein

President-elect Barack Obama should embrace an overlooked riskless exit strategy for the war in Iraq that has inflicted more than the equivalent of another Sept. 11, 2001, on brave American soldiers.

After Inauguration, he should declare the war illegal because it was initiated by President George W. Bush pursuant to an unconstitutional delegation of power by Congress effectuated by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq (AUMFAI). Mr. Obama should announce that all combat operations in Iraq will cease 30 days after Inauguration unless Congress enacts a statute directing him to continue the war.

He can depend on congressional inaction. Members lack both the incentive and political backbone to take responsibility for sending men and women to die on a fool's errand to make Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds democrats after 5,000 consecutive years of despotism and vicious tribal, ethnic or religious enmities.

After Congress balks at President Obama's challenge, all U.S. combat troops in Iraq would return home in an orderly fashion beginning February 2009. President Obama could blame any ensuing Iraqi strife, ethnic cleansing or domination by Iran on Congress for failing to prolong the war.

In any event, if the American military withdrawal aggravated Iraq's current convulsions, the subject would be off the media headlines within six months without American deaths or injuries. That is what happened over Vietnam in comparable circumstances after North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam in April 1975. President Obama's popularity would soar for bringing authentic change in the Constitution's machinery for deciding whether wars are worth fighting.

Ending the American troop presence and terminating the Iraqi war would shave defense spending by more than $10 billion monthly. Those savings should be dedicated to defending Americans in the United States with upgraded intelligence collection, border security and retaliatory capability.

Section 3 of the AUMFAI unconstitutionally delegated to the president unchecked power to decide on warfare against Iraq: "The president is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and, (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council regarding Iraq." The Constitution, however, unambiguously fastens on Congress the responsibility for directing the initiation of warfare based on its independent evaluation of alleged foreign dangers.

Every Founding Father agreed that one man or small group of men should never be entrusted with authority to initiate warfare because they would be driven by visions of power and glory into reckless military adventures. Future Justice of the Supreme Court, James Wilson, at the Pennsylvania ratification convention, explained: "This system will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it. It will not be in the power of a single man, or single body of men, to involve us in such distress; for the important power of declaring war is vested in the legislature at large: this declaration must be made with the concurrence of the House of Representatives: from this circumstance we may draw a certain conclusion that nothing but our interest can draw us into war."

James Madison, future president of the United States and father of the Constitution, amplified in a letter to Thomas Jefferson: "The Constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war in the legislature."

War crowns the president with secrecy, the control of information, spending, appointments and the intoxicating opportunity to make history. None of these incentives skews congressional judgments in favor of war.

In Clinton v. New York (1998), the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a congressional delegation of line-item veto authority. That delegation was less damaging to the Constitution's text and purpose than was the congressional delegation of warmaking authority in the AUMFAI to the president. The latter invited an ill-advised war in Iraq that the Constitution's makers intended to avoid by preventing the branch of government most interested in war from holding the power to initiate it.

To justify his invasion of Iraq, President Bush predictably inflated the dangers that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, was collaborating with al Qaeda, and had miniaturized nuclear weapons for which al Qaeda had promised to serve as human delivery vehicles.

President Obama should embrace the unsurpassed wisdom of the Founding Fathers. As they expressly instructed, the Constitution's task is to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, not to dispatch the military abroad in search of monsters to destroy, to build an empire or to remake the world in our own image. To achieve that objective, Congress must be forced to assume responsibility for initiating war. The result would be twice-blessed: it would honor the Constitution; and, it would make President Obama the greatest statesman of his era.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates Inc. and author of "Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

U.S. Uses al-Qaeda To Justify Foreign Policy

By Fidel Castro Ruz

November 25, 2008 "Granma" -- Her book exposes a series of atrocious crimes recently committed by the United States against the Latin American peoples. It is a basic text for understanding the real meaning of the Yankee imperialism. It is the most objective and detailed denunciation that I have read to date, unsurpassed in its style and eloquence. She gives an impressive list of outstanding figures, both military and civilian, vilely assassinated inside and outside their respective countries, including such prestigious personalities as the Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Chilean Generals Schneider and Prats, presidents of other nations, as well as the conspiracy in Chile which concluded with the death of Salvador Allende and the establishment of a fascist government. There were U.S. Presidents directly involved, like Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. Stella is known in our country for that work.

But it was the paper given by the Argentine author to the International Conference "Revolution and Intervention in Latin America," which took place recently in Caracas, which called my attention to her again. She sent a copy of the paper to us in Cuba.

She refers to a silent invasion on all fronts: the weapon of disinformation, the neocolonization of Latin America, the "backyard" as the "strategic reserve" of the empire, operative counterinsurgency, the "soft" blows, the informatics intoxication, left-wing groups acting together with extreme-right pro-coup sectors; the powerful enemy deliberately assaulting the soul of the peoples, their culture and identity; advanced colonialists and belated colonialisms. The author reminds us of the brutal invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, preceded by a disinformation campaign which, in this case, managed to penetrate progressive and leftist sectors. She recalls incredible and crude media manipulation of the reasons advanced by the United States to invade the small nation of little more than two million inhabitants – a country divided into two by a colonial enclave maintained there by the hegemonic power since the beginning of the past century – and the still incomprehensible paralysis of Latin America. Up until today, she told us, it is unknown that thousands of people died there. "Panama was the Guernica of Latin America."

She goes on to add that the United Nations had a "paper presence in all these conflicts."

Al-Qaeda, spawned by the empire itself, is a typical example of an enemy that the hegemonic power places where it needs to in order to then justify its actions, in the same way that, throughout history, it has manufactured enemies and attacks aimed at advancing its plans for domination. The pretext of the National Security of the United States to justify its crimes preceded the attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

In that kind of a way she continues wielding irrefutable arguments and evidence. Her paper is a synthesis of no more than 20 pages. She expresses sincere admiration for the revolutionary processes in Cuba and Venezuela and their courageous struggles in the vicinity of the neocolonial metropolis.

