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10 April 2004

Will To Power  

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Norman Solomon is the author of The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media and co-author, with Reese Erlich, of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You. He writes Media Beat, a nationally syndicated column.

With warfare escalating in Iraq, syndicated columnist George Will has just explained the logic of the occupation. "In the war against the militias," he wrote, "every door American troops crash through, every civilian bystander shot—there will be many—will make matters worse, for a while. Nevertheless, the first task of the occupation remains the first task of government: to establish a monopoly on violence."

A year ago, when a Saddam statue famously collapsed in Baghdad, top officials in Washington preened themselves as liberators. Now, some of the tyrant’s bitterest enemies are firing rocket-propelled grenades at American troops.

Hypocrisy about press freedom has a lot to do with the current Shiite insurrection. Donald Rumsfeld had an easy retort seven months ago when antiwar protesters interrupted his speech at the National Press Club in Washington. "You know, I just came in from Baghdad," he said, "and there are now over 100 newspapers in the free press in Iraq, in a free Iraq, where people are able to say whatever they wish." But actually, Iraq’s newspapers "are able to say whatever they wish" only if they wish to say what the occupiers accept.

A week before a militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr began to assault U.S. soldiers, the American occupation authorities ordered a 60-day shutdown of Sadr’s newspaper Al Hawza. The New York Times reported near the end of an April 5 article: "Although the paper did not print any calls for attacks, the American authorities said false reporting, including articles that ascribed suicide bombings to Americans, could touch off violence."

There’s an idea—closing a newspaper for "false reporting" that could "touch off violence." By that standard, most of the daily papers in the United States (beginning with The New York Times) could have been shut down in late 2002 and early 2003 as they engaged in "false reporting" about purported weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That false reporting certainly touched off violence. Thanks to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the number of dead is in the tens of thousands and rising by the hour. True to form—as was the case during the Vietnam War—the president certainly knows how to keep ordering the use of violence on a massive scale.

"We took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maximum brutality," war correspondent Michael Herr recalled about the U.S. military in Vietnam. "Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop."

Despite all the belated media exposure of the Bush administration’s pre-war lies, we are now seeing a familiar spectrum of response in mainstream U.S. media—many liberals wringing their hands, many conservatives rubbing their hands—at the sight of military escalation.

In recent days, numerous commentators have criticized President Bush for policy flaws. The tactical critiques are profuse, as when an April 6 editorial by The New York Times lamented that Washington "and its occupation partners" are now "in real danger of handing over a meaningless badge of sovereignty to a government that is divided internally, is regarded as illegitimate by the people and has no means other than foreign armies in Iraq to enforce its authority."

Such carefully chosen language is notable for what it does not say: Get U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Year after year, of course, the White House and the editorialists insisted that complete withdrawal of GIs from Vietnam was an irresponsible notion, a bumper-sticker idea lacking in realism. But withdrawal had to happen. Sooner, with fewer deaths and less suffering? Or later?

In contrast to the wavering bugles of Bush’s circumspect critics, we hear the certain trumpets from the likes of George Will. "Regime change, occupation, nation-building—in a word, empire—are a bloody business," he wrote at the end of April’s first week. "Now Americans must steel themselves for administering the violence necessary to disarm or defeat Iraq’s urban militias, which replicate the problem of modern terrorism—violence that has slipped the leash of states."

As for the carnage that results from unleashing the Pentagon’s violence, the rationales are inexhaustible. "There are thugs and terrorists in Iraq who are trying to shake our will," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on April 6. "And the president is firmly committed to showing resolve and strength."

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism."

That madness is here.

Published: Apr 09 2004

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Holes in the Sky: Bush's Crazed Missile Defense Plan 

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By CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

"With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do." ~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Here's a puzzle with no answer. Why has George Bush budgeted $3.73 billion to deploy a missile defense system the component parts of which have either not been tested or having been tested, have failed, while simultaneously declining to proceed with installing missile defense systems for commercial airliners the cost of which is approximately $3 million a plane.

In February 2003 it was reported that the Pentagon intended to begin deploying a missile defense system in 2004 without fully testing it. In support of the idea, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee said: " I happen to think that thinking we cannot deploy something until you have everything perfect, every 'i' dotted and every 't' crossed, is probably not a good idea In the case of missile defense, I think we need to get something out there, in the ground, at sea, and in a way that we can test it, we can look at it, we can develop it, we can evolve it, and find out-learn from the experimentation with it."

Mr. Rumsfeld had forgotten about a 1983 law mandating that before some weapons system is deployed, it must be successfully tested. In the 2004 budget request the president justified deployment without testing by saying that deployment would be considered part of the development and demonstration of the system rather than its actual use. In the budget request the White House further suggested that no testing of the system be required until after the 2004 election although that wasn't quite how it was stated. What it said was that testing of the system should resume in 2006.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan objected to this approach saying: "It would be a lot better if we have confidence that the system will work before it is deployed, because otherwise it just creates a lot more uncertainty." He explained that the purpose of the 1983 law was "to prevent the production and fielding of a weapon system that doesn't work right."

In September 2003 the General Accounting Office issued a 40-page report saying the uncertainty surrounding the development of the system produced a "greater likelihood that critical technologies will not work as intended in planned flight tests." Phillip E. Coyle, III, a former head of weapons testing at the Pentagon said the GAO report demonstrated that if the system was activated in 2004 it would be "no more than a scarecrow, not a real defense."

Although George Bush doesn't mind deploying an untested anti missile system, he doesn't think any missile defense on civilian aircraft should be installed until he is completely sure that the systems have been fully tested irrespective of what the producers of those systems say.

BAE Systems, one of three groups of contractors selected by the Department of Homeland Security to develop the technology is confident the technology to deflect small missiles such as those Al Qaeda has, could be ready for installation in 3-4 months and even sooner if needed. Jack Pledger a Northrop Grumman executive in charge of anti missile systems for that company said the laser-jamming devices could installed on passenger jets "right now. If it became necessary to provide this system immediately, we're ready."

Operating with the sort of caution eschewed by Mr. Rumsfeld , the Homeland Security Department put aside $100 million for a study to determine whether anti missile devices could successfully be installed on passenger planes. Prototypes should be built within the next 18 months. Responding to criticism that it is moving too slowly it explained that it would be irresponsible to put in place a system the reliability, safety and cost effectiveness of which had not been proven. John J. Kubricky directs anti missile research programs at the Department of Homeland Security and said cautiously: "What we're trying to avoid is taking shortcuts. I can't think of any way to speed this up and to do it safely and economically."

The missile defense system for the country is to protect us from North Korean missiles. That should be easy since, as Ben Arnoldy of the Christian Science Monitor has reported, North Korea's No Dong missiles, their most far reaching, have a range of about 600 miles. The aircraft system is designed to protect airplane passengers from shoulder-fired missiles costing about $5,000 each on the black market, weighing 35 pounds, of which more than 5000 that have the capacity to presently inflict great harm are held by terrorist groups around the world. As soon as Mr. Bush finishes spending billions protecting us from missiles that don't pose a present threat, he may want to consider protecting us from those that do.


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The Sharonizing of America  

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By Gideon Samet

The holiday was nice, touch wood. The Israeli instinct for normality, which has been so badly buffeted, was celebrated as though the intifada were over. Israelis showed how thirsty they are for tranquillity by flocking to the bed and breakfast places in Galilee and to shanti in Sinai. However, all this was no more than a renewed meeting with a sweet delusion; in fact, the situation has not changed, and therefore has become worse.
If anyone took the time to interest himself in the troubles of others, he encountered an ironic spectacle: the Americans have supplanted us in the headlines. Their air force carried out targeted assassinations, letting the chips of civilian casualties fly where they may as they lop off the arm of terror. In a confusion of historic images, the Iraqi quagmire was dipped into the Lebanese quicksand with a touch of Vietnam jungle.

Apart from the pleasures of the moment, there was no good reason for any true contentment from the temporary comeback of normality. Here's why:

* The jubilee of Dien Bien Phu: The struggle between the occupation forces and powerful national currents hasn't changed - not in Nablus and not in Baghdad. France this month recalls one of the formative events of this struggle. Fifty years ago, on the Ides of March, the Vietminh launched their offensive on the legendary French compound at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, near the border with Laos. America, whose Vietnamese nightmare is now recurring as the election campaign begins, learned nothing from the fall of the hopeless incarnation of French pride. Ten years later they hurled themselves into the same - seemingly unavoidable - mix of blindness and strategic miscalculation. The terrible lesson: something in the genes of strong nations, despite all they have learned, continues to lead them into the same ambushes that exact their blood and plunge them into defeat. The Israelis who were using matza to fan their barbecues over the Pesach holiday will be able to repress this fact for only a few days.

* Contempt for common sense: Noble ideals have also been engraved on the standards of occupying countries. In some cases they were forced to defend against wicked aggression. However, the main interest of the colonial powers and their successors in our time has been control. In the face of the powerful temptations of treasure (oil) and the urge for international hegemony, enlightened regimes have insulted their own common sense. Israel was not exempt from considerations of this kind. Even as tens and hundreds of thousands are picnicking in the parks as though a new leaf has been turned, they would do well to remember that their leaders have missed many opportunities to promote a settlement. Without it, true normality will never return to this country.

