What we are witnessing is how ugly it can get when control freaks start losing control. Beset by problems, the Bush team responds by attacking those who point out the problems. These linear, Manichaean managers are flailing in an ever-more-chaotic environment. They are spending $3.9 billion a month trying to keep the lid on a festering mess in Iraq, even as Afghanistan simmers.
Spam notwithstanding, the question is hard to avoid: Has the little block of thermoplastic and silicon rendered irrelevant and impotent the large hunk of concrete? Has the stateless on-line realm given the people a direct detour around the dictator, the closed state, the walled community? Has the Internet, as many people predicted, become a force of democratic revolution?
That is a big question this week, as Iraq begins to be wired with public Internet technology for the first time in its history (Saddam Hussein limited access to a handful of closely monitored government officials). Electronic Berlin Walls now surround only a handful of countries: North Korea, Cuba (whose government has Internet equipment but largely forbids it to the people), Myanmar, some central Asian states and large regions of Africa, whose economic deprivation prevents any more than rudimentary telephone or Internet lines.
In his May 1 op-ed piece, Will Marshall praised presidential candidates Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry and John Edwards as "Blair Democrats" -- internationalists who are willing "to use force in the national interest." He rejoiced that the Democratic Party "is moving away from McGovernism and back to its international roots."
One wonders why Marshall went to Britain for an example of how American Democrats ought to behave. It is more puzzling why he concluded that I'm opposed to internationalism and the "use of force in the national interest." I first used force in the national interest during World War II, when I flew 35 combat missions in Europe. American involvement in that war was clearly in our national interest, and that is why I volunteered at the age of 19 to be part of it.
It is true that I opposed the American war in Vietnam, but not because I had ceased to be an internationalist. That war was a disastrous folly, as all literate people now acknowledge. We were never more isolated from the international community than when our troops were deepest in the Vietnam jungle. A close second in isolating us from the international community was the invasion of Iraq, a largely defenseless little desert state that posed no threat to us and had taken no action against us.
The best way to support our troops is to keep them out of needless wars such as Iraq and Vietnam. The best way for America to play a constructive role internationally is to support the United Nations and to work toward expanding international trade, aid and investment while protecting our workers and the environment. An internationalist would also support the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the International Criminal Court, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and an international ban on land mines.
An internationalist also would support the International Food for Peace Program, which I directed during the Kennedy administration, as well as the efforts I carried forward to reduce global hunger during my service as a Clinton administration ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture agencies in Rome. Former senator Bob Dole and I have teamed up to press for an international school lunch program that would reach 300 million elementary school children who are not being fed.
I am opposed to the Bush doctrine of "preemptive war" -- what heretofore has been known as aggression or invasion. I am also opposed to congressional resolutions that give the president a blank check to go to war when he pleases.
I have always thought America to be the greatest country on earth. One of the reasons I think so is because of our great founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, who spoke of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Is there any doubt that the opinion of mankind was overwhelmingly against our wars in Vietnam and Iraq?
We don't measure a nation's internationalism by the number of troops it sends to other countries. By that test, Adolf Hitler would be the greatest internationalist of the 20th century. I might add for Marshall's edification that I would not have won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 -- winning 11 primaries, including the two largest states, New York and California -- if I had been perceived as an isolationist. I also believe that if the disgraceful conduct of President Richard Nixon during that campaign had been known before the election, I would have been elected. If so, I would have led as an internationalist unafraid to use force in the national interest.
After five years spent working to end the sanctions on Iraq, I find myself in an odd position. I'm opposed to the current U.S. plans to end the sanctions.
The new situation is fascinating. For a dozen years, every time we in the anti-sanctions movement talked about the appalling suffering caused by the sanctions, the constant refrain – from the Bush administration, the Clinton administration, and the second Bush administration – was that the suffering was not caused by sanctions but by the regime. Once the regime is destroyed, the Bush administration miraculously realizes overnight sanctions were actually harmful and that it's necessary to remove that burden from the Iraqi people in order to provide humanitarian aid and reconstruction.
Adding to the confusion, the two countries on the Security Council previously most against continuation of the sanctions, France and Russia, did an about-face and opposed the U.S. plans. Both (especially Russia) have insisted that sanctions cannot be lifted until UN weapons inspectors certify that Iraq is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This is true even though Vladimir Putin of Russia openly mocked Tony Blair about the dramatically unconfirmed claims by "coalition" members that Iraq possessed WMD that posed a threat to the world.
Did this administration, which tried to keep Iraqi infants from being vaccinated for diphtheria and limited imports of streptomycin into the country, see a blinding light on the road to Baghdad? And did other countries suddenly decide that the deaths of Iraqi children was, as Madeleine Albright put it in an interview in 1996, a price worth paying, and this time merely in order to uphold a trivial legalistic argument?
Actually, it's not so confusing. The United States has moved to consolidate control over Iraq. The talks being held by selected members of the "Iraqi opposition" under the control of the U.S. military are not intended to create an independent government, but rather one which is tightly controlled by the United States, just as in Afghanistan. As in Afghanistan, the meetings are excluding entire segments of the political spectrum. They are being done with express disregard of calls across that spectrum for meetings to be held under neutral UN auspices rather than under those of an occupying power with clear plans for increased regional domination.
Those plans have become clear as well. The Bush administration wants to set up permanent military bases in Iraq, making it the main Middle East staging area for U.S. "force projection." The massive political leverage given by this presence will be used as a club against Iran and Syria and also to force the Palestinians to acquiesce to the Israeli occupation through the latest "peace plan." The administration also wants not only to open up future Iraqi exploration to foreign corporations (with U.S. and maybe British corporations presumably favored) but to privatize, at least in part, the state oil companies and their currently producing wells.
All of these things can be obtained through the U.S. military presence and the creation of what will essentially be an Iraqi puppet government. However, some problems are the kind that can't be solved by bombs. Existing UN resolutions require Security Council approval for Iraqi oil sales and for disbursement of oil money to pay for other goods. Other countries may be leery of buying Iraqi oil without some clear understanding that what they're doing is legal, so the United States cannot simply declare those resolutions void by fiat, the way it declared war on Iraq.
The draft resolution being currently circulated would give the United States very open, explicit control over Iraq's oil industry and the money derived therefrom. Then, instead of being forced to disburse USAID funds to corporations like Bechtel that are closely tied to current and past administration figures in closed bidding processes with no foreign corporations allowed, the United States will be able to use Iraq's money to pay off mostly American corporations.
In the process, it will try to escape the legal obligation it shares with the United Kingdom: Since they committed an illegal, aggressive war (with no Security Council authorization) against Iraq, they are financially responsible for the reconstruction. Iraq should not have to pay for its own reconstruction, especially since for years to come its oil revenues will be barely enough to meet the basic needs of its people.
This fundamental violation of the rights of the Iraqi people is being done in the name of the immediate crisis faced. Yet the way that the sanctions work is not the way they used to. The Sanctions Committee automatically approves most imports without any requirement for deliberation. Furthermore, the biggest bureaucratic delays were created by deliberate U.S. understaffing, so that there were never enough people to review all the proposed contracts (see Joy Gordon's article "Cool War: Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction, Harper's, November 2002). Finally, all members of the Security Council have indicated willingness to cooperate in expediting the release of all goods required for immediate needs.
In the long run, the sanctions must be lifted because they impose a highly inefficient foreign control of the Iraqi economy, causing the collapse of local economic activity and requiring money that should be spent internally to be spent on foreign corporations. In the short run, there is no compelling reason to lift them in the absence of a legitimate Iraqi government that has the right to make choices about how Iraq's oil wealth is to be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people.
France and Russia are opposing this move (France rather weakly), not because of any genuine concern about WMD, but for two reasons. First, the venal one: They don't want to be completely shut out of any lucrative postwar contracts, and certainly want to hang on to oil concession deals signed with the previous Iraqi regime. Second, a reason that activists in the United States and elsewhere should support fully: They don't want to retroactively legitimize U.S. aggression and thus contribute further to its more and more openly imperial role in the world.
In fact, overt subordination of the United Nations to the United States is a central part of the Bush administration agenda. It has served notice that the UN has no role in anything "important" – not in weapons inspections, in the Iraqi political process, in major reconstruction decisions, nor in peacekeeping (where a multinational "coalition of the willing" is being assembled).
Instead, as George Bush said, the "vital role" of the UN is easily defined: "That means food. That means medicine. That means aid." Or, as Richard Perle said even more openly, in an op-ed shortly after the war began titled "Thank God for the death of the UN," "The 'good works' part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat." No longer content with a system where nominally the UN is the ultimate authority but the United States dominates it by coercion and bribery, the Bush administration wants explicit recognition that the UN should play only the roles allowed to it by the United States.
An example from history helps to illuminate the fundamental principle regarding the sanctions. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, one of the first things it did was try to set up a puppet regime composed of Kuwaitis to rule the country as a satellite of Iraq. It would actually have withdrawn most of its army had that regime gotten any international recognition. Instead, the sanctions that were levied at U.S. insistence embargoed not only Iraq's oil sales but also Kuwait's. Kuwaiti oil was not to be sold so that an illegitimate regime could not plunder Kuwait's oil wealth for the benefit of the Iraqi government. Those sanctions were indefensible for reasons that don't apply today, including the almost complete termination of food imports into Iraq (although food was technically allowed under UN Security Council Resolution 666, in practice virtually none got in). The principle, however, was sound.
Today, the United States is willing to (partially) withdraw after it installs its own puppet regime (one that will presumably have more independence than the one Iraq tried to install, but will still be subservient to U.S. dictates). It also wants to plunder Iraq's oil wealth for its own political purposes and for the benefit of U.S. corporations. This is reason enough to keep the sanctions on until there is a legitimate Iraqi government. This can only happen if U.S. and other "coalition" forces withdraw, there is a multinational UN peacekeeping force with no participation from any of the aggressor nations, and the Iraqis are given a genuine chance to exercise their right to self-determination.
Rahul Mahajan is a member of the Nowar Collective. His newest book, "Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond" will be out in June 2003. His articles are collected at
There's no denying that George Bush knows how to stage patriotic spectacles at sea, but the reality back on shore is not so technicolor pretty. Did you know that Top Gun Bush is poised to become the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over job destruction rather than job creation? Thanks to Daniel Gross's article, recently posted on Slate, we also know that Bush's last tax cut, the largest cut in American history, has so far "cost" America 1.7 million jobs and counting.
For a good comparison of how Bush's record of job destruction compares to previous presidencies since World War II, check out the following compilation by the International Association of Machinists, which looked at the average growth in monthly employment during the terms of the last fifteen presidential administrations.
Truman First Term: 60,000 jobs gained per month
Truman Second Term: 113,000 jobs gained per month
Eisenhower First Term: 58,000 jobs gained per month
Eisenhower Second Term: 15,000 jobs gained per month
Kennedy: 122,000 jobs gained per month
Johnson: 206,000 jobs gained per month
Nixon First Term: 129,000 jobs gained per month
Nixon/Ford : 105,000 jobs gained per month
Carter: 218,000 jobs gained per month
Reagan First Term: 109,000 jobs gained per month
Reagan Second Term: 224,000 jobs gained per month
G. Bush: 52,000 jobs gained per month
Clinton First Term: 242,000 jobs gained per month
Clinton Second Term: 235,000 jobs gained per month
G.W. Bush : 69,000 jobs LOST per month
Also back on shore: While this Administration stakes out the patriotic high ground, it is decimating programs that benefit veterans, their families and their communities to hand the super-rich another tax cut. (To find out what you can do to expose Bush's hypocrisy, support the national ad campaign by True Majority and Veterans for Common Sense .)
National unemployment has just increased to 6 percent, the highest in almost a decade. The states face the worst budget crisis since the 1930s. Primary services such as schools, basic health care, sanitation and law enforcement are being undermined. Lines at food banks are longer and longer. Homelessness is on the rise. Even the state agencies charged with combating terrorism are being gutted. As Bob Herbert wrote in his New York Times column, "There is a faint but unmistakable whiff of the Depression in the air."