The meaning of that struggle can be understood merely by recalling some of the phrases uttered by George W. Bush, a president with only 58 more days left to complete his current term as leader of the empire.

In the midst of the crisis lashing the world, he stated at the APEC Summit in Lima:

"Over the decades, the free market system has proved the most efficient way...

"The third great force for economic growth in this region is the limitless potential of free peoples [...] any government that is honest with its people […] will have a partner in the United States of America.

"…our partners can be confident that the compassionate agenda of the United States of America will continue."

"We shall continue to inspire the world."

"God bless you."

Only an incurable cynic could make such statements. And while he was proclaiming that in Lima, news was coming in from the United States on the gravity of the crisis and the growing number of the unemployed. The companies in that country’s automobile industry are urgently demanding a share of the $700 billion allocated to tackle the most severe crisis in dozens of years. They have stated that the bankruptcy of just one of the big corporations in that sector would mean laying off two-and-a-half million workers. These are skyrocketing sums of money and of people affected in the country aspiring to continue inspiring the market.
Today’s elections in Venezuela are complex due to the situation created by heavy rainfall, the number of polling booths, the elevated number of registered voters in each of these, the utilization of media resources and the huge sums of money being used by the oligarchy and the imperialists to confuse voters. But the Bolivarian government is acting with dignity; it is concerned about the damage caused by excessive rain and it is fighting with the firmness and decisiveness that is inspired by just causes.

Whatever the result of these regional and local elections, it will not be easy to extinguish the flames of the Revolution.

We believe far more in Calloni’s truths than in Bush’s cynical lies.

Fidel Castro Ruz

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Obama Can End Iraq War 'Responsibly'

By Peter Dyer
November 26, 2008

One of Barack Obama's most compelling and popular campaign promises was his pledge to end the war in Iraq “responsibly.” But what does “responsibly” mean in this context?

Does it mean the United States will be assuming full responsibility for all that has gone wrong in this unnecessary war?

That would be appropriate. Certainly there can be no question that President George W. Bush and the U.S. government are responsible for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But that is clearly not what President-elect Obama had in mind regarding the Iraq War.

In his campaign, Obama galvanized unprecedented support across a wide spectrum of voters by making responsibility a central tenet of his campaign.

He called on fathers to take responsibility for their families; parents and teachers to take responsibility for education; and citizens to take back control of the government by taking responsibility through direct involvement in the political process.

Obama’s vision of American responsibility in Iraq, though, seems to be more limited, coming to an end once a gradual withdrawal of troops is complete in his promised 16 months.

Some of these troops, we’re told, will be “responsibly" redeployed to another war, in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a "residual" force will remain to deal with security issues as the Obama administration “pushes Iraq’s leaders towards taking responsibility for their own problems.” [From Obama’s Change We Can Believe In, p. 106]

What would it mean, though, if Obama’s vision of U.S. responsibility in Iraq were as comprehensive as the one he seeks to awaken in Americans at home and Iraqi leaders in their own country?

What would it mean to actually acknowledge and assume American responsibility, in full, for “Operation Iraqi Freedom”?

It Was a Crime

Let’s start with this: The March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq was against the law. It was a crime.

This assault on a country that never harmed nor even threatened to harm the United States violated the UN Charter, Chapter 1, Article 2.4 and Chapter 7, Article 39 as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and the Nuremberg Charter, Article 6(a).

In violating treaty obligations ratified by the U.S. Senate, the American architects of the Iraq War also violated Article VI, Clause 2 (the “Supremacy Clause”) of the U.S. Constitution.

The foundation of the American experiment is dedication to the rule of law. On Jan. 20, 2009, President Obama will swear, to the best of his ability to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

How then will the candidate who spoke so often and so stirringly of responsibility deal with American lawbreakers responsible for the war in Iraq?

Will the Obama administration insist on holding these lawbreakers accountable for the initial crime as well as for the carnage and catastrophe which ensued: estimates of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths; some 4,200 dead American troops; 4 million or more Iraqi refugees; and devastation of the Iraqi economy, infrastructure and ecology?

This war was not an accident. Somebody made it happen, no matter how this issue is sidetracked or simply ignored in mainstream American political discourse. Somebody was responsible.

Unfortunately, Obama has given no indication yet that he intends to hold any of the decision-makers responsible.

This is unfortunate because, in addition to satisfying the imperative for justice served through the rule of law, a fully responsible end to the war in Iraq could provide profound immediate and long-term benefits to all parties.

How About an Apology?

There are several measures the United States could take to more fully accept responsibility after withdrawal.

An apology would be a good way to start.

President Obama could render an official, sincere and comprehensive apology, on behalf of the American government and people, to the people of Iraq, to the United Nations, to the other members of the "Coalition of the Willing," and to American soldiers and their families for the harm all have suffered as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

An American apology for American aggression would, sadly, be unprecedented. For this reason alone it could do a world of good. It could enhance the process of healing and closure for all victims of the war, including American and Iraqi families.

An apology could go a long way towards restoring the good will and faith of the rest of humanity in America as a force for good in the world. Importantly, it could also help restore our faith in ourselves.

Adding extra moral force to an apology would be a concrete accompanying measure: reparations.

In addition to materially aiding the individual victims of the war, reparations could help address the devastation that “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has inflicted on the Iraqi economy, infrastructure and ecology.

To his credit, Obama has proposed using up to $2 billion to help the 4 million Iraqis who have lost their homes as a consequence of the American invasion. This works out to about $500 per refugee.

He also has proposed that the U.S. fulfill its promise of accepting our "quota" of Iraqi refugees: 7,000.

Perhaps the most profound and far-reaching way for the U.S. to assume full responsibility would be for President Obama, as chief executive, to order the arrest and trial of those who incited and initiated the unprovoked, illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The punishment for starting a war, depending on degree of culpability, could range from fines to life in prison. The fines could be paid into the reparation fund.