* Yankee hug: In its new quagmire, America is a lame duck despite all its good will to extricate us from our quagmire. The Bush administration stated a quasi-ideology: A neoconservative administration was not willing to lead Israel along the track that was tried with such determination by Jimmy Carter, the first President Bush and Bill Clinton. And it continued with a full nelson: the war against Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein led the bewildered administration to adopt the methods patented by Sharon-Mofaz-Ya'alon. This is a dangerous connection on Washington's part, because its struggle against terrorism - and for the manifestation of its might - doesn't resemble the tangled problem between us and the Palestinian people. Thus the Bush administration isn't doing us any kind of favor by its Yankee hug; it's both giving support to Israel's pseudo policy and releasing itself from any sort of serious initiative to help us help ourselves become disentangled.

* Schmoozing and its drawbacks: Next week Sharon will visit an American president who is going through his most difficult period. Instead of the conquest of Iraq generating the momentum for the emergence of a new Middle East, it has hammered another nail into the coffin of a regional settlement. Oh, how the Israelis love schmoozing in Washington, another delusion of normality. And how harmful it is to them.

* Visit of the aged mentor: One major piece of damage that the Bush administration caused Israel, even before the quagmire, is the loss of precious time. Two survivors, Bush and Sharon, worked together to delay a vigorous move to advance a settlement. It was convenient for both of them. Bush was afraid of putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. Sharon exploited that fear craftily, even succeeding in making the road map collapse. However, the peak of the coordination between the two countries is the current situation, in which for the last few years we have been witnessing a kind of Israelization - or Sharonization - of America: in its attitude toward the threats of terrorism, America is talking and behaving in Iraq like the last of the hawks on the Israeli General Staff. Instead of giving Jerusalem an example of political daring, Washington has become a huge version of the Israeli army's "we'll show them" approach. Sharon's visit there next week will look almost like the hosting of the aged mentor by his slightly maladroit disciple.

Calm? On the way to normality? A lot more barbecues will emit a lot more smoke before that happens.


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Death Grip 

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Things in Iraq are bad and getting worse. Will -- or can -- Bush let go?

By Harold Meyerson
04.08.04

So now the president's war of choice has led to an occupation with no good options.

The Bush administration's plan is to hand over control of Iraq to the Iraqi Governing Council on June 30. Just how that council will sustain itself in power, however, is increasingly unclear after the upheaval of the past few days. Its own police force, which the United States has spent time and treasure recruiting and training, all but collapsed during the uprising of Moqtada Sadr's Shiite militia.

In Kufa, Najaf and Baghdad's own Sadr City, the government's new cops handed over police cars and police stations to the militia without any reported resistance. In some instances, the cops actually joined forces with Sadr's militants.

So much for our thin blue line.

Within Iraq, there are thousands of current and potential gunmen willing to fight for their people and their creeds -- Kurdish automony, Sunni hegemony, Shiite control, an Islamic republic. But the force charged with defending a pluralistic, united Iraq just went AWOL under fire.

It's not that there aren't lots of Iraqis committed to a democratic, relatively nonsectarian nation. But that is just one faith among many in post-Hussein Iraq. And by keeping sole control of the occupation, the White House has ensured that the cause of pluralistic nationhood has become disastrously intermingled with support for the U.S. occupation.

That intermingling will only get worse after June 30. The provisional government will assume power knowing that its security will depend entirely on U.S. forces. That's not likely to work wonders for its popularity, its legitimacy or, well, its security.

In the events of the past week, Sadr has emerged as Iraq's version of Lenin at the Finland Station. In the months after the overthrow of the czar, the Russian left largely agreed to cooperate with the provisional government within an emerging parliamentary democracy. Until, that is, Lenin's sealed train pulled into Petrograd, and the once-exiled leader told his astounded followers that they would not work with the provisional government and that they would, in fact, work to overthrow it.

I'm not predicting that Sadr will succeed in evading U.S. forces and in time set up an Islamic republic as extreme as Lenin and Stalin's Soviet republic -- much as he may wish to. But, like Lenin, he has tapped into a popular sentiment that is far broader than the size of his own narrow legion might suggest. It's also clear that the civil authority that is supposed to take power June 30 will have few reliable domestic forces to defend it -- a situation remniscent of the one confronting Alexander Kerensky, the leader of the Russian provisional government who had no loyal forces at his disposal when the

Bolsheviks seized power.

What the Iraqi provisional government will have is the Americans. It would be far better off if it had a force under the U.N. banner, with troops from nations that had opposed as well as supported the war, troops from Arab nations in particular.

But the time to have built such a force, I fear, has come and gone. The administration's utter failure to envision the problems that a U.S.-controlled occupation would encounter kept it from going to the United Nations until the situation on the ground was barely tenable. It's still worth trying to get a U.N. high commissioner to supplant Paul Bremer, but it grows harder to imagine why the U.N. would sign on at this late date.

In any event, the administration still shows scant desire to surrender its control of the growing chaos. Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's commissioner in Iraq, has just given up his post in reported frustration over his inability to affect any of Bremer's decisions. And rather than internationalize control, it's increasingly apparent that we've opted to privatize our force -- relying on private security guards to supplement our official force on the ground. The decision epitomizes much that's wrong with the Bush presidency -- in particular, its desire to evade responsibility and accountability for its actions. If the bodies of the security guards killed in Fallujah had not been mutilated, how many American voters would have noticed? One recent poll shows that near-plurality of Americans now favors our leaving Iraq. But precisely because this was not a war we had to fight, just up and leaving would be politically and morally duplicitous. We wrested control of Iraq when we did not have to, and leaving it to its own devices as sectarian violence grows worse would be a dismal end. The only unequivocally good policy option before the American people is to dump the president who got us into this mess, who had no trouble sending our young people to Iraq but who cannot steel himself to face the Sept. 11 commission alone.

Harold Meyerson is the Prospect's editor-at-large. This column originally appeared in The Washington Post.
Copyright © 2004 by The American Prospect, Inc.

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America's circle of enemies swells as attacks persist 

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Georgie Anne Geyer, Universal Press Syndicate.

April 9, 2004

MUSCAT, the Sultanate of Oman -- Has it not occurred to us Americans, as we effectively sink into a civil war in Iraq this week, that we seem to have some kind of "problem" with the world's Shiites?

Even Americans who, understandably, do not know that Shiism is a particularly virulent and anti-foreigner form of Islam are probably aware that we lost more than 200 Marines in Lebanon in 1982 when their absurdly unprotected base was blown up--by Lebanese Shiites.

There are unquestionably few Americans, at least of a certain generation, who do not remember the lengthy and intricate humiliation of American hostages taken by the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979--by Iranian Shiites.

Now the venue has changed, but the enemy has remained the same. Is the real enemy the Shiites--or is it perhaps ourselves?

One has to wonder how American officials in Baghdad could have made the decision last week to arrest the firebrand Shiite preacher of the Baghdad poor and slums, Moqtada Sadr (right on the heels of closing down his newspaper, at least an outlet for the desperation of Iraq), and his top assistant.

Could our people there, whether military or civilian, who made this decision not have thought it through, as would any good tactician or strategist:

We have three months until June 30, when we turn over control to the Iraqis. Keep the lid on 'til then; don't do anything to make this whole thing worse until we can ease in a new government and ease out ourselves.

As a great and longtime admirer of the American military, I have to ask sadly when I see a commanding American general in Baghdad saying we are going to destroy Sadr's "Mahdi" army because "Iraqi law" and "Iraqi courts" ordered Sadr's arrest:

How have our valiant military leaders come to a point where they can make such Soviet-style statements in a country without law and in situations of bitterly contested legitimacies?

Are we willing as a people to have our young men and women so far away from home, in a country we know was no real threat to us from the beginning, killing, maiming and wiping out as many Iraqis as necessary to contain this gathering insurgency against us?

Think what we are up against.

In Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, we are fighting an increasingly embittered Sunni Muslim insurgency. Americans were surrounding the town to kill the mobs of Sunnis who killed and then disfigured the bodies of four American contractors last week. As if they could even find them.

Across the country, according to our own military's analysis, we are fighting on an ever-increasing scale the foreign and probably mostly Al Qaeda members who have flocked to Iraq as the "New Afghanistan." They weren't there when we went in, as many of us said, but they're sure there now.

But most important and lethal of all, we are fighting a third major insurgency that may unite and inspire all the rest. This is, of course, Sadr's long-awaited and long-feared "Shiite rebellion," which could make Iraq ungovernable by anybody, if it has not already done so.

A high-ranking American official was quoted on CNN this week as saying that Sadr--an authoritarian, 30ish, angry leader of the slum-dwellers who is almost always pictured with an admonishing finger in front of his nose and whose angry followers march around menacingly in black suits and headbands, heavily armed--has "only 10,000 in his militia."

Only 10,000? Well, that surely makes it easy!

And then, when he withdrew to take refuge in one of the mosques in the sacred Shiite city of Najaf, speculation grew that his "only 10,000 militiamen" could join forces with other Shiite militias and armies that have formed all over the country.

Juan Cole, the noted expert on Iraq at the University of Michigan, said of the radical and popular young leader in The Daily Star of Beirut:

"He is a millenarian, and responded apocalyptically, seeking to go down fighting and then withdrawing to his mosque in preparation for martyrdom."

But why should the Shiites, those faraway and (to the West, at least) forbidding and extreme Muslims who glorify martyrdom and suffering, have become the nemesis of repeated American incursions into otherwise very different places in the world?

Because they particularly exemplify our leaders' inability to understand other cultures and their inevitable responses to our attacks. While we are smugly talking of a "democratization" that is totally foreign to them, they are simply responding as they always have against foreign invaders.

We can either keep attacking militarily, widening the circles of hatred and revenge all around us and probably even bringing in the Iranian Shiites (with whom, not incidentally, Sadr is connected by belief and by sympathy) yet again--not to speak of brutalizing ourselves in ways previously unthought of in this country. Or we can get out.