No wonder Karl Rove predicts that the 2004 election is going to be "close," and "competitive." Maybe he's been reviewing other stats--like the one that says that since 1900, the only incumbent Republican Presidents to lose a second term have been named Hoover and Bush.
by James Carroll
''FORGETFULNESS is the way to exile,'' the legend reads at Yad Vashem. ''Remembrance is the way to redemption.'' Yad Vashem is the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Jews everywhere pause to think of the Six Million, and in Israel itself everything stops for a long moment of silence. If Jews have a reason to remember what happened in the heart of Europe between 1933 and 1945, how much more so do non-Jews. Remembrance can advance narrow agendas -- revenge, exceptionalism, victimhood, guilt -- but remembrance can also lead to understanding and change. Memory is a main source of moral awareness, a way of finally coming to terms with what we do without meaning to, a way of facing the truth that even apparently virtuous action can be grounded in prejudice or selfishness. More than that, memory as moral reflection can offer, in the political philosopher Hannah Arendt's phrase, ''the possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility.''
In relation to the Holocaust, this means that non-Jews remember that greatest of moral failures in order to grasp the full meaning of the anti-Semitism that led to it. The point of doing that, of course, is to repent of such prejudice and to root out its sources. Remembrance is thus an offer of freedom from the tyranny not only of the past but of the present: Things need not be what they are. Moral memory creates a better future.
The permanent relevance of this way of thinking becomes clear when we apply it to the looming conflict between the United States and North Korea. This is not to make comparisons with the Holocaust but rather to learn from the mode of moral awareness that the Holocaust makes possible.
As the confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang escalates, achieving ''redemption from the predicament of irreversibility'' takes on a global urgency. Americans owe it to the near and far future to remember that this conflict originated as a Cold War proxy fight between the United States and the Soviet Union -- a brutal explosion of misunderstanding and miscalculation for which both sides bore responsibility.
Unfolding between 1950 and 1953, the Korean War reinforced the worst impulses of America's belligerent insecurity. It drove the development of the H-bomb and made decision makers deaf to the pleas of scientists like Robert J. Oppenheimer, who wanted to stop it. That Oppenheimer was then himself a Red Scare scapegoat defines the extent of the tragedy, for the Korean War was waged at home, too. It piqued the fever of the anti-Communist paranoia that blinded American policy makers for a generation, leading not only to Vietnam but to a decades-long misperception of Soviet intentions and capabilities.
When Dwight D. Eisenhower became president in January 1953, he escalated the rhetoric of threat in a way that fixed the Cold War as a permanent feature of international relations. When Stalin died that March, Eisenhower refused an opening offered by the new Soviet leader, Georgi Malenkov. Instead, Ike conveyed his readiness to resolve the Korean conflict by using nuclear weapons -- ''without inhibition in our use of weapons'' is the phrase he used in his memoirs -- so that when the Chinese and Soviets finally did agree to a truce that July, Washington could miss the signal that a post-Stalin communism would be different.
Assuming that Moscow and Beijing had bowed before the threat of nuclear war, Washington took their yielding as confirmation of its deadly choice to build American influence around the bomb. That justified a shocking growth in US dependence on nuclear weapons, the significance of which has been made clear to me by writers like John Steinbrunner, James T. Patterson, and Janne E. Nolan. In 1950, the United States possessed about 250 nukes; a decade later that figure had mushroomed to something like 10,000. Moral memory requires us to recognize that growth itself as the central failure of America's response to the Cold War.
Now the bomb is the point of conflict between the United States and North Korea. If Americans had done a better job of reckoning with the moral legacy of our own nuclear dependency, we would see more clearly how Pyongyang's unacceptable nuclear agenda originates in Washington. US officials would be less moralistic, and all Americans would grasp the tragedy of our post-Cold War renewal of dependence on the nuclear arsenal.
None of this is to exempt from judgment the corrupt tyranny that presides over North Korea. Nor is it to downplay the threat represented by North Korean nuclear blackmail. But the conflict between Washington and Pyongyang is by no means a simple matter of good versus evil. The present danger springs from America's actions as much as from North Korea's, and only a full reckoning with the blind foolishness of that past, however well intentioned it was, can prepare for a different, wiser future.
The Anti-War Movement's Work Has Just Begun--but it Needs Historical Context
By Bill Weinberg, editor of the on-line weekly World War 3 Report.
"Beware of those who speak of the spiral of history," wrote Ralph Ellison in Invisible Man, "they are preparing a boomerang. Keep a steel helmet handy."
Actually, those who are preparing boomerangs don't usually tip their hands. While the US media portray an Iraq liberated from dictatorship, press commentators in the Arab world see a replay of the aftermath of World War I, when European powers divided the Middle East, granting themselves easy access to oil resources. In the official climate of self-congratulation, we urgently need to raise questions about how Saddam Hussein came to be in the first place.
In 1916, with the First World War still raging, Britain and France signed the secret Sykes-Picot agreement to divide the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which then controlled most of the Middle East. Under the deal, Iraq fell within the British sphere, and the following year it was in British hands. When the borders were formalized with League of Nations approval in 1920, Britain came close to threatening war with France to keep oil-rich Iraq under its control. The Brits stayed long enough to install a compliant government--brutally putting down Arab and Kurdish uprisings in the process. Ironically, use of poison gas against the Kurds was first pioneered by Winston Churchill, then the United Kingdom's colonial secretary.
The British-installed King Faisal Ibn Hussein was of the same Hashemite dynasty that still rules Jordan--a tribe from the Arabian desert which Britain groomed for power. Under Faisal's reign, the Iraq Petroleum Company had a sweet deal, paying pennies for each barrel. The company was a joint Anglo-American venture, whose major partners were British Petroleum, Standard Oil of New Jersey (today Exxon) and Shell. Bechtel of San Francisco was called in to build the oilfields in the 1950s.
This was the beginning of US interest in Iraq. But when the country became a pawn in Washington's Cold War chess games, things began to spin out of control.
In 1958, the Egypt of Arab nationalist strongman Gamal Nasser joined with Syria to declare a United Arab Republic--seen as a challenge to Israel and the West. The US pressured the conservative Hashemite regimes in Iraq and Jordan to reply by forming their own pro-West "Arab Union." But the move only sparked a coup d'etat and simultaneous popular uprising which toppled the Iraqi monarchy. Bechtel executive George Cooley Jr. was beaten to death by an angry mob in streets of Baghdad. The left-nationalist Abd al-Karim Qasim took power.
With the monarchists now discredited, the US began cultivating a rival--and bitterly anti-communist--Arab nationalist group, the Baath Party, in a bid to destabilize Qasim. In 1959, the young Saddam Hussein was part of a CIA-backed Baathist hit squad that attempted to assassinate Qasim.
In February 1963, the Baathists took power in a bloody coup, and unleashed a reign of terror on Iraq's left, as well as the long-suffering Kurds in the north. The CIA, which had been monitoring the Iraqi left, provided the names of who to round up--as it would later do in Indonesia and Chile. The CIA director at the time was John McCone, a longtime Bechtel executive.
The carnage didn't last long. A November counter-coup brought a Nasserist regime to power. But the Baathists returned to power in a 1968 counter-counter coup.
Once entrenched in power, the Baathists proved less conciliatory to Western interests. In 1972, they nationalized the oil industry, sending BP, Exxon and Shell packing. That same year they signed an aid pact with the USSR. The romance between Baghdad and Washington was only rekindled in 1979 when Saddam Hussein instrumented his own coup within the Baathist regime, declaring himself "supreme ruler" after killing his rivals.
The coup came at a propitious time for the ambitious autocrat. That same year, the Shah of Iran, a US ally, was toppled by Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution. The US and its allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait agreed that Khomeini's Iran needed to be humbled. Saddam, nurturing visions of himself as savior of the Arab world, was itching to sacrifice his conscripts. US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski gave a "green light" to Saddam's invasion of Iran in a 1980 meeting with the dictator and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd in Kuwait.
The US "tilted" to Iraq in the grueling war with Iran, arming Saddam's regime-as did the Soviets and French. In 1983, the US removed Iraq from the list of terrorist nations and re-established diplomatic relations, with White House envoy Donald Rumsfeld finessing the overtures to Saddam. The corporations were also eager to get back in. In 1988, when Saddam gassed the Kurdish city of Halabja, instantly killing 5,000 civilians, the US-Iraq Business Forum--including Exxon, Mobil, Lockheed, Westinghouse and Xerox--advocated against economic sanctions. A bill to impose sanctions never made it out of Congress.
Saddam's 1991 invasion of Kuwait had roots in Baghdad's accusations that Kuwait had not followed through on promised war reconstruction aid after Iraq had fought Iran for eight brutal years. But the move proved a disaster for his country, resulting in yet further war damage followed by a decade of harsh sanctions--a definite end to the romance with Uncle Sam.
Now Saddam is gone, but Iraq is devastated and occupied by foreign troops. Former Shell executive Philip J. Carroll is the top candidate to oversee Iraqi oil production under Pentagon auspices. Bechtel has won the contract to rebuild the oil fields. Retired Gen. Jay Garner, appointed to oversee the civil administration of occupied Iraq, made a small fortune in the arms industry. Ahmed Chalabi, reportedly the Pentagon's favorite as leader of post-Saddam Iraq, is the scion of a banking family that underwrote Iraq's Hashemite monarchy. He pledges that if he comes to power he will give US oil companies preferential treatment and cancel Saddam's oil deals with the French and Russians. Pentagon advisor Richard Perle, meanwhile, is said to favor an actual Hashemite restoration in Iraq.
In other words, we appear to be back to 1917. Only this time the US is top dog in the Anglo-American alliance, and there is no cover of legality from the UN, successor to the League of Nations.
The anti-war movement which brought out millions around the globe on Feb. 15 has suffered a grave propaganda defeat in the TV footage of Saddam's statue falling to a cheering crowd. Equivocation by some activists on the horrific realities of Saddam's regime has not served the movement well. Throughout the years of opposing sanctions and war moves, the movement's criticism of Saddam has generally been lukewarm at best. Sanctions-resisters and "human shields" traveled to Iraq with nary a peep of protest against the dictatorship. Worse still, anti-war activists allowed self-appointed "leaders" such as Ramsey Clark --who routinely dismissed human rights allegations against Saddam as "propaganda"--to speak on our behalf. These are errors we are now paying for.
Claims that the statue incident was "staged" miss the point and smack of sore-loserism. Even if it was staged, it wasn't the only Saddam statue or poster to come down. And is unrealistic to deny that many--probably most--Iraqis are celebrating the fall of Saddam, even at the hands of a foreign invader.
But Arabs celebrated the fall of the Ottomans in 1917 too--and that victory is exactly what brought us the unpopular British occupation of Iraq, the oil cartel-friendly monarchy, the ugly backlash, Saddam Hussein and, finally, the current situation. In the anti-US protests which have now emerged in Baghdad, the most frequent banner slogan is "No to Saddam, No to America."
Those of us who marched on Feb. 15 need to rethink and remobilize. We need to oppose the occupation, as well as expansion of the war to Syria or Iran. We need to find pro-democracy, anti-occupation forces in Iraq, or in exile, to work with and support--forces which oppose imperialist designs on their homeland and imposition of a foreign-backed technocratic elite, but also oppose establishment of an Islamic state. After generations of harsh dictatorship, these forces are likely to be fairly marginal. It is our job to help amplify their voices. Our most difficult and important job is to challenge the official triumphalism and raise the hard questions about where this neo-colonial venture is taking us--to serve as a metaphorical steel helmet against Bush's historical boomerang.
