Friday, February 29, 2008

The Commander-in-Chef Cooks Up a Storm

by Tom Engelhardt and Frida Berrigan

In the week that oil prices once again crested above $100 a barrel and more Americans than at any time since the Great Depression owed more on their homes than the homes were worth; in the year that the subprime market crashed, global markets shuddered, the previously unnoticed credit-default swap market threatened to go into the tank, stagflation returned, unemployment rose, the "R" word (for recession) hit the headlines (while the "D" word lurked), within weeks of the fifth anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, the President of the United States officially discovered the war economy.

George W. Bush and Laura Bush were being interviewed by NBC's Ann Curry when the subject turned to the war in Iraq. Curry reminded the President that his wife had once said, "No one suffers more than their president. I hope they know the burden of worry that's on his shoulders every single day for our troops." The conversation continued thusly:

"Bush: And as people are now beginning to see, Iraq is changing, democracy is beginning to tak[e] hold. And I'm convinced 50 years from now people look back and say thank God there was those who were willing to sacrifice.

"Curry: But you're saying you're going to have to carry that burden... Some Americans believe that they feel they're carrying the burden because of this economy.

"Bush: Yeah, well –

"Curry: They say – they say they're suffering because of this.

"Bush: I don't agree with that.

"Curry: You don't agree with that? Has nothing do with the economy, the war? The spending on the war?

"Bush: I don't think so. I think actually, the spending on the war might help with jobs.

"Curry: Oh, yeah?

"Bush: Yeah, because we're buying equipment, and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses."

In other words, in honor of the soon-to-arrive fifth anniversary of his war without end, the President has offered a formula for economic success in bad times that might be summed up this way: less houses, more bases, more weaponry, more war. This, of course, comes from the man who, between 2001 and today, presided over an official Pentagon budget that leapt by more than 60% from $316 billion to $507 billion, and by more than 30% since Iraq was invaded. Looked at another way, between 2001 and the latest emergency supplemental request to pay for his wars (first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq), supplemental funding for war-fighting has jumped from $17 billion to $189 billion, an increase of 1,011%. At the same time, almost miraculously, the U.S. armed forces have been driven to the edge of the military equivalent of default.

It's clear that as a "war president" our Commander-in-Chef has really whipped up a storm in the White House kitchen between the moment he launched his invasion on March 19, 2003 and the present. Think of it as a tale of two recipes:

George Bush's Commander-in-Chef Mission Accomplished Baghdad Victory Stew


3 tablespoons, Iraqi extra virgin oil [no olives]

A "sea" of crude oil (and the necessary no-bid contracts to protect it)

Misinformation and disinformation (including Iraqi mushroom [clouds] and 9/11 Saddam [pork] links)

Shock 'n awe-tichoke cruise missiles and B-1 bombers (in quantity)

130,000 American troops (Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki suggested that, for this victory stew, "several hundred thousand" American troops were needed, but he was hustled out of the kitchen.)

1 head of Saddam Hussein


1 bunch, coalition of the dilling, finely chopped

1 cup, Congressional authorization for war

2 sprigs of Iraqi exiles

Embedded reporters (to taste)

Dough for accompanying Iraqi flatbread, $50-60 million worth (Top Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey suggested that $200 billion might be a more reasonable figure, but he, too, was promptly ousted from the kitchen.)

Flower petals (edible and in season)

To prepare:

In a heavy casserole, heat extra virgin Iraqi oil over a medium flame.

Add disinformation (mushrooms and links) and sauté until brown; repeat process. (You cannot repeat too many times.)

Add sprigs of Iraqi exiles.

Pour in cup of Congressional authorization for war. Stir vigorously as this tends to evaporate.

Pour in sea of crude oil. Raise heat to high. Quickly add shock 'n awe-tichoke cruise missiles and B-1 bombers. Cover tightly and bring to a boil. (If this "decapitation" cooking process works and you suddenly find yourself with the head of Saddam Hussein, add it as well.)

Stir in 130,000 American troops. Grind in embedded reporters (to taste). Add chopped coalition of the dilling. Bring back to a boil.

Cover, lower the heat, and simmer, stirring periodically, for three weeks.

Remove to a platter. Serve piping hot, otherwise "stuff happens." If possible, hire Shi'ite waiters to strew edible flower petals atop the victory stew at the table for dramatic effect.

In fact, we know who sat down to that "table" in the years after 2003 to eat more than their fill. It was, of course, a cast of characters from the war economy.

The Feasters (a non-inclusive list):

Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR): Until April 2007 a subsidiary of Halliburton, KBR garnered $20.1 billion in Iraq contracts from the Bush administration. The company reported a $2.3 billion profit in 2006. According to a Center for Public Integrity investigation, KBR was the single biggest corporate winner from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In terms of the dollar value of its Iraq contracts, it received nine times as much as the second largest Iraq contractor, DynCorp.

Halliburton: In 2002, Halliburton was number 37 on the Pentagon's list of top 100 contractors with $500 million in contracts. By 2006, it was number six, with $6.1 billion in contracts, an increase of more than 1,000%.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Peter W. Singer puts this in context, noting in a September 2007 policy paper that "the amount paid to Halliburton-KBR for just that period is roughly three times what the U.S. government paid to fight the entire 1991 Persian Gulf War. When putting other wars into current dollar amounts, the U.S. government paid Halliburton about $7 billion more than it cost the United States to fight the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish American War combined."

Bechtel: In all, Bechtel was granted about $3 billion in contracts for work in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, some of its projects included: $1.075 billion for repairs to power stations and the electrical grid; $210 million for water and sanitation projects; $109 million for surface transportation repairs, including roads and railways; and $90 million for repairing or replacing buildings. The company ran afoul of investigators for not finishing many of the jobs it started. Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, issued a report in 2006 that repeatedly cited Bechtel mismanagement, including for the construction of the Basra Children's Hospital, a project that was supposed to be completed by December 2005 at a cost of $50 million. By July 2007, costs had soared to between $90 million and $131 million. The company was dropped from the project which to this day remains uncompleted.

Blackwater: According to investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater, the notorious private security company, has won about $1 billion in State Department contracts.

Lockheed Martin: This company is the largest recipient of Pentagon contracts. It received $26.6 billion in contracts from the Pentagon in 2006, a 36% increase over 2005. Since 2003, when the war against Iraq began, the company has seen its Pentagon contracts jump 20% or nearly $5 billion. Lockheed Martin's slogan, "we never forget who we're working for," clearly refers to the Pentagon, the company's best customer by a long shot. According to the Orlando Business Journal, "Lockheed Martin Corp. reported profits up 9.6 percent last quarter? The Bethesda-based defense contractor posted fourth-quarter [2007] net income of $799 million, or $1.89 per share, compared with $729 million, or $1.68 per share in the same quarter a year ago? Sales rose in every category of Lockheed's business except its aeronautics division."

Boeing: In 2003, the number two recipient of Pentagon contracts received $17.3 billion worth of them. By 2006, the Pentagon had upped that figure to $20.3 billion. According to the Chicago Tribune, "Boeing's net income rose a better-than-expected 4 percent, to $1.03 billion, or $1.36 per share" in the fourth quarter of 2007. The paper went on to note that the company "expects to build on its strong results from 2007, when its net income jumped 84 percent to $4.07 billion on sales of $66.39 billion."

Northrop Grumman: The third largest recipient of Pentagon contracts recorded a net profit of $454 million for the last quarter of 2007, according to Reuters. In 2003, the company took in $11.1 billion in Pentagon contracts. Three years later, that figure had jumped nearly 50% to $16.6 billion.

General Dynamics: According to analysts, because the work of General Dynamics is concentrated on Army systems, it has reaped the most direct benefits of all the large weapons makers from the Iraq war. "The combat-systems business... it's a cash cow for them, it's a solid business," said Eric Hugel, an industry analyst for Stephens Inc. The New York Times reported that fourth-quarter 2007 earnings for General Dynamics were up 42%. "For all of 2007, General Dynamics had net earnings of $2.1 billion," up 11% from $1.86 billion in 2006.

The Oil Majors: The oil majors have not actually entered Iraq (yet) in any significant way, but they have profited enormously from the havoc the Iraq War has unleashed in the Middle East as well as from the fact that, in these years, less Iraqi oil has been heading to market than in the worst years of the Saddam Hussein era. The Washington Post reported, for instance, that Exxon Mobil set new records for quarterly and annual corporate profits in 2007, breaking its own 2006 record by making $40.6 billion. Chevron was next in line with an almost 30% increase in profits from 2006 to 2007. The Post went on to note that profits from the five biggest international oil companies have tripled since 2002.

Parsons: This Pasadena-based engineering and construction company has been awarded more than $5 billion in contracts to rebuild the country's health care and security facilities as well as its water and sewage systems. With Worley Group of Australia, Parsons has also received $800 million in contracts to restore Iraq's northern oil infrastructure. In negotiating its Iraq reconstruction contracts, Parsons built in an additional bonus of up to 12% for good performance. Fortunately for taxpayers, good performance has been in short supply. Awarded a $75 million contract to build a police academy, Parsons typically cut corners. In the "completed" project, the bathrooms leaked waste water into student barracks to such an extent that one room was dubbed "the rainforest." The Pentagon terminated one contract when an audit found that, after two years' work, only six of the 142 health clinics Parsons had signed on to build were completed.

All in all, the Commander-in-Chef whipped up quite a meal back in 2003. As late as March 2006, he was still trying to serve a version of it at a "strategy for victory" event (though he was no longer accompanying it with a dessert of Cakewalk Ice Cream Cake).

Finally, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the invasion, the war economy seems to have had its fill. Now, the rest of us are being seated at a table with an oil-stained tablecloth, uncleared places, dirty dishes, used silverware, and bones strewn everywhere. Of course, it's for a multi-trillion dollar meal and, for us, it's a pay-as-you-go affair. (Bring your home mortgage papers with you.) Oh, and when you get your bill, note that the tip, a 150% gratuity, is already included. (Another thing, skip the ice water in those dirty glasses. Cholera is passing around Baghdad right now.) This time, however, the President is offering us a new dish, a special anniversary recipe:

George W. Bush's Commander-in-Chef Losing Mulligatawny Soup


At least 140,000 American troops

Tens of thousands of private security contractors

Nearly 4,000 dead Americans

Tens of thousands of wounded Americans

From several hundred thousand to a million or more dead Iraqis

4.5 million Iraqi refugees or internally displaced persons

4 million hungry Iraqis

Assorted Shi'ite militias and death squads

Assorted Kurdish militias

80,000 U.S.-armed Sunni "concerned citizens" (militias)

At least 24,000 Iraqi prisoners in American jails

Thousands of Sunni insurgents.

