Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stumbling Around the World

The New York Times
January 14, 2007

With Iraq sliding off a cliff, and now tugging another 20,000 young Americans along as well, it’s worth wrestling with a larger question: Why are we so awful at foreign policy?

Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize, dropped by the other day, and she made the same point with characteristic bluntness. “It amazes me that the U.S., with all its scientific accomplishments, is so shortsighted in its foreign policy,” she noted.

It is pathetic. We can go safely to the moon but not to Anbar Province. We can peer into the farthest reaches of the universe, but we fail to notice (until it’s too late) that many Iraqis loathe us. We produce movies that delight audiences all over the world, but we can’t devise a foreign policy that anybody likes.

And it’s not just right-wing Republicans who are the problem. President Bush has been particularly myopic, but Democrats mired us in Vietnam: shortsightedness is a bipartisan tradition in foreign policy. Historically, we are often our own worst enemy.

Iraq is the example of the moment. We invaded, thinking that we would get a pro-American bulwark, cheap oil, long-term military bases and the gratitude of liberated Iraqis. Instead, we fought Iraq, and Iran won.

Speaking of which, look at Iran. In 1953, we helped overthrow the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, to achieve a more pro-Western government. That created tensions that led to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the rise of mullahs with nuclear dreams. If it weren’t for our own policies, Iran might well now have a pro-American government.

So why do we act so often against our own long-term interests? There are at least two reasons.

The first is that great powers always lumber about, stepping on toes, provoking resentments, and solving problems militarily simply because they have that capability. One of the great passages of Thucydides records how some 2,400 years ago Athens decided to wipe out the city of Melos because it could.

Likewise, in 1955, when Britain was the dominant player in the Middle East, it formed the Baghdad Pact, a military arrangement intended to protect British interests in the Middle East. Instead, the arrangement inflamed Arab nationalists, strengthened anti-British feeling and contributed to the fall of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 — and, eventually, to the rise of Saddam.

The second reason is particular to the U.S.: We don’t understand the world. The U.S. may owe its existence to prickly nationalist troublemakers like Sam Adams, but (partly because relatively few Americans have lived abroad) we are obtuse about the appeal of prickly nationalist troublemakers elsewhere. Like George III, we empower our enemies.

So what does all this have to do with the price of tea in Baghdad?

Once again the White House is seeking military solutions that are likely to rebound and hurt us. Sending more young Americans into that maelstrom may well have three consequences: inflaming Iraqi nationalism, bolstering Shiite and Sunni extremists alike, and killing more young Americans.

A U.S. military study in 1999, recently declassified and in the National Security Archive, concluded that even 400,000 American troops might not be able to stabilize a post-Saddam Iraq. The study emphasized the importance of diplomacy to engage Iraq’s neighbors.

But President Bush is moving in the opposite direction. Most worrying, he is hinting at engaging Syria and Iran not diplomatically but militarily. We are careering down a road that may ultimately lead to military strikes on Iran — a disaster.

What would a better strategy look like? A good bit like the one advocated by the Iraq Study Group. It would emphasize engaging neighbors, a big push for political compromises within Iraq, steps toward troop withdrawals and an intensive effort to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace. (Condi Rice is planning this last effort.)

Would this strategy work in Iraq? No one knows. But such a bipartisan plan might at least bring a bit of healing to the U.S.

Meanwhile, history comes around in other ways. The Rev. Bob Edgar, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, recalls that as a young congressman in April 1975, he encountered a similar presidential request for a surge of troops. It was a demand by President Gerald Ford for more U.S. forces to stabilize Saigon.

A White House photo captures Ford conferring with two of the architects of that request: senior administration officials named Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

, , , , , , , , , ,

He’s in the Bunker Now

The New York Times
January 14, 2007

PRESIDENT BUSH always had one asset he could fall back on: the self-confidence of a born salesman. Like Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” he knew how to roll out a new product, however deceptive or useless, with conviction and stagecraft. What the world saw on Wednesday night was a defeated Willy Loman who looked as broken as his war. His flop sweat was palpable even if you turned down the sound to deflect despair-inducing phrases like “Prime Minister Maliki has pledged ...” and “Secretary Rice will leave for the region. ...”