Creative sentencing could include time in Iraq performing service to victims of the war: work in hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, rebuilding homes, etc.

Perhaps those culpable for the war could work side by side with American volunteers, funded by the Obama administration and inspired by American Vietnam veterans who have helped rebuild communities in Vietnam.

Those convicted could be offered mitigation of punishment in exchange for apologies and detailed description of the full measure and history of their crimes through personal testimony, documentation, etc., similar to the process of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Avoiding Accountability

With few exceptions, however, those who start wars have historically been insulated by power, wealth and privilege from any sort of meaningful responsibility. Surely those who launched the Iraq invasion never envisioned facing any real accountability.

Imagine how much suffering might have been avoided if George W. Bush and the other engineers and enablers of the invasion of Iraq had been aware that severe personal consequences would await those who start the killing.

Unfortunately, the likelihood that any of these people will ever face trial for their crimes seems inversely proportional to the enormous potential for positive change such trials would represent.

But holding aggressors personally responsible for aggression would fulfill the vision of the post-World War II Nuremberg Charter, a landmark document for which the United States, ironically, is largely responsible.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who represented the United States at the Nuremberg Tribunal, stated that the intent of holding powerful Nazis responsible was not just victor’s revenge but a desire to establish a precedent against aggressive war.

“Let me make clear,” Jackson said, “that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose, it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.”

Jackson added, “This trial represents mankind’s desperate effort to apply the discipline of the law to statesmen who have used their powers of state to attack the foundations of the world’s peace and to commit aggression against the rights of their neighbors.”

Ending the war in Iraq in a truly responsible way would uphold Jackson’s principle and could result in a significant step toward the ultimate goal of the United Nations and all men and women of good will: a world without war.

That really would be change we can believe in.

Peter Dyer is a freelance journalist who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004. He can be reached at .

Don't Suppress Carter (or the Opportunities for Middle East Peace)


Now that the season of electoral expediency is over, Barack Obama owes Jimmy Carter an apology.

At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the Party denied Jimmy Carter the traditional invitation to speak that is accorded its former presidents.

According to The Jewish Daily Forward, “Carter's controversial views on Israel cost him a place on the podium at the Democratic Party convention in late August, senior Democratic operatives acknowledged to the Forward.”

Silencing Carter, who negotiated the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, involved behind the scenes tensions between supporters of the hard-line AIPAC lobby and those Democrats who argued both respect and free speech to let Carter join Bill Clinton on the stage and address a nationwide audience.

First, there was a compromise offer to let Carter speak but only on domestic policy subjects. This would have kept him from mentioning his views on securing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians through a two-state solution essentially back to the 1967 borders. He previously elaborated his analysis and recommendations in his 2006 bestseller titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid..

Even this astonishing restriction on the former president was unacceptable to the dictatorial censors. They wanted nothing from the deliberate, candid Georgian short of complete exclusion.

It is false to attribute this shutdown to the opinions of American Jews, a majority of whom polls show support a two-state solution and disagree on other issues with the AIPAC lobby, as recently documented by The Nation Magazine's Eric Alterman.

The Convention planners, with the full knowledge and approval of their candidate, Barack Obama, arranged to have a short video on Carter's work during the post-Katrina crisis followed by a walk across the stage by Carter and his wife Rosalynn to applause.

Carter's opponents did not hide their efforts to keep him from speaking. They spoke openly to the media. They disliked Carter's recognition of Palestinian suffering under the Israeli government's military and colonial occupation, the blockades, the violations of UN Resolutions and international law. He championed the work of the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements who together have worked out a detailed two-state accord that is supported by a majority of their respective peoples.

Little of what Carter wrote and spoke about has not been said by many prominent Israelis, leading newspapers and columnists for years. Hundreds of Israeli reservists, called refuseniks, have declined to fight in the West Bank or Gaza, though they will defend Israel's borders to the utmost.

Clearly, there is more freedom to speak about injustice against Palestinians and be critical of government policy in the Knesset and in the Israeli media than there is in the Congress or at American political conventions. It is a shame of the Democratic Party and its new leader that they forgot about civil liberties for differing viewpoints and covered it up for unknowing television viewers with the video scam.

Jimmy Carter knew fully what the Party did to him. But he played the loyal Democrat as a good sport and avoided a ruckus without even a public grumble. Privately, however, he and Rosalynn were very upset, believing that political pandering prevents the United States from playing a key role in peace-making between the powerful Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors.

Pandering is what Barack Obama perfected in his address right after the Denver nomination to the AIPAC convention. During his trip to Israel-Palestine, he refused to comment on the plight of the occupied Palestinians or the humanitarian crisis in encircled Gaza that over the past year's strife has produced Gazan civilian casualties at a rate of over 400 times those inflicted on Israeli civilians.

In a March 2008 poll by the respected Haaretz newspaper, sixty-four percent of Israelis supported “direct negotiations with Hamas”—the elected government of Gaza that now accepts a two-state solution back to the 1967 borders.

This is an auspicious time for vigorous peacemaking by the new Obama Administration as a steady, honest broker. The serious offer by the Arab League in 2002 for such an agreement, coupled with diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab countries was reiterated dramatically on November 10 with a full page message in the New York Times. Headlined “Peace is Possible: More than 50 Arab and Muslim Countries Agree,” the Center for Middle East Peace reminds Americans of that Arab Peace Initiative, reiterated in 2007, and supported by the fifty-seven member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference ( The dramatic declaration, replete with all the flags of these countries, ended with the plea: “Let us not miss this opportunity.”

The Israeli government has not engaged this long-standing offer by the Arab League. Without Barack Obama taking a strong initiative in America's national interest, it is unlikely that there will be any serious engagement. A sign that he is determined to set the peace process on course is whether he expresses his regrets about the intolerance and suppression of a former president whose views on the Palestinian question he once shared in Chicago before he began the quest for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Jimmy Carter—the early peacemaker between Israel and Egypt (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize)—has remained the most steadfast, prominent American friend that the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have in securing a stable peace in that region. The new President Obama should welcome Mr. Carter's wise and seasoned counsel.

Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What To Do When Your Party Sucks

By David Michael Green

November 24, 2008 - Progressives are gonna have a lot of fun and satisfaction over the next two, four and eight years – although with each passing day and appointment, it doesn’t appear as though much of it is going to come from Barack Obama.

More on that last bit another time. Meanwhile, the good stuff will be coming from the other team, for once. Now harmlessly out of power, their antics will have little impact in the real world. But, if schadenfreude is your game, you’re gonna enjoy this.

The Republican Party had the absolute crap kicked out of it. And that was back in 2006. Then it was drowned, set on fire, hung, drawn and quartered, and hit by a freight train in 2008. These were not elections they won, or even barely lost. In 2006 they gave up control of both houses of Congress. The 1994 episode notwithstanding, that is not something that generally happens even once in a generation. George W. Bush, in perhaps the one truthful statement of his entire presidency, described it as “a thumpin’”. He somehow neglected to also mention the cause for that thumpin’, despite that it being someone with whom he is quite familiar. In 2008 they got stomped by similar proportions again, only this time they also lost the presidency too. And possibly (two Senate races are still unresolved) even the potential to filibuster as well. What’s more, getting trounced twice in a row is an order of magnitude worse than simply getting trounced twice. That’s another thing that rarely ever happens to an American political party.

If an atom bomb fell on their heads, it could hardly be worse for the GOP. As one of their former congressional leaders, Tom Davis, put it, as he retired in disgust, “The Republican brand is in the trash can. If we were dog food, they’d take us off the shelf”. Right now, I’d say they’d be lucky to be dog food.

Some of these goofballs even seem to get it, though a lot of them don’t. I’ve heard right-wingers running around saying that the problem was that the public was so stupid that it didn’t realize Democrats were in control of Congress, and therefore actually took out their anger by punishing the wrong party! Nevermind that what that says about the elections their team won – how did those happen? Nevermind that the Democratic Congress never actually did anything, let alone anything remotely liberal, save for raising the minimum wage. What was there to punish Congress for? These people are walking around in a shell-shocked daze, completely disoriented. They look like nothing so much as the stunned, bloodied survivors lurching about the Middle Eastern marketplace scene, just after a terrorist bombing. This is the political equivalent of PTSD.

You get a sense that some people in the GOP do get it. Maybe Minnesota’s Governor Tim Pawlenty, for example. Definitely David Brooks – who is about to change his ideological stripes for the second time in one lifetime – for another. Probably Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Dick Lugar and Arlen Specter as well, though I’ve not heard a peep from any of them. These are the few remaining sorta, kinda, center-right moderates in their party, and they’re not stupid, and they’re not suicidal. The first two, in particular, as senators from Maine, can see what’s happening right on their doorstep. As of January, not a single congressional district in all of New England – once a GOP stronghold – will anymore be represented by a Republican. Remember when people like Ronald Reagan used to say “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me”? Of course, he lied. (Surprised? Yeah, me neither.) It’s now definitely true of the GOP, though. Remember Gerry Ford’s Republican Party? Remember the mastodon? They roamed the planet at about the same time. Moderate Republicans of yore (some of them were even a bit liberal) stood by (silently) and watched (but also benefitted) as their party was hijacked by the likes of Reagan and Gingrich and DeLay and Bush. Nowadays, though, it ain’t so great a ride anymore.

But here’s the part where it gets really fun. These centrists are in the minority, absolutely dwarfed in power by the hard right, for whom the GOP is a wholly-owned subsidiary. They are so cowed, they don’t even dare suggest that the party moderate its politics. I haven’t heard a single Republican make a single suggestion along those lines since their drubbing, let alone before. I haven’t even heard of a single prominent criticism of George W. Bush from within his party, despite that a few folks have admitted realizing that he dragged them over the cliff. The reason for this is that most everybody in the base and in elected office is on the same ideological page as Bush, and has been for a decade. Meanwhile, whatever few stragglers there are over on the left side of the far-right party, skirting dangerously close to sanity, are afraid to raise their heads, lest they be swiftboated, just like Bush did to McCain in 2000.

In most democracies, after you see a spanking of the magnitude the Republicans just brought down on their own head – let alone two in a row – you can pretty safely expect an ideological civil war among the ranks of the spankee party. That would definitely be happening now in the GOP, save for one minor technicality: wars require two sides to fight them, and there is effectively only one side within the party today. I doubt seriously there will be a Republican civil war, but if there is, I guarantee it will be a short one. Look for the “Mission Accomplished” banner to be flying over the Focus on the Family building, and this time they won’t be kidding. But it would be a pyrrhic victory that would make Chicago in 1871 look like a Boy Scout weenie roast.

A recent survey showed that amongst Republicans, 59 percent want the party to become more conservative, as opposed to 28 percent who want it to remain where it is, and only 12 percent who prefer to see it move toward the middle. This is an amazing set of statistics. It’s even more amazing when you consider that, among the general population, the party has hit its lowest favorability rating ever, down to 34 percent now, six percent less than a month ago, with 61 percent of the public now holding an unfavorable view of the GOP. And those numbers come directly on the heels of a presidential election cycle, presumably when any party is best able to market itself. They just spent half a billion dollars telling you how great they are, and what their money bought them was a six percent decline in favorability. Ugh. That’s a real bad sign if you’re a political party. Less so if you’re a submarine, of course. I’m not sure how you can read those numbers as anything other than catastrophic for the GOP. When you add in the massive shift among voters toward Democratic Party registrations, it gets even worse. And when you then consider the especially high tendency to abandon the GOP among new young voters, who are likely to keep their affiliations for life, it looks a lot like the China Syndrome of partisan politics – a meltdown so bad it could go right through the Earth’s core and out the other side.