Hundreds (or thousands) of al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia militants

Hundreds of foreign jihadis and suicide bombers.

Up to 10,000 Turkish troops.

Numerous Iranian agents

Crude oil (where available)

Water (polluted)

Hundreds of IEDs (roadside bombs)

361 U.S. Army unmanned drones operating in Iraqi airspace

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of explosives released by U.S. Air Force planes

Dough for accompanying Iraqi flatbread, now possibly $3 trillion – and rising.

To prepare:

Heat whatever crude oil is available in the largest kettle you can find until smoking. Dump in all ingredients in whatever quantities in any order you choose. (Warning: popping oil, shield eyes.) Add polluted water. Bring to a roiling boil at highest heat. Cook for as much – or as little – time as you want. Pour the soup, boiling hot, across the table (no need for bowls) and dig in.

Bon appétit! Happy anniversary!

And keep in mind, for the next 11 months our Iron (Commander-in-) Chef will still be in the kitchen cookin' up a storm and undoubtedly hummin' to himself:

"War! – huh – yeah –
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.

Frida Berrigan is Senior Program Associate with the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus and a contributing editor at In These Times magazine. She is the author of reports on the arms trade and human rights, U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the domestic politics of U.S. missile defense and space weapons policies. She can be reached at

Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt and Frida Berrigan

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sunni Forces Losing Patience With U.S.

Citing Lack of Support, Frustrated Iraqi Volunteers Are Abandoning Posts

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Amit R. Paley, Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD, Feb. 27 -- U.S.-backed Sunni volunteer forces, which have played a vital role in reducing violence in Iraq, are increasingly frustrated with the American military and the Iraqi government over what they see as a lack of recognition of their growing political clout and insufficient U.S. support.

Since Feb. 8, thousands of fighters in restive Diyala province have left their posts in order to pressure the government and its American backers to replace the province's Shiite police chief. On Wednesday, their leaders warned that they would disband completely if their demands were not met. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, fighters have refused to man their checkpoints after U.S. soldiers killed several comrades in mid-February in circumstances that remain in dispute.

Some force leaders and ground commanders also reject a U.S.-initiated plan that they say offers too few Sunni fighters the opportunity to join Iraq's army and police, and warn that low salaries and late payments are pushing experienced members to quit.

The predominantly Sunni Awakening forces, referred to by the U.S. military as the Sons of Iraq or Concerned Local Citizens, are made up mostly of former insurgents who have turned against extremists because of their harsh tactics and interpretation of Islam. The U.S. military pays many fighters roughly $10 a day to guard and patrol their areas. Thousands more unpaid volunteers have joined out of tribal and regional fealties.

U.S. efforts to manage this fast-growing movement of about 80,000 armed men are still largely effective, but in some key areas the control is fraying. The tensions are the most serious since the Awakening was launched in Anbar province in late 2006, according to Iraqi officials, U.S. commanders and 20 Awakening leaders across Iraq. Some U.S. military officials say they are growing concerned that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has infiltrated Awakening forces in some areas.

"Now, there is no cooperation with the Americans," said Haider Mustafa al-Kaisy, an Awakening commander in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, an insurgent stronghold that U.S. and Iraqi forces are still struggling to control. "We have stopped fighting al-Qaeda."

U.S. military officials and commanders say they are seeking to defuse the rising tensions before hard-won U.S. gains are jeopardized. "Despite some of the frustrations, the frictions and the attacks on the Sons of Iraq, they are continuing to volunteer. As an interim solution, it seems to be working well," said Col. Bill Buckner, a senior U.S. military spokesman. "It's clear Iraq remains a fragile security environment. We want to address many of their concerns as best as we can, so that they continue to be part of the solution to the security situation in Iraq."

Growing Threats
Awakening leaders say threats against their fighters are rising. Attacks against Awakening members went from 26 in October to 100 in January, according to a U.S. military official, who added that February's numbers are on track to be nearly as high as January's.

But the growing threats have not been matched with added resources. Rafah Kassim, 37, an Awakening leader in the oil-producing city of Baiji, lost two fighters in mid-February when gunmen ambushed their car. Speaking at their funeral, Kassim said he did not expect the Shiite-led Iraqi government, which fears the Awakening movement could one day turn against it, to embrace his fighters. He had applied six times to join the Iraqi army and police, he said, but was never accepted. He said he expected his new ally, the U.S. military, to back his struggle. Instead, he said, U.S. commanders have limited his force to 40 fighters when he needs at least 100 to protect his area of seven square kilometers.

"They should make me stronger. They should not weaken me," said Kassim, a former commander in the Islamic Army, an insurgent group. "We need weapons. We need vehicles. We do not even have gas for the few cars we have. When we joined, the Americans promised to provide all necessities. Now, we know those were only words."

In the past two months, he said, 20 of his fighters have quit. Many felt their monthly salary was no longer worth the risk of fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. His men also have not received their salaries in two months, he said. "We'll all be patient for another two months. If nothing changes, then we'll suspend and quit," Kassim said. "Then we'll go back to fighting the Americans."

'Why Am I Standing There?'
Inadvertent U.S. killings of Awakening fighters -- five such incidents have occurred in the past three weeks -- are adding to the frustrations. In the southern town of Jurf al-Sakr, U.S. soldiers killed three fighters Feb. 15. U.S. commanders said that the men had fired upon the soldiers first and that the troops acted in self-defense.

Within hours, more than 1,000 fighters walked away from their posts. Sabah al-Janabi, who heads the Awakening in the area, publicly criticized the U.S. military, alleging it had killed 19 of his men in the last 45 days, which U.S. commanders deny.

"Now, I have fighters who refuse to go back to their positions," said Fadhil Youssef, another Awakening leader in the area. "They are saying, 'I am standing on road, securing my neighborhood, and Americans come and kill me. So why am I standing there?' "

In the village of Zaab, west of the northern city of Kirkuk, police officials and witnesses said U.S. forces on Feb. 14 killed six relatives of an Awakening leader, Issa Muhsin al-Jubury, and detained him and others. In an interview last week, after his release, he said U.S. soldiers had "raised their weapons in my face and shouted at me, 'Confess or I will shoot you.' "

"They beat me and cursed me and made me face the wall, saying to me, 'You have exploited the Awakening to support the terrorists,' " Jubury said. "I kept saying, 'You are mistaken, because I and my family have been victims of terrorists.' "

U.S. military officials confirmed that six people, including two women, were killed, among them several Awakening members, and that a dozen were detained. But the officials said U.S. troops were targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq and acted in self-defense after being fired upon. When asked about Jubury's allegations, Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. military spokesman, replied: "It's combat. I would not expect our guys to be gentle when conducting an operation on a place where we suspect there are terrorists."

The incidents illustrate a vexing problem for the American military: The Awakening movement has grown so fast that it has become difficult for U.S. commanders to monitor the fighters and their loyalties.

"It's clear there are extremist groups that have penetrated the Concerned Local Citizens, that there may be in fact al-Qaeda amongst the Concerned Local Citizens," said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a senior military spokesman.

Jubury said his 800 fighters had taken huge risks to ally with the U.S. military and faced allegations that they are "agents for the Americans."

"If there is no apology, or no compensation, or failure to produce the informers before us, we will carry arms against the Americans," Jubury said.

Demands in Diyala
Nowhere are the tensions more serious than in Diyala, one of the major battlegrounds in the U.S. fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Awakening groups, also known here as Popular Committees, are demanding the resignation of the Shiite provincial police chief, Maj. Gen. Ghanem al-Qureishi. They accuse him of running death squads and torturing Sunnis, allegations that Qureishi denied in an interview. The Awakening leaders are also seeking recognition as an official force.

On Wednesday, they vowed to dissolve the committees if their demands were not met. "In the last 10 months, we haven't received any kind of assistance or help from Americans or Iraqi government," said Abu Talib, a top Awakening leader. "On the contrary, the police started to hunt us down."

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said Qureishi was highly valued and such "good men" would be protected. "An accusation does not mean the crime actually took place," Bolani said.

The U.S. military acknowledges that it is caught in the middle of a political struggle. "Yes, they are frustrated," said Lt. Col. Ricardo Love, commander of the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, who works in Baqubah, the provincial capital. "They think we can make the government of Iraq do anything. We tell them we don't control the government. But they think we are the mighty power."

"The position of Americans is hesitation," said Abu Imad al-Zuhaidi, another Awakening official in Baqubah. "They don't have any independent opinion, despite the fact they know it is the Awakening who restored order."

U.S. commanders said the Awakening's strike has not affected security, but Love and others are concerned about fighters who may be tempted, or forced, to rejoin the insurgency.

"AQI and JAM will take advantage of the situation," he said, using military abbreviations for al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdi Army, the country's largest Shiite militia, which is loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

In Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, concern is mounting over a U.S. proposal that calls for about 20 percent of the volunteer forces to be integrated into the nation's army and police. The rest would be provided with civilian jobs and vocational training.

"The Sunnis were always the leaders of the country: Is it reasonable that they are turned into service workers and garbage collectors?" said Khalid Jiyad Abed, an Awakening leader in the city of Latifiyah and an engineer. "We had not anticipated this from the American forces. Of course we will not accept that," Abed added.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who for the last 14 months was the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said only 20 percent to 30 percent of the Awakening fighters could pass physical and written exams to enter Iraq's security forces. "Overall, you will never satisfy everybody," Odierno said, adding that 10,000 fighters have been accepted so far.

But Awakening leaders view the plan as an attempt by the Iraqi government to marginalize them.
"This is a big failure -- either they take us all in or this is not going to work," said Brig. Gen. Shija al-Adhami, who heads the Awakening force in Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood.

Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said recruiting too many Awakening fighters would allow al-Qaeda in Iraq to infiltrate the security forces, in much the same way Shiite militias have. But Sunni leaders warn that without the Awakening's help in securing the country, Iraq's future will be grim.

"You need these people," said Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni. "What sort of risk are you going to take if this 100 percent is stripped to 2o? We cannot afford to lose all this success which is paid by the blood of the people."

Special correspondents Zaid Sabah, Saad al-Izzi and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Washington Post staff in Diyala province, Anbar province, Najaf, Tikrit, Baiji, Kirkuk and Mosul contributed to this report.