Even up to about two months ago, the answer would have been to bring in the United Nations and other responsible nations as equal partners. But the Bush administration refused to do this, and now there is no answer.
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E-mail: gigi-geyer@juno.com

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune


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Iraq is not Bush's Vietnam: this is an unprovoked war of choice 

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By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

10 April 2004

When George Bush and Tony Blair meet here next week to discuss Iraq, one dark truth will dominate everything: This is not how it was supposed to be.

A year ago, the assumption was that come April 2004, a liberated Iraq would be well on the way to acquiring democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity, and all those other wonderful attributes of civilisation Western armies can bestow. How different today. A year on, an ungrateful Iraq is on the brink of civil war, its factions united only by resentment of the American and allied occupiers, and by the bullets and bombs they use against them.

As one Iraqi city after another erupts in violence, Americans feel less rather than more safe in their own country, 30 months after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. And the President's once seemingly inevitable re-election is now hostage to a dirty, semi-guerrilla war thousands of miles away.

Sound familiar? It should. Almost 36 years ago another President, named Lyndon Johnson, mired in an unwinnable war, announced he was stepping down. George Bush will not. But the political vocabulary of that era is flourishing again. The US again is "trapped in a quagmire".

This President, whose casus belli over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has proved a fiction, is accused of having his own yawning "credibility gap". Most Iraqis want America to succeed, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, assured the world again on Wednesday. "We haven't lost control," he said. But this was not the grinning, bullying, confident Rumsfeld of a year ago, mocking the fainthearted as US armoured columns roared across Iraq. This time, he was brusque and tight-faced, as he tried to explain dozens of new US casualties.

In 2003, the cost of the war was put at $50bn (£27bn). It is $160bn and rising. The troops were promised they would be home within a year. Now the 135,000-strong US deployment will increase to 150,000, confronted by the grim reality of an open-ended stay. Suspicions grow that Iraq, has, in the words of Richard Clarke, White House counter-terrorism chief under President Bush and Bill Clinton, undermined the war on terror. Then there are those missing WMD, in whose name 650-odd Americans and untold thousands of Iraqis have died?Clearly, hell-bent on taking out Saddam Hussein, the Bush team ignored CIA warnings of how difficult post-war reconstruction would be.

In March 2003, three-quarters of Americans backed the invasion. That figure is 57 per cent today. Iraq is not Vietnam. Iraq is an unprovoked war of choice, launched by a US President against a regime that posed no threat to the US, or anyone else.


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White House Credibility on National Security Collapsing 

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April 9, 2004

The White House has an accountability problem. In the wake of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's testimony yesterday, the American public is still looking for hard facts – not blame – about what happened before 9/11. No one – Republicans and Democrats alike – believes the White House could have prevented the attacks. But the public at least expects a hard try and straight answers about the administration's priorities, successes, and failures. As the New York Times states today, "there was the lingering question of whether anyone in the Bush White House is capable of admitting error."

* The White House continues to deny that it made any mistakes in its handling of pre-9/11 security. Dr. Rice's opening statement managed to blame security breakdowns on every president from Woodrow Wilson through Bill Clinton, the FBI, the CIA, Richard Clarke, and most other institutions of government for what is ultimately her responsibility and that of President Bush – protecting the nation. She offered no apologies. She made no concessions. And, unlike Richard Clarke, she accepted no responsibility for 9/11.
* The White House did not do everything in its power to address al Qaeda and protect the nation before 9/11. The American public learned yesterday that President Bush received an intelligence briefing on August 6, 2001, ominously titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." The memo contained explicit warnings about suspicious activities "consistent with preparations for hijacking," and told of 70 full field FBI operations aimed at domestic terrorist activities. Yet President Bush convened no high level meetings. He did nothing to move the government into high alert. Prior to the memo, there was no response to the USS Cole bombing. And the administration actually cut counterterrorism funding.
* The White House can not be trusted to tell the American public the truth about national security issues. Most Americans understand Dr. Rice's claim that there was "no silver bullet" that could have prevented 9/11. But the public deserves the truth – a scarce commodity around the White House these days. Al Qaeda wasn't a top priority for the White House. The administration missed several important warnings. And until the White House comes clean on its role, the American public should be skeptical of any future national security claims from the administration.

Daily Talking Points is a product of the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan research and educational institute committed to progressive principles for a strong, just and free America.

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Chilling implications from a cool, collected Rice 

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April 9, 2004

BY DEBRA PICKETT SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Condoleezza Rice says she's asked herself a thousand times if there was anything she could have done to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

And the answer every time, apparently, has been no.

Which is either really impressive or simply terrifying.

My experience of the world is that it is a complex, messy place that constantly offers up unanswerable questions and choices between bad options and worse ones. And that's just how I feel when I'm deciding which coffee to buy.

The spectacle of Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission -- a theatrical exercise in which the commissioners pretended to ask questions and Rice pretended to answer them -- was an impressive display of stonewalling and obfuscation. Rice, who is a hundred times more articulate than George W. Bush and John Kerry combined, smiled politely through the three-hour session, never raising her voice, never losing her cool and never, ever using the M-word.

Mistakes weren't made

If you are bothered by the smarmy, political non-apology-apologies that public figures tend to give -- saying things like "mistakes were made" -- when they are caught having screwed something up, Rice's testimony was a breath of fresh air. Not only did she not apologize for anything, she pretty much denied anything had gone wrong, national security-wise.

She laid some blame on the FAA, the FBI, the Pakistanis, past administrations and, of course, those namby-pamby civil libertarians who -- pre-Patriot Act -- tried to prevent the government from spying on Americans by keeping the FBI and CIA separate.

''The real lesson of Sept. 11,'' she said, ''is that the country was not properly structured.''

Which is a huge relief to those of us who thought the real lesson had something to do with the violent, suicidal hatred some people hold for the United States.

Question after question, Rice deflected any suggestion that the administration had failed to take the threat of terrorism seriously enough or to act on information they'd received, in the summer of 2001, about the possibility of attacks in the near future. She beat the commissioners at their own game, knowing that, since they were limited to 10 minutes each, the longer her answers were, the fewer questions they'd get to ask.

Her expression betrayed no reaction to the questions and no emotion except the calm that comes with total self-assurance.

It would have been cool -- at one point, I briefly imagined Anita Hill cheering, ''You go, girl'' -- if it hadn't been so scary.

(Bipartisan disclosure: I feel the same way when I hear Madeleine Albright discuss Rwanda. Apparently every administration now needs a woman to fill the affable, power-means-never-having-to-say-you're-sorry role.)

Rice looked attorney Richard Ben-Veniste dead in the eye as he began to ask her questions about the Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing, a document that's been characterized as having warned the president about the possibility of terrorists planning to hijack commercial planes within the United States.

What was the title of that document, he kept asking.

The title, which had been kept secret until Thursday morning, was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the U.S."

"There was nothing in this memo that suggested an attack was coming," Rice said evenly.

When Tim Roemer, the former Indiana congressman, read from terrorism expert Richard Clarke's Sept. 4 memo to Rice, letting its words -- "we should not wait" -- hang hauntingly in the air, she did not take the bait. She returned, instead, to a previous question to coolly finish her point.

And, when she finally did get around to talking about Clarke's memo, she said calmly, ''That was not a premonition or a warning.''

What WOULD be a warning?

Basically, all Rice would tell the commission about threats and warnings was that if someone had told her who was planning to do what on which flights heading where, and given her a detailed plan for how to stop them, she'd have acted on it.

This suggests that the national security adviser has, um, a pretty limited approach to the whole concept of national security.

What she said about foreign policy was even weirder. She told the commissioners, for example, that the Bush administration is addressing the root causes of terrorism with its Middle East policy, which will ''spread the blessings of liberty as alternatives to instability and violence.'' As she spoke, the CNN "crawl" beneath her face reported Iraq's descent into ever-deadlier instability and violence.

Bob Kerrey, a commission member and former senator who, as a Vietnam vet, knows a little something about quagmires, began his 10-minute questioning period by remarking that he wondered if the U.S. occupation of Iraq was helping al-Qaida recruit new members.

Rice did not respond.

She just smiled, especially brightly when Kerrey's turn was done.

Copyright © The Sun-Times Company

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A Deserter Speaks 

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by CHRISTIAN PARENTI

[posted online on March 25, 2004]

The young man across the table looks sad, but not as stressed as one might expect from a US Army deserter. Camilo Mejia served with a unit that crossed into Iraq just after the invasion and then, for five months, fought in the counterinsurgency war in the Sunni Triangle, where he says he was in firefights, killed people, almost got killed, helped torture prisoners and finally had his life saved by a small-scale mutiny. Now he is a declared conscientious objector who spent five months absent without leave, facing the wrath of US military justice.

In October, when he was home on furlough, Mejia decided to ditch the killing and chaos of Iraq. Although the military never officially charged Mejia with desertion, he spent the rest of the autumn and winter living like a fugitive, never using cell phones, credit cards or the Internet for fear of being busted. He was frequently on the move and survived on the good will of friends.

There are dozens of other soldiers who have refused to show up for their deployments, but the military doesn't pursue most of them and usually releases them from service without too much fuss. Most AWOL soldiers don't even get tracked down. However, if a soldier goes public to make a political point, the military response can be severe.

"This is an immoral, unjust and illegal war," says Mejia. "The whole thing is based on lies. There are no weapons of mass destruction, and there was no link with terrorism. It's about oil, reconstruction contracts and controlling the Middle East." Like many US troops, Mejia is a recent immigrant, but unlike many he is from a left-leaning bohemian family; his father is an internationally famous Nicaraguan musician, Carlos Mejia Godoy, and his mother was active with radical movements in the 1980s. Mejia, however, says he used to be apolitical. When he moved to the United States as a young adult, he joined the military "to become an American and know the culture."