Mr. Bush seemed to know his product was snake oil, and his White House handlers did too. In the past, they made a fetish of situating their star in telegenic settings, from aircraft carriers to Ellis Island. Or they placed him against Orwellian backdrops shrieking “Plan for Victory." But this time even the audio stuttered, as if in solidarity with Baghdad’s continuing electricity blackout, and the Oval Office was ditched, lest it summon up memories of all those past presidential sightings of light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel. Mr. Bush was banished to the White House library, where the backdrop was acres of books, to signify the studiousness of his rethinking of the “way forward.”

"I’m not going to be rushed," the president said a month ago when talking about his many policy consultations. He wasn’t kidding. His ostentatious deep thinking started after Election Day, once he realized that firing Donald Rumsfeld wouldn’t be enough to co-opt the Iraq Study Group. He was thinking so hard that he abandoned his initial plan to announce a strategy before Christmas .

The war, however, refused to take a timeout for the holiday festivities in Crawford. The American death toll in Iraq, which hovered around 2,840 on Election Day, was nearing 3,020 by Wednesday night.

And these additional lives were sacrificed to what end? All the reviews and thinking and postponing produced a policy that, as a former top Bush aide summed it up for The Daily News, is nothing more than "repackaged stay-the-course dressed up to make it look more palatable." The repackaging was half-hearted as well. Not for nothing did the “way forward,” a rubric the president used at least 27 times in December, end up on the cutting-room floor. The tossing of new American troops into Baghdad, a ploy that backfired in Operation Together Forward last year, is too transparently the way backward.

“Victory” also received short shrift, downsized by the president to the paltry goal of getting “closer to success.” The “benchmarks” he cited were so vague that they’d be a disgrace to No Child Left Behind. And no wonder: in November, Mr. Bush couldn’t even get our devoted ally, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to show up for dinner at their summit in Amman, let alone induce him to root out Shiite militias. The most muscle the former Mr. Bring-’Em-On could muster in Wednesday’s speech was this: “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.” Since that support vanished long ago, it’s hard to imagine an emptier threat or a more naked confession of American impotence, all the more pathetic in a speech rattling sabers against Syria and Iran.

Mr. Bush’s own support from the American people is not coming back. His “new” Iraq policy is also in defiance of Iraqi public opinion , the Joint Chiefs, the Baker-Hamilton grandees, and Mr. Maliki, who six weeks ago asked for a lower American profile in Iraq. Which leaves you wondering exactly who is still in the bunker with the president besides the first lady and Barney.

It’s a very short list led by John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and neo-conservative dead-enders like William Kristol and Frederick Kagan, who congregate at The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington think tank. The one notable new recruit is Rudy Giuliani, who likened taming Baghdad to “reducing crime in New York” without noticing that even after the escalation there will be fewer American troops patrolling Baghdad than uniformed police officers in insurgency-free New York City.

Mr. Kagan, a military historian, was sent by the White House to sell its policy to Senate Republicans. It was he, Mr. Kristol and the retired Gen. Jack Keane who have most prominently pushed for this escalation and who published studies and editorials credited with defining it. Given that these unelected hawks are some of the same great thinkers who promoted the Iraq fiasco in the first place, it is hard to imagine why this White House continues to listen to them. Or maybe not that hard. In a typical op-ed article, headlined “Stay the Course, Mr. President!,” Mr. Kagan wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 2005: "Despite what you may have read, the military situation in Iraq today is positive."

Yet Mr. Bush doesn’t even have the courage of his own disastrous convictions: he’s not properly executing the policy these guys sold him. In The Washington Post on Dec. 27, Mr. Kagan and General Keane wrote that escalation could only succeed “with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops” — a figure that has also been cited by Mr. McCain. (Mr. Kagan put the figure at 50,000 to 80,000 in a Weekly Standard article three weeks earlier. Whatever.) By any of these neocons’ standards, the Bush escalation of some 20,000 is too little, not to mention way too late.

The discrepancy between the policy that Mr. Bush nominally endorses and the one he actually ordered up crystallizes the cynicism of this entire war. If you really believe, as the president continues to put it, that Iraq is the central front in “the decisive ideological struggle of our time,” then you should be in favor of having many more troops than we’ve ever had in Iraq. As T. X. Hammes, an insurgency expert and a former marine, told USA Today, that doesn’t now mean a “dribble” (as he ridicules the “surge”) but a total of 300,000 armed coalition forces over a minimum of four years.