Terrorized by 'War on Terror'

How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

28/02/08 "Washington Post" -- -- The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

To justify the "war on terror," the administration has lately crafted a false historical narrative that could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By claiming that its war is similar to earlier U.S. struggles against Nazism and then Stalinism (while ignoring the fact that both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were first-rate military powers, a status al-Qaeda neither has nor can achieve), the administration could be preparing the case for war with Iran. Such war would then plunge America into a protracted conflict spanning Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and perhaps also Pakistan.

The culture of fear is like a genie that has been let out of its bottle. It acquires a life of its own -- and can become demoralizing. America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor; nor is it the America that heard from its leader, at another moment of crisis, the powerful words "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; nor is it the calm America that waged the Cold War with quiet persistence despite the knowledge that a real war could be initiated abruptly within minutes and prompt the death of 100 million Americans within just a few hours. We are now divided, uncertain and potentially very susceptible to panic in the event of another terrorist act in the United States itself.

That is the result of five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror, quite unlike the more muted reactions of several other nations (Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, to mention just a few) that also have suffered painful terrorist acts. In his latest justification for his war in Iraq, President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging it lest al-Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.

Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum. The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable. A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to 1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival.

Just last week, here in Washington, on my way to visit a journalistic office, I had to pass through one of the absurd "security checks" that have proliferated in almost all the privately owned office buildings in this capital -- and in New York City. A uniformed guard required me to fill out a form, show an I.D. and in this case explain in writing the purpose of my visit. Would a visiting terrorist indicate in writing that the purpose is "to blow up the building"? Would the guard be able to arrest such a self-confessing, would-be suicide bomber? To make matters more absurd, large department stores, with their crowds of shoppers, do not have any comparable procedures. Nor do concert halls or movie theaters. Yet such "security" procedures have become routine, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and further contributing to a siege mentality.

Government at every level has stimulated the paranoia. Consider, for example, the electronic billboards over interstate highways urging motorists to "Report Suspicious Activity" (drivers in turbans?). Some mass media have made their own contribution. The cable channels and some print media have found that horror scenarios attract audiences, while terror "experts" as "consultants" provide authenticity for the apocalyptic visions fed to the American public. Hence the proliferation of programs with bearded "terrorists" as the central villains. Their general effect is to reinforce the sense of the unknown but lurking danger that is said to increasingly threaten the lives of all Americans.

The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately, even some college student organizations have become involved in such propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.

The atmosphere generated by the "war on terror" has encouraged legal and political harassment of Arab Americans (generally loyal Americans) for conduct that has not been unique to them. A case in point is the reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion.

Social discrimination, for example toward Muslim air travelers, has also been its unintended byproduct. Not surprisingly, animus toward the United States even among Muslims otherwise not particularly concerned with the Middle East has intensified, while America's reputation as a leader in fostering constructive interracial and interreligious relations has suffered egregiously.

The record is even more troubling in the general area of civil rights. The culture of fear has bred intolerance, suspicion of foreigners and the adoption of legal procedures that undermine fundamental notions of justice. Innocent until proven guilty has been diluted if not undone, with some -- even U.S. citizens -- incarcerated for lengthy periods of time without effective and prompt access to due process. There is no known, hard evidence that such excess has prevented significant acts of terrorism, and convictions for would-be terrorists of any kind have been few and far between. Someday Americans will be as ashamed of this record as they now have become of the earlier instances in U.S. history of panic by the many prompting intolerance against the few.

In the meantime, the "war on terror" has gravely damaged the United States internationally. For Muslims, the similarity between the rough treatment of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military and of the Palestinians by the Israelis has prompted a widespread sense of hostility toward the United States in general. It's not the "war on terror" that angers Muslims watching the news on television, it's the victimization of Arab civilians. And the resentment is not limited to Muslims. A recent BBC poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries that sought respondents' assessments of the role of states in international affairs resulted in Israel, Iran and the United States being rated (in that order) as the states with "the most negative influence on the world." Alas, for some that is the new axis of evil!

The events of 9/11 could have resulted in a truly global solidarity against extremism and terrorism. A global alliance of moderates, including Muslim ones, engaged in a deliberate campaign both to extirpate the specific terrorist networks and to terminate the political conflicts that spawn terrorism would have been more productive than a demagogically proclaimed and largely solitary U.S. "war on terror" against "Islamo-fascism." Only a confidently determined and reasonable America can promote genuine international security which then leaves no political space for terrorism.

Where is the U.S. leader ready to say, "Enough of this hysteria, stop this paranoia"? Even in the face of future terrorist attacks, the likelihood of which cannot be denied, let us show some sense. Let us be true to our traditions.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, is the author most recently of "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower" (Basic Books).

Barbarians At the Gates

By Manuel Valenzuela

27/02/08 "ICH" --- - From the very beginning, the American crusade of surge and siege – with much of it predating the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; think to early 20th century agreements with Saudi royalty of protection for petroleum, or the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected nationalist leader, or CIA coups and installing of tyranny, or support for Saddam, or provocations of war, or fanning the flames of violence, or importation of billions worth of weapons – has been a catastrophe for the people of the Middle East. For years the United States has guided policy and fates in the region, with its unchallenged domination of and immoral support in the regimes of the Middle East causing a complete devolution of a dynamic, intelligent and proud amalgam of peoples, continuing a stagnation of a civilization that has given humanity so much, and which has so much yet to offer.

It has been the support of tyrants, dictators, generals, kings, princes and sheiks which has had the most profound effect in the lives of tens of millions of Arabs and Muslims, altering, perhaps indefinitely, the very foundations of a culture, and religion, that has for centuries been bombarded by the Judeo-Christian values of the western world. From Napoleon to Hitler, from the British Empire of old to the American Empire of today, from French domination of the Levant to the ceaseless criminality of Little Sparta in Palestine, the Middle East has been invaded, colonized, raped, pillaged, oppressed and exploited by western powers for decades.

It has been divided and torn apart according to the desires of colonial powers; it has been invaded countless times by Christian Crusaders seeking some combination of god and glory, power and control, hegemony and imperialism. Throughout European, and later American, interventions in the region, countless numbers of Arabs and Muslims suffered and died. It has been the west, and not the peoples of the Middle East, that have for centuries been the aggressors, the barbarians at the gates of Muslim cities, those doing the invading and occupying, those raping and pillaging, those with the messianic delusion to convert and civilize and control the Arab world.

It has been the west that thinks itself the superior race, thinking Middle Easterners inferior, sub-human heathens. It has been the west that ignores the plight of the dehumanized and the oppressed, all the while enjoying the spoils of plunder, over time becoming morbidly obese with the gluttony and greed cheap oil engenders.

The people of the Middle East were not, after all, the ones responsible for the Napoleonic Wars, nor the creators of two World Wars, nor the destroyers of entire cities, nor the barbarians giving rise to Holocausts, or thousand year old persecutions, nor the ones responsible for the death of tens of millions of human beings during the 20th century. The people of the Middle East were not planting puppet regimes throughout Europe and the Americas, nor were they wishing to convert, civilize and control the western world. They are not the ones in pursuit of imperialism and hegemony.

They were not bombing and killing and seeking vengeance outside their region until after the Second World War, after America, with help from her allies, decided the Middle East was to become part of its sphere of influence. Indeed, for centuries living in peace and respect, in the same lands, cities and neighborhoods, Arabs of Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith have long maintained a balance of tolerance between Muslim majority and Jewish, Christian minorities that has only been disrupted with the arrival, and the manipulations and gross injustice, of the western colonial powers.

For decades preferring to control the region by proxy, in a clandestine manipulation of populations and territory, the United States has become a catastrophe upon the peoples of the Middle East. Its vast assortment of puppets and castrated proctors have proceeded to decimate the lives and futures of millions, over the years maintaining a firm grip over nations through the devastation of freedoms and liberties and rights, along with the implementation of authoritarian and despotic policies. Unwavering in its support of these tyrants, America has condemned millions to the brutality of dictatorships, to the censorship by despots, to the corruption of incompetents, to the regressive policies of control, to the backwardness of monarchs.

Sponsoring Tyranny

Possessing the largest, most plentiful and best developed oil fields known to man, one would be inclined to believe the Middle East a bastion of equality and justice, with standards of living equal to or surpassing those of the industrialized world. We would expect a thriving democracy pregnant with the freedoms and liberties inherent in wealthy nations. We would also expect, as we do with rich European and American nations, that the countries of the Middle East would possess a high degree of education among its population, allowing for rule of law and foundations of secularism to prevail. We would expect a thriving middle class, with employment at levels supportive of such dynamics. We would expect peace and balance.

Instead, in the land of black gold there exists not a shred of democracy, nor an ounce of freedom and liberties, nor an appearance by redistribution of oil wealth. In the lands where humankind first developed civilization, Machiavellian authoritarians rule, police states flourish, and backwardness prevails. Here, where a few elite are reaping the bountiful rewards of having oil below their feet, or having the lands deemed strategic to the Empire, accumulating millions and billions of dollars in profit, building majestic palaces and living the lives of gods, the vast majority struggle to survive and make a decent living. Here, in the land of kingdoms and fiefdoms and gold-plated palaces, the majority of Arabs and Muslims live in indigence, finding work only as the serfs enabling their Arab lords to live in luxury. Millions manage to survive only because their masters throw a few insignificant crumbs and bones their way, a minute sum of the enormous oil and gas windfall they greedily ensnare for themselves.

While millions subsist on meager jobs, millions more struggle to find meaningful employment. Unemployment in the region is therefore high, with military-age males the hardest hit. Without employment there is no source of income to survive; there is no morale to feel proud of; there is no sign of opportunity, no sign of a future. With an education that is insignificant, for that is how kings and dictators want it, millions have no option but to become easy targets to the propaganda and the manipulations of their lords.

Indeed, in order to better control the population, education has become a tool of indoctrination, with millions of dollars invested by the elite into religious institutions that brainwash and mold vulnerable minds to the fantasy of theology and the backwardness of extremist ideology. Subsidized and sponsored by the same kings and tyrants, these schools, rather than move society forward towards progressive goals, instead succeed in devolving into backwardness and fundamentalism. Many Muslims simply have no choice but to attend these schools, for oftentimes they are the only schools around, in the process helping indigent families cope with the realities of daily life.