Bill Weinberg is editor of the on-line weekly World War 3 Report.
by Joy-Ann Lomena Reid
The Dixie Chicks episode has indeed been shameful ... for America.
The Republican Party and its handmaidens in the press is enforcing a McCarthyist, enforced groupthink that would put the old Soviet Union (or the old Iraq,) to shame. No one -- no elected official, no private citizen and certainly no member of the entertainment industry -- is permitted to say an unkind word about George W. Bush. To do so is to be labeled a treasonous parasite living off the freedoms purchased for this country in blood. But don't those freedoms guarantee us the right to criticize all we want? If not, what exactly has the blood of our fallen soldiers bought?
Perhaps the case was best made by a Republican president -- Theodore Roosevelt -- who said, "Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official."
Roosevelt expanded on that theme when he wrote in an editorial for the "Kansas City Star" newspaper on May 7, 1918 -- while World War I raged -- that:
"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."
That quote was used by a member of the Dixie Chicks -- the girl group that sparked a country music revolution when lead singer Natalie Maines declared onstage before a UK concert audience that the groups was "ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas."
That comments ripped through the country music world, prompting outraged fans to hold CD burnings, some even taking their kids out to the parking lot to publicly stomp on the group's product and likeness -- creating eerie images of exuberant violence-as-family-outing, that should be a shameful reminiscence for the South. Led by right wing press and political figures, otherwise peaceable Americans heaped scorn, verbal abuse and, ultimately, vandalism and even death threats on the three young women, who have topped the charts as the top selling girl group in music history. Country radio stations and even whole networks -- including, not surprisingly, the rabidly right wing Clear Channel conglomerate -- yanked the group's songs from playlists. Backlash songs promoting the war in the most muscular terms hit the airwaves, and the man who originally recorded the group's hit "traveling soldier" re-released the song to capitalize on the Dixie Chicks ban-wagon.
And if the images of people burning and breaking perfectly good CDs that they already paid for (thus -- and work with me here, country fans -- the Chicks already profited from,) wasn't bizarre enough, the world was treated to a bile-spitting display of American intolerance unlike anything those of us who didn't live through the McCarthy era have ever seen. The Chicks joined Hollywood celebrities like Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon as objects of hatred and ridicule by Americans who accused them of selling out the troops -- willfully ignoring the ad nauseum statements of support for the fighting men and women of the U.S. armed forces that were issued by the antiwar celebrities. But the snide ridicule directed at the Hollywood set (who had the odd event canceled or who became the butt of endless late-night TV jokes,) was nothing compared to bitter, violent reaction to the Chicks.
And then there was the hour-long, televised rebuke of the women Thursday night, in which ABC News correspondent Diane Sawyer repeatedly pressed, in tisking, school-marm fashion, for just one more apology to Bush. Maines heroically resisted the attempts to reduce her to a wicked child, who surely must realize that it isn't nice to criticize her betters, but the interview ought to go down in history with the House Committee on Un-American Affairs hearings for its daring presumption of guilt. What many of the rest of us still don't get, is just what Maines is guilty of: Feeling ashamed? Being from Texas? Or speaking her mind?
Add the whole, sorry mess together and the world is left with an image of America at its ugliest -- a nation so intolerant of dissent that those who engage in it are literally said, by a shrill few, to be sure, but loudly and without repercussion, to be deserving of death. What? Are we living in the United States or Communist Cuba?
Have we as a nation become so sensitive, and our democracy so brittle, that we cannot countenance any aspersion on the president, any questioning of his policies, or any doubts about his judgment? Recall that fewer than half of those who voted -- and fewer then one quarter of those who were eligible to vote -- chose George W. Bush as president, and prior to 9/11 there were sufficient doubts about his leadership to cause his own party's leadership to carp about the "smallness" of the Bush presidency.
Of course, all that changed after Sept. 11. Now there is nothing bigger than the presidency of George W. Bush, and like the reign of Fidel, it has been placed beyond reproach by the Right, even when the issues on the table (as was the case with Iraq), have nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Republicans defend their ideological lynching of the opposition by saying that the Chicks and others erred by airing their grievances against Bush during wartime -- and overseas, at that. But since when is it unpatriotic to criticize the Commander in Chief -- where ever you happen to be standing -- while the nation is at war? Republicans certainly didn't hold back on Franklin Delano Roosevelt while he prosecuted what is still the conflict of the 20th century, and haters of John F. Kennedy kept right on sneering at him even as the Cuban missile crisis loomed. It certainly wasn't considered unpatriotic for the likes of Tom Delay and other Republicans (who excused themselves from military service during the Vietnam conflict) to fulminate against President Bill Clinton while our fighter pilots were in the air over Kosovo, or on the ground in Mogadishu. Perhaps it's only unpatriotic to criticize the president when he is a Republican.
Meanwhile, in Britain (the constitutional monarchy from whom we liberated ourselves in 1776), members of the press heaped scorn on Prime Minister Tony Blair in the runnup to the Iraq war. The criticism leveled at Blair -- who enjoyed less than 50 percent support for the invasion before it began -- would have been unthinkable in the United States, where a docile press corps coos at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and can barely conjure a tough question for Bush during his rare live press conferences ("Mr. President, how does your faith get you through the rough times...?") The press finds its mettle against White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, but the free thought rarely finds its way into the columns or on-air reports that follow. Blair, on the other hand, was lampooned before the war by the UK Mirror and other tabloids as George W. Bush's poodle; and depicted on Mirror covers smooching George W. Bush on the lips or dripping blood from vampire fangs.
During the fighting in Iraq, Americans interesting in hearing the plain facts about the conflict -- including both the victories and the difficulties, casualties and destruction that are the natural outgrowth of war -- were forced to turn to such outlets as the Guardian of London newspaper, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation or the BBC. ABC News and CNN provided rare bastions of credible journalism late at night (as did several newspapers), but for much of the time, U.S. coverage of the war often disintegrated into the same chest-thumping, jingoistic drivel that litters the Fox network, whose reports often look like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of state television in Egypt or Ba'athist Iraq.
The cheerleading on the American cable and television networks led BBC chief Greg Dyke to deride the bulk of U.S. war coverage as "shocking" and "gung ho." This, as Dyke and others are fighting to keep right-wing media conglomerates like Clear Channel from spreading like a virus across the UK.
With that as a backdrop, it is of little wonder the American public came to expect absolute conformity of thought from everyone in public life. And I suppose the American press -- of which I am a member -- deserves some of the blame for the Dixie Chicks hysteria.
But just because it isn't surprising doesn't mean it isn't shameful. Grow up, country music fans. Grow up, America. George W. Bush is not Fidel, and this ain't Cuba.
[I wonder how many of these kids are leprodologists...]
Gil Scott-Heron may never have realized just how relevant his critique of the appropriation of revolutionary images would still be 30 years after recording his seminal composition, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." While he skillfully broached the apparent trendiness and decontextualized politics of being a revolutionary in the early 1970s, one can only imagine his reaction to the commodification of revolutionary icons today.
Thirty-five years after dying an anonymous death in a remote region of Bolivia – the culmination of a lifelong struggle for justice and against exploitation by First World countries – Ché Guevara has reappeared on $20 T-shirts and on posters in college frat houses in the Land of the Free Market. The Latin American revolutionary has paradoxically become an icon in the heart of capitalism, stripping his image of his ideology and allowing any kid from the suburbs to transform himself into a revolutionary – a true hero of the people.
Excellent article By Yahya Sadowski (an associate professor at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon) in Le Monde Diplomatique on the complexities of getting Iraq oil production running again ... and the mistake that the US government made in assuming that the expenses of the war could be easily paid for by tapping into oil revenues:
In January the Pentagon formed its own planning group, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, to study what it should do with Iraq's oil after the liberation of Baghdad. Within a month this group learned just enough about oil economics to retreat in horror from the neo-conservatives' earlier proposals. Initially, officials at the Pentagon and the White House assumed that they would be able to recoup the costs of the war by dipping into Iraq's oil revenues. If they needed more money, all they had to do was to open the pipeline taps.
But when they did the maths, they made unpleasant discoveries. Expanding Iraq's production will not only take time, it will also be very expensive. Just rescuing Iraq's existing facilities (repairing wells and pipes about to fail and already doing long-term damage to reservoirs) will cost more than $1bn, even if Saddam does not deliberately destroy them as part of a scorched earth strategy. Raising oil production back to 3.5MBD will take at least three years and require $8bn investment in facilities and another $20bn of repairs to the ravaged electrical grid that powers the pumps and refineries. Increasing production to over 6MBD would cost $30bn more.
These are not small sums for a country only earning $15bn a year from oil exports. Yet they represent only a tiny fraction of the costs that the US had been hoping could be covered by Iraqi oil exports. No one knows exactly how much the invasion of Iraq will cost the Pentagon, but the Bush administration's own estimates begin at $100bn.
The US administration has cited many causes to justify its war against Iraq. Curbing weapons of mass destruction - so why not tackle nuclear North Korea? Combating terrorism - but Iraq is not even on the US State Department list of major terrorist supporters. Deterring threats to neighbouring states -well, the US cheered last time Saddam invaded Iran, and would probably do so again. Even liberating women - but Iraqi women are better represented in their government and military than US women. Most people suspect that the US has more material interests.
The popular slogan, "no war for oil", is closer to the truth than is Washington's propaganda. The Bush administration cares about Iraq (as it has never cared about Pakistan, an unstable dictatorship with nuclear weapons and a plenitude of terrorists) because Iraq is in the middle of two-thirds of the world's oil reserves. Baghdad is positioned to influence both the price and the availability of oil, the ultimate strategic commodity fuelling both the global economy and the US military.
Because of the "no war for oil" slogan, many people imagine a simplistic scenario, thinking that Washington has been acting to further the interests of US oil companies in grabbing Iraq's reserves. The reality is more complex, although not more charitable. The Bush circle does have close ties to the oil industry. But Bush and his advisers are linked to only a marginal subsection of that industry, and neither he nor his team actually know much about oil or its economics. Despite the months of planning military and political futures for Iraq, the US administration is only now beginning to grasp the most elementary facts about Iraq's potential role in the oil industry.
Within the Bush circle, those with the clearest vision for Iraqi oil are the same people who have led the drive for war against Iraq - the neo-conservative cabal of the deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz; Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of state for defence; Lewis Libby, the secretary general to the vice president; and their friends. As part of their grand plan for using a "liberated" Iraq as a base from which to promote democracy and capitalism across the Middle East, they want Baghdad to explore for new reserves, rapidly increase production capacity and quickly flood the world market with Iraqi oil. They know that this would lead to an oil price crash, driving it to $15 a barrel or less. They hope that this collapse will stimulate economic growth in the US and the West, finally destroy Opec (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries), wreck the economies of "rogue states" (Iran, Syria, Libya), and create more opportunities for "regime change" and democratisation.
At first glance, this storyline seems plausible. Iraq has proven oil reserves of 112bn barrels and, since many analysts believe this figure could be doubled using new exploration technologies, its reserves might prove comparable to those of Saudi Arabia (245bn barrels). What allows the Saudis to play swing producer, adjusting output to help enforce Opec prices, is not their reserves but their 10+MBD (million barrels per day) production capacity. Iraq's capacity today is barely 2.5MBD, and, even before the 1991 Gulf war and subsequent embargo crippled Iraqi facilities, it never produced more than 3.8MBD. But the US neo-conservative cabal believes that Baghdad could increase capacity by another 2MBD within three years, perhaps even reaching 6MBD by 2010, particularly if Iraq privatises its fields, turning them over to multinational companies with the technology and capital to expand production quickly.
Yet when the cabal touted this plan in autumn 2002, they were opposed worldwide. It threatened many of Washington's friends, including Mexico, Canada, Norway, Indonesia, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials made it clear that they would defend Opec, if necessary by increasing their own production to the point where few firms would have any incentive to risk capital exploring for more Iraqi oil. Iraq's émigré opposition groups, including the neo-conservatives' allies in the Iraqi National Congress, also opposed the idea of privatising Iraqi oil. Regardless of their politics, they understand that oil is Iraq's only real asset and feel strongly that they should retain control of it.