Just before Mejia's eight years of service were up, he found himself in Iraq. "After the war people were cheering, but within a week or two they were asking when we were going to leave and getting angry. And then it became clear that nothing was getting reconstructed, people's lives weren't getting better. We had all these deadlines, for setting up the police, getting the power back on, whatever, and nothing ever got done, nothing changed or got better," Mejia explains. "And then the resistance started."

To make matters worse, Mejia found his officers to be glory-obsessed and intentionally reckless with the safety of their men. In particular, he says, they wanted the Army's much-coveted Combat Infantry Badge--an award bestowed only on those who have met and engaged the enemy. "To be a twenty-year career infantry officer and not have your CIB is like being a chef and having never cooked or being a fireman and never having put out a fire," Mejia says. "These guys were really hungry, and we were the bait."

In one attempt to draw enemy fire, Mejia's company--about 120 guys divided evenly into four platoons--was ordered to occupy key intersections in Ramadi, a notoriously violent Iraqi city, for several days running. "All the guys were really nervous. This was a total violation of standard operating procedure. They train you to keep moving, not sit in the open." Finally the enemy attacked, and a platoon in Mejia's company took casualties.

When the troops were ordered to perform the exact same maneuvers again, Mejia refused. "I told them, I quit." Luckily for him the four staff sergeants of the platoon that had taken casualties also refused to go out. Technically, refusing an order in a combat situation can be charged as mutiny. But in a tense meeting with their commanding officer, the staff sergeants negotiated a new plan of action that allowed the GIs to vary the timing and movement of their patrols. After these changes, Mejia agreed to go. "We went out two hours earlier than usual, and because of that we caught these young guys setting an IED (improvised explosive device) of three mortars wrapped together." If Mejia's squad had set out according the Commanding Officers' original plan, he believes that some of the guys in his squad would have been killed. For its part, the Florida National Guard claims that Mejia was a bad sergeant and that he was not aggressive enough in engaging what all admit is a highly elusive enemy.

Spc. Oliver Perez, who served with Mejia, disagrees. "I fought next to him in many battles. He is not a coward," said Perez, who has also said he will testify on Mejia's behalf if the Army proceeds with a court-martial.

During another assignment, Mejia's company ran a detention camp. "They didn't call it a POW camp because it didn't meet Red Cross standards," he explains. There, intelligence officers ordered Mejia's squad to psychologically torture three suspected resistance fighters. The hooded and bound prisoners were placed in isolation, intimidated with mock executions and forced to stay awake for days at a time. "We had one guy lose his mind. He was locked in a little metal closet that we'd bang with a sledgehammer every five minutes to keep him up. He started crying and begging to lie down." When asked how the prisoners were fed and given water, Mejia stares off into space for a moment, and then says, "I don't remember how we fed them."

This soft-spoken young man has plenty of other bad stories to tell. There's the time his squad killed a civilian who ran a checkpoint; the time they shot a demonstrator. There's the officer who forged orders so he could get his unit into combat, and the other officer who broke his own ankle to get out of combat. There is the father who wasn't allowed temporary leave even though his young daughter had been raped. And there is the GI who took shrapnel in the head and now can't talk, can't recognize his family and wakes up in the middle of the night confused and sobbing.

Given the politics of the military, it is unlikely that Mejia's serious allegations about the conduct of his superiors will be investigated, let alone prosecuted, while his own decision of conscience could be treated as a criminal matter. "I'd rather do the five to ten years in prison for desertion than kill a child by mistake," says Mejia. "When you are getting shot at, you shoot back. It doesn't matter if there are civilians around. Prison ends, but you never get over killing a kid."

So far this war has produced only a few AWOL convictions and one high-profile asylum case in Canada. Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman of the 82nd Airborne is seeking refuge north of the border on the grounds that he is a conscientious objector. Marine Reserve Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk also went AWOL and claimed conscientious objector status this past April. Funk was convicted of being away without leave, demoted, forfeited two-thirds of his pay, received a bad-conduct discharge and sent to the brig for six months. Mejia, who turned himself in at a press conference on March 15, faces five to ten years in prison. Currently Mejia is in Florida with the National Guard, awaiting administrative dismissal as a recognized conscientious objector or criminal prosecution as a deserter.

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The Rice Version 

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April 9, 2004

In her long-awaited public testimony yesterday, Condoleezza Rice, the most diligent of public servants, made it clear that under her direction the Bush administration touched all the proper bases in planning an antiterror program. The State Department was told to "work with" other countries. F.B.I. field offices were "tasked" to increase surveillance on known terrorists. Warnings were issued, meetings were held. But Ms. Rice was utterly unconvincing when she tried to portray Al Qaeda as anything approaching a top concern for the White House.

If President Bush were not making 9/11 the center of his re-election campaign, it might be possible for the country to settle on a realistic vision of how the White House handled the threat posed by Al Qaeda before the terrible attacks on New York and Washington occurred. The administration tried to behave responsibly, but it missed the boat.

Ms. Rice was at her weakest in her testimony before the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks when she attempted to portray Mr. Bush himself as a hands-on administrator with a particular concern about terror threats. Her description of the president as tired of "swatting flies" and spoiling for a real fight with Osama bin Laden was especially poorly chosen. "Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to Al Qaeda prior to 9/11?" asked former Senator Bob Kerrey.

The administration argument that it had only gotten intelligence about potential terrorist attacks abroad in the summer of 2001 was rather drastically undermined when Ms. Rice revealed, under questioning, that the briefing given Mr. Bush by the C.I.A. on Aug. 6, 2001, was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." Ms. Rice continues to insist that the information was "historical" rather than a warning of something likely to occur. The briefing memo has been withheld from the public, but the White House is doing the right thing in rethinking that position. It should also rethink the president's insistence on answering the committee's questions only briefly, in private and — most strangely — only in the company of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The question of most concern to the public, and particularly the tortured families of the 9/11 victims, was whether the attack could have been averted if Al Qaeda had been something more than one policy concern among many for the administration. Certainly, if the president had reacted quickly and aggressively to the C.I.A.'s August briefing, he might have convened a cabinet meeting and directed every official to come up with immediate antiterrorism plans — including the totally out-of-the-loop transportation secretary, Norman Mineta. But even if Mr. Bush had attempted to move the federal bureaucracy with optimum energy, it's likely the short-term outcome would have been more warnings issued and more studies planned.

The central role of the F.B.I. in failing to predict the attacks is one of the many things on which Ms. Rice seems to basically agree with Richard Clarke, the administration's former counterterrorism coordinator turned chief critic. Both officials drew pictures of an agency that dragged its feet and failed to report information from field agents that would have pointed to a possible terrorist attack from the sky. The Bush administration, after some early resistance, has tried since 9/11 to get the F.B.I. and C.I.A. to share information with each other and the rest of the administration. It will be important to hear the investigating committee's thoughts on what further action is needed to retool the F.B.I. for the modern world.

If Ms. Rice were not set on burnishing the commander in chief's image as the hero of 9/11, she might have been able to admit that Mr. Bush is a hierarchical manager who expects his immediate underlings to run things, and who guessed wrong about what deserved the administration's most immediate and intense attention. The president and his top foreign policy advisers came into office determined to build a missile defense shield, fixated on Iraq as the top problem in the Middle East and greatly concerned about China. But there's no reason to doubt Ms. Rice's contention that after 9/11, Mr. Bush unequivocally picked Afghanistan as the first military target. Given the overwhelming evidence of the partnership between the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, any other decision would have been inconceivably irresponsible.

The real challenge came after the Afghan invasion, when Mr. Bush had to decide what to do next — rethink the outdated world view his advisers had brought into office, or snap back into old reflexes and go after Iraq, the enemy of the last generation. It was then that he chose the wrong path.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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Jimmy Carter explains how the Christian right isn't Christian at all. 

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Carter's Crusade
Jimmy Carter explains how the Christian right isn't Christian at all.

By Ayelish McGarvey
Web Exclusive: 04.05.04

Former President Jimmy Carter, America's first evangelical Christian president, still teaches Sunday school at his Baptist church in Plains, Georgia, and he and his wife, Rosalynn, continue their human-rights work in developing nations through the Carter Center at Emory University. In recent months, the Carters toured Togo, Ghana, and Mali to raise awareness of the public-health needs of those nations. In February, Carter spoke about the role of evangelical Christianity in democratic politics with Prospect writing fellow Ayelish McGarvey.

Republicans have been extremely successful at connecting religion and values to issues like the fight against terrorism, abortion, and gay rights. Democrats have been far less adept at infusing our issues -- compassion, help for the poor, social justice -- with any sense of religious commitment or moral imperative. Why do you think that is?

When I was younger, almost all Baptists were strongly committed on a theological basis to the separation of church and state. It was only 25 years ago when there began to be a melding of the Republican Party with fundamentalist Christianity, particularly with the Southern Baptist Convention. This is a fairly new development, and I think it was brought about by the abandonment of some of the basic principles of Christianity.

First of all, we worship the prince of peace, not war. And those of us who have advocated for the resolution of international conflict in a peaceful fashion are looked upon as being unpatriotic, branded that way by right-wing religious groups, the Bush administration, and other Republicans.

Secondly, Christ was committed to compassion for the most destitute, poor, needy, and forgotten people in our society. Today there is a stark difference [between conservative ideology and Christian teaching] because most of the people most strongly committed to the Republican philosophy have adopted the proposition that help for the rich is the best way to help even poor people (by letting some of the financial benefits drip down to those most deeply in need). I would say there has been a schism drawn -- on theology and practical politics and economics between the two groups.