So long as ignorance prevails, and as long as knowledge and leanings of modernity are sequestered and mired in the inescapable grip of poverty, the Middle East’s despotic leaders will remain secure and without fear of their own people. So long as their people are not educated to the methodical condemnation of their lives by kings and despots, leaders will reign, sitting on the thrones of gold, feasting on the spoils thrown at them by the Empire. This reality the Empire tolerates and even encourages, for a controlled, undereducated and powerless people are more likely to remain compliant and passive than those who see with open eyes the pillage of their land and the injustice of their leaders.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon of fundamentalist religious indoctrination, together with lack of education and feelings of injustice, oppression and inequality lends itself to the fomentation of extremism, just as it does in any culture, especially a form of extremism which lashes out both at domestic despotism and foreign control and support of that same despotic rule. Using fundamentalist theology to manipulate desperate minds experiencing desolate, unfulfilled lives, radical men of Islamic faith reach out to the many whose lives have been castrated by leaders supported by the Empire.

Radicalism in the Middle East, born of frustration, oppression and lack of opportunity, growing due to inequality, unfairness, injustice and persecution, nurtured by a corrupted and hijacked interpretation of modern Islamic faith, and manifesting itself through violent acts of terrorism, is a symptom of the disease called market colonialism, of an imperialism that cares nothing for people living in misery and perpetual suffering, where the west props up and supports and finances its cadre of despots and tyrants in the region, with their full array of crimes against humanity being protected by the Empire itself, at the expense of the native populations, in order to control the region’s, and the world’s, most valuable resource. Turning to Islamic extremism, then, is a symptom of anger, of hopelessness, of the presence of the Empire itself.

Islamic fanaticism, like its American, and Christian counterpart, thrives on the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the ignorant, and in those searching for meaning to lives heavy in suffering and pain. Like all forms of fanaticism, the Islamic variety grows and thrives by listening to the angry and the oppressed, providing answers and solutions that help maintain a semblance of understanding in a cruel world. It is those who have become easily manipulated and easily deceived that fanaticism aims to reach, for in these lost souls new, molded flames can be lit.

Thus, by combining the fanaticism all theologies possess with the living, walking carcasses left behind by America’s propped up tyrants and kings, gorging on the spoils of oil, too greedy to share with their people, together with American interference in the region, a grassroots resistance is birthed that finds solace and solutions in the beliefs of the past, thinking, rightly, that the devastation of their lives is a result of modernity –albeit a debased form of it – and its corruption by authoritarians sponsored by the west.

Deceived by extremism to hate all things western, because the root of their ills is indeed a product of the western world, they fail to see the reality that true fault lies not in western progressiveness, which is humanitarian, communal and universal in nature, but in the despotic character and oppressive policies of leaders that will not free their subjects to the great virtues of real democracy.

Here, America and her puppet allies in the region have made a vital and egregious error, for in inducing high levels of indigence, uneducation and dissatisfaction, in allowing despotism to rule and the voice of the people to disappear, thereby creating a Molotov cocktail of anger and resentment aimed at the Empire and Arab leaders, they have fostered instability and resistance, some in the form of anti-Americanism, some in the form of terrorism, most in the form of a society that grows more eager for change every year. Together with a perception that America has embarked on a Crusade of Surge and Siege against the Muslim world, and that her armies are engaging in mass murder and destruction of Muslim peoples, the only avenue for change is being found inside the mosques of radical ideology.

Error Personified

Instead of giving Middle East populations a larger share of the oil bonanza pie; instead of decreasing the verticality of the hierarchical pyramid, thus making society more just, fair and equal, with better standards of living, better education and more progressiveness; instead of allowing the Empire a just, balanced and reduced access and control to oil; instead of banning the pillage of revenues and resources, where capital benefits only the elite; instead of investing in enlightened education, helping to bring out of darkness millions of minds; instead of using oil revenues and investing in the wellbeing of their people; instead of halting billion dollar purchases in the west’s defense industry, amassing arms for wars that will never come, using weapons sales to funnel petro dollars back to the Empire; instead of alleviating hardship, resentment and anger; instead of sponsoring freedom and liberty and greater rights; instead of abiding by and protecting human rights; instead of encouraging an open, democratic society, the American amalgam of dictators, tyrants, kings, princes, sheiks and generals have done the complete opposite, thereby cementing in stone continued resistance, continued acts of terror, continued anti-Americanism and continued efforts to violently overthrow the region’s rulers.

In order to suppress, repress and control those elements seeking to bring down the region’s tyrannical regimes, the leaders of these states have created a ruthless police state based on oppression, fear, intimidation and paranoia. To combat the anger prevalent in the population, America’s puppets must enhance a surveillance and spying society, creating a police state that has perfected the art of despotic rule. Torture, disappearances, the evisceration of human rights, unlawful arrests, persecution and false imprisonment are but some of the weapons used by these rulers. Yet the Empire maintains firm support of these leaders, a fact not lost on the population at large.

Right to assembly, right to free speech, freedom of the press, the right of habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial, the right of due process and of protections against unreasonable search and seizure are freedoms not afforded to the peoples of the Middle East. These are freedoms and rights America does not care to ask or demand of its puppets. Free elections and the will of the people are but hollow dreams that cannot be given to the masses, for if allowed to vote, tyrants and kings and dictators and generals would be thrown out. To the Empire, democracy is only democracy when the people elect America’s chosen leaders, her new puppet upgrade. If the masses elect someone other than America’s champion, democracy becomes null and void, the will of the people become obsolete and collective punishment becomes policy, and state-sponsored terror. To the Empire, democracy is valid only when fraud or theft returns to power her most loyal and obedient proctors.

The people of the Middle East do not hate the Empire for its freedom and liberties, nor for its way of life. On the contrary, they would love the same freedoms and liberties, the same respect for human rights, and perhaps a better standard of living than they presently enjoy. They hate the Empire for its transgressions in the region, for its continued support for tyranny, for its hypocrisy in talking democracy and systemically supporting despotism, for its rape and pillage of both land and people, for its addiction to oil that has brought nothing but ruin to the people of the region, for its one-sided support for Israel and its apartheid and state-sponsored terrorism in Palestine, for its genocide and destruction of Iraq and its people, for promising Afghan reconstruction but only succeeding in furthering a decline to a failed state, for its quite obvious indifference to the misery and suffering of Arab and Muslim peoples, for its continued Crusade of Surge and Siege that only threatens to engulf the region in flames and further decimate the lives of millions.

Democracy and freedom cannot prosper in these conditions, for despotic rule and free societies are mutually exclusive. In fact, the populations of these nations have very few, if any, freedoms and rights to speak of, and millions are handcuffed to the heavy handed rules and regulations of the state, many of which resemble those of the Middle Ages. When democracy is spoken of, it represents illusions and mirages, not the will of the people, but the charades of the elite. In the Middle East, democracy is a whispered demand, yet an unfulfilled reality. It remains a dream of millions, and an enemy of the few. In the Middle East of reality, and not that of American fiction, tyranny dominates and democracy is nonexistent and all the while, American hypocrisy festers in the mind of the disillusioned.

Of course the United States is fully aware of the methods used by its tyrants to control the population, yet the support, whether diplomatic, financial and militarily, is as constant as it is unwavering. This tacit support of tyranny by the Empire, even when it speaks of bringing freedom and democracy, speaks of the high level of hypocrisy and duplicity inherent in the Empire. That American sponsored tyranny has catapulted the region into backwardness, that it has furthered the evolution of fanaticism, that it has given rise to resistance and terror, that it has made impotent the infinitesimal attempts at building democracy, and that it has created decades of suffering, poverty, oppression and lost opportunity can only be denied, as it usually is, inside the Empire itself. Inside the fires of imperialism, that is to say inside the Middle East, this truth is well known, and understood.

That human beings resent despotism and tyranny is a self-evident truth; that they build resistance and resentment to colonial machinations and imperialist assaults on their lives is earthly reality. That most human beings want simply the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness without barriers or hindrances or the control of the state is an absolute manifestation of who we are. To be human – and yes, the people of the Middle East are, in fact, human – is to seek and want justice, fairness, equality and fundamental human rights. It is to fight oppression and stand for dignity and honor.

What we abhor as a species are illegal, aggressive invasions and brutal occupations of innocent states, exploitations and repression of the individual and criminality and mass murder that is allowed to transpire and go unaccountable. What the people of the Middle East want is exactly what the western world already has. What they want is freedom from imperialism, freedom from tyranny, freedom to exploit their own resources, for their own benefit, for their present and future generations. What they seek is a chance to be human at the dawn of the 21st century.

What they ask is that they be seen the same as any other person in this planet, possessing the same emotions, fears and opinions, the same behaviors and desires. What they seek is the empathy and understanding for the lives they must endure, the tyranny they must live under and the Crusade of Surge and Siege the Empire has imposed on them.

So close your eyes, contemplate reality and not spoon-fed fantasy, envision and empathize, try to understand alien pain and suffering, put yourself in the shoes of the millions being strangulated by the Empire, and prepare to enter the fires of imperialism.

Manuel Valenzuela is a social critic, commentator, Internet essayist and author of Echoes in the Wind, a novel now published by . His essays appear regularly at various alternative news websites from around the globe. Mr. Valenzuela welcomes comments and can be reached at .

Through Middle East Eyes

By Manuel Valenzuela

26/02/08 "ICH" -- - In order for the peoples of America and the West to understand what has been and is currently being done to the peoples of the Middle East we must envision ourselves as human beings living and going through life in that most troubled of regions. We must exercise a humanist form of empathy that places us squarely inside the lands of desert and sand, the lands of the people of the Bible, of terrain full of mirages and complexities, of alien and unfamiliar cultures and languages and religions, of a history that predates any western beginning or thought, of a complexity we know almost nothing about.

We must see through the eyes of peoples we do not understand and are completely ignorant of, of peoples we have been conditioned through ceaseless propaganda to disdain and oftentimes hate. We must, in order to see into resurrected Crusades, know the unknown, so that we cease to fear what is foreign and alien. We must contemplate life as it currently exists for the people of the region, not the life we are made to believe in, nor the hazy reality imagined in our minds. For the sake of the millions now dead and dying, for the sake of the dispossessed and the suffering, the maimed and mentally destroyed, we must have an understanding of life in the Middle East, life inside the fires of imperialism.

We must, in order to comprehend the catastrophe befalling the peoples of the Middle East, imagine ourselves as people living under tyranny, under occupation, under oppression and modern day colonialism, in lands where the devil’s excrement abounds, where it makes blind monsters of men, where conflicts are born from the interpretations of fables and mythology, where theological differences succeed in both dividing and conquering, and where western colonialism has and continues to inflict great damage on millions of Arabs and Muslims.