Most surprisingly, there was also resistance from the Bush family itself, which has not always had happy experiences in the oil industry (Bush Junior's own firm, Arbusto Oil, went bankrupt). Bush Junior does have a network of personal ties, not to the multinational oil companies but to the independent businesses: dozens of small firms, many headquartered in Texas, that make their money pumping oil within the US or its continental shelf. These firms all need high oil prices to survive. The cost of producing a barrel of oil in Saudi Arabia may be as low as $1.50, but dredging a barrel out of the Gulf of Mexico may cost $13 or more. The last thing the independents want is a price collapse. Their demise, as their patriotic lobbyists are quick to point out, would leave the US overwhelmingly dependent on unreliable imports of foreign oil.
Multinational companies - giants such as Exxon-Mobil, British Petroleum, Shell, Total and Chevron-Texaco - have diversified sources of production and have less to fear from a price collapse. But the US administration does not listen to them (most are not even American). When Bush Junior was elected, they lobbied hard for a repeal of the Iran-Libya sanctions act and other embargos that curbed their expansion of holdings in the Middle East. The Bush team rebuffed their pleas and Vice-President Dick Cheney produced his 2001 national energy policy that focused on opening new areas within the US for energy exploration (1).
The key to this policy, the proposal to permit drilling in the Alaska national wildlife refuge, delighted the independents but did nothing for the multinationals, who felt that the public relations damage they would suffer from destroying the park would more than offset the value of its modest oil reserves. (Middle East oilfields, such as Iraq's Majnun field, typically contain 10+bn barrels; whereas Oil & Gas Journal estimates that the Alaskan refuge contains only 2.6bn barrels of recoverable oil.)
Economic reality finally rebutted the neo-conservative plan. In January the Pentagon formed its own planning group, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, to study what it should do with Iraq's oil after the liberation of Baghdad. Within a month this group learned just enough about oil economics to retreat in horror from the neo-conservatives' earlier proposals. Initially, officials at the Pentagon and the White House assumed that they would be able to recoup the costs of the war by dipping into Iraq's oil revenues. If they needed more money, all they had to do was to open the pipeline taps.
But when they did the maths, they made unpleasant discoveries. Expanding Iraq's production will not only take time, it will also be very expensive. Just rescuing Iraq's existing facilities (repairing wells and pipes about to fail and already doing long-term damage to reservoirs) will cost more than $1bn, even if Saddam does not deliberately destroy them as part of a scorched earth strategy. Raising oil production back to 3.5MBD will take at least three years and require $8bn investment in facilities and another $20bn of repairs to the ravaged electrical grid that powers the pumps and refineries. Increasing production to over 6MBD would cost $30bn more.
These are not small sums for a country only earning $15bn a year from oil exports. Yet they represent only a tiny fraction of the costs that the US had been hoping could be covered by Iraqi oil exports. No one knows exactly how much the invasion of Iraq will cost the Pentagon, but the Bush administration's own estimates begin at $100bn (see Iraq: misreading the vital signs). The Congressional Budget Office guesses that the price of maintaining US troops in Iraq will be between $12bn and $45bn annually. Iraq's outstanding foreign debts, which total over $110bn, would need $5-12bn a year to service. Once US officials discovered this, they began lobbying to have these debts, held largely by Arab states, Russia and France, forgiven after the war. Outstanding claims against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait total about $300bn, although the United Nations agency responsible for collecting them does not think Iraq will have to pay more than $40bn - again, because the US is beginning to lobby Kuwait to drop its indemnity (2). No one knows how much humanitarian assistance will cost - but even in peacetime Iraq imports $14.5bn of food and medicine each year.
Even in the most optimistic scenarios, these costs are far beyond Iraq's ability to pay. The US will have to fund much of the bill for war (including any payments that Turkey may extract for cooperation) and try to get its allies to share the costs of the rest. Driving down the price of oil only makes this task more daunting. So the neo-conservatives, and the Iraqi opposition, supported by independent oil price hawks and Pentagon planners, have now abandoned the idea of breaking Opec. Instead, they are searching for ways to maximise Iraq's future oil revenues.
Their first step has been a quiet agreement to keep the technocrats of Iraq's current oil ministry in place, rather than trying to de-Ba'athise them, and to delegate most policy matters to them. This means that the engineers who make the production decisions, and the negotiators who haggle the contracts, will be the people with the most experience and information, rather than Pentagon officials, who are hardly famous for their bargaining skills. This also means that Iraq's oil will not be privatised. Instead, Iraqi technocrats will try to maximise revenues in the same way their counterparts do in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait: by offering foreign oil firms just enough profit, in very stringent production-sharing contracts, to keep them interested in investing.
The Iraqis and their US proconsuls will want to encourage as much competition among the foreign oil firms as they can, since this is the key to good terms. The US has hinted that it might retaliate against states, particularly Russia and France, that did not support its policy by denying them access to Iraqi oil after the war. This is a hollow threat. The Russians have already made the biggest single investment in Iraqi oil precisely because they are willing to take on riskier ventures than Western firms. Their capital and enthusiasm may prove critical to increasing the profitability of Iraqi oil. Also, Total has invested more than the Russians, and is well positioned to expand Iraqi production. Shell also has a major stake; and British Petroleum, which used to dominate the country, is also eager for a stake.
The US will discover that opening the bidding for what oilmen call the "Iraqi Klondike" as wide as possible will not only maximise revenues but also defuse the charge that the US is just land-grabbing. This does not mean that US oil companies will lack a role. If the political situation stabilises quickly (that is a very big if), Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco will join the bidding, and even smaller firms, such as Conoco, may participate by joining consortia to spread the risk.
But the only sector in which the Americans are actually likely to dominate is in services subcontracts, where US firms such as Halliburton (which Cheney used to run) and Schlumberger already enjoy global pre-eminence for economic reasons. US firms will not monopolise Iraqi oil; it will be surprising if they eventually control more than half of the production.
Multinational oil companies, US and other, have plenty to be ashamed of, from their despoliation of the Niger Delta to their support for state terrorism in Indonesia. But they have not been pushing for a war against Iraq. The Bush administration planned its campaign against Baghdad without input from these companies, and apparently without a clue about the basics of oil economics.
Oil appears in Washington's calculations about Iraq as a strategic rather than an economic resource: the war against Saddam is about guaranteeing American hegemony rather than about increasing the profits of Exxon.
[from Commondreams: A transcript of the speech given by actor Tim Robbins to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2003. ]
TIM ROBBINS: Thank you. And thanks for the invitation. I had originally been asked here to talk about the war and our current political situation, but I have instead chosen to hijack this opportunity and talk about baseball and show business. (Laughter.) Just kidding. Sort of.
I can't tell you how moved I have been at the overwhelming support I have received from newspapers throughout the country in these past few days. I hold no illusions that all of these journalists agree with me on my views against the war. While the journalists' outrage at the cancellation of our appearance in Cooperstown is not about my views, it is about my right to express these views. I am extremely grateful that there are those of you out there still with a fierce belief in constitutionally guaranteed rights. We need you, the press, now more than ever. This is a crucial moment for all of us.
For all of the ugliness and tragedy of 9-11, there was a brief period afterward where I held a great hope, in the midst of the tears and shocked faces of New Yorkers, in the midst of the lethal air we breathed as we worked at Ground Zero, in the midst of my children's terror at being so close to this crime against humanity, in the midst of all this, I held on to a glimmer of hope in the naive assumption that something good could come out of it.
I imagined our leaders seizing upon this moment of unity in America, this moment when no one wanted to talk about Democrat versus Republican, white versus black, or any of the other ridiculous divisions that dominate our public discourse. I imagined our leaders going on television telling the citizens that although we all want to be at Ground Zero, we can't, but there is work that is needed to be done all over America. Our help is needed at community centers to tutor children, to teach them to read. Our work is needed at old-age homes to visit the lonely and infirmed; in gutted neighborhoods to rebuild housing and clean up parks, and convert abandoned lots to baseball fields. I imagined leadership that would take this incredible energy, this generosity of spirit and create a new unity in America born out of the chaos and tragedy of 9/11, a new unity that would send a message to terrorists everywhere: If you attack us, we will become stronger, cleaner, better educated, and more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a Phoenix out of the fire, we will be reborn.
And then came the speech: You are either with us or against us. And the bombing began. And the old paradigm was restored as our leader encouraged us to show our patriotism by shopping and by volunteering to join groups that would turn in their neighbor for any suspicious behavior.
In the 19 months since 9-11, we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided, and a world population that had profound sympathy and support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state.
This past weekend, Susan and I and the three kids went to Florida for a family reunion of sorts. Amidst the alcohol and the dancing, sugar-rushing children, there was, of course, talk of the war. And the most frightening thing about the weekend was the amount of times we were thanked for speaking out against the war because that individual speaking thought it unsafe to do so in their own community, in their own life. Keep talking, they said; I haven't been able to open my mouth.
A relative tells me that a history teacher tells his 11-year-old son, my nephew, that Susan Sarandon is endangering the troops by her opposition to the war. Another teacher in a different school asks our niece if we are coming to the school play. They're not welcome here, said the molder of young minds.
Another relative tells me of a school board decision to cancel a civics event that was proposing to have a moment of silence for those who have died in the war because the students were including dead Iraqi civilians in their silent prayer.
A teacher in another nephew's school is fired for wearing a T- shirt with a peace sign on it. And a friend of the family tells of listening to the radio down South as the talk radio host calls for the murder of a prominent anti-war activist. Death threats have appeared on other prominent anti-war activists' doorsteps for their views. Relatives of ours have received threatening e-mails and phone calls. And my 13-year-old boy, who has done nothing to anybody, has recently been embarrassed and humiliated by a sadistic creep who writes -- or, rather, scratches his column with his fingernails in dirt.
Susan and I have been listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam, and various other epithets by the Aussie gossip rags masquerading as newspapers, and by their fair and balanced electronic media cousins, 19th Century Fox. (Laughter.) Apologies to Gore Vidal. (Applause.)
Two weeks ago, the United Way canceled Susan's appearance at a conference on women's leadership. And both of us last week were told that both we and the First Amendment were not welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A famous middle-aged rock-and-roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war, only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel. "They promote our concert appearances," he said. "They own most of the stations that play our music. I can't come out against this war."
And here in Washington, Helen Thomas finds herself banished to the back of the room and uncalled on after asking Ari Fleischer whether our showing prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay on television violated the Geneva Convention.
A chill wind is blowing in this nation. A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown. If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications.
Every day, the air waves are filled with warnings, veiled and unveiled threats, spewed invective and hatred directed at any voice of dissent. And the public, like so many relatives and friends that I saw this weekend, sit in mute opposition and fear.
I am sick of hearing about Hollywood being against this war. Hollywood's heavy hitters, the real power brokers and cover-of-the- magazine stars, have been largely silent on this issue. But Hollywood, the concept, has always been a popular target.
I remember when the Columbine High School shootings happened. President Clinton criticized Hollywood for contributing to this terrible tragedy -- this, as we were dropping bombs over Kosovo. Could the violent actions of our leaders contribute somewhat to the violent fantasies of our teenagers? Or is it all just Hollywood and rock and roll?
I remember reading at the time that one of the shooters had tried to enlist to fight the real war a week before he acted out his war in real life at Columbine. I talked about this in the press at the time. And curiously, no one accused me of being unpatriotic for criticizing Clinton. In fact, the same radio patriots that call us traitors today engaged in daily personal attacks on their president during the war in Kosovo.
Today, prominent politicians who have decried violence in movies -- the "Blame Hollywooders," if you will -- recently voted to give our current president the power to unleash real violence in our current war. They want us to stop the fictional violence but are okay with the real kind.