What has attracted conservative Christians to a party that protects corporate interests and promotes an aggressive foreign-policy agenda? How do those square?

There is an element of fundamentalism involved, which involves the belief on the part of a human being that [his or her] own concept of God is the proper one. And since [he or she has] the proper concept of God, [he or she is] particularly blessed and singled out for special consideration above and beyond those who disagree with [him or her].

Secondly, anyone who does disagree with [him or her], since [he or she is] harnessed to God in a unique way, then, by definition, must be wrong. And the second step is if you are in disagreement with [his or her] concept of the way to worship, even among the Christian community, is that you are inferior to [him or her]. And then the ultimate progression of that is that you’re not only different and wrong and inferior but in some ways you are subhuman. So there’s a loss of concern even for the death of those who disagree. And this takes fundamentalism to the extreme. This is an element of the fundamentalist cause in this country. If you are a wealthy white man, then you are naturally inclined to think that the poor are inferior and don’t deserve your first consideration. If you are a wealthy white man, then you also take on the proposition that women are inherently inferior. This builds up a sense of prejudice and alienation that permeates the Christian right during these days.

What issues do you see galvanizing moderate evangelicals as they go to the polls in November?

I’ve been involved in national politics now for more than 25 years. But this year we will see the Democratic Party more united than ever before in my memory, and even the earlier history that I studied before my life began. I think we’re completely united with a determination to replace the Bush administration and its fundamentalist, right-wing philosophy with the more moderate qualities that have always exemplified what our nation is: a nation committed to strength in the military. I served longer in the military than any other president since the Civil War except Dwight Eisenhower. I was a submarine officer. I used the enormous and unmatched strength of America to promote peace for other people and preserve peace for ourselves.

Now it seems as though it is an attractive thing in Washington to resort to war in the very early stage of resolving an altercation; a completely unnecessary war that President Bush decided to launch against the Iraqis is an example of that. And I think that a reaction against that warlike attitude on the part of America to the exclusion of almost all other nations in the world -- and arousing fear in them -- is going to be a driving issue.

I think that the abandonment of environmental issues even endorsed by President Nixon when I was governor (as well as virtually all of the Republicans and Democrats) has been notable under the Bush administration. One of the things I learned as a young Baptist boy was to be a steward of the world that God blessed us to enjoy. And I think the abandonment of basic environmental standards by the Bush administration rallies us.

And I think the third thing is the obvious orientation of the Bush administration toward Halliburton, Enron, and other major corporations. You see this in the enormous tax reductions that have been granted to people that make more than $200,000 a year. That is another issue on which the Democrats will rally a common goal.

Do you think that Democrats will be able to attract Bible-believing Christians in a year that gay marriage will be used as a smokescreen to distract attention from those issues?

I think so. There isn’t a major candidate who has endorsed gay marriage; they are in favor of equal protection through a civil-union arrangement. I personally, in my Sunday-school lessons, don’t favor the religious endorsement of a gay marriage. But I do favor equal treatment under the law for people who differ from me in sexual orientation.

What about abortion? How would you speak to moderate evangelicals who withhold support for Democratic candidates on that single issue?

This was an issue that I had to face when I was campaigning 25 years ago. I have always been against abortion; it’s not possible for me in my own concept of Christ to believe that Jesus would favor abortion. But at the same time, I have supported the Supreme Court ruling of our country as the law of the land. And the present arrangement, whereby a woman is authorized to have an abortion in the first trimester of the pregnancy, or when the pregnancy is caused by rape or incest -- these are the things that moderates who have beliefs like mine can accept as the present circumstances in our country. The liberality of abortion is anointed by the laws of our country, including the ultimate ruling of the Supreme Court.

How do you think the fundamentalist Christian right has misrepresented Christianity, as well as the democratic process?

Well, what do Christians stand for, based exclusively on the words and actions of Jesus Christ? We worship him as a prince of peace. And I think almost all Christians would conclude that whenever there is an inevitable altercation -- say, between a husband and a wife, or a father and a child, or within a given community, or between two nations (including our own) -- we should make every effort to resolve those differences which arise in life through peaceful means. Therein, we should not resort to war as a way to exalt the president as the commander in chief. A commitment to peace is certainly a Christian principle that even ultraconservatives would endorse, at least by worshipping the prince of peace.

And Christ reached out almost exclusively to the poor, suffering, abandoned, deprived -- the scorned, the condemned people -- including Samaritans and those who were diseased. The alleviation of suffering was a philosophy that was enhanced and emphasized by the life of Christ. Today the ultra-right wing, in both religion and politics, has abandoned that principle of Jesus Christ’s ministry.

Those are the two principal things in the practical sense that starkly separate the ultra-right Christian community from the rest of the Christian world: Do we endorse and support peace and support the alleviation of suffering among the poor and the outcast?

You spent so much of your career working toward a reasonable, peaceful solution to violence and strife in Israel and Palestine. Increasing attention has been paid to traditionalist evangelicals’ strong support for Israel, based on the New Testament prophecy that the reconstruction of the ancient kingdom of David will usher in the “end times” and the Second Coming of Christ. As a believer and a peacemaker, how do you respond to this?

That’s a completely foolish and erroneous interpretation of the Scriptures. And it has resulted in these last few years with a terrible, very costly, and bloody deterioration in the relationship between Israel and its neighbors. Every president except for George W. Bush has taken a relatively balanced position between the Israelis and their enemies, always strongly supporting Israel but recognizing that you have to negotiate and work between Israel and her neighbors in order to bring about a peaceful resolution.

It’s nearly the 25th anniversary of my consummation of a treaty between Israel and Egypt -- not a word of which has ever been violated. But this administration, maybe strongly influenced by ill-advised theologians of the extreme religious right, has pretty well abandoned any real effort that could lead to a resolution of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. And no one can challenge me on my commitment to Israel and its right to live in peace with all its neighbors. But at the same time, there has to be a negotiated settlement; you can’t just ordain the destruction of the Palestinian people, and their community and their political entity, in favor of the Israelis.

And that’s what some of the extreme fundamentalist Christians have done, both to the detriment of the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Copyright © 2004 by The American Prospect, Inc.

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Getting Us Out  

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Robert Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Virginia, who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is currently working on a book about America's policy toward political Islam over the past 30 years.

As long as we are remembering Vietnam analogies, here’s one: after the Tet Offensive in 1968, after Eugene Mc Carthy’s stunning electoral showing in New Hampshire, a group of elite American policymakers (graybeard, Clark Clifford-types all) read the riot act to Johnson about Vietnam: get out! A month later, LBJ announced a bombing halt and then said he would not run for re-election that year. It wasn’t the end, of course. Eugene McCarthy didn’t get the nomination, Tricky Dick got elected, and the war dragged on for five more years.

Still, Johnson was humbled. Is there any chance that can happen to George W. Bush? It’s the only hope for Iraq now. An establishment, bipartisan elite must emerge to order the bumbling president out of Iraq, now. Protests won’t do it, nor reason. Passionate speeches, even the best ones, such as Robert Byrd’s April 7, won’t do it. President Bush’s Iraq policy is now certifiably criminally insane, and only a soft coup d’etat, a la 1968, can stop him.

The neocons, though weakened, are still calling the shots. Any chance that Bush will break with the war party on his own is zero. Here’s why: First, Bush is notorious for thinking in black and white terms, eliminating the possibility that he could consider a more complex solution to the quagmire in Iraq. So he is likely to heed those who want to hit back, and hard. Second, the U.S. military, whose leaders never supported Bush’s war, is now in full hoo-ah mode since Fallujah, and wants revenge. So the brass isn’t likely to be looking for an exit strategy, only bloodletting. And the neocons themselves are out for blood, demanding what Bill O’Reilly calls the "second war in Iraq." The always-delightful Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, says the crisis in Iraq doesn’t change a thing: "There has been no fundamental change in our views. I have been wrong on some things but I don't think I would fundamentally repudiate anything I wrote. The Middle East is complicated and some places can never be reformed. It is a wild overstatement to say that containment is a thing of the past. . . we are not abandoning that."

The neocons call for a crackdown includes demands for more U.S. forces in Iraq, tougher tactics, and, as Bill Safire wrote in The New York Times April 7, "no more Mr. Nice Guy." So America is firebombing mosques, surrounding entire cities with armor and barbed wire, and turning a whole nation into a free-fire zone. Bush has unleashed demons that perhaps can’t any longer be controlled. Iraq is headed for a 10-year war of resistance if America stays, and a catastrophic, ethnic-cleansing civil war if we hand the country to Ahmad Chalabi and the Governing Clowncil later this year.

So this is a full-blown crisis, and our leader will not, or cannot, resolve it. It’s time to put partisan politics aside. John Kerry the statesman has to replace Kerry the politician. Sane Republicans like Brent Scowcroft, James Baker and Senator Dick Lugar have to join with leading Democratic statesman in an ultimate showdown with the White House. President Bush has to be forced to admit that his entire Iraq policy was wrong-headed, and if he won’t decline to seek re-election, than he has to fire Don Rumsfeld and ease Dick Cheney off the ticket and seek a consensus for a new Iraq policy. Byrd has to convince other Democrats, such as clear-headed colleagues like Ted Kennedy, to resist the urge to see Iraq as an electoral tool against Bush. What is happening in Iraq is far more important than a partisan electoral issue. And anti-neocon Republicans have to ignore the temptation to rally behind the the bungling Bush administration, for the good of the country and for the salvation of Iraq. Perhaps they can convince President Bush 41 to step in, too. Whatever it takes. There is still a slim chance that a U.S. decision to withdraw all its troops by year’s end, combined with a United Nations takeover and the involvement of Iraq’s Arab neighbors, can stop Iraq from its nightmarish plunge into chaos.