And no wonder. Everything about these guys is wrong. Consider the composition of the Republican Party right now. It houses three major tendencies, with some degree of overlap among them, but also some friction over whose agenda will get the priority attention of the party. First are the fiscal conservatives who, while nevertheless having a mass following for some of their ideas, are basically just Wall Street masters-of-the-universe robber-baron types. They run the party, are always first up to get their policy toys, and always get everything they want, which is pretty much just money. Boatloads of it. Especially yours. John McCain complaining about the idea of redistribution of wealth? You gotta be joking. How did the guy ever keep a straight face? Thirty years ago, the wealthiest ten percent of Americans brought home one-third of the national income each year. Since Reaganism-Bushism came to town, that number has been jacked up to one-half (hey, just like it was in the fun 1920s!). Wanna know where all that money came from? See that empty space in your wallet?

Of course, if people actually ever voted their own interests, the party of ten percent of the population would lose every election in sight. That’s where group two comes in – the social conservatives. These are the really scary monsters among a crowded house full of them. These people long ago turned pro. They tend to be existentially frightened down to their bones, and cling hard to the assurances provided by religion and an ideology which seeks both to block all manner of change and, especially, to keep womenfolk and brown people in their place. Of course, the kleptocrats and their operatives laugh at the Jesus Freaks behind their backs. But never to their face. (You think I’m making this up? Both David Kuo and John DiIulio said so – and they both worked in the Bush White House.) Why should Karl Rove and his ilk pretend to respect the social conservatives? Because these are the shock troops who allow the ten percent to win elections they otherwise never could. And the price is dirt cheap too. When the GOP controlled both Congress and the White House recently, did you notice them outlawing abortion? Mandating school prayer? Criminalizing homosexuality? Nope, nope and nope. They didn’t do squat for the holy rollers, other than appoint justices to the federal bench who are supposed to do all these things, but haven’t either.

Last are the neocons – wee Kid Charlemagnes, one and all – out to conquer the world, or at least all the parts with oil underneath them. Like the plutocrats, the neocons need the storm troopers of the religious right to provide the votes, intimidate the opposition, justify the unjustifiable in the name of our lord, and produce the bulk of the cannon fodder who will march off to war, no questions asked. The religious right is especially useful for the neocons because of the obsession that the holies have adopted toward Israel in the last decades. Sometimes it’s hard to know who’s using whom, since the End Times that the crossketeers have in mind for the circumcised set is not exactly a pretty picture (it has something to do with masses of sinners writhing in pain – before burning in Hell – while all the nice folk float up to heaven to joyfully strum their harps all day and claim their prize of whatever is the Christian equivalent of 72 virgins – 72 guilt-trips for masturbating, perhaps?).

Anyhow, these three groups form the predominant strains of the Republican Party in our era. Because they share in common a mutual preference for jackbooted, S&M style authoritarianism, and because the scared-shitless social conservatives have a compulsive, pathological need to be deceived in every respect, they have kept themselves amazingly disciplined, despite actually having rather separate agendas. There has been some jockying for legislative priority and some occasional tensions between the camps. By and large, though, the other two camps have so far only needed to throw the religious right the occasional Supreme Court justice to keep them satisfied. That was their absolute bottom line, though. When Bush tried to put up the very-conservative-but-not-conservative-enough Harriet Miers, it was a bridge too far, and his base went all apoplectic on him. That was the end of Harriet, to be sure, but really, that leg of the party – which does all the envelope-licking and church carpool-driving – gets little else from their laughing masters.

I don’t see a lot of evidence that this rather amazing coalitional discipline is cracking up (ramshackle, cacophonous Democrats – who, despite probably going to be much better at it this time than they were under Carter or Clinton, nevertheless – can only be jealous), or that these will be the faultlines within the regressive movement in the coming months and years. There is clearly some division within each of the three camps. The smart money figured out months ago which party was going to be ruling Washington in 2009, and since they couldn’t care less which set of minions they buy at any given time, Wall Street investments – er, campaign contributions – have been going to Democrats in record amounts this year. The religious right is actually dividing a bit along generational lines, and the younger cohort is particularly interested in environmental issues, not to mention being, one senses, a bit embarrassed by the sexual obsessions of the Jerry-atric Falwell set. Hard to blame them for that. Meanwhile, many of the neocons – anxious to remain relevant and continue getting talk-show bookings (as if the mainstream media ever found a regressive so wrong on the issues as to deny them a megaphone) have jumped ship somewhat after the debacle of Iraq blew up in their collective faces.

But I think the real divide within the party will be strategic and ideological, though it won’t be deep, and it probably won’t last long. A few Republicans will try to soften the party’s message a bit, to make its image kinder and gentler – to play George H. W. Bush to the others’ Ronald Reagan, John Major to their Maggie Thatcher. That ain’t gonna happen. The GOP is wholly owned by radicals who would much rather see the party die than reform, as the above-referenced poll data make eminently clear. Like the Blues Brothers, these people are on a mission from god. Literally. Only, it’s not funny this time, and the soundtrack totally sucks. Any potential reformers would have to pry the battered party loose from the grip of the cold, dead fingers of these die-hards, but the pragmatists have neither the numbers nor the will to get there from here. Who would you bet on in an alley fight – Kärlsreich Röve and his Gang of Waffen Swiftboaters, or a nice guy named Tim from Minnesota?

The McCain-Palin ticket explains the entirety of the GOP’s problem now, just in the form of the two personae. He was always a pretty regressive guy, then he morphed himself into an even more regressive guy to run for the Republican nomination, and still he couldn’t make the cranky Christians at the base of his party happy. On most days, they actively disliked him. On his best day, they were merely bored to death by the old geezer. “War hero? Big Deal. What have you done for me lately on protecting blastocysts from those evil, genocidal, liberal mass murderers? We’ll swiftboat you in a heartbeat if you’re even a micron to the left of party dogma, just like we did to you in 2000.”