And these same people that tolerate the real violence of war don't want to see the result of it on the nightly news. Unlike the rest of the world, our news coverage of this war remains sanitized, without a glimpse of the blood and gore inflicted upon our soldiers or the women and children in Iraq. Violence as a concept, an abstraction -- it's very strange.
As we applaud the hard-edged realism of the opening battle scene of "Saving Private Ryan," we cringe at the thought of seeing the same on the nightly news. We are told it would be pornographic. We want no part of reality in real life. We demand that war be painstakingly realized on the screen, but that war remain imagined and conceptualized in real life.
And in the midst of all this madness, where is the political opposition? Where have all the Democrats gone? Long time passing, long time ago. (Applause.) With apologies to Robert Byrd, I have to say it is pretty embarrassing to live in a country where a five-foot- one comedian has more guts than most politicians. (Applause.) We need leaders, not pragmatists that cower before the spin zones of former entertainment journalists. We need leaders who can understand the Constitution, congressman who don't in a moment of fear abdicate their most important power, the right to declare war to the executive branch. And, please, can we please stop the congressional sing-a- longs? (Laughter.)
In this time when a citizenry applauds the liberation of a country as it lives in fear of its own freedom, when an administration official releases an attack ad questioning the patriotism of a legless Vietnam veteran running for Congress, when people all over the country fear reprisal if they use their right to free speech, it is time to get angry. It is time to get fierce. And it doesn't take much to shift the tide. My 11-year-old nephew, mentioned earlier, a shy kid who never talks in class, stood up to his history teacher who was questioning Susan's patriotism. "That's my aunt you're talking about. Stop it." And the stunned teacher backtracks and began stammering compliments in embarrassment.
Sportswriters across the country reacted with such overwhelming fury at the Hall of Fame that the president of the Hall admitted he made a mistake and Major League Baseball disavowed any connection to the actions of the Hall's president. A bully can be stopped, and so can a mob. It takes one person with the courage and a resolute voice.
The journalists in this country can battle back at those who would rewrite our Constitution in Patriot Act II, or "Patriot, The Sequel," as we would call it in Hollywood. We are counting on you to star in that movie. Journalists can insist that they not be used as publicists by this administration. (Applause.) The next White House correspondent to be called on by Ari Fleischer should defer their question to the back of the room, to the banished journalist du jour. (Applause.) And any instance of intimidation to free speech should be battled against. Any acquiescence or intimidation at this point will only lead to more intimidation. You have, whether you like it or not, an awesome responsibility and an awesome power: the fate of discourse, the health of this republic is in your hands, whether you write on the left or the right. This is your time, and the destiny you have chosen.
We lay the continuance of our democracy on your desks, and count on your pens to be mightier. Millions are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope - hoping for someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution, and to defy the intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security and warped notions of patriotism.
Our ability to disagree, and our inherent right to question our leaders and criticize their actions define who we are. To allow those rights to be taken away out of fear, to punish people for their beliefs, to limit access in the news media to differing opinions is to acknowledge our democracy's defeat. These are challenging times. There is a wave of hate that seeks to divide us -- right and left, pro-war and anti-war. In the name of my 11-year-old nephew, and all the other unreported victims of this hostile and unproductive environment of fear, let us try to find our common ground as a nation. Let us celebrate this grand and glorious experiment that has survived for 227 years. To do so we must honor and fight vigilantly for the things that unite us -- like freedom, the First Amendment and, yes, baseball. (Applause.)
By Ruth Conniff
Dennis Kucinich is clearly holding down the left end of the bench of Democratic Presidential contenders for 2004. The co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in Congress, an advocate of nonviolence who has proposed that the U.S. government create a Department of Peace, a vegan because he believes in "the sacredness of all species," and a pro-labor environmentalist who marched in the streets of Seattle and Washington, D.C., Kucinich is, without a doubt, the progressive candidate. The argument for his candidacy, unlikely though it may be, is that it represents a point of view the Democrats should be forced to deal with.
The former "boy mayor" of Cleveland, now fifty-six, is the most vocal opponent of war with Iraq in the House of Representatives. A year ago, he began making impassioned speeches on the subject, and lately he's showing up on the talk show circuit as a lonely voice for peace. Meet the Press, Crossfire, Hardball, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, among others, have had him on to debate the Bush Administration's Iraq policy – though the Washington establishment is not taking his Presidential bid seriously. (The New York Times ranks him somewhere below Al Sharpton as a "viable candidate," and his February announcement in Iowa that he was running was greeted with a resounding shrug by most of the mainstream media.)
Kucinich thinks the pundits are in for a surprise. "They try to make it appear that the positions I'm taking are way out, but they're not," he told me on the phone recently. "As the war effort continues, I think you'll see that more and more people will join in and want to be involved with the campaign."
Steve Cobble agrees. A longtime progressive political strategist who worked for Jesse Jackson, Cobble compares Kucinich to Jackson in 1988. He thinks he could do much better than expected, thanks to the support of people the politicos in Washington don't notice.
"The people who are dismissing Kucinich out of hand are the same people who are shocked by this big anti-war movement that has had such growth in so short a time," says Cobble, who is an adviser to the candidate. Like the late Senator Paul Wellstone, Kucinich is long on big ideas and short on glitz. He is neither tall nor telegenic, neither wealthy nor well connected. And, of course, there's his minimal national name recognition.
But no one voted Ralph Nader "Mr. Charisma" five years ago, Cobble points out, and Nader became a pop star on college campuses during the 2000 campaign. "Young people responded to Nader in 2000," says Cobble. "It was the ideas and the sense of integrity, not blowing in the wind. Dennis is going to give the same vibes."
That's where the comparison to Nader ends, however. "I have no interest in a third party candidacy. None," says Kucinich. "I want to do it the other way – bring third party candidates into the [Democratic] Party and get support in the primaries." Taking much of Nader's message into the Democratic Party may be a worthy goal. But how far will it get Kucinich?
If a lot of progressives have a hangover from the last Presidential election and are feeling down, Kucinich and his campaign staff are energized by the massive anti-war and anti-globalization demonstrations around the world and by the feeling that a newly active grass-roots movement is rising up and making itself heard.
Kucinich, who opposes NAFTA, is the only candidate proudly giving voice to the fair trade movement. And his opposition to weapons in space and civil liberties violations under the Patriot Act are welcome among a Democratic base eager for a strong opposition to Bush.
"Whereas everyone else says, 'Gee, I'd have used a different airplane, or maybe we should use this missile instead of that one,' he'll be a clarion call for peace," says progressive Wisconsin Democrat and labor lawyer Ed Garvey. Now a supporter of Kucinich, Garvey was moved by the experience of hearing him speak out early against the Iraq war. "The passion and intellectual depth of his speech was really impressive."
Certainly, Kucinich, who quotes long passages of poetry and has a deeply thoughtful, almost starry-eyed quality, is not your usual politician. So is Kucinich the peace movement candidate, as Eugene McCarthy was in 1968?
"This movement precedes a war. The 1968 movement happened years after war began," Kucinich says. His campaign takes on not only war but also a complex array of domestic and international concerns.
Kucinich denounces the Bush Administration's whole political philosophy of "projecting aggression into the world." The issues of his campaign are empire versus democracy, globalization versus equality, war versus peace, a private health insurance system that leaves seventy-five million people intermittently uncovered versus national health care, the Patriot Act versus the Bill of Rights. Get him going, and he'll blow your ears back with a litany of calamitous news.
"People are fearful," Kucinich says. "My candidacy steps forward and says, 'Hey, stop! Hold it!' We're losing what's dear to our country. We have a foreign policy that's setting the stage for new wars. We're talking about first use of nuclear weapons. We still have chemical and biological weapons, which disqualifies us from the chemical and biological weapons treaty. The polar ice caps are still melting. Islands in the Pacific are seeing the water rising. Meteorological changes suggest that global climate change is here to stay. The Kyoto climate change treaty is urgent. The U.S. has to recognize the interconnectedness, interdependence, of the world. We're not doing it. I'm looking at the entire structure of our society and saying, how can government be relevant?"
Whoa! That's Kucinich. Passion and intellectual depth? Yes. Glib pol? Not exactly.
Kucinich has one big problem with a grass-roots, progressive base: His position on abortion. Until last year, he maintained a nearly perfect voting record according to National Right to Life, and scored an absolute zero in the vote tally kept by the National Abortion Rights Action League. Since then, he says, his position has evolved, and he has broken ranks with his former colleagues on anti-abortion legislation.
"I withheld my support on a number of bills in the last year," he says, adding that the aggressive Republican effort to overturn Roe v. Wade persuaded him to help protect women's fundamental constitutional right to abortion.
"I don't believe in abortion, but I do believe in choice," he says.
How does that work?
"I don't believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned," he says. "I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the way the choices are framed in the House of Representatives." He says the Republican assault on Roe v. Wade has become an assault on the Constitution. He now sees the issue as "a question of equality – whether a woman was going to be equal in society and have constitutional protections. Women will not be equal to men if that constitutionally protected right is denied. Criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional."
Kucinich says he wants to overcome the us-and-them nature of the abortion debate by supporting a kind of nurturing environment for women and children, including full employment, a living wage, universal health care, and affordable and high quality child care. He wants abortion to be legal but rare.
"It's not wrong to support life, and it's not wrong to support a woman's right to choose," he says. "We have to permit both points of view to have expression. But there is a point at which the Constitution cannot be undermined. I've never advocated a constitutional amendment to repeal Roe v. Wade."
Kucinich thinks he can radically change politics in America. He cites his successes as the nation's youngest mayor, standing up to the privatization of Cleveland's public utilities, as well as coming to the aid of its steel industry and its hospitals when they were about to be shut down. "We changed the outcome," he says. "Government presents opportunities for profound creativity."
Cobble cites Barry Goldwater and George McGovern – dark horse candidates who didn't win the Presidency but transformed politics. "It's worth taking this burgeoning peace movement into the party, whether or not a candidate who voted for the war resolution wins," says Cobble. "We have a group of people in the White House that overtly put empire, first strike, and the occupation of other countries on the table," he adds. "We need a widespread discussion of this, and not many people are volunteering for the job."
Even former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who is running another anti-war candidacy, is not taking on the big picture the way Kucinich is.
"We need someone like Dennis, who has the guts to carry this case," Cobble says.
Says Kucinich: "If I'm able to win some early primaries I'll be able to move these domestic concerns right to the top of the campaign concerns for the party. . . . FDR said in '33 we have nothing to fear but fear itself. We can create a new world. It's possible."
Ruth Conniff is Political Editor of The Progressive.
Paul Krugman writes that "One has to admit that the Bush people are very good at conquest, military and political. They focus all their attention on an issue; they pull out all the stops; they don't worry about breaking the rules [ ... ] But after the triumph, when it comes time to take care of what they've won, their attention wanders, and things go to pot."
Consider Afghanistan, "the land the Bush administration forgot." According to Krugman, "most of the country is back under the control of fundamentalist warlords; unpaid soldiers and policemen are deserting in droves. (Remember that the Bush administration forgot to include any Afghan aid in its latest budget.)" Afghani President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, told an Associated Press reporter: "It is like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem. What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."
[ full text follows ]
April 11, 2003
Conquest and Neglect
By PAUL KRUGMAN
redit where credit is due: the hawks were right to say that a whiff of precision-guided grapeshot would lead to the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. But even skeptics about this war expected a military victory. ("Of course we'll win on the battlefield, probably with ease" was the opening line of my start-of-the-war column.) Instead, we worried — and continue to worry — about what would follow. As another skeptic, Michael Kinsley of Slate, wrote yesterday: "I do hope to be proven wrong. But it hasn't happened yet."
Why worry? I won't pretend to have any insights into what is going on in the minds of the Iraqi people. But there is a pattern to the Bush administration's way of doing business that does not bode well for the future — a pattern of conquest followed by malign neglect.