Remember March 1968!

The Exit Door -- Robert C. Byrd

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Rationales for Carnage 

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The Quest for a Monopoly on Violence

By NORMAN SOLOMON

With warfare escalating in Iraq, syndicated columnist George Will has just explained the logic of the occupation. "In the war against the militias," he wrote, "every door American troops crash through, every civilian bystander shot -- there will be many -- will make matters worse, for a while. Nevertheless, the first task of the occupation remains the first task of government: to establish a monopoly on violence."

A year ago, when a Saddam statue famously collapsed in Baghdad, top officials in Washington preened themselves as liberators. Now, some of the tyrant's bitterest enemies are firing rocket-propelled grenades at American troops.

Hypocrisy about press freedom has a lot to do with the current Shiite insurrection. Donald Rumsfeld had an easy retort seven months ago when antiwar protesters interrupted his speech at the National Press Club in Washington. "You know, I just came in from Baghdad," he said, "and there are now over 100 newspapers in the free press in Iraq, in a free Iraq, where people are able to say whatever they wish." But actually, Iraq's newspapers "are able to say whatever they wish" only if they wish to say what the occupiers accept.

A week before a militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr began to assault U.S. soldiers, the American occupation authorities ordered a 60-day shutdown of Sadr's newspaper Al Hawza. The New York Times reported near the end of an April 5 article: "Although the paper did not print any calls for attacks, the American authorities said false reporting, including articles that ascribed suicide bombings to Americans, could touch off violence."

There's an idea -- closing a newspaper for "false reporting" that could "touch off violence." By that standard, most of the daily papers in the United States (beginning with the New York Times) could have been shut down in late 2002 and early 2003 as they engaged in "false reporting" about purported weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That false reporting certainly touched off violence. Thanks to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the number of dead is in the tens of thousands, and rising by the hour. True to form -- as was the case during the Vietnam War -- the president certainly knows how to keep ordering the use of violence on a massive scale.

"We took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maximum brutality," war correspondent Michael Herr recalled about the U.S. military in Vietnam. "Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop."

Despite all the belated media exposure of the Bush administration's prewar lies, we are now seeing a familiar spectrum of response in mainstream U.S. media -- many liberals wringing their hands, many conservatives rubbing their hands -- at the sight of military escalation.

In recent days, numerous commentators have criticized President Bush for policy flaws. The tactical critiques are profuse, as when an April 6 editorial by the New York Times lamented that Washington "and its occupation partners" are now "in real danger of handing over a meaningless badge of sovereignty to a government that is divided internally, is regarded as illegitimate by the people and has no means other than foreign armies in Iraq to enforce its authority."

Such carefully chosen language is notable for what it does not say: Get U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Year after year, of course, the White House and the editorialists insisted that complete withdrawal of GIs from Vietnam was an irresponsible notion, a bumper-sticker idea lacking in realism. But withdrawal had to happen. Sooner, with fewer deaths and less suffering? Or later?

In contrast to the wavering bugles of Bush's circumspect critics, we hear the certain trumpets from the likes of George Will. "Regime change, occupation, nation-building -- in a word, empire -- are a bloody business," he wrote at the end of April's first week. "Now Americans must steel themselves for administering the violence necessary to disarm or defeat Iraq's urban militias, which replicate the problem of modern terrorism -- violence that has slipped the leash of states."

As for the carnage that results from unleashing the Pentagon's violence, the rationales are inexhaustible. "There are thugs and terrorists in Iraq who are trying to shake our will," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on April 6. "And the president is firmly committed to showing resolve and strength."

Martin Luther King Jr. said: "I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism."

That madness is here.

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Is the U.S. Trade Deficit a Train Wreck Waiting to Happen? 

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by Christian E. Weller
April 8, 2004

Three years after the recession started, the nation is mired in debt. Historically high consumer debt levels, near record high budget deficits, and record trade and current account deficits are burdening households, tax payers, and the nation’s economic future.

How much longer will the U.S. be able to borrow from the rest of the world to finance its trade deficits? Already, the U.S. external imbalances are beyond levels that many economists consider sustainable and well above levels that other countries saw immediately before they faced a financial crisis. For instance, Sweden and Finland had current account deficits that were close to or less than the current U.S. levels before they experienced severe financial crises in 1992. Also, Korea had a current account deficit slightly less than the U.S. currently does before going into a tailspin in 1997.

Projections for the future do not bode well either. Even if one assumes that trade deficits will shrink to more moderate levels from their current highs, current account deficits, which include interest payments on the nation’s external debt in addition to the trade deficit, will likely rise to unsustainable levels again. The reason for this divergence is the growing international indebtedness that will require a growing debt service.

For the complete report, download: Is the U.S. Trade Deficit a Train Wreck Waiting to Happen?

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09 April 2004

Rising of the righteous 

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Rising of the righteous

April 9, 2004

The word went out on Tuesday at noon, with the blast of the call to prayer: US soldiers had raided an office of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, and had torn up a poster of his father, one of Iraq's most revered martyrs.

The Khadamiya bazaar exploded in a frenzy. Shopkeepers reached beneath stacks of sandals for Kalashnikov rifles. Boys wrapped their faces in black cloth. Men raced through the streets, kicking over crates and setting up barriers. Some handed out grenades.

Within minutes this entire Shiite neighbourhood in central Baghdad had mobilised for war. "We're going to attack a tank!" yelled Majid Hamid, a 32-year-old waving an assault rifle.

The incident was yet another example of the power vacuum spreading across Iraq - during the disturbance in Khadamiya, there were no US soldiers, no Iraqi police and no order. It also cut to the heart of the militia issue, which remains a problem in Iraq despite the occupation authorities' insistence that private armies disband.

And it showed the depth of support for Sadr, the firebrand cleric who is blamed for the most serious insurrection yet and is now wanted by US authorities.

US officials say Sadr's support is isolated and estimate the number of people in his private army at 3000. But as Tuesday's display of force showed, there were thousands of men and boys in just one Baghdad neighbourhood alone ready to fight for Sadr.

And as battles raged throughout the country, in Sunni bastions like Falluja and Ramadi and Shiite areas like Sadr City, it was growing increasingly clear that the militias could materialise almost instantaneously, apparently from thin air. While many people - bakers, teachers, sandwich makers - may hold normal jobs, when the call comes, they instantly line up with Sadr's force, the Mahdi Army.

"This man is not a firefighter," said Lieutenant Mohammed Abu Kadar, tapping one of his men on the shoulder outside a fire station in Khadamiya. "He is Mahdi Army."

"This man, too," the lieutenant, an officer of the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps, said, grabbing another firefighter. "He may wear this uniform, but he is Mahdi Army."

Then the lieutenant tapped his own chest. "We may work for the government now," he said, "but if anything happens, we all work for Sadr."

The situation in Khadamiya is similar to that in Kufa, a small town south of the capital, which is entirely controlled by Sadr's militia, and Sadr City, a predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of 2 million in Baghdad, where Sadr's men have driven out Iraqi police in clashes that have killed eight US soldiers.

There may also be an ominous co-operation developing between Sunni and Shiite insurgents. On Monday insurgents fought a running gun battle against US troops in a Sunni neighbourhood near Khadamiya.

Witnesses to the fighting said the attackers included a mix of Shiites and Sunnis. "There were Shiites from Sadr City and mujahideen from Falluja," a hotbed of Sunni resistance, said Ayad Karim, a shopkeeper. The insurgents warned him to close his clothes shop before the fighting began, he said. "Now the resistance is united."

On a white sheet hung from the bullet-riddled walls of a Sunni mosque were the words: "Our banner in Adamiya is the same banner as in Khadamiya. If they have a problem, we are their backup and their right hand."

Adamiya is a mostly Sunni area. Khadamiya is mostly Shiite. The two neighbourhoods are linked by a bridge over the Tigris River. Rival Sunni and Shiite gangs used to cross the bridge to fight. Now, people say, militants cross the bridge to plan attacks.

Witnesses say the disturbance on Tuesday started when US soldiers raided a Khadamiya office of Sadr's, looking for weapons. Jaffar Qasim, a 29-year-old guard, said the soldiers stormed into a reception room, kicked away the lunch he was eating and then ripped off the wall a poster of Sadr's father, who was assassinated in 1999.

Hours later, Qasim was still crying, his hands vibrating with frustration. The US soldiers, he said, also stomped into a prayer room where shoes are forbidden. "If I could kill them I would," he said, looking at the dusty footprints of combat boots on a worn, red carpet. "But I had my orders. And I didn't have a gun."

US military officials would not comment on the raid or the activity in Khadamiya except to confirm that three soldiers were killed there during attacks. Many of Sadr's followers said they had made an agreement with US commanders that they would avoid the bloodshed that erupted in Sadr City on Sunday if the US forces agreed to stay out of the neighbourhood, home to a famous Shiite shrine. But the raid broke that agreement, Sadr's followers said.

And destroying the poster of one of their martyrs seemed the ultimate disrespect. So the revolt began. Men in Khadamiya's bazaar suddenly produced guns and began shouting about attacking a tank. Shopkeepers slammed their gates shut and dashed into the streets, holding rifles. "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!" many yelled.