But that would mean asking Americans for sacrifice, not giving us tax cuts. Mr. Bush has never asked for sacrifice and still doesn’t. If his words sound like bargain-basement Churchill, his actions have been cheaper still. The president’s resolutely undermanned war plan indicated from Day 1 that he knew in his heart of hearts that Iraq was not the central front in the war against 9/11 jihadism he had claimed it to be, only the reckless detour that it actually was. Yet the war’s cheerleaders, neocon and otherwise, disingenuously blamed our low troop strength almost exclusively on Mr. Rumsfeld.

Now that the defense secretary is gone, what are they to do? For whatever reason, you did not hear Mr. Kagan, General Keane or Mr. McCain speak out against Mr. Bush’s plan even though it’s insufficient by their own reckoning — just a repackaged continuance of the same “Whac-A-Mole” half-measures that Mr. McCain has long deplored. Surely the senator knows that, as his loosey-goosey endorsement attests. (On Friday, he called the Bush plan “the best chance of success” while simultaneously going on record that “a small, short surge would be the worst of all worlds.”)

The question now is how to minimize the damage before countless more Americans and Iraqis are slaughtered to serve the president’s endgame of passing his defeat on to the next president. The Democrats can have all the hearings they want, but they are unlikely to take draconian action (cutting off funding) that would make them, rather than Mr. Bush, politically vulnerable to blame for losing Iraq.

I have long felt that it will be up to Mr. Bush’s own party to ring down the curtain on his failed policy, and after the 2006 midterms, that is more true than ever. The lame-duck president, having lost both houses of Congress and at least one war (Afghanistan awaits), has nothing left to lose. That is far from true of his party.

Even conservatives like Sam Brownback of Kansas and Norm Coleman of Minnesota started backing away from Iraq last week. Mr. Brownback is running for president in 2008, and Mr. Coleman faces a tough re-election fight. But Republicans not in direct electoral jeopardy (George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) are also starting to waver. It’s another Vietnam-Watergate era flashback. It wasn’t Democrats or the press that forced Richard Nixon’s abdication in 1974; it was dwindling Republican support. Though he had vowed to fight his way through a Senate trial, Nixon folded once he lost the patriarchal leader of his party’s right wing.

That leader was Barry Goldwater , who had been one of Nixon’s most loyal and aggressive defenders until he finally realized he’d been lied to once too often. If John McCain won’t play the role his Arizona predecessor once did, we must hope that John Warner or some patriot like him will, for the good of the country, answer the call of conscience. A dangerous president must be saved from himself, so that the American kids he’s about to hurl into the hell of Baghdad can be saved along with him.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Tears run from the eyes of U.S. President George W. Bush during a ceremony in honor of Medal of Honor winner Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham in the East room of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2007. Cpl. Dunham was killed when he jumped on a grenade to save fellow members of his Marine patrol while serving in Iraq. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (UNITED STATES)

The Walrus and The Carpenter

by Lewis Carroll

{from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.


Bush concedes U.S. decisions made Iraq unstable

Sat Jan 13, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush acknowledged on Saturday that some of his administration's decisions during the Iraq war had contributed to instability there but he still believed he was right to topple Saddam Hussein.

Insisting it was crucial to U.S. interests to get the sectarian violence in Iraq under control, Bush told CBS in an interview that the strife there was a destabilizing force in the Middle East that "could lead to attacks here in America."

Pressed on whether actions by his administration had created further instability in Iraq, Bush said, "Well, no question, decisions have made things unstable."

But he added, "My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the correct decision in my judgment."

Bush gave the interview to Scott Pelley of CBS's "60 Minutes" news program, which will air on Sunday, after announcing a plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq's most violent areas.

In the speech announcing his revised Iraq strategy, Bush acknowledged mistakes, saying he should have increased troop levels earlier.

"I think history is going to look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it," Bush told "60 Minutes."

Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 promising to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, but none were found. He said in the CBS interview that had Saddam been allowed to remain in power, the Iraqi leader would have been competing with Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

CBS said that Bush had said he watched parts of the Internet video of Saddam Hussein's hanging but not all of it because he did not want to watch Saddam fall through the trap door.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been heavily criticized for the manner in which the December 30 execution was handled, which many said was done in haste and inappropriately carried out on the first day of a religious holiday.