By the same token, the ticket never came alive until Sarah Palin was added to it, and that says just as much about the party as does its reaction to McCain. I doubt Sarah Palin is dumb, but she was, quite simply, completely uninformed about the political issues of our time. She has simply been quite literally focused on other things these last thirty years, while you and I were tuning into and caring about and working on the great foreign and domestic questions of the day. She’s basically a very ambitious beauty contest competitor now operating in the realm of American politics instead, perhaps the one domain anywhere that could actually be more vacuous than her former gig. True, you don’t have to do the swim-suit competition, but sometimes there are even more humiliating rituals to endure. For example, you’re expected to actually know the names of the newspapers and journals you’re pretending to be reading. I mean, how demeaning is that?

But this same, embarrassingly ignorant Palin might as well have been the Second Coming incarnate for the reaction she produced among Republicans. They couldn’t have cared less about the corruption and the numbed mind and the messy family life. “She’s a Christian! She didn’t terminate a pregnancy! She kills non-human living things with rifles! And, she makes us feel better about our pathetic selves because she seems just like us.” If it seemed like Palin could have been or done or said most anything and still won the passionate support of these folk, provided she was correct on what passes for religious morality these days (i.e., sexual repression), that’s because indeed she could. There didn’t seem to be the slightest embarrassment over this embarrassment of a candidate, and they adored her like it was some sort of gaga teen lust for the mentally disturbed. Beatlemania comes to the asylum. And, of course, anyone who attacked her was part of some sort of liberal/socialist/secular/media/whatever evil cabal, sent by Satan to tear down The Holy Barracuda, champion of the emotionally needy, patron saint of the massively insecure. Rarely can I remember seeing such a scary display of mass ignorance and hysteria in American politics, a domain where scary happens about as regularly as sunrise. Watching her political rallies during the campaign, all of a sudden I got Limbaugh. Not to mention Jonestown.

But rarely, also, have I seen the dilemmas of a political party condensed so nicely into the form of two individuals. What does it say about your party when a regressive like John McCain goes out of his way to whore himself into becoming even more regressive – abortion, immigration, torture, you name it – and still winds up despised and ignored by the party faithful for his unacceptably Milquetoast tendencies? What does it say when a buffoon like Sarah Palin, a would-be Il Duce in a skirt – only even more comical – can say and do and be anything idiotic and cringe-worthy, and column after column of the loyal troops will still adore her, perhaps even more so, marching off to war in her name? What it says to me is that this party is going nowhere ideologically.

And, therefore, that it is going nowhere politically. Except perhaps south. Figuratively, for sure, probably literally as well. This is not a party that is going to allow itself to modify its positions on abortion policy, guns, gays, economics, stem-cell research, foreign policy, immigration or any of a hundred other passionately-held ultra-regressive issue stances. The Tim Pawlentys of the world can try all they want (and I doubt they’ll even do that), but this is a rock that will not be moved. Except possibly further to the right. The folks who own the party now – the result of a Faustian bargain made between the kleptocrats and religious kooks – are not going to let go of it. I guarantee you they’d rather stay pure on their issues and see the party die than make any compromises for electability. If there is going to be any movement whatsoever, it will reflect members’ belief that the party needs to become even more regressive, even more repressive, even more medieval. These people want more Terri Schiavo, not less, more Matthew Shepard, not less, more Elian Gonzalez, not less, more Kenneth Starr, not less, more Charlton Heston, not less, more Antonin Scalia, not less, more Iraqs, not less, and more Enrons, not less.

Which is great news for the world, since even in way-backward America, that stuff is already no longer selling – in a big way. What could be better than the belief among the faithful that they are losing elections because they are not regressive enough, rather than the truth – which they probably actually perceive, but are too frightened to face – that just the opposite is the case? Imagine you were on a sinking ship and decided that it might be a good idea to bail water... into the boat. Imagine your house was on fire and you thought the best solution to your crisis was to douse the flames with... gasoline, not water. For once in my life, I couldn’t possibly agree more with the radical right about what they should do next.

And following this path, it won’t take them long to slip into a political coma, either. I mean, how many gang-bangs, knee-cappings and drive-by shootings in a row can you endure before your pulse finally throws in the towel just stops showing up for work? Going to the electorate with a “Bring back the good old days of the Bush era” message is absolutely my idea of what the GOP should do in 2010 and 2012. Oh, god, please. I just can’t believe it happens also to be theirs as well. Maybe they’re right, after all, and there is a god. How else can you account for them doing the dirty work of eradication and garbage collection for us? For evil taking itself out?

If they only knew. You practically have to get as creative as Salvador Dali, and twice as twisted, to invent some obscure demographic category in which the GOP is not slipping badly, even as we speak. (And this, despite that their opposition, the Democratic Party, is about as exciting as last week’s leftover Malt-O-Meal.) How about over-sixty white male born-again church-attending evangelical pickup-driving Merle Haggard-listening NRA-member deer-hunters with less than a high school education living in Appalachia? I’m pretty sure the Republican Party still rocks with them crackers. Otherwise, though, it’s a helluva stampede going in the other direction. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, Catholics, suburbanites, the West, the Midwest, New England, the Mountain states, men, women, the middle class, the working class, the wealthy, young people, middle-aged people, high school grads, college grads, postgrads, moderates, new voters – all these folks are abandoning the GOP with a vengeance. Hard to imagine why, too – what with two endless and botched wars, one drowned city, a doubling of the national debt, torture, Constitution-shredding, international loathing, exacerbation of global warming, skyrocketing energy costs, shrinking paychecks, healthcare disarray, and now a depression that would warm Herbert Hoover’s cockles. As if that isn’t a record to be proud of! Oh well. People can be so fussy sometimes in their political expectations.