One has to admit that the Bush people are very good at conquest, military and political. They focus all their attention on an issue; they pull out all the stops; they don't worry about breaking the rules. This technique brought them victory in the Florida recount battle, the passage of the 2001 tax cut, the fall of Kabul, victory in the midterm elections, and the fall of Baghdad.
But after the triumph, when it comes time to take care of what they've won, their attention wanders, and things go to pot.
The most obvious example is Afghanistan, the land the Bush administration forgot. Most of the country is back under the control of fundamentalist warlords; unpaid soldiers and policemen are deserting in droves. (Remember that the Bush administration forgot to include any Afghan aid in its latest budget.)
President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, told an Associated Press reporter: "It is like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem. What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."
The same pattern can be seen on the economic front. President Bush won a great triumph in 2001 when he pushed through a huge tax cut — claiming that his plan was just the medicine to cure the economy's ills. What has happened since?
The answer is that things have gradually fallen apart. There was one quarter of good growth, early in 2002 — and there were cries of triumph over the policy's success. After that, however, things went steadily wrong. Growth was too slow to create jobs: at the end of 2002, after a year of "recovery," fewer people were working than at the end of 2001.
And in the last two months the situation has deteriorated rapidly. In February and March the U.S. economy lost 465,000 jobs, bringing the total job loss since the recession officially began in March 2001 to more than two million.
At this point the employment decline has been bigger, and has gone on longer, than the slump that took place during the first Bush administration. And there's no sign of an upturn: new claims for unemployment insurance are still running well above the level that would signal an improving labor market.
Some hope that the economy will turn around of its own accord — that consumers and businesses, relieved that the war has gone well, will begin spending freely. But hope is not a plan. What is the plan?
The answer seems to be that there is no plan for the economy. Instead, the White House is fixated on achieving another political triumph — the elimination of taxes on dividends — that has little or no relevance to our current economic troubles.
I could demonstrate this irrelevance by going through an economic analysis, but here's a telling political clue: USA Today reports that faced with concerns in Congress about budget deficits, the administration has indicated that it is willing to consider a phase-in of its dividend plan.
That is, it's willing to forgo immediate tax cuts — the one piece of its proposal that might actually help the economy now — in order to be able to pass its long-run proposal intact, and hence claim total victory.
The scary thing is that this slash-and-burn approach to governing may continue to work for Mr. Bush's people because the initial triumphs get all the headlines. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has to live in the wreckage they leave behind.
Chris Stroffolino on the challenges that different generations face in staying / being "political"
Excerpt rom Michael Moore's website:
"The next day -- and in the two weeks since -- the right-wing pundits and radio shock jocks have been calling for my head. So, has all this ruckus hurt me? Have they succeeded in "silencing" me?
Well, take a look at my Oscar "backlash":
-- On the day after I criticized Bush and the war at the Academy Awards, attendance at "Bowling for Columbine" in theaters around the country went up 110% (source: Daily Variety/BoxOfficeMojo.com). The following weekend, the box office gross was up a whopping 73% (Variety). It is now the longest-running consecutive commercial release in America, 26 weeks in a row and still thriving. The number of theaters showing the film since the Oscars has INCREASED, and it has now bested the previous box office record for a documentary by nearly 300%.
-- Yesterday (April 6), "Stupid White Men" shot back to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. This is my book's 50th week on the list, 8 of them at number one, and this marks its fourth return to the top position, something that virtually never happens."
The following is a response to Bruce “Peace Bridge Chronicler” Jackson’s article, “That pissant Ralph Nader is coming to Buffalo” in Jackson’s own Buffalo Report. On the basis of the likely scenario that the war in Iraq will ultimately go well for the Bush regime, I address questions looming for the left in this country, from a “green” perspective—engaging the politics of globalization and local economies. In particular, I critique the characterization of the current administration as a “fascist” regime that only a Democratic White House in 2004 can save us from.
Amidst all the fear and trembling about the new fascism in the US—of which Bruce Jackson’s recent, invidious ad hominem on Ralph Nader is a particularly low instance: “Had, in Florida, Ralph Nader behaved decently or honorably or with a modicum of concern for the fate of this nation, we would not be slaughtering Iraqis right now and American men and women would not be dying in Iraq right now” (Buffalo Report)—I can’t help but note the short-sighted (not to say US-centric and terror-driven) nature of much of the rhetoric.
At issue—and I take it to be an issue that will define the US left in the approach to November, 2004—is whether we would be facing a significantly different scenario had Gore taken the White House. At issue is Nader’s claim that there was “no difference” between Al Gore and GW Bush. At issue is whether GW Bush and September 11 really have marked a radical departure from the order of things under the Clinton administration.
One might try examining the situation from the perspective of the “developing” or “undeveloped” world (while Jackson writes from an era where these are still referred to as "Third World," I'm suggesting he update his discourse). From such a perspective—which I don’t pretend to comprehend sufficiently, only enough to know it differs substantially from that of our own “logged on” cyber-eyries—I’d postulate that the differences are hard to discern.
The indirect genocide which involves uprooting people from their lands and local economies to turn them into driftless refugees or urban ghetto squatters and which was ratified by NAFTA, GATT and a host of other free trade agreements under Clinton (remember Clinton was pushing for the same “fast track” authority our spineless Democrats finally granted Bush?) has, of course, been accelerated by the War on Terror, but it’s a difference of degree rather than kind.
I’m talking about the horrific pace of irreversible deforestation in South America or Indonesia— equivalent to systematically amputating the planet’s lungs; I’m talking about the desertification of the Sahara and the American Midwest; I’m talking about the war on and within bodies everywhere unleashed by a merciless and unaccountable chemical industry (just look at the cancer rate in Tonawanda, or breast cancer rates in general); I’m talking about “usura” lying down between the farmer and her seed, between the bridegroom and his bride* with corporate meddling in and patenting of genetic materials (“terminator” and “roundup-ready” seeds); I’m talking about AIDS decimating one quarter of Africa’s population while pharmaceutical companies sit on the vaccines; I’m talking about mountains of increasingly toxic garbage dumped on the same masses, huddled in the city and borderland slums, evicted from their lands (in order to set McDonald’s beef to pasture, for example) by the very industries producing this waste; I’m talking about the ozone chemical smog that is slowly killing urban dwellers around the world and the acid rain that is destroying boreal forests and poisoning fresh waters; I’m talking about the fossil fuel industry warming our planet until massively populated Bangladesh and other low-lying, impoverished lands are flooded out of memory; I’m talking about the privatization of what waters, arable soil and clean air is left to drink, farm and breathe; I’m talking about the enclosure of the remaining commons, the marketing of basic needs that have till now been considered a fundamental human right.
This is not to deny the further domestic woes visited on the US economy by Bush & Co., nor that Al Gore might have been softer on the environment. However, a closer analysis of Gore’s environmental politics would note that his oft-championed “sustainability” amounts in many respects to a preservation of the status quo and Foucauldian policing of boundaries between developed, developing and undeveloped nations. Dissensions within the Seattle WTO summit over the terms of “sustainability”—masked by the protests publicity—as with more recent disagreements at Doha or at the “Earth Summit” in Johannesburg, underscore tensions brought on by the co-option of environmental rhetoric by corporate interests.
Such cooption is to be expected when corporations are engaged (via “corporate education”) to produce change in environmental policy—and indeed there is much debate within the environmental movement about the extent to which these engagement should be pursued. But any policy which ignores the power and necessity of local economies and ground-up, grassroots initiatives is doomed from the start. Even a cursory read of Earth in the Balance reveals to what extent Gore was mired in top-down Cold War-era, “balance of powers” global-strategic thinking (where global warming replaces atomic weapons as the “mutually assured deterrent”). His inability to engage and adapt the issues supposedly closest to his heart in the course of his political campaign shows up the rigidity of his thinking here.
Certainly Nader in many respects lacks the qualities of a world leader. But what drew voters to this “primo egocentric evildoer” (to quote Jackson) in 2000 was the extent to which he was able and willing to articulate a complex vision, engaging environmental, labor and corporate concerns, where powers at the “bottom” count for as much as powers at the “top.” This vision, by the way, has been articulated over the years by the “anti-globalization” movement and not by Nader himself; note that Nader came to and endorsed the Green Party, not the other way around. I agree that he might have been more explicit about the “smart voting” Green voters were to practice—voting Green in the "safe" states, or “trading” votes with friends in the swing states . . . and there’s no doubt that, together with Gore’s hugely blundering campaign (devoid of any of the above vision) and with extreme right-wing corruption and meddling in the electoral and judicial processes, the Greens helped to deliver us Bush & Co.
But from the global perspective I’ve advocated, it’s easy to see why most foreign observers just laughed at the electoral breakdown of 2000, noting that it only confirmed what they’d seen (and felt the brunt of) for years: a sham Benetton democracy, whose big multicultural land-of-opportunity Wal-Mart success story has been nourished by support for dictatorships and ruthless economic and environmental exploitation around the globe.
To insinuate that Nader “misled” voters or is somehow single-handedly responsible for the current bloodbath in the Middle East is both condescending toward Green voters and viciously invidious toward Nader and the Green Party itself—not to speak of the relative blindness it betrays, with respect to a political landscape that is engendering, around the world and out of the media spotlight, slow but substantial change, in consciousness, ethics and politics. (That this is a change operating at the local, rather than state or federal levels may be what has kept it under the radar of the power-obsessed.) Most Green voters are far more savvy in politics than Jackson’s slur accomodates, and voted “smart” anyway, regardless of whether or not Nader told them to.
If anything, it’s the Democrats who’ve been misled (viz above) in a state of things where “voting” as the extent of political participation can only be considered a charade at best—ever since big money took hold of the process more than a century ago. (I don’t underestimate the important line Democrats hold on the domestic front, with regard to the precarious character of the Judicial Courts. At least they’ve been doing a modicum of their duty here.)
To be fair, one might write off Bruce Jackson’s myopia as an effect of living in the ideological backwaters of Western New York, where the Green Party put on an extremely lackluster showing in 2000 (an embarrassment and a debacle, which the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition’s laughable green hardhat theatre, in spite of this organization’s good work, doesn’t help a bit), and where endless debates about a “Signature” Peace Bridge overshadow much graver environmental concerns (of which the Peace Bridge is a part, but by no means a big part). Governor Pataki’s neglect of New York State’s depleted environmental cleanup “Superfund,” or Mayor Masiello’s shameful mismanagement of the toxic Hickory Woods development in South Buffalo, set far graver economic and health precedents for the region than whether we get a twin span or an Italian designer rainbow bridge. I’m not denying a certain connection between these issues, but I suggest local progressives train their eyes Westward, toward states like New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon or Washington where the politics are also hardly progressive, yet in spite of, or in response to, a heavy-handed Federal presence citizen initiatives have elected Green city council members and state representatives and brought a complex, globally-oriented yet locally-engaged vision to politics.
None of this is to deny the frighteningly fascist look of things on the “homeland” front. But from a wider perspective (which includes not just thinking across the equator but across Main Street as well, about the victims of economic violence within the US borders and our own city limits), one might say to those anti-war protestors who have been investigated, apprehended and detained without charges, and are nursing the bruises of police brutality—“welcome to the developing world.”
The extent to which eyes get opened once it’s one’s own ass on the line (or that of “one’s folk”) shadows these street conflicts with a certain irony not lost on foreign observers. These protests in the US, and this resistance, are necessary and good, and unlike Jackson I certainly don’t want to bring needless dissension or backbiting to an opposition that desperately needs to stay united. But it’s crucial—for this movement to continue and build, through a war that is likely to be a success for the current administration (and not the debacle the opposition vocally dreads and secretly prays for)—that reasons for resistance be articulated on the basis of contemporary complexities, through a vision that is able to make intelligent and practical connections between local and global, indigenous and cosmopolitan, human and nonhuman economies. “Empire,” a term much volleyed about lately, is one I have as many reservations about as “fascism”—as poet and thinker Robert Kocik has advocated, “biocide” is a more accurate label for the current, global corporate-military regime.