If we are to understand the suffering and oppression of the Arab and Muslim people of the Middle East, we must confront the Empire and its omnipresent grip over the region; a powerful nation with omnipotent control over lands whose resources are needed to run the engines of hegemonic power; a hegemonic Goliath that methodically and calculatedly rules over dozens of little David’s by proxy, intimidation and through puppets. Indeed, to fully understand the 21st century’s version of yesteryear’s crusades, we must journey to the lands where greed and petroleum mix, where neoliberal capitalism and market colonialism fuse, where economic genocide and hegemonic drive intermingle and where the grand pieces of the global chess match collide.

For this present Crusade is not about reclaiming Jerusalem or the Holy Land, or of converting the heathens and barbarians into good Christians. It is not about conquest in the name of a god or a religion, nor a crusade to determine a clash of civilizations. No, this Crusade is about conquering and controlling petroleum, a resource unknown by past Crusaders. This Crusade is about conquering and controlling geostrategic land, about appropriating for the Empire the region’s vast fields of oil and natural gas and the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.

This Crusade is a neoliberal one, designed to inject American style debauched democracy and corrupt capitalism into the Middle East. This Crusade, this invasion and occupation, this folly into mass murder and mass destruction, this criminal enterprise to appease the gods of greed and of the Almighty Dollar, is an ideological struggle initiated by the masters of neoliberal economics, who, together with those enamored with American Manifest Destiny, have for decades decimated the lives of the people who inhabit this condemned region.

As such, as much as we must see ourselves through Arab and Muslim eyes, we must also look inwards, towards our own selfish way of life, searching our self-centered egos and our ethnocentric bubble of delusion. We must learn to see and accept the role we have in the great damage done in our name. We must learn to understand, and acknowledge, that so much of the Crusade of Surge and Siege is a direct consequence of our gluttony and greed, our insatiable hunger for wealth and materialistic goods, our addictions to comfort and convenience and our complete and utter abandonment of humanist values as death and destruction is rained down on Arab and Muslim peoples.

In many ways, we, with our ever-expanding demands for better and greater standards of living, for more complete comfort and luxury, are the engine that runs the Empire’s economy and thus its power, and that of its rulers. It is the People that give sustenance to the Empire’s actions, and it is us who inevitably depend most on Middle Eastern petroleum. Indeed, every engine needs energy to give it life, to keep it operational, to maintain its many parts in harmony, to make sure of sound performance and of engine health.

This energy, of course, the energy we depend on for the continued survival of our “way of life” and our “values,” -- by which we naturally mean greed, comfort, gluttony and the standard of living no other nation enjoys – the energy that helps guarantee our “democracy and capitalism,” -- by which we mean the exploitation of the people of undeveloped nations and the market colonialism holding them hostage, all to maintain our “way of life” – as well as our addictions of mass consumption and materialism, comes directly from the black gold that permeates beneath the surface of the lands we inhabit, mostly from the nations of the south, whether it is the lands of Arabs or Muslims or Latin Americans or Africans.

The Crusade of Surge and Siege is thus a natural manifestation of our own vices and sins, of our unwillingness to part ways with a life no other people can claim to possess, and which becomes ever harder to simply abandon the longer it lasts and the more it continues to grow. Our gluttony has continued its devastation on the peoples of the region, decade after decade, because those living inside the Empire refuse to part ways with an unsustainable way of life due to an uncontrollable addiction to greed and a plague-like, insatiable appetite for materialistic goods. In the end, while we can feel good by blaming corporations or leaders, it is We the People who ultimately shoulder the blame for an indifference and a gluttony that stoke the flames that grant life to the engine of the Pax Americana.

Region Condemned

At the crossroads of humanity, connecting east and west, located in vitally geostrategic positions, the Middle East has long been a prize for any aspiring Empire. Many powers have invaded and occupied these lands and peoples, only to inevitably be violently thrown out over time. History is saturated with the hubris and folly of Empires long since disappeared, whose arrogance and wealth ended up but rotting, decaying carcasses when their adventures with the Middle East came to a less than triumphant conclusion.

The Middle East has always been resistant and hostile to invasion and occupation, with its people using the accumulated wisdom of generations, and that of thousand years old civilizations, together with a silent patience that buys time and studies how best to defeat its enemies, preying on its victim like stealthy lions on a hunt. Over time, these peoples have developed guerilla warfare and the experience of multiple occupations, slowly, and methodically, castrating the invader, one soldier, one supply line at a time. In a region that has seen much suffering, destruction and death, a war of attrition against these peoples cannot be won. Ideas of time, of black and white thinking, of the definition of victory, of analysis and reason, of the necessity for vengeance, of death, and of war and battle are interpreted and seen differently from western views. The failure to understand this reality has ruined the armies of powerful empires.

Many of the now defunct powers, it seems, failed to learn and understand human history, only to repeat the mistakes and the delusions of predecessors. They failed to read between the lines, failing to see a cornucopia of red flags. The region is as dynamic and as complicated as it is tempting, with theology, history, culture, society, territorial claims, commerce, ethnic and tribal affiliations mixing in a cocktail of fiery anger, aggression and turmoil against those powers that have tried to tame such a varied and mysterious land.

With the short-sighted machinations and the complete ignorance of the region of the last century’s western European powers the fate of the modern day Middle East was sealed. Like Africa, the Middle East we know today is one of artificiality, one that never before existed until the west imported the fictions of imaginary lines of division. Western, colonial power exceptionalism, with its belief in Judeo-Christian superiority and its belief that it was civilizing the inferior, “sub-human” Arab and Muslim peoples, created imaginary borders out of thin air, as always in its ignorance and hubris and geopolitical self-interest, carving nations where none dared exist, and where none should ever have been birthed.

Dividing lands, sects, ethnicities, tribes and peoples based on colonial powers’ interests and intentions was a mistake that condemned millions of people and resulted in a contemporary Middle East whose volatility, and importance to the world’s powers, makes it a region of immense conflict and of potential danger to the world entire. Colonial follies have led to the region’s greatest animosities and injustices, together with its greatest crimes against humanity, fating millions to live inside a geopolitical puzzle carved by the hands of the west.

Failing to take into consideration tribal, sectarian, ethnic and cultural dynamics, or the realities of Islamic theological differences, or centuries-old territorial claims to land, or the longstanding resistance to foreign invasions and occupations, or the injustice of claiming and stealing the land of continuously native peoples, or the sensitivity of the Islamic faith to and resentment in foreign entities occupying lands deemed sacred and holy, European powers set in motion the inevitable clash between the rich north and the resource rich, geopolitically necessary Middle East.

Of course the indigenous peoples of these lands had their destinies, and that of their descendants, decided for them by yesteryear’s colonizers. Today’s Crusade of Surge and Siege owes its genesis to Europe’s indifference and ignorance, to its catastrophic errors. In its short-sighted appetite for power, the long-term volatility of the region has been compromised. Yet since only sub-human infidels would feel the consequences, the west continued adding fuel to the fire.

Claws of Control

When the volatile liquid of petroleum, together with that of natural gas, are included into the Middle East cauldron – a reality that escaped all previous powers exerting force in the region before the turn of the 20th century – what emerges is a geopolitical and geostrategic prize on a scale not seen by emerging Empires before. Indeed, control of the region and of its resources – for oil, natural gas and water are today and will invariably be into the future of great strategic importance – will decide the fate of the present Empire, as well as those waiting in line to rise when America begins her decline, as she is presently doing. It is in this region where the destiny of the modern world will be decided, and it is those who dwell there who will be forced to endure the grand chess match played between powerful competitors.

Control of the region, while signifying control of its resources, also means control of the spigot, of the pipelines feeding and fueling economies, of access to these same resources by other nations, as well as control of the waterways granting passage to tankers headed to all corners of the globe. Control the Middle East’s oil fields and you control the world. Controlling the Middle East, especially having a firm grip on those lands where oil and gas abound, virtually guarantees that the Empire’s oil and gas companies, today gorging on the profits that war, insecurity and control engender, will assume major investments in, and the enormous profits from, extracting, refining, transporting and selling the Middle East’s resources. It guarantees the continued plunder of the Middle East’s oil by American energy giants.

Through control of resource-rich nations, the Empire’s energy conglomerates are granted access to and possession of these precious and finite resources, such as oil and gas, that would otherwise escape their colossal grasp. Such was the purpose of illegally and aggressively invading and occupying Iraq, where, years prior to invasion, the state and the industry unilaterally, and in secret, carved up Iraq’s existing and potential oil fields. This symbiotic relationship between the state and the corporate world, whereby the muscle and the power of the state are used to protect and further the interests of the energy industry, at great detriment to the people of the resource-rich nation, along with the knowledge, capital and resources of the industry being used to impregnate the Empire with cheap and abundant oil and gas, to the great benefit of its economy and hegemony, to the great detriment to all other potential rivals, is a classic example of corporatism, the fusion of state and profit.

The state thus secures for the energy industry those nations possessing large amounts of tapped and untapped oil reserves, only to later receive the benefits from conglomerates in the form of subsidized petroleum prices, control of oil and gas supplies, along with tax revenues from these companies and their products which, thanks to rising petroleum prices, further enhance the state’s coffers and further enable a transfer of resources, in the form of paying exponentially higher prices at the pump, away from the pocketbooks of the American people and towards the corporate and establishment world.

With a government saturated with corporate executives, lawyers and lobbyists, many from the energy and defense industries, and a revolving door of opportunity between the halls of power and the halls of profit that never seems to stop and in fact only continues to gain momentum, it is easy to see why America’s foreign policy in many ways mirrors the interests of the corporate world, especially those of the energy-industrial complex. Thus, the Crusade of Surge and Siege is a reflection of a corporate world swarming the Middle East like vultures ready to feast on the spoils of war. It is easy, too, to foresee where America will be focusing its muscle and its might in the near future, for one simply needs to follow the trail of black gold, the trail of greed and money.

As such, Central Asia, with its collection of despotic Stans, together with Iran, with its vast oil and gas fields, will most likely follow in the footsteps of Iraq – with her oil – and Afghanistan – with her strategic location and pipeline route – as the next targets of the Empire, whether militarily, through buying off of leaders or through market colonialism. Already on the radar screen are the countries of Western Africa, with valuable proven and potential oil reserves, with nations such as Nigeria already feeling the strain of possessing the devil’s excrement, already reeling both from western energy conglomerates meddling in the domestic affairs of these governments and through the pillage of their natural resources. It is the people of these lands which are at present already feeling the effects of oil and its many vices and corruptions. As usual, it is the native people inhabiting oil rich lands that will never see one drop from the massive profits oil creates.