So what happens now, given that the only two directions available to the GOP are down and to the right? My guess is that they marginalize themselves into a regional party, playing well for national elections in the Bible Belt, and that’s about it. That’s a grim path to go down, to be sure. The few remaining moderates of the party will not look forward to suffering the same fate as Lincoln Chaffee and Chris Shays, two members of Congress well-liked at home, but not well enough to get past the (R) after their names on the ballot. Rather than be handed a pink slip by voters, they’ll start defecting, further isolating the extremists within the GOP, and further solidifying their control of the sinking party. The situation could remain like this, with the Democrats dominating nationally and the Republicans winning only the South in presidential elections, decreasingly attracting candidates for down-ticket positions anywhere else, and decreasingly attracting voter registrations, a process which has already begun in a wholesale fashion among 18-29 year-old voters.

But such a scenario also opens up a substantial political vacuum, particularly as the Democrats are likely to inch themselves a bit back to the left, at least in Congress. This condition would practically scream out for a new political party to rise up on the center-right and become what the Republicans once were, before the Reagan-Bush hijacking. And if that happens, it could be only a matter of a few election cycles before – losses leading to defections, leading to more loss and more defections – the Grand Old Party becomes the Gloriously Extinct Party, one that you can only see in museums anymore, right next to the exhibit on evolution. That may seem like a leap, but it isn’t. It isn’t so much that the Republicans are unpopular that is their problem as it is the lethal combination of being unpopular and completely resistant to any remedies to your unpopularity. The far right owns this party. They are not letting go.

And I thank them for that patriotic duty and sacrifice for America. Because, after all, what could be a better service to this country than for the regressives to neuter themselves politically, and destroy the political party that has brought to America and the world so much unspeakable damage?

Bravo, Lunatic Fringe. Bravo.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gates and the Urge to Surge

by Ray McGovern

It may become a biennial ritual. Every two years, if the commander-in-chief (or the commander-in-chief-elect) says he wants to throw more troops into an unwinnable war for no clear reason other than his political advantage, panderer-in-chief Robert Gates will shout "Outstanding!"

Never mind what the commanders in the field are saying - much less the troops who do the dying.

After meeting in Canada on Friday with counterparts from countries with troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Gates emphasized to reporters there is a shared interest in "surging as many forces as we can" into Afghanistan before the elections there in late September 2009.

At the concluding news conference, Gates again drove home the point, "It's important that we have a surge of forces."

Basking in the alleged success of the Iraq "surge," Gates knows a winning word when he hears one - whether the facts are with him or not. Although the conventional wisdom in Washington credits the "surge" with reducing violence in Iraq, military analysts point to other reasons - including Sunni tribes repudiating al-Qaeda extremists before the "surge" and the de facto ethnic cleansing of Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

In Washington political circles, there's also little concern about the 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since President George W. Bush started the "surge" early in 2007. The Americans killed during the "surge" represent roughly one-quarter of the total war dead whose numbers passed the 4,200 mark last week.

Nor is there much Washington commentary about what Bush's grotesque expenditure in blood and treasure will mean in the long term, even as the Iraqis put the finishing touches on a security pact that sets a firm deadline for a complete U.S. military withdrawal by the end of 2011, wording that may be Arabic for "thanks, but no thanks."

And most Americans do not know from reading the reports from their Fawning Corporate Media that the "surge" was such a "success" that the United States now has about 8,000 more troops in Iraq than were there before the "surge" rose and fell.

The real "success" of the Iraq "surge" is proving to be that it will let President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney leave office on Jan. 20, 2009, without having to admit that they were responsible for a strategic disaster. They can lay the blame for failure on their successors.

Gates a Winner?

Gates stands to be another beneficiary of the Iraq "surge."

Already, he has the Defense Secretary job. In November 2006, he was plucked from the relative obscurity of his Texas A&M presidency and put back into the international spotlight that he has always craved because he was willing to front for the "surge" when even Donald Rumsfeld was urging Bush to start a troop drawdown.

Now, the perceived "success" of the "surge" is giving hawkish Washington Democrats an excuse to rally around Gates and urge President-elect Barack Obama to keep him on.

Ever an accomplished bureaucrat, Gates is doing what he can to strengthen his case.

On Friday, Gates seemed at pains to demonstrate that his approach to Afghanistan is identical to the one publicly espoused by his prospective new employer who is currently reviewing Gates' job renewal application. And, as he did with the Iraq "surge" over the past two years, Gates now is talking up the prospects for an Afghan "surge."

"The notion that things are out of control in Afghanistan or that we're sliding toward a disaster, I think, is far too pessimistic," Gates said. Yet the argument that Gates used to support his relative optimism makes us veteran intelligence officers gag - at least those who remember the U.S. in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and other failed counterinsurgencies.

"The Taliban holds no land in Afghanistan, and loses every time it comes into contact with coalition forces," Gates explained.

Our Secretary of Defense is insisting that U.S. troops have not lost one pitched battle with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Engagements like the one on July 13, 2008, in which "insurgents" attacked an outpost in Konar province, killing nine U.S. soldiers and wounding 15 others, apparently do not qualify as "contact," but are merely "incidents."

Gates ought to read up on Vietnam, for his words evoke a similarly benighted comment by U.S. Army Col. Harry Summers after that war had been lost. In 1974, Summers was sent to Hanoi to try to resolve the status of Americans still listed as missing. To his North Vietnamese counterpart, Col. Tu, Summers made the mistake of bragging, "You know, you never beat us on the battlefield." Colonel Tu responded, "That may be so, but it is also irrelevant."

As Vietnamese Communist forces converged on Saigon in April 1975, the U.S. withdrew all remaining personnel. Summers was on the last Marine helicopter to fly off the roof of the American Embassy at 5:30 a.m. on April 30. As he later recalled, "I was the second-to-the-last Army guy out of Vietnam -- quite a searing experience."

More Vietnams?

Why is this relevant? Because if Obama repeats the mistakes of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, U.S. Marine choppers may be plucking folks not only off the U.S. embassy roof in Baghdad, but also from the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. No ignoramus, Gates knows that his comments about the Taliban losing "every time" that there is contact with coalition forces is as irrelevant as those of Col. Summers 34 years ago.