To forecast the success of Bush & Co. abroad and naysay a fascist scenario at home, is not defeatist and deluded; rather it is to recognize geopolitical continuities, retain historical memory, and prepare for the long struggle ahead. Such historical memory also tells us that fascism in the US, if it is indeed taking hold, would prognosticate an imminent demise to this tottering giant, and in fact be the best possible thing for the rest of the world: would that we could wish this nation and its sins (viz paragraph five) so swiftly away!
Jackson’s link on Buffalo Report to a recent, excellent Arundhati Roy article is indicative. Jackson writes: “But Iraq, says the Indian novelist in this important essay published the April 2 Guardian, isn't where the really important war is being fought just now. That other war is global, and George Bush brought it on.” This is a patently false representation of Roy’s more sophisticated claims. A glance at her concluding paragraphs suffices:
Wednesday April 2, 2003
“Regardless of what the propaganda machine tells us, these tin-pot dictators are not the greatest threat to the world. The real and pressing danger, the greatest threat of all is the locomotive force that drives the political and economic engine of the US government, currently piloted by George Bush. Bush-bashing is fun, because he makes such an easy, sumptuous target. It's true that he is a dangerous, almost suicidal pilot, but the machine he handles is far more dangerous than the man himself.
Despite the pall of gloom that hangs over us today, I'd like to file a cautious plea for hope: in times of war, one wants one's weakest enemy at the helm of his forces. And President George W Bush is certainly that. Any other even averagely intelligent US president would have probably done the very same things, but would have managed to smoke-up the glass and confuse the opposition. Perhaps even carry the UN with him. Bush's tactless imprudence and his brazen belief that he can run the world with his riot squad, has done the opposite. He has achieved what writers, activists and scholars have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.”
Again and again, I’m told, by this crowd of Democratic Party faithful, that it’s “too soon” for the kind of change I’m advocating. However, even the most conservative assessment of the global environmental predicament (barring that of “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg, our nutso statistician from Denmark) gives humanity ten to twenty years at the outside to reverse the biocidal tide, and predicts catastrophic consequences, if such reversal is not made, within fifty. (Fortunately for our own children and unfortunately for those of the developing and undeveloped world, the brunt of such catastrophe will be borne by the economic “South”). The dire moment may even now be upon us: according to most climate science, our window for reversing catastrophic change just expired. We waited through eight long years of a Democratic administration that threw nothing but fig leaves at the environmental crisis (a few “National Monuments” by Presidential Decree, lip service to the Kyoto “protocol” on global warming—go and read the accord to see what a flawed, token agreement it is, basically a vehicle for liberalizing environmental regulation). Like Roy, I’m tempted to prefer the Bush & Co. frontal assault on the environment, as it has awoken many of us from a certain complacency.
Documentarist Michael Moore, who spends most of his time speaking to and drawing inspiration from the kind of grassroots activism I’ve alluded to, having turned his back on clearly bankrupt “beltway” politics, fuels his courageous and untiring media activism with the same cynical-optimist outlook: “George Bush, your time is up!” Can we honestly expect much from the glorious old “jackass” Democratic party? Didn’t they seal their fate when, with little to no ado, many representatives and most senators delivered up Congressional oversight of civil liberties and war-powers to an all-mighty unelected Executive Branch hell (or heaven)-bent on prosecuting its limitless “War on Terror”? That’s when I was seriously tempted to stop wasting time writing letters to “my” representatives.
No one should pay the price of our awakened consciousness in blood, but the least we can do is not squander that consciousness on the kind of egotistically short-sighted, “electoral politics” rhetoric we’ll be hearing more of in the run-up to November, 2004. To “vote safe now” is to cave into the very “culture of fear” Moore so devastatingly nailed in Bowling for Columbine. When such moderates tell me it’s “too soon,” I like to ask them, bringing all of the evidence to bear: how long do we have to wait before too soon is too late?
Why wait ? Let’s continue now the exposure of corporate crime that began with the Enron scandal, and keep the pressure on; withdraw our dollars from the franchises and invest in local business and grassroots initiatives like CSA (Cooperative Society of America) farms; sign on to cyber-empowered educational cooperatives like Joel Kuzsai’s “Modern Schools” revival— www.factoryschool.org; look into www.bioneers.org for “practical and visionary” solutions ordinary citizens are cooking up to solve the world’s problems now; implement creative rituals to facilitate real dialogue and help build the positive community networks (of production as well as resistance) that are spawning change around the globe. Let’s not wait for elected officials to work miracles for us. (Sure, we can work hard to get the Democrats back into the White House in 2004, but this work should be just the tip of our political iceberg.) Such activism is a potent counter-force to the politics of fear and hate now dominant: “In the U.S. and U.K., the war against Iraq has become a convenient diversion from issues of globalization and the rise in unemployment and economic insecurity. A politics of hate is becoming the indirect support for the failed and failing project of globalization” (Vandana Shiva, ZNet Commentary, “Globalisation And Its Fall Out,” April 05, 2003).
Let me note, in closing, that calling Nader a “pissant” is either undue flattery of this human demagogue or an insult to the hymenopteric order—that diverse society of globally engaged ants which probably do more good for this planet (certainly, representing about 10% of the planet’s biomass, they outnumber humans by an order hard to imagine) than all of human activity combined. Nader at least should be grateful of the compliment.
*“With Usura . . .
is thy bread dry as paper,
with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
. . .
wool comes not to market
sheep bringeth no gain with usura
. . .
It has brought palsy to bed, lyeth
Between the young bride and her bridegroom”
Ezra Pound, Canto XLV
Worse I fear by far than this obscene war – just yesterday the world was treated to hearing a mother’s tale of seeing her two daughters, ages 15 & 12, decapitated by U.S. firepower as it ripped through their vehicle that failed to heed what may have been an unclear warning to stop at a “U.S. checkpoint” – will be the “peace” that follows.
[This is from the Freedom Road site: www.freedomroad.org/. Stan Goff is a retired Special Forces Master Sergeant.]
I am a veteran of operations gone bad, and right now I am experiencing a powerful sense of vicarious deja vu.
Four days ago, I couldn't watch CNN for more than ten minutes at a time or I was risking my own mental health. Now, I watch it with the perverse fascination one experiences when seeing a fifteen car pileup on the freeway.
Obviously, the parade of aging white Generals - even including my old commander Dave Grange - who simultaneously know that the US will prevail militarily through sheer force and that this entire operation is going terribly, terribly wrong, do not understand the wider political implications of what they are witnessing.
Still, they seem discomfited. They have been converted into cheap propagandists, and for me it's a lot like seeing a formerly tyrannical Sergeant Major who's retired and become an oily insurance salesman, reduced to haunting the barracks, kissing up to his own former troops to earn his way in the real world by selling them policies.
How the mighty can fall from great heights! Perhaps that's too majestic. The Haitians say, the higher the monkey climbs the tree, the more you see nothing but his ass.
Watch Wesley Clark, the CNN military star, who reputation in the Army was that of an inveterate ass kisser. He harbors presidential pretensions, and he's smooth as a baby's butt. Watch how the worry lines now come right through the pancake makeup.
Donald Rumsfeld has become positively humble - a first in his lifetime - during his Pentagon briefs.
George W. Bush is nearly absent. No one will risk his extemporaneous gaffes. Might he be medicated? His two-line appearances are hoarse and fatigued.
What's happening is that the superpower came face to face with its new counterpart: an international popular movement, focused against this war, but increasingly targeting US global hegemony itself. Our world-wide movement has become a material force on the battlefield, and has midwifed a deep crisis of legitimacy for the US military-political junta.
The whole adventure is rooted in systemic crisis, a reality that so far only the left wing of the movement itself understands. (For a longer discussion of that, see Military Matters #5: Overreach) How has the antiwar movement become a material force on the Iraqi battleground?
Let's take a snapshot of the tactical situation, as least can be gleaned from different accounts.
The original battle plan was scrapped. Let's start here. The complexity of planning a military operation of this scope is simply indescribable, and it takes months to do it right. But the unexpected loss of ground fronts, in Turkey in the North and Saudi Arabia in the South, forced a complete reconstruction of plans in a matter of days. The operation could be put off no longer. The aggressor's back was against the weather wall. The pre-summer sandstorms had already begun, and by late April the heat index inside a soldier's chemical protective gear will be 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The international antiwar movement had firmed up political opposition around the world and forced the delays that culminated in the UN Security Council becoming a key arena of struggle. For all the infantile leftists who dismissed the UN on moral and ideological - and therefore idealist - grounds, I would say look now at Iraq and see how politics translates into military reality.
We stalled the Bush Administration to push to war where we could stall, and there is an effect.
The entire 4th Infantry Division is sitting in the barracks now waiting for their equipment to steam around the Arabian Peninsula in cargo ships because the Turkish parliament denied them their battlefront. Medium and short range tactical aircraft that could have struck dozens of key targets are sidelined because they are forbidden to take off from Saudi Arabia to deliver their "payloads."
Inside the Department of Defense there has been another war raging, that between the Generals of the Army and Marine Corps and the clique of doctrinal "revolutionaries" pushing Rumsfeld's crackpot theory of Network Centric Warfare (NCW), the methodological offspring of a strategic doctrine called Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD). The Rumsfeld Doctrine is cyberwar combined with commandos. Rumsfeld and his mentors have an absolute faith in the power of technology as the primary determinant of military outcomes, and a complete ignorance of politics as a force of war. (This will be the subject of a book due out this December, War Lies.)
Suffice it to say here, the combination of the failure of this new "doctrine" is creating a military debacle in Iraq. It is important to note that in war, which is an extreme form of politics, success is not measured empirically as it is in a sports competition. It is not measured in body counts or inventories of destroyed war materiel. In fact, it is not perfectly measurable at all. But success has to be gauged against the expectations of the military operation and its final objectives - which are always political. The US inflicted a terrible empirical toll on Southeast Asia and ultimately lost the Vietnam War. The US never grasped the political character of that war.
The US loss in Vietnam became the basis of the Powell Doctrine, which combines avoidance of decisive ground combat (and therefore avoidance of US casualties) with control over public perceptions of the war through the press. Rumsfeld's NCW attempts to assert that logic onto the battlefield with extremely complex technology that has displaced decision-making from human commanders to computerized hardware/software. I have referred to this in the past as "the organic composition of the military;" the relative weight of technological to cognitive process.
Every strength carries with it a corresponding weakness, and once military leaders perceive the strengths and weaknesses of their opposition, they can avoid the strengths and exploit the weaknesses.
The Iraqis are doing just that.
Accusations by the United States that the Russians are providing material assistance may very well be true. The Russians have now thrown in their lot with "old Europe" and China, and they are aiming to undermine US power at every opportunity. I suspect they have not only provided equipment and training on that equipment, but advisory assistance on the reorganization of the Iraqi military.
Someone sure has.
The Iraqi military has abandoned its former Soviet-style doctrine, predicated on armor, mass, and centralized command. It has seemingly now adopted tactics more suited to Special Operations; agile and decentralized. Such a switch requires a very intentional and systematic reorientation from top to bottom. This is an "asymmetrical" response to the high-tech doctrine the US developed to overcome the doctrine of its own predecessor. This Iraqi doctrinal reorientation is proving stunningly effective.
Rumsfeld's notion that he might "decapitate" the Iraqi military has led to an incessant and inane press speculation about whether on not Saddam Hussein is dead or alive. As the reports rolled of one setback after another, he was asked by the press whether there was any evidence to show that Saddam Hussein is dead. His response: "The word evidence is a hard word."