The thirst and addiction for oil is also the reason Venezuela has become of such importance, for Hugo Chavez has become the exception, not the rule, to the Empire’s demand that a nation’s oil not be used for the good of the people. He has not sold out his nation, and his people, to the dictates of the Empire. With enormous reserves of proven oil, said to rival or even surpass those of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela is an obvious choice for American intervention, and will most likely become a victim of the Empire’s hegemony before too long. Its intransigence against the Empire’s commands will not be tolerated much longer.

Its crime, indeed, Hugo Chavez’s crime, which no oil-rich nation or leader is allowed to commit, is redistribute the nation’s oil profits to its citizens and to the state’s growing treasury. Venezuela’s crime, and why she is now a target of the Empire, is having the audacity to use its own resources for the betterment of the population, and the state itself. What has made the Bolivarian state a pariah of the Empire, placed in the waiting line for the Empire’s firing squad, is that it refused to comply or sacrifice its people to the demands of America. Her great error, in the minds of the American establishment, was to destroy the cancer of neoliberal economics, the so-called Washington Consensus, the disaster of debauched capitalism and market colonialism. For this indiscretion, together with its decision to keep oil revenues within the interests of the nation, instead of allowing American energy conglomerates to pillage oil and revenues, Venezuela is now a target of American hegemony.

The lessons to be learned from the harsh teachings of the Empire have been absorbed by the Middle East’s kings and dictators. The oil beneath your sand belongs to the Empire, not your people. It belongs to America’s energy-industrial complex. You will sell your oil at the prices selected by the Empire, at the supplies it seeks, as always in American dollars. You will increase or decrease supply as the Empire sees fit, as always to the benefit of America. The spigot ultimately is under the control of the Empire and, if your oil supply is threatened by an enemy of the Empire, your nation will be invaded and occupied by America’s legions. You will be protected only because the Empire protects its lifeblood.

If you obey and remain loyal to the Empire, not your people, you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams, allowed to rule over your lands, allowed to remain a viable Middle East leader. If you fail to learn the lessons of those who no longer rule, or those no longer alive, you will cease to rule, cease to exist and cease to be a friend. You will be overthrown, replaced and forgotten. From Mossadegh to Saddam, from Iran to Iraq, to question or challenge the Empire is to seek the wrath of blood and the full might of America’s military. To even think of nationalizing your oil, or of retaining its wealth for the benefit of your people will unleash shock and awe on your land. These lessons have been memorized and incorporated, never to be broken, never to challenge the dictates of Empire and never to interfere with its unquenchable thirst for the devil’s excrement.

Empire Unhinged

What is transpiring in the Middle East is, more than anything else, a symptom of a disease a long time in the making, of the natural tendencies of Empire to accumulate for itself the blood that grants it life and the oxygen that makes it grow. Empires old and new have always sought to maintain and indeed expand their power, their hegemony, their standards of living, their “way of life.” They never seek to reduce their influence or minimize their footprint on the world; they can never lower the expectations of their population nor slow down the engine that has brought them to such power. They almost always seek to expand their economies and their domain, always trying to increase growth.

As such, with sustainability being anathema to their chosen path, with Empires becoming victims of their own hubris and success, with greed and thirst for power consuming its elite, with comfort, laziness and gluttony possessing its people, the Empire, either willingly or forced, must stay on the present course and must retain and ratchet up the same machinations that have for decades assured supremacy. Thus, caught in a vicious circle of its own making, the Empire must increase its power and domination and must continue its path of imperialism, of conquest and of pillage, all in order to satiate its people, its elite, its economy and its own power-induced, greed addicted ego.

Failure to maintain the ever-more difficult course of Empire would allow rivals the fresh air to grow and challenge, it would result in the growing unease of its people, and it would open the door for maturity and decline. The Empire is akin to a massive corporation succeeding under a neoliberal capitalist model, where to survive and thrive, expansion and dictatorial power are the rule, not the exception, where return on investment is demanded, with expectations of profit and returns higher every year, with market share growth part of the formula, with success ultimately lying in the exploitation of worker and Earth, of the uncompromising, merciless crushing of competition, and the buying, or acquisition of, smaller potential rivals.

By placing high barriers to entry, by possessing unmatched capital and profit, by integrating vertically and horizontally, by accumulating the infrastructure, resources and relationships its challengers need to grow, by dominating the market through its sheer size and strength, and by securing the unilateral power of monopoly a corporation can maintain its dominance and power, thereby keeping potential rivals at bay, and its stockholders happy. Failure to grow and expand exponentially usually means failure to survive, with investors fleeing what is perceived to be a sinking ship, and competition ready to cannibalize a dying company. Without growth on an almost annual basis, decline is sure to follow. Such is the reality of empire, much to the detriment of the empire itself, much to the detriment of humanity, and much to the detriment of Earth.

Empires continuously seek to maintain and grow, not slow down and shrink. For this reason America will not slow down its imperial ambitions, just as it will only demand that its hegemony be allowed to expand. It will seek to crush all competition, just as will try to grow at the expense of the rest of the world. The Middle East, the breadbasket of the world’s energy needs, is a region, and a prize, that no modern empire can be without, and thus, of paramount importance to those elite for whom imperialism and Empire is the next logical step in the evolution of America. The pursuit, protection and control of Middle East oil and gas is the only logical answer to the question of why America has established permanence in the region, why she invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, why she seeks to impose her will on Iran, and why she supports, finances and helps maintain in power the cadre of puppet kings, princes, sheiks, generals and dictators that rule the nations of the region.

What is occurring today, and will continue to intensify well into the future, is the expropriation of the Middle East directly into American hands, with the Empire planting the seeds of hegemony and control over the region’s vitally important natural resources, as well as its vitally important geostrategic terrain, for a permanent – or “enduring” in Orwellian speak – and unchallenged stay. Every new military installation or base already or presently being built confirms to the thinking world, which excludes the American masses, that the United States seeks not only complete control of the Middle East, but the exclusion of all potential rivals. Through its actions, America has let it be known that the Middle East is off limits to Russia and China, with Europe allowed inside the fringes, that it is the sole domain of the Empire, and that she will be in the region for as long as oil and gas flow freely from the inner organs of the Arab and Muslim underground.

The American flag has firmly been planted in the great majority of Middle East nations, with the Empire’s military establishing permanent Crusader castles and garrisons and bases, in dozens of countries, to secure for the realm the spoils and rewards of the region. At present, in the Middle East is where the lifeblood of the Empire lies, along with that of the industrialized world, where its energy for the foreseeable future is secured. Naturally, then, it is this region, more than any other, that must be protected and defended and taken off the grand chessboard before emerging rivals rise and old challengers think themselves resurrected. It is in the Middle East where a permanent footprint must be established, where the Empire must claim the divine right to plunder, rape, destroy and subjugate. The great catastrophe of the Middle East will thus continue well into the future.

It is the black energy that lies below humanity’s feet that propels the Empire and its people to unmatched wealth and power. And so, in order to understand the Crusade of Surge and Siege, in order to give prominence inside the conscious mind of billions to the genocide inside Iraq, the crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and the human rights violations throughout the Middle East, we must come to an understanding that as long as petroleum fuels the human condition, as long as carbon-based engines and products dominate our civilization, wars and invasions and occupations and the oppression of entire peoples will continue unabated by today’s present Empire, with its corresponding brutality and barbarity and violence and destruction and mass murder continuing to haunt us until either we put an end to our insatiable thirst for oil, or our insatiable thirst for oil puts an end to us.

Part Four Will Be Posted 27/02/08

Due to the great response and interest "Crusade of Surge and Siege" has had over the last week, I have written a fourth and final part to the series. Along with part three, "Inside the Fires of Imperialism," part four, "Into the Valley of Catastrophe," has now been published.

For those wishing to read more about the brutality of America's occupation in Iraq, along with its consequences, I suggest my previous essays, "Operation Iraq Forever," "Holocaust Redux" "The Killing Fields: Ghosts of the Walking Dead," and "Dear Terrorist Child." These essays convey aspects of America's Crusade that are not covered in this essay.

Also, it should be noted that the Israeli/Palestinian issue has largely been left untouched in this series. That topic is an issue reserved for its own essays, some of which have been written already, and so which are yet to come. For those interested, please see "The Untermensch Syndrome: Israel's Moral Decay," "A Malignant Tumor On the World," and "The Walls That Divide Us."

Manuel Valenzuela is a social critic, commentator, Internet essayist and author of Echoes in the Wind, a novel now published by . His essays appear regularly at various alternative news websites from around the globe. Mr. Valenzuela welcomes comments and can be reached at .

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Calm Before the Conflagration

By Chris Hedges

The United States is funding and in many cases arming the three ethnic factions in Iraq—the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunni Arabs. These factions rule over partitioned patches of Iraqi territory and brutally purge rival ethnic groups from their midst. Iraq no longer exists as a unified state. It is a series of heavily armed fiefdoms run by thugs, gangs, militias, radical Islamists and warlords who are often paid wages of $300 a month by the U.S. military. Iraq is Yugoslavia before the storm. It is a caldron of weapons, lawlessness, hate and criminality that is destined to implode. And the current U.S. policy, born of desperation and defeat, means that when Iraq goes up, the U.S. military will have to scurry like rats for cover.

The supporters of the war, from the Bush White House to Sen. John McCain, tout the surge as the magic solution. But the surge, which primarily deployed 30,000 troops in and around Baghdad, did little to thwart the sectarian violence. The decline in attacks began only when we bought off the Sunni Arabs. U.S. commanders in the bleak fall of 2006 had little choice. It was that or defeat. The steady rise in U.S. casualties, the massive car bombs that tore apart city squares in Baghdad and left hundreds dead, the brutal ethnic cleansing that was creating independent ethnic enclaves beyond our control throughout Iraq, the death squads that carried out mass executions and a central government that was as corrupt as it was impotent signaled catastrophic failure.

The United States cut a deal with its Sunni Arab enemies. It would pay the former insurgents. It would allow them to arm and form military units and give them control of their ethnic enclaves. The Sunni Arabs, in exchange, would halt attacks on U.S. troops. The Sunni Arabs agreed.

The U.S. is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pay the monthly salaries of some 600,000 armed fighters in the three rival ethnic camps in Iraq. These fighters—Shiite, Kurd and Sunni Arab—are not only antagonistic but deeply unreliable allies. The Sunni Arab militias have replaced central government officials, including police, and taken over local administration and security in the pockets of Iraq under their control. They have no loyalty outside of their own ethnic community. Once the money runs out, or once they feel strong enough to make a thrust for power, the civil war in Iraq will accelerate with deadly speed. The tactic of money-for-peace failed in Afghanistan. The U.S. doled out funds and weapons to tribal groups in Afghanistan to buy their loyalty, but when the payments and weapons shipments ceased, the tribal groups headed back into the embrace of the Taliban.