The taunting of Saddam by Shi'ite officials while he was on the gallows angered many Sunni Arabs in Iraq. The execution was illicitly video-recorded and put on the Internet.

"I thought it was discouraging," Bush said of the video. "It's important that that chapter of Iraqi history be closed. They could have handled it a lot better."

Five Flaws in the President's Plan

By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Washington Post
Friday, January 12, 2007; A19

The president's speech gives rise to five broad observations:

· It provided a more realistic analysis of the situation in Iraq than any previous presidential statement. It acknowledged failure, though it dodged accountability for that failure by the standard device of assuming personal responsibility. Its language was less Islamophobic than has been customary with President Bush's rhetoric since Sept. 11, though the president still could not resist the temptation to engage in a demagogic oversimplification of the challenge the United States faces in Iraq, calling it a struggle to safeguard "a young democracy" against extremists and an effort to protect American society from terrorists. Both propositions are more than dubious.

· The commitment of 21,500 more troops is a political gimmick of limited tactical significance and of no strategic benefit. It is insufficient to win the war militarily. It will engage U.S. forces in bloody street fighting that will not resolve with finality the ongoing turmoil and the sectarian and ethnic strife, not to mention the anti-American insurgency.

· The decision to escalate the level of the U.S. military involvement while imposing "benchmarks" on the "sovereign" Iraqi regime, and to emphasize the external threat posed by Syria and Iran, leaves the administration with two options once it becomes clear -- as it almost certainly will -- that the benchmarks are not being met. One option is to adopt the policy of "blame and run": i.e., to withdraw because the Iraqi government failed to deliver. That would not provide a remedy for the dubious "falling dominoes" scenario, which the president so often has outlined as the inevitable, horrific consequence of U.S. withdrawal. The other alternative, perhaps already lurking in the back of Bush's mind, is to widen the conflict by taking military action against Syria or Iran. It is a safe bet that some of the neocons around the president and outside the White House will be pushing for that. Others, such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, may also favor it.

· The speech did not explore even the possibility of developing a framework for an eventual political solution. The search for a political solution would require a serious dialogue about a joint American-Iraqi decision regarding the eventual date of a U.S. withdrawal with all genuine Iraqi political leaders who command respect and wield physical power. The majority of the Iraqi people, opinion polls show, favor such a withdrawal within a relatively short period. A jointly set date would facilitate an effort to engage all of Iraq's neighbors in a serious discussion about regional security and stability. The U.S. refusal to explore the possibility of talks with Iran and Syria is a policy of self-ostracism that fits well into the administration's diplomatic style of relying on sloganeering as a substitute for strategizing.

· The speech reflects a profound misunderstanding of our era. America is acting like a colonial power in Iraq. But the age of colonialism is over. Waging a colonial war in the post-colonial age is self-defeating. That is the fatal flaw of Bush's policy.

The writer, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, is the author of the forthcoming book "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower."

Robert Anton Wilson, 74, Who Wrote Mind-Twisting Novels, Dies

The New York Times
January 13, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson, an author of “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” — a mind-twisting science-fiction series about a secret global society [1] that has been a cult classic for more than 30 years — died on Thursday at his home in Capitola, Calif. He was 74.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Christina Pearson.

The author of 35 books on subjects like extrasensory perception, mental telepathy, metaphysics, paranormal experiences, conspiracy theory, sex, drugs and what he called quantum psychology, Mr. Wilson wrote the trilogy with his friend Robert J. Shea in the late 1960s, when both were editors at Playboy. The books — “The Eye in the Pyramid,” “The Golden Apple” and “Leviathan” — were all published in 1975 by Dell Science Fiction. They never hit the best-seller lists, but have never gone out of print. Mr. Shea died in 1994.

Inspired by a thick file of letters that the authors received from conspiracy buffs, the trilogy traces the conflict between the Illuminati and the Discordians. The Illuminati are elite authoritarians who pull the puppet strings of the world’s political establishment while seeking to become super-beings by sucking the souls from the masses. The Discordians resist through convoluted tactics that include a network of double agents.

“There are lots of drug references in the book,” said Mark Frauenfelder, a co-editor of, a pop culture Web site that started as a print magazine in the 1980s and for which Mr. Wilson wrote many articles. “In part because it dealt with conspiracies in a science-fiction way, the trilogy achieved a cult following among science fiction readers, hippies, the psychedelic crowd.”