Less ridiculous and more telling was the statement by a Pentagon official, now dissing his boss Rumsfeld: "This is the ground war that was not going to happen in his plan."
Rumsfeld's computers told him that the Iraqis would be shocked and awed into capitulation within two days. Instead we have the (suppressed in the US) spectacle of ground troops in disarray as they attempted to cross their initial lines of departure, columns being stopped by urban resistance, ambushes of logistics tails, advances halted by blinding sandstorms, and captive American youngsters on television.
These first American prisoners of war were not Navy Seals or Delta Force, but military maintenance people and cooks, kids who signed up for an enlistment bonus, some college money, and a saleable skill. Now they stare hauntingly back at us all, with their fear almost an aura in their photographs.
The earlier uncomplicated advances, however, were remarkable. In set-piece war, Rumsfeld's impressive display of new battle software worked perfectly. Tank commanders could keep their lines dressed by simply referring to a digital display, and no one was pulling ahead into an adjacent unit's gunsights. Gee whiz.
The Generals are preoccupied now with retrieving their tactical victory from the chaos, a retrieval that will cost treasure, lives, and careers. But they are almost certainly also sharpening their knives and fantasizing about the spaces between Donald Rumsfeld's ribs.
The first images of the war were supposed to be the "liberation" of Basra, where jubilant crowds of Shi'ite Muslims would welcome the conquering American heroes. Instead, Basra fought back with a spectacular ferocity.
Now US ground forces are attempting to bypass every urban center on the road to Baghdad, but they are in the restricted terrain of the east, where bypass is not always an option. In Al Nasiriya, victory toasts turned to vinegar in their mouths.
City by city sieges have now become a real possibility, and the longer this war goes, the sharper will be the reaction throughout the region.
Aside from stalling, antiwar forces and the naked self-interest of the US regime have given us another multi-faceted victory. The US, fearing further erosion of its wounded legitimacy, has set out to genuinely limit civilian casualties. We have to be honest and clear about this. It is happening. There are certainly civilian casualties, but not nearly the mass slaughter many predicted.
One factor at play here is the need to avoid great damage to the infrastructure of their new prize. The other is the heat from the flames of an erupting international rebellion that they can illafford to fan any higher.
We must also be honest that this will cause the costs to American troops to go up, in lives. Basra can be conquered in a matter of hours, given a willingness to reduce it to rubble. So the US regime is caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is international rage, including the ever more explosive rage of the Arab and Muslim masses in the region, and the concomitant certainty of further international isolation. The hard place is Colin Powell's nightmare - a parade of flag-draped coffins.
Given this choice, the US will probably be forced to abandon its precise target discrimination, and the bloodletting that has been thus far limited will likely happen after all. This underlinesthe urgency of the anti-war movement keeping up its unrelenting pressure.
Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of the US strategy - prior to recent developments - was the "embedded journalists" program. This is a masterpiece of Powell Doctrine: controlling public perceptions.
The criticism of the military "pool" system from the first Gulf War was checkmated. Reporters were put directly on the battlefield, and integrated into the actual military units. Those reporters are then dependent on the troops around them for their daily human contact, and grow quickly to identify directly with the people in those units.
Overt censorship is no longer needed.
But as the campaign goes further and further awry, these embedded journalists will see some of their new friends wounded and killed, and then the Powell anxiety becomes realized, the war is in our living rooms again, just like Vietnam. This fear of graphic audio-visual images of war is why there was such outrage at Al Jazeera showing dead GIs.
The bet that this would be a quick war with images of triumph is about to break the bank.
In the North, far from the most visible action, the Turkish military has already begun its incursions. The Kurds, in response, are already signing onto yet another Faustian deal with the Americans, now mostly Special Operations - Rangers to seize airheads and Special Forces to establish relationships with the Kurdish fighters. Without its Northern Front, the US is more dependent than ever on using Kurdish combatants to fight the Iraqis around the rich oilfields near Kirkuk.
Fragile Turkey is beset by a severe economic crisis. Its majority Muslim population has just elected a moderate Islamic Party, and the popular opposition to the war is overwhelming.
The Turkish ruling class cannot afford another insurrection from Kurdish nationalists, and the Turkish military has no intention of watching a Kurdish state take form to their South. Turkey, inside its stable exterior, is becoming a powder keg, and Kurdistan is a furnace.
The political implications reach deep into Europe, where one year ago the US saw the admission of Turkey as advancing in the EU. Germany, for instance, has a substantial population of Turks and Kurds, and the German government has a real and justifiable fear that open warfare in Iraqi Kurdistan will spill over into the streets of Germany.
To mollify the Kurds, the US must hold back the Turkish military, and the Kurds will certainly not abandon their dream for an independent Kurdistan. To appease the Turkish military, the US will have to disarm the Kurds. And the Kurds, even as they sign the deal with the devil, know it. The Kurds have no intention of relinquishing their weapons, their autonomy or their dream of an independent nation. The Turks have no intention of allowing it. The US cannot have it both ways.
This diplomatic minefield has been fobbed off on Colin Powell. If he doesn't feel a trickle of sweat between his shoulder blades, he's not paying attention. Once this is all over, heads will roll, and the visceral enmity between Powell and Richard Perle is well-known. It's Powell, the Kissinger-style realist and brilliant bureaucrat, versus Perle, the racist, right-wing visionary. There are already whispers that Powell will be scapegoated after the war, and other rumors that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Perle will be handed walking papers, and Powell will run for VP.
This fragmentation is another material result of popular resistance around the world, and for some it was the goal–the political destruction of the Bush junta.
That objective is now within sight. What comes after remains to be seen.
While we have riveted our attention on the blazing guns, a quieter weapon of mass destruction has been unleashed against the US working class - a trillion-dollar tax cut for the rich that will torch the tattered remains of our social infrastructure. The political crisis that is now almost certain in the wake of the war will settle on the United States.
Then there are the soldiers.
Bear in mind that these are still the most pampered soldiers in the world. Their morale was already eroded by waiting. They were already faced with basic erosions of benefits at home. The sense of dislocation due to the doctrinal shift under Rumsfeld (that translates to a lot of confusion and turbulence in day-to-day operations), to increases in operational tempo, to the tripling of average time deployed away from home in the last decade, are taking a toll. Divorces are filed. Homesickness. Superiors who are assholes are now constant companions. A substantial number of troops - particularly Black soldiers - who really see this as a job and not some deep patriotic commitment.
Now, with the war is going badly, as they say in the Army, shit rolls downhill, and when things go wrong at the top, there is a lot of blame-shifting and carrying on that percolates down.
On a cautionary note, I will mention the incident (about which I don't know much yet) of the soldier who fragged his officers. Hasan Karim Akbar, 31, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division apparently attacked his own tactical operations center in Kuwait with hand grenades. Akbar is Black and a convert to Islam, according to reports.
What we in the movement don't know could hurt us. I want to warn against the natural desire to turn this into a cause celebre. We don't know what Akbar's motives were, and the conditions simply do not yet exist for a Vietnam-style epidemic of fragging. Sharp us-versus-them class consciousness has not yet developed in the military and there appears to be zero sympathy for Akbar's attack in the armed forces. There are already murmurings across the right-wing web of purging the armed forces of "black muslims."
Rather than a being a catalyst for generalized class struggle in the military, the fragging will more likely result in polarization between Black and white, given the latent racism in the military that reflects all of American society. This will emerge over time, and must be navigated very delicately by the left. Before more-militant-than-thou types make this sergeant a hero or martyr, and they should do some investigation. When the facts are sorted out, we will have to reckon with them.
Social polarization of all sorts - outside the military - will emerge in the coming period. It has already started, with the competing street mobilizations of anti-war and pro-war forces. And there is polarization beginning within the anti-war movement as some forces argue for moral censure and others argue for disruption. This too presents a challenge for anti-war forces, and for anti-imperialist forces within the anti-war movement.
Part of developing a critical stance on these issues, and figuring out what our role is in the context of this war is understanding the connections and consequences of what we do here, what others do around the world, and what the regime continues to do. I, for one, still see the political destruction of the Bush government as a strategic priority.
But we have to ensure that our movement is thinking strategically as well, that we are not attacking our adversaries at their strong points but exploiting their weaknesses. We have to ensure that we can function in ways that are agile and often decentralized, even as we keep the same enemy in sight.
This means that the wing of the movement, as it moves toward disruption instead of protest, will have to carefully calculate its own tactics to ensure that - even as we hold the movement accountable and preserve our own goals and identities - we do not split the movement or detach ourselves from the masses. That means that audacity and patience must reside in the same space together. Now is a time for discipline.
One thing is clear. The counter- counter-propaganda war is vital. We must begin to aim incessant, clear, rigorous, systematic, and dispassionate logic at the Bush Junta's every thinner rationalizations.
Leadership is perceived as leader-like only as long as it is respected. The content of the leadership certainly helps determine whether it is accepted, but impressions are also critical. People will take leadership from someone who is wrong, but they balk at being led by someone who is ridiculous.
We can exploit the absurdities of this administration that are now reproducing like rats.
Waving around the Geneva Conventions when our POWs get put on camera, and we've been broadcasting footage of Iraqi prisoners on for days. Invoking a UN resolution to violate a UN charter. Rumsfeld's comment that, "The word evidence is a hard word." Examples are legion.
They are down, and we dare not let them back up.
I'm dusting off an old Bob Dylan record. Hard rain's a gonna fall.
When five captured US soldiers were paraded in front of the Iraqi television cameras on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, immediately complained that "it is against the Geneva convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them".
George Monbiot of the Guardian responds "This being so, Rumsfeld had better watch his back. For this enthusiastic convert to the cause of legal warfare is, as head of the defence department, responsible for a series of crimes sufficient, were he ever to be tried, to put him away for the rest of his natural life."
Monbiot goes on to detail the following breaches of the Geneva Convention for which Rumsfeld is responsible:
[Rumsfeld's] prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, where 641 men (nine of whom are British citizens) are held, breaches no fewer than 15 articles of the third convention. The US government broke the first of these (article 13) as soon as the prisoners arrived, by displaying them, just as the Iraqis have done, on television. In this case, however, they were not encouraged to address the cameras. They were kneeling on the ground, hands tied behind their backs, wearing blacked-out goggles and earphones. In breach of article 18, they had been stripped of their own clothes and deprived of their possessions. They were then interned in a penitentiary (against article 22), where they were denied proper mess facilities (26), canteens (28), religious premises (34), opportunities for physical exercise (38), access to the text of the convention (41), freedom to write to their families (70 and 71) and parcels of food and books (72).
They were not "released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities" (118), because, the US authorities say, their interrogation might, one day, reveal interesting information about al-Qaida. Article 17 rules that captives are obliged to give only their name, rank, number and date of birth.
The US government claims that these men are not subject to the Geneva conventions, as they are not "prisoners of war", but "unlawful combatants". The same claim could be made, with rather more justice, by the Iraqis holding the US soldiers who illegally invaded their country. But this redefinition is itself a breach of article 4 of the third convention, under which people detained as suspected members of a militia (the Taliban) or a volunteer corps (al-Qaida) must be regarded as prisoners of war.
If news is the first casualty of war, the first victor is government. It is ironic that every war fought by Britain in the past century, justly in the cause of freedom, has led directly to a curtailment of freedom in favour of state control. The history of war runs in tandem with that of higher taxes, greater regulation and more government.
... an excellent op-ed piece from day 1 of the war outlining the UK history of income tax (invented to pay for hostilities against Napoleon), growth in officialdom ("The first surge in officialdom occurred in the Great War. By the time of the Second World War there were roughly 200,000 civil servants. Fifteen years after it had ended there were 375,000 and rising"), and regressive homeland security legislation ("After an IRA attack in 1974, the supposedly liberal Roy Jenkins introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act, pledging in public that it was a “strictly temporary measure”. It gave the police extensive discretion to spy on, intern and deport citizens without trial. It has never been repealed").