The Sunni Arab militias are known by a variety of names: the Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias call themselves “sahwas" ("sahwa" being the Arabic word for awakening). There are now 80,000 militia fighters, nearly all Sunni Arabs, paid by the United States to control their squalid patches of Iraq. They are expected to reach 100,000. The Sunni Arab militias have more fighters under arms than the Shiite Mahdi Army and are about half the size of the feeble Iraqi army. The Sunni Awakening groups, which fly a yellow satin flag, are forming a political party.

The Sunni Arab militias, though they have ended attacks on U.S. forces, detest the Shiite-Kurdish government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and abhor the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil. They take the money and the support with clenched teeth because with it they are able to build a renegade Sunni army, a third force inside Iraq, which they believe will make it possible to overthrow the central government. The Sunni Arabs, who make up about 40 percent of Iraq’s population, held most positions of power under Saddam Hussein. They dominated Iraq’s old officer corps. They made up its elite units, including the Republic Guard divisions and the Special Forces regiments. They controlled the intelligence agencies. There are several hundred thousand well-trained Sunni Arabs who lack only an organizational structure. We have now made the formation of this structure possible. These militias are the foundation for a deadlier insurgent force, one that will dwarf anything the United States faced in the past. The U.S. is arming, funding and equipping its own assassins.

There have been isolated clashes that point to a looming conflagration. A Shiite-dominated unit of the regular army in the late summer of 2007 attacked a strong Sunni Arab force west of Baghdad. U.S. troops thrust themselves between the two factions. The enraged Shiites, thwarted in their attack, kidnapped relatives of the commander of the Sunni Arab force, and American negotiators had to plead frantically for their release. There have been scattered incidents like this one throughout Iraq.

If the U.S. begins, as promised, to withdraw troops, it will be harder to keep these antagonistic factions apart. The cease-fire by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, extended a few days ago, could collapse. And if that happens, a civil war, unlike anything U.S. forces have experienced in Iraq, will begin. Such a conflagration, with the potential to draw in neighboring states and lead to the dismemberment of Iraq, would be the final chapter of the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The plan for what comes after Iraq

By Andrew J. Bacevich | February 24, 2008

THE ISSUE that ought to occupy center stage in the 2008 presidential campaign is not US policy toward Iraq but US policy after Iraq. "After" in this context does not mean that Iraq is now receding in America's rearview mirror; the conflict there will continue for years to come. "After" means that, like it or not, dealing with the war's consequences will rank near the top of the next president's agenda.

One such consequence is this: the United States finds itself without a set of viable and morally coherent principles to guide decisions regarding the use of force.

The United States once adhered to principles that were both sound and eminently straightforward. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, the so-called Vietnam syndrome exercised a restraining influence. Americans saw military power as something to be husbanded. The preference was to use force as a last resort, employed to defend vital interests. Overt aggression qualified as categorically wrong.

After the Cold War, enthusiasm for precision weapons and a brief infatuation with "humanitarian interventionism" eroded those principles. During the 1990s, the use of force, usually on a small scale, became increasingly commonplace. The lessons of Vietnam lost their salience. Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which prompted the Bush administration to jettison those lessons in their entirety.

In their place, the administration substituted a breathtakingly ambitious new framework. Through the use of preventive war (the Bush doctrine) the United States set out to transform the greater Middle East (the freedom agenda), thereby liberating the people of the Islamic world and preventing further terrorist attacks. Rather than a last resort, force became a preferred instrument. Given the right motives, aggressive war became justifiable and even necessary.

Two key assumptions underlay this approach. The first was that US troops were unstoppable: once committed into action, US forces could be counted on to deliver a quick, decisive, and economical victory. The second assumption was that the greater Middle East was ripe for change, with liberal values providing the antidote to the pathologies afflicting the region.

Events have now demolished these assumptions. Except when fighting on its own terms, the United States military has proven itself unable to deliver quick, decisive, and economical victories. Within 18 months of the terrorist attacks, President Bush initiated two major wars. Years later, despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars and the loss of thousands of lives, those wars continue, with no end in sight. The president will bequeath both of them to his successor. Bluntly, the Bush doctrine hasn't worked as advertised.

Similar problems beset the freedom agenda. Efforts to democratize Iraq and Afghanistan have produced not effective and legitimate governments, but quasi-permanent dependencies. In the West Bank and Gaza, American insistence on free and fair elections delivered power to Hamas. In Lebanon, elections enhanced the standing of Hezbollah. Rather than alleviating pathologies, democracy has accentuated them.

Although the White House may pretend otherwise, the Bush doctrine and the freedom agenda have failed their trials. That failure is definitive. Only the truly demented will imagine that simply trying harder will produce different results - that preventive war against Iran, for example, will hurry that nation down the path toward Western-oriented liberal democracy. The collapse of the Bush doctrine and the freedom agenda leaves a dangerous void.

In the place of defective principles regarding the proper role of force, we now have no principles at all. Nothing in the presidential campaign thus far suggests that any of the candidates is aware of this problem. Regardless of the election's outcome, however, it will be incumbent upon the next president to replace the Bush doctrine and its corollary.

This will be no easy task. Yet the place to begin is with a candid recognition of just how far Americans have strayed from the path of wisdom and prudence since persuading themselves that the lessons of Vietnam no longer applied.

A first step might be to enshrine a new Iraq syndrome to serve the same purposes today that the Vietnam syndrome did after that failed war, reminding us that power has limits, curbing the reckless impulses of our politicians, warning against those who promise peace while sending young Americans to fight in distant lands.

The Iraq syndrome ought to begin with this dictum: never again. This time we need to mean it.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book "The Limits of Power" will appear later this year.

Monday, February 25, 2008

9/11: The Unraveling of the Official Story Continues

By Mark H. Gaffney

Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

couldn’t put Humpty together again.

25/02/08 "ICH" -- -- Today in America we are witness to a great unraveling, the likes of which we have never seen before. There are no historical precedents. For many months now the official narrative about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America has been coming apart, and I mean: at the seams. The official story about that terrible day is disintegrating. The trend shows no sign of abating and in recent weeks it even appears to have accelerated. At the present rate, soon there will be nothing left of the official version of events but a discordant echo and a series of extremely rude after shocks.

Is our nation prepared to face those rude shocks?

The unraveling began within weeks of the release of the 9/11 Commission Report (in July 2004) with the shocking revelation that members of the 9/11 commission were convinced that government officials, including NORAD generals, had deceived them during the investigation–––in essence, had lied to their faces during the hearings.[1] According to the Washington Post the members of the commission vented their frustrations at a special meeting in the summer of 2004. The panel even considered referring the matter to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.

The unraveling continued in 2006 with the release of a follow-up volume, Without Precedent, authored by the two men who had co-chaired the commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton. The men had come under increasing fire ever since the release of their final report for presiding over what many now believe was a failed investigation. Stung by so much criticism, Kean and Hamilton felt the need to explain (and defend) themselves. The gist of their 2006 book is easily summarized. They write: ”We were set up to fail.”

The bleeding continued in May 2007 with the stunning announcement that former BYU physicist Steven Jones had found residues of thermate, a high temperature explosive, in the dust of the collapsed World Trade Center.[2] The discovery has the gravest implications for our nation, and probably for this reason the announcement went reported in the US media. In a later chapter I will discuss this important evidence in detail.

Yet another startling revelation occurred in December 2007 when we learned that the CIA destroyed evidence, in the form of audio-tapes, deemed vital to the official investigation.[3]

The news prompted 9/11 Commission co-chairs Kean and Hamilton to fire off an angry salvo in the New York Times in which they charged that the CIA had obstructed their investigation.[4] Their blunt accusation was explosive and should have caused every American to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, the average American probably failed to connect the dots because, as usual, the US media offered nothing in the way of helpful context or analysis. We were fed the usual diet of tidbits and sound bytes: a wealth of minutiae. The big picture remained elusive.

But back to the unraveling story.

Starting in 2002, the CIA conducted interrogations of captured Al Qaeda operatives, including Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh, at undisclosed CIA prisons outside the US. During these interrogations the CIA resorted to “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the CIA’s euphemism for torture) to extract information.[5] The methods included “waterboarding,” which induces a sensation of drowning in the unlucky individual. Evidently, the CIA decided for its own internal reasons to video-tape these early interrogation sessions. However, years later (in 2005), Jose A, Rodriquez, the CIA’s Director of Operations, ordered the tapes destroyed. For what reason? Well, according to current CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, because the tapes posed “a serious security risk.”[6] Hayden went on to clarify his rather cryptic remark, and explained to the press that if the tapes had become public they would have exposed CIA officials “and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.” The excuse was flimflam, but the US media hung on Hayden’s every word as if he were speaking gospel. The press certainly did not throw him any hard balls. Nor did they press him on the point.

Hayden also claimed that the CIA had notified the appropriate committee heads in Congress in 2005 before destroying the evidence. But according to the Times this was immediately denied by the top two members of the House Intelligence Committee. A spokesman for Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), who at the time chaired the oversight committee, said that he was “never briefed or advised” that the tapes even existed, let alone “that they were going to be destroyed.”[7]

Kean and Hamilton had a similar reaction–––outrage. In their article they state categorically that the CIA never informed them about any taped interrogations, despite their repeated requests for all pertinent information about the captured Al Qaeda operatives, who were then in CIA custody. In fact, as damaging as the news about the CIA’s destruction of evidence surely was, the story exposed an even more serious problem. One might naturally assume that the official commission charged to investigate the events of 9/11 would have had unfettered access to all of the evidence pertinent to the case, including government documents and key witnesses. This goes without saying. Access was vital to the success of the investigation. How else could the commission do its work? Yet, it never happened.

CIA Stonewalled the Official Panel

In their article Kean and Hamilton summarize their dealings with the CIA.[8] They describe their private meeting with CIA Director George Tenet and how he denied them access to the captured members of Al Qaeda. Which means, of course, that the panel never had a chance to conduct its own interviews. Tenet even denied them permission to conduct second-hand interviews with the CIA interrogators, which Kean and Hamilton felt were needed to “to better judge the credibility of the witnesses and clarify ambiguities in the reporting.”[9] Ultimately, the commission was forced to rely on third-hand intelligence reports prepared by the CIA itself. Many of these reports were poorly written and incomplete summaries[10] which, according to the co-chairs “raised almost as many questions as they answered.”