Almost overnight, seemingly, Sadr, 31, has emerged as the most dangerous man to the US-led occupation. But if the increasing attendance at his demonstrations is an indication, his support has been building for months. Part of his appeal is his militancy. While other Shiite clerics have pressed for moderation, Sadr has openly called for an end to the occupation. His newspaper, Al-Hawza, was closed last week after US authorities accused it of printing lies that incited violence. That began a cycle of protests that culminated in widespread bloodshed on Sunday.

IT IS difficult to tell how many people are in Sadr's army. Months ago, some of his rivals said he had only a few hundred armed men behind him. Hazim al-Aarji, Sadr's chief commander in Khadamiya, maintains there are 50,000 members of the Mahdi Army in Baghdad alone.

Mohammed Kadem, a 23-year-old Mahdi Army fighter from Khadamiya, said the force has been lying low for months, with arms they looted nearly a year ago. "We just kept them in our homes," Kadem said. "We knew this time might come."

Kadem detailed a training program in which he and other Shiite youths took buses to Sadr City to practise marksmanship in an open field. Marching orders are disseminated through mosques, Kadem says, and ammunition is supplied by central offices.

On Tuesday, Kadem was part of a crowd amassing in the streets of Khadamiya, screaming at the top of their lungs and staring down US tanks. Gunshots were exchanged and there were different reports of casualties but nothing could be confirmed that night. Next to him was Qasim, the guard who saw the poster ripped down.

This time Qasim was no longer crying. And this time, Qasim had a Kalashnikov in his hands.


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Did we learn nothing? 

By Katherine Juestel

"Why do you waste your time bashing Bush & hating the USA? You're an Australian subject now!"

This nice little note was from my own Dad.

Not the first time I have been asked this question. Amazing, isn't it, how so many Americans fail to recognize that what Bush and the United States do affects the entire of the rest of the world?

I do not hate the USA. It is the country of my birth, where I spent the first half century of my life. It is precisely because I LOVE my home country that I do what I do. It is the reason for the existence of The Flea.

The United States is now being run by a Triumvirate of dangerous men. The first is a man who holds the highest office in the land, the most powerful office in the entire world, and he was not elected to that position in an honourable manner as befits the tradition of Democracy in a country which is supposed to be a model of Democracy to the rest of the world. A man who is obviously illiterate; who went AWOL from his National Guard Unit while other brave young Americans were dying in Viet Nam; who hides out in his little corner of Texas while hundreds die in Iraq; who struts around in his "Commander and Chief" suits playing hero while sending others to die; who lies and cheats and plots and schemes with impunity; who preaches God while acting Un-Godly.

Do I "hate" this man? Bloody right I do! He stole my country and drove it right into the ground! He and his "Axis of Evil": Chaney, who holds dual citizenship with Israel and who's agenda reflects his "Masters"; and Rumsfeld, champion of Monsanto and multinational oil corporations and arms manufacturers. None of these men has the best interests of the People of the United States at heart. They have their own agenda, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way!

I have watched as they bullied other leaders into accepting their lies and deceptions, running roughshod over the "little guys" like Blair and Howard, with promises of "Free Trade" that is far from free. I have watched as they have rammed home so called "anti-terrorst laws" that place many innocent people on "watch lists", in "detention" for nothing more than being born in the "wrong" country or being the child of someone born in the "wrong" part of the world. I have watched as innocent people find they can not even board a plane to visit family or have a holiday because their name is similar to that of someone on the "watch list." I have watched as the Constitution has been ripped to shreds in the name of "Freedom". And I have watched in horror at the torture and brutilization of the men being held in that hell hole known as "Camp Xray" without even the right to a call from their Mums.

How can anyone who is not blind and deaf not be horrified at the body counts? How can anyone justify the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people and shrug it off as "collateral damage"? How can Americans watch as the dead and the maimed return from Iraq and not be outraged at these men for the LIES that are the direct cause of their deaths? Why are Americans so easily led down the "my county, right or wrong" path? Did we learn nothing from our history? Did we learn nothing from Korea? From Viet Nam? From Nicaragua? From Panama? From Bosnia?

Americans have lived charmed lives. Except for the Civil War, Americans have never experienced war in their own country. America has never been invaded by outside forces. They know nothing of the horrors of war, unless they served where conflict raged. My parents sat out the entire of WW2 in relative comfort, my mum as a typist in the Pentagon, my Dad in school, being too young for WW2 and too old for Korea. My Mum has always voiced disdain for the German People because of her perception of their guilt by silence as Hitler rose to power, yet she now sits silent as the Evil Trio takes her own county down the same path. Doesn't this make her, and others like her, just as guilty as those she condemned?

Gradually the American media is waking up to the fact that they have been fed on a diet of lies and half truths, but this doesn't seem to be getting through to people like my Parents, good Christian Republicans that they are. Will they wake up in time? One could hope, except that it just may be too late.

Bill Clinton was the last freely elected president that the United States will ever see. The GOP went to great lengths to destroy his reputation and by default that of Al Gore. They worked very hard to get Bush into office. They got what they paid for and what they deserve. Unfortunately the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, is paying the price.

The Flea

United States Citizen
Australian By Choice

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The Iraqi Inversion 

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The Iraqi Inversion
By MAUREEN DOWD
April 8, 2004

WASHINGTON

Maybe after high-definition TV, they'll invent high-dudgeon TV, a product so realistic you can just lunge through the screen and shake the Bush officials when they say something maddening about 9/11 or Iraq, or when they engage in some egregious bit of character assassination.

It would come in handy for Karen Hughes's Bush-nannying book tour and Condoleezza Rice's Clarke-riposting 9/11 commission testimony.

And I was desperately wishing for it yesterday, when Donald Rumsfeld held forth at a Pentagon briefing.

Even though the assumptions the Bush administration used to go to war have now proved to be astonishingly arrogant, naïve and ideological, Mr. Rumsfeld is as testy and Delphic as ever about the fragility of Iraq.

"We're trying to explain how things are going, and they are going as they are going," he said, adding: "Some things are going well and some things obviously are not going well. You're going to have good days and bad days." On the road to democracy, this "is one moment, and there will be other moments. And there will be good moments and there will be less good moments."

Calling the families of more than 30 young Americans killed this week in the confusing hell of Iraq must be a less good moment.

Our troops in Iraq don't know who they're fighting and who they're saving. They don't know when they're coming home or when they're being forcibly re-upped by Rummy. Our diplomats in Baghdad don't know who they're handing the country over to next month. And Bush officials don't know where to go for help, since the military's tapped out, the allies have cold feet, the Arab world's angry and the rest of the globe is thinking, "You got what you deserved."

Before heading out to Iraq last spring, Marine commanders explained that they would try to take a gentler approach than the Army. They would avoid using military tactics that would risk civilian casualties, learn Arabic and take off their sunglasses when talking with Iraqis. "If to kill a terrorist we have got to kill eight innocent people, you don't kill them," Maj. Gen. James Mattis told The Times's Michael Gordon.

But in the wake of the Falluja horror and Shiite uprising, civility must take a back seat to stomping.

The marines had to fire rockets at a mosque in Falluja used by the Shiite followers of the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and the hospitals are filled with civilians. Instead of playing soccer with kids, now the marines have to worry that the kids are the enemy, spotting targets or wielding guns. The farmers and taxicab drivers, wearing their own clothes and driving their own cars, try to murder the marines before melting back into the populace.

Paul Wolfowitz assumed that the Shiites, tormented by Saddam over their religion, would be grateful, not hateful. Wrong. It isn't a cakewalk; it's chaos.

Every single thing the administration calculated would happen in Iraq has turned out the opposite. The W.M.D. that supposedly threatened us did not exist. The dangerous dictator was deluded and writing romance novels. The terrorism that would be thwarted has mushroomed in Iraq and is feeding Arab radicalism.

Mr. Rumsfeld thought invading Iraq would exorcise America's Vietnam syndrome, its squeamishness about using force. Instead, it has raised the specter of another Vietnam, where our courageous troops don't understand the culture, can't recognize the enemy and don't have an exit strategy. And the administration spins the war every day.

Rummy also thought he could show off his transformation of the military, using a leaner force. Now even some Republicans say he is putting our troops at risk by stubbornly refusing to admit he was wrong.

Dick Cheney thought fear was better than weak-kneed diplomacy, that if America whacked one Arab foe, all the others would cower. Wrong. The Iraq invasion has multiplied and emboldened our enemies.

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld thought America should flex its hyperpower muscles, castrating the U.N. and blowing off multilateral arrangements. Now the administration may have to crawl back for help.

The hawks thought they could establish a democracy that would produce a domino effect in the Arab world. Wrong. The dominoes are falling in a scarier direction.

The president thought he could improve on the ending to his father's gulf war. Wrong again.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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Panel denied the speech that Rice never gave 

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Panel denied the speech that Rice never gave

April 7, 2004

The White House has refused to provide the panel investigating the September 11 attacks with a speech national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was to deliver on the night of the attacks, which touted missile defence as a priority rather than al-Qaeda, sources said today.

With Rice slated to testify publicly before the commission tomorrow, the commission submitted a last-minute request for Rice's aborted September 11, 2001 address, the sources, who are close to the commission, said.

But the White House has so far refused on the grounds that draft documents are confidential, the sources said.

A spokesman for the commission would neither confirm nor deny the request, or the administration's response.

"The White House is working with the commission to ensure that it has access to what it needs to do its job," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.

The Washington Post, citing former US officials who have seen the Rice speech, reported last week that the speech was designed to promote missile defence as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups.

Reuters

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What failed, US intelligence or policy? 

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Mushahid Hussain: What failed, US intelligence or policy?