Mr. Wilson was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 18, 1932. He attended Brooklyn Polytechnical College and New York University. He worked as an engineering aide, a salesman and a copywriter, and was an associate editor at Playboy from 1965 to 1971.

Besides his daughter Christina of Santa Cruz, Calif., Mr. Wilson is survived by another daughter, Alexandra Gardner of Eugene, Ore., and a son, Graham, of Watsonville, Calif. His wife of 39 years, the former Arlen Riley, died in 1999.

After completing the trilogy, Mr. Wilson began writing nonfiction books. Perhaps his most famous is “Cosmic Trigger” (Pocket Books, 1977), a bizarre autobiography in which, among many other tales, he describes episodes when he believed he had communicated with extraterrestrials — while admitting that he was experimenting with peyote and mescaline.

Mr. Wilson contended that people should never rule out any possibility, including that lasagna might fly. On Jan. 6, in his last post on his personal blog, he wrote: “I don’t see how to take death seriously. I look forward without dogmatic optimism, but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.”



[1] See also: Wikipedia article on Skull & Bones.


Ewige Blumenkraft!

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Other Losing War

The New York Times
January 13, 2007

Kingston, Jamaica

Preoccupation with Iraq has drawn attention from another unwinnable American war that has been far more destructive of life both at home and abroad and has caused far greater collateral damage in other countries, in addition to spreading contempt for American foreign engagements. This is the failed war on drugs.

It was Nixon who, in 1971, first declared war on drugs. As with Iraq, the strategy is flawed in its conception and execution, made worse by a refusal to change course in the face of failure. It strongly emphasizes eradicating the source of drugs, interdiction of traffic and draconian punishment for offenders. It neglects what nearly every expert believes — and European experience has shown — to be the only successful strategy: a demand-side emphasis on preventive programs and rehabilitation of addicts. The present administration’s claims of a shift to preventive measures is belied by the budget of its drug control office, which allocates a 94 percent share to disrupting the supply, mainly through environmentally hazardous spraying in Latin America and the Caribbean that alienates local farmers.

The domestic results are tragic: an enormous increase in the incarceration of young, disproportionately minority Americans, resulting in the waste of human resources and the creation of a prison culture that converts nonviolent addicts into hardened criminals, without any impact on drug use. Within a year of release, 43.5 percent of drug offenders are rearrested. Recent surveys indicate a steady increase in the use of illicit drugs: more than 40 percent of Americans over 12 have used them at some point. Nearly all Caribbean societies are involved with narcotrafficking and, in the case of Jamaica, large-scale production and export of marijuana. In 2001, illicit drug shipments in the region were worth more money than the top five legitimate exports combined. The results have been devastating. Political corruption and payment in arms threatens the sovereignty and stability of many states. In 1985, the chief minister and minister of commerce of the Turks and Caicos Islands were arrested in Miami and imprisoned in America for drug offenses.

Drug addiction and violent crime are now endemic in Jamaica, Puerto Rico and even small islands like St. Kitts. The corruption of the police and other security forces has reached a crisis point in Jamaica, where an officer can earn the equivalent of half a year’s salary by simply looking the other way. Last year, 1,300 people were murdered here, in a population of only three million — and that was an improvement on the previous year.

Dr. Peter Phillips, Jamaica’s very competent minister of national security, estimates that 60 percent of the murders are drug related. Calling cocaine trafficking and use the “taproot” of a “web of criminality,” he said drugs sustain a “self-perpetuating culture of extreme violence” extending to many areas of the society.

The drug culture is highly transnational and organized, exemplified by the Jamaican “posses” that terrorized America in the 1980s with some 4,900 murders. Traffickers increasingly operate offshore, taking advantage of better arms, faster boats and more efficient tracking equipment than those available to local security forces.

Phillips is puzzled by America’s inflexible emphasis on eradication and interdiction and its refusal to provide help where it is most needed, like the rebuilding of corrupted police forces. He provided a telling example of the futility of current approaches. With Americans and Jamaicans working closely together recently, the percentage of transshipments of Colombian cocaine to the U.S. that went through Jamaica was reduced from 20 to 2. But this had no effect on the amount of cocaine entering America — the traffickers simply changed routes — and it increased violent crime in Jamaica. Drug dons became more murderous in turf wars, as there was less cocaine and money to