In order to resolve the many uncertainties the commission prepared a list of questions, which they then submitted to the CIA. The questions covered a range of topics, such as the translations from the Arabic, inconsistencies in the detainees’ stories, the context of the questioning, how the interrogators followed up certain lines of questioning, and the assessments of the interrogators themselves. But the CIA’s response was less than helpful. In their article Kean and Hamilton state that “the [CIA] general counsel responded in writing with non-specific replies.” This is a bland way of saying that the agency stiffed the panel. Not satisfied, Kean and Hamilton made another attempt to gain access to the captives, but were again rebuffed during a head-to-head meeting with Tenet in December 2003. For this reason the ambiguities and other questions went unresolved and still flaw the commission’s final report. Yet, as I have indicated, the more serious problem was the panel’s lack of access to begin with, a problem that was by no means obvious until the recent story broke in the mainstream press. As we now know, Kean and Hamilton had inserted a caveat in their report (on page 146) conceding that they were denied access to the witnesses. Most readers, however, probably pass right over it without understanding its awful significance. I know I did, the first time I read the report.

The latest unraveling also came with a twist. Not even Porter J. Goss, CIA Director at the the time, knew that the tapes had been destroyed. That decision, as noted, was made by Jose A, Rodriquez, the CIA’s Director of Operations–––as in covert operations. According to the Times, Goss was angered to learn he had been left out of the loop.[11] But Goss declined to make a public statement. What are we to make of this? Why was the CIA chief kept in the dark about the destruction of evidence deemed vital to the 9/11 investigation? This is just as shocking as the destruction of the tapes because it points to a disconnect in the chain of command. Was the CIA’s covert branch, long notorious for staging rogue operations, up to its old tricks? Are there loose cannons at Langley still?

The 9/11 Commission Report was packaged and sold to the American people like some trendy product. The US media has told us countless times it is the definitive version of the events of September 11, and in 2008 most Americans probably take this for granted. When something is repeated enough times on television people begin to believe it whether it is true or not. This is what happens when mass marketing is made to serve a political agenda. We witnessed a similar phenomenon during the run-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, when President G.W. Bush’s mantra about Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and his supposed links to Al Qaeda were drummed into the brain of every American. Today, of course, we know different. None of it was true. Yet, on the eve of that war a Washington Post poll found that 70% of Americans believed that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. The case is a sobering example of the power of the corporate media to shape public opinion with–––let us call it by its true name–––propaganda.

OK. It is now 2008. Is America prepared to face reality? The 9/11 Commission’s lack of direct access to the captured members of al Qaeda can only mean that the official 9/11 investigation was fundamentally compromised from the outset. No other conclusion is possible, given the latest disclosures. In their recent article Kean and Hamilton do not repudiate their own report, at least, not in so many words. But they come close. They insinuate that the CIA’s stonewalling now calls into question the veracity of key parts of the official story, especially the plot against America supposedly masterminded by Khalid Shiekh Mohammed and approved by Osama bin Laden. Until now, the nation has assumed that all of this was soundly based on the testimony of the captured al Qaeda operatives, several of whom supposedly confessed. This is the story told in the 9/11 Commission Report. However, when you probe more deeply you discover the devil lurking in the details. I personally believe there was a plot by al Qaeda to attack America. Yet, without independent confirmation about what the captives actually confessed to, precisely what was said and by whom, indeed, whether they confessed at all, there is absolutely no way for us to know how much of the official story is true and how much was fabricated by the CIA for reasons we can only guess.

For all that we know, the entire story is a pack of lies. It comes down to whether the CIA is telling the truth. Should we believe them? Another important question is: How did the miscarriage of a lawful process of discovery happen, given that Congress invested the 9/11 Commission with the authority to subpoena evidence?

Philip Shenon’s New Book

Now, in February 2008, along comes a new “tell-all” book by Philip Shenon with much to say about the above, and some answers.[12] His book’s sub-title, The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, sounds very promising. Nor does the author fail to deliver. Shenon covered the 9/11 Commission for the New York Times and over the course of the investigation he personally interviewed many of the commissioners and staff. His book is an overnight best-seller, and for good reason. It is a well-written expose and affords our best look yet at what went on behind-the-scenes. Instead of burdening us with his personal opinions, Shenon plays the role of reporter, and describes what happened through the eyes of the commissioners and staff. The book provides valuable insights into why the investigation failed.

Of course, we already knew large parts of the story. We knew about National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice’s incompetence, for example, and about the serious conflicts of interest on the commission, particularly in the case of Philip Zelikow, who served as the panel’s executive director. In that capacity Zelikow controlled many facets of the investigation, including the scheduling of witnesses and the vital flow of information between the staff and commissioners. Zelikow also edited (and, no doubt, doctored) the final report. In addition to being a long-time confidante of Rice, with whom he coauthored a book, Zelikow served on Bush’s transition team and even drafted a national security strategy paper that became the basis for the Bush administration’s attempts in late 2002 to justify the coming war against Iraq. It is hard to believe that Kean and Hamilton, who claim their goal was to lead a nonpartisan investigation, would have knowingly hired such a man–––a neocon–––to manage the day-to-day affairs of their panel. According to Shenon, it only happened because Zelikow failed to report the full extent of his ties to the Bush administration when he submitted his resume for the job. If Zelikow had been more forthcoming he would have been instantly eliminated from consideration. But this hardly excuses Kean and Hamilton for failing to properly vet the candidate.

Shenon’s most important revelation is sure to fuel the unraveling process. Shenon names CIA Director George Tenet as one of the government officials whom the commissioners and staff were certain had lied during the hearings.[13] Tenet gave testimony on three occasions (in addition to the private meetings with Kean and Hamilton) and in each of these hearings the CIA Director suffered from a faulty memory, frequently responding with “I can’t remember.” Initially, the commissioners were inclined to be sympathetic and gave the director the benefit of the doubt. (Tenet’s supporters at the agency reportedly made excuses for their boss: George could not remember because he was dead-tired, physically exhausted from dealing with the war on terrorism, and suffering from sleep deprivation–––not getting enough shuteye.[14] Poor old George.) But gradually the tide turned. By Tenet’s third appearance it was obvious to everyone he was perjuring himself.

Curiously, there no mention of this spectacle in the 9/11 Commission Report. Why not? Kean gave the reason at the panel’s first public hearing in New York City, when he said: “Our...purpose will not be to point fingers.” The comment was not well received. According to Shenon, it prompted a rumble in the audience, including sneers from the families of the victims who wanted those officials responsible to be held accountable.[15]

It is important to understand that when Tenet stiffed the commission he was carrying on a time-honored Langley tradition. For the first 25 years of its existence the CIA functioned entirely outside our constitutional framework of government. Like it or not, this is the disturbing reality. The state of affairs prevailed until the Watergate era when the Church hearings exposed a laundry list of criminal activities by the CIA, such as domestic spying, the assassination of foreign leaders, the overthrow of governments, plus the nasty habit of deceiving Congress. The Church hearings shocked the nation and led to the creation of House and Senate intelligence committees to provide the democratic oversight that was sorely lacking. At any rate, that was the intent. But as with so many good ideas it never worked as expected. The CIA soon found ways around the oversight process. This is not surprising when you consider that the agency’s expertise is clandestine operations. Today, the Intelligence Committees in both houses are widely viewed as a joke, and despite a chorus of denials from the agency and its admirers the perception is undoubtedly correct. To his credit, Shenon touches on the problem. The author mentions that one of the commissioners, former Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA), once served on the Senate Intelligence Committee but quit in frustration because of the lack of any serious business. Said Gorton: “I felt it was a useless exercise–––I never felt I was being told anything that I hadn’t learned in the Washington Post.”[16] Does such an agency deserve our trust and respect?

As to why Kean and Hamilton did not make more aggressive use of their authority to subpoena evidence, Shenon’s answer is not very satisfying but rings true. The co-chairs were overcautious because they wished to avoid a legal showdown that would drag out in the courts.[17] A legal stalemate threatened to delay their investigation beyond the mandated deadline, which in their view would have been tantamount to a Bush victory. It was a huge mistake, however. Had Kean and Hamilton stood tough and issued blanket subpoenas early in the investigation as their legal counsel advised, the inevitable showdown in the courts would have worked in their favor. Bush and Tenet would have been perceived–––correctly–––as obstructing the investigation and would have come under increasing pressure and scrutiny. That sort of confrontation would have served the discovery process and the cause of 9/11 truth. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. This helps to explain why the official investigation failed in its stated objective: “to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11.”[18]

Although Philip Shenon supports the official narrative, his research was so narrowly focused that his rather casual discounting of “conspiracy theorists” can do no harm to the 9/11 truth movement. (Here, of course, “conspiracy theorist” means anyone who does not agree with the official conspiracy theory.) Judging from his book, Shenon appears to be genuinely unaware that in 2007 the evidence shifted decisively in favor of the “conspiracy theorists.” It is ironic that, whatever his personal views, his book is likely to speed the unraveling process.

The showdown with the CIA, though long delayed, appears to be developing as I write, and it portends–––I believe–––a coming shift in the terms of the debate, away from the previous discussion about the incompetence of officials and “security failures” to more grave issues. But how this important drama will be played out remains unclear. Obviously, a new legally empowered investigative body is urgently needed, since the 9/11 Commission no longer exists. While there are many reasons to worry about the future––––we have entered the most dangerous time in our history––––the good news is that, once begun, the unraveling process is irreversible. It moves in only one direction: forward. As in the famous nursery rhyme, the official reality is falling apart and the pieces will never be put back together again.

Mark H. Gaffney's forthcoming book, The 911 Mystery Plane and the Vanishing of America, will be released in September 2008. Mark's latest, Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes, was a finalist for the 2004 Narcissus Book Award. Mark can be reached for comment at Visit Mark's web site at


1 Dan Eggen, “9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2006.

2 The Jones paper is posted at

3 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007.

4 Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Stonewalled by the CIA,” New York Times, January 2, 2008.

5 “CIA destroyed terrorism suspect videotapes. Director says interrogation tapes were security risk. Critics call move illegal,” NBC News, December 7, 2007.

6 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007.

7 Ibid.

8 Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Stonewalled by the CIA,” New York Times, January 2, 2008.

9 The 9/11 Commission Report. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p.146.

10 Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2008, p.391.

11 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007.

12 Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2008, p. 360.

13 Ibid., p. 360.

14 Ibid., pp. 258-260.

15 Ibid., p. 99.

16 Ibid., p. 229.

17 Ibid. pp. 94 and 201.

18 The 9/11 Commission Report. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p. xvi.