Most people in the Third World are amazed that the otherwise open and transparent political system of the United States has taken over two years to take stock of the failure behind the 9/11 terror attacks.

Despite what has been billed as the biggest man-made catastrophe to hit American territory since Pearl Harbor, nobody questioned any institution or high-ranking individual. Not many penetrating questions were asked and no heads rolled. Attention was immediately turned towards Afghanistan, and then towards Iraq, as if that would exorcise all the demons of 9/11.

Closer to another divisive and bitterly contested presidential election, the Commission established by the Bush administration is holding its hearings. Predictably, given the political context, partisanship will prevail, alongside a blame-game made more interesting by whistleblowers emerging from the closet.

Political agenda

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill began the onslaught by suggesting that Iraq was probably part of a pre-determined political agenda. He suggested that 9/11 only provided the opportunity for an action that had been long in coming.

Then, the Bush administration's pre-eminent advisor and expert on terrorism, Richard Clarke, came out with a somewhat similar suggestion in his book, "Against All Enemies". He even went to the extent of stating that the Iraq "detour" from the war on terror had actually undermined US security interests, since it has spawned more terrorism in its aftermath.

Additionally, he has also made the more serious charge that the pre-9/11 Bush administration did not give "urgent priority" to fighting Al Qaida.

More than what the Bush administration was told by intelligence or its failure to act prior to 9/11 to try to pre-empt such terrorism through a co-ordinated intelligence operation, the key questions are two-fold. First, was it only an intelligence fiasco? Or a more fundamental flaw that had its origin in a policy in whose priorities threats from non-state actors like Al Qaida hardly mattered?

Second, has the "war on terror" really been hijacked, with the Iraq war serving as a "detour" for largely political reasons driven by those itching for years to "take out" Saddam although he had nothing to do with 9/11, Al Qaida, Osama bin Laden or the Taliban?

Evidence on both counts is coming out in bits and pieces in the US media and post 9/11 literature. A critique of American foreign policy towards Afghanistan, for instance, is available in the informative book "Ghost Wars" by The Washington Post's Managing Editor, Steve Coll.

The book, published in February 2004, is a bestseller. Discussing the "opportunities missed by the US on the way to September 2001", Coll writes, "Indifference, lassitude, blindness, paralysis and commercial greed too often shaped American foreign policy in Afghanistan and South Asia during the 1990s." And these policy attitudes "unnecessarily made easier, at least to a small extent, the work of Al Qaida recruiters."

After 1989, the US just walked away from Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan with the "baby and the bathwater". And, as a parting kick, it imposed sanctions on Pakistan for its covert nuclear weapons programme.

This despite the fact that the programme had continued to flourish throughout the years of the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s, when the US and Pakistan were allies against Soviet communism.

Pakistan was subject to punitive US sanctions from 1990 through 2001, with the reprieve coming after 9/11 when Washington suddenly "re-discovered" both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Coll also quotes former Senator Hank Brown in a 1995 comment regarding the US policy of neglecting Afghanistan after walking away from the region in 1989, leaving both Afghanistan and Pakistan to fend for themselves: "If there are a people that the US is indebted to, it would be the people of Afghanistan. It was criminal how we can turn our backs on them. Who has done more to help us? It really is a disgrace what we did to Afghanistan."

Regarding the hijacking of the "war on terror", away from Al Qaida to Iraq, as Clarke and others have alleged, a recently uncoveredspeech from the director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, makes interesting reading.

It confirms what Muslim conspiracy theorists have long believed. In a speech to the University of Virginia, on September 10, 2002, six months before the Iraq war, Zelikow said: "Why would Iraqattack America or use nuclear weapons against us?

Real threat

I'll tell you what I think the real threat is and actually has been since 1990 – it's the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about this threat, and the US government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell."

The 9/11 Commission would be doing a great service to posterity, were it to really set the historical record straight.

And it ought to learn a thing or two from the candid critique of Clarke in his book: "Rather than seeking to workwith the majority in the Islamic worldto mould Muslim opinion against the radical values, we did exactly what Al Qaida said we would do.

"We invaded and occupied an oil-rich Arab country that posed no threat to us, while paying scant time and attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. We delivered Al Qaida the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable."

Mushahid Hussain is a former Minister of Information and is currently a member of Pakistan's Upper House, the Senate. He can be contacted at mhussain@gulfnews.com

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The Third World War is now 

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The Third World War is now

From Palestine to Iraq, the region is aflame with conflict. Yet the need for dialogue is ignored, says Prince EL HASSAN BIN TALAL

By EL HASSAN BIN TALAL
Wednesday, April 7, 2004

A friend of mine recently visited a family in a small Palestinian village on the border between Israel and the West Bank. It was, he said, like walking into a real-life version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The table was laid, the dinner was ready -- but no one was there to eat it.

He continued through the house, eventually finding the family on the roof, huddled together, crying as they watched a bulldozer tear up their orchard. The parents and their children were watching their land and their livelihood disappear behind Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new eight-metre-high security fence, which has been erected throughout the country.

The driver of the bulldozer, an Israeli, said to them afterward, "For every tree I pulled out of the ground, it was like killing a person. It tore at my heart, but I am under orders."

The tragedy is that while they might be on opposite sides of the conflict, these are ordinary, moderate human beings whose lives are being ruined by governments, terrorism and the cruel, unilateral nature of international politics.

It is not only in this deeply troubled country that such problems occur. Across the Middle East, for every orchard that is ripped apart, there is an olive branch torn down.

The Iraqis have watched their constitution being changed to allow foreign companies to own 100 per cent of Iraqi assets, except natural resources; the Lebanese live under constant threat of an Israeli air strike; and two weeks ago, the world witnessed Sheik Ahmed Yassin being assassinated.

Sheik Yassin was the founder of the terrorist group Hamas. I abhor suicide bombings; they are an affront to humanity. It must be remembered, however, that to his many supporters in the Islamic world he was an important spiritual leader.

Terrorism, violence, the proliferation of weapons, human-rights abuses and preventable or avoidable conflicts -- all these issues are debated day and night on Arab television. Across the region, millions perceive a denial of the inherent dignity that we all share -- equally -- as creatures of God, living under one sun, on a fragile earth upon which we all depend.

So perhaps it is no surprise that the mood is becoming ugly. In Jordan, where I live, and in countries throughout the Middle East, I witness the growing tensions and resentment every day.

Israel and Hezbollah are bombing in Southern Lebanon; in Syria there are conflicts between Kurds and Arabs; in the Gulf there are tensions between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Iran, still anchored on the axis of evil, gains strength, day by day, with Shia and other sympathizers around the world. The makings of a third world war are taking place in front of our eyes.

There are more than 40 so-called low-intensity conflicts in the world today. Maybe it is not the Third World War if you are living in Manchester or Stockholm, but if I were in Madrid when the bombs at the station went off, it would look very much like the Third World War to me.

What must it take to move away from the madness that is sweeping the region? The extremists are engaging more and more moderate citizens, who are becoming increasingly disillusioned and desperate. The blame for this cannot simply be laid at the West's door. We must also look closer to home.

The governments of the Middle East are losing touch with reality. While they fight to hold on to their position, the power vacuum is being filled by extremist movements. It is they who provide compensation for children who are killed in conflict, who provide soup kitchens to feed the starving and, in so doing, enlist an increasing number of supporters for their wars.

Make no mistake that this is a world war, albeit not like any we have seen before. The conflict is not being fought by regimented armies of men, but by individuals and by small terrorist cells on our streets and in our homes. The human race has now reached such a point that we are arguing the merits of killing a half-blind man in a wheelchair on one side, and the blowing up of 200 innocent Spanish citizens on their way to work on the other.

Significantly, neither action has brought us any closer to ending the conflict. Sheik Yassin's assassination has only served to elevate him to martyrdom, and will undoubtedly incite further violence in his name. We must remember the real danger of such an act, which could change the agenda from Palestinian-Israeli confrontation to that between Arabs, Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Sheik Yassin's killing, like every other killing, whether it is justified by states or by individual groups, takes us several steps away from what must be the overall objective: comprehensive peace in the region.

All initiatives in the Middle East, through NATO, the G8, the Developing 8 Muslim Countries (the D8), focus on what appears to be the business of the moment: security, security, security. I'd like to see them focus on dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

What we really need is a Treaty of Versailles for our region, where everyone can sit down together and work towards peace. Experience has taught me that it is better for all parties to be at the table for peace talks, so that no one is left off the menu.

In this, the Middle East is at fault. Each nationality sits behind closed doors. I have sat with them, and all agree with the need for a multilateral security system. But when they come into the broad light of day, they are only worried for their own bilateral agreements with the United States. That attitude must change.

And the West, too, must adopt a different approach. Its member states need to move from the narrow day-to-day perspective of politics as usual and policies that deal with hard security -- the use of the military to control borders and regimes, and too great an emphasis on economics and profit.

My greatest fear is that if we continue to depend on the rule of force and on power as a deterrent, eventually we will be unable to disable violence.

We must become more sensitized to the concept of consequences: the consequences of poverty, illiteracy, oppression, lack of opportunity, despair and anger -- all of which can all lead to the contemplation of violence.

We are standing on the brink and that is something that binds us all together: the Israeli who thinks he will be killed by a suicide bomber, the Libyan by an air strike or the Westerner by a random terrorist attack.

So rather than fight a war on terror, why not wage a struggle for the rule of peace? The Arabic word hamas means zeal, but flip it on its head, to samah, and it stands for tolerance. Sometimes you just have to look at things in a different way.

Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein of Jordan, is the moderator of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, president of the Club of Rome, and president of the Arab Thought Forum.

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