Yet, it would be folly to expect Gates to give advice to a superior that challenges the policies that Gates thinks his superior favors. Gates has been the consummate career careerist, going back to his days as head of analysis at CIA in the 1980s when he fashioned intelligence reports that gave the policymakers what they wanted to hear. Instead of the old-fashioned "bark-on" intelligence, the Gates variety was "apple-polished" intelligence.

Time Running Out for Gates

He wants to stay on as Defense Secretary and apparently thinks that his life-long strategy of telling his superiors what they want to hear will now work with Barack Obama. Gates is nearing the end of a highly sophisticated campaign to convince Obama and his advisers that the current Defense Secretary is just who they need at the Pentagon to execute Obama's policies - and look really bipartisan to boot.

The President-elect's position has long been that we need to send "at least two additional brigades" (about 7,000 troops) to Afghanistan. So the Defense Secretary would have us believe, as he said Friday, that "surging as many forces as we can" is an outstanding idea. And with troops having to leave Iraqi cities by next June, in the first stage of the U.S. withdrawal demanded by the draft status-of-forces agreement, there will be more soldiers available to send into the mountains of Afghanistan. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

Ironically, this resembles closely the proposed policy of Sen. John McCain, who argued during the debate with Obama on Sept. 26 that "the same [surge] strategy" that Gen. David Petraeus implemented in Iraq is "going to have to be employed in Afghanistan." For good measure, Gov. Sarah Palin told Katie Couric "a surge in Afghanistan also will lead us to victory there, as it has proven to have done in Iraq."

Reality Bites

Oops! Within a week, Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan undercut McCain and Palin, insisting emphatically that no Iraq-style "surge" of forces will end the conflict in Afghanistan. Speaking in Washington on Oct. 1, McKiernan employed unusual candor in describing Afghanistan as "a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq." The country's mountainous terrain, rural population, poverty, illiteracy, 400 major tribal networks, and history of civil war make it a unique challenge, he said.

"The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge,'" McKiernan continued, adding that what is required is a "sustained commitment" to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many years and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution. McKiernan added that he doubts that "another facet of the Iraq strategy" - the U.S. military's programs to recruit tribes to oppose insurgents - can be duplicated in Afghanistan. "I don't want the military to be engaging the tribes," said McKiernan.

Recently, President-elect Obama has been relatively quiet on Afghanistan, and one lives in hope that before he actually commits to sending more brigades to Afghanistan he will assemble a group of people who know something about that country, the forces at play in the region, and insurgency. If he gathers the right people, and if he listens, it seems a good bet that his campaign rhetoric about Afghanistan being the good war will remain just that, rhetoric.

In any event, press reports suggest that Gates has only another week or so left to pretend to the President-elect that he thinks the ideas reflected in Obama's rhetoric are outstanding. And, as Gates' predecessor Rumsfeld might have put it, you have to go with the rhetoric you've got. Right now, the word "surge" brings nods of approval at influential dinner parties in Washington.

What does Gen. McKiernan know, anyway? Gates' Pentagon says that McKiernan now has requested three additional brigade combat teams and additional aviation assets. And yet, he says he's allergic to a "surge"?

If past is precedent, Gen. McKiernan already realizes he has little choice but to salute smartly, do what he is told, and not diverge from what inexperienced civilians like Gates are promoting. After all, didn't McNamara know best in the early days of Vietnam and didn't Rumsfeld know best at the start of the Iraq War?

As the saying goes, if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you are a general assigned a mission - though it appear to be Mission Impossible - you salute smartly and use those troops entrusted to you to do what armies do. At least that has been the tradition since Vietnam. Such behavior is a disgrace, when generals know better.

Ambitious, but Empty Suits

I'm all for civilian control of the military. But I see much more harm than good in political generals - like the anointed David Petraeus - who give ample evidence of being interested, first and foremost, in their own advancement. Why do I say that? Because Petraeus, like McKiernan, knows Afghanistan is another quagmire. But he won't say it.

Rather than do the right thing and brief his superiors on the realities of Afghanistan, Petraeus and the generals he has promoted seem likely to follow the time-honored practice of going along to get along. After all, none of them get killed or wounded. Rather the vast majority get promoted, so long as they keep any dissenting thoughts to themselves.

It is the same pattern we witnessed regarding Vietnam. Although the most senior military brass knew, as the French learned before them, that the war/occupation could not be successful, no senior officer had the integrity and courage to speak out and try to halt the lunacy.

Are There Army Generals With Guts?

It will be interesting to see what McKiernan actually does, if and when more troops are surged down his throat. If he has the courage of his convictions, maybe he'll quit...and perhaps even say something.

As a former Army officer, I would love to see an Army general display the courage that one saw in Admiral William Fallon, former commander of CENTCOM, who openly refused to "do Iran" on his watch, and got cashiered for it. Two years ago, Army Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, speaking on behalf of their senior commanders in the field, pushed back strongly against the idea of adding more U.S. troops to those already in Iraq. They finally succeeded in persuading former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld of the merits of their argument.

It was when Rumsfeld himself started to challenge the advice Bush was getting (to "surge" and thus not "lose" Iraq on his watch) that Robert Gates was brought in to replace Rumsfeld, relieve Abizaid and Casey from command, and help anoint Gen. Petraeus as surge-savior. (For details on Rumsfeld's break with Bush, see's "Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?")

But rather than speak out, Abizaid folded his tent like an Arab and silently stole away. Casey accepted the sinecure of Army chief of staff as hush money. And a thousand more U.S. troops died. The temporary respite provided by the 29,000 troops who survived the surge helped achieve the administration's main purpose - deferring the inevitable U.S. troop withdrawal (not in "victory" as Bush liked to say, but by demand of the Iraqi government) until Bush and Cheney were safely out of office.

As for Gates, what he does not know about Afghanistan and insurgency could fill a medium-sized library. So could what Gates does know about how to ingratiate himself with the next level up.

If it is true that serious consideration is being given to keeping Gates on past January, it will be interesting to see if the pandering padding of his résumé eventually wins the day with the President-elect.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He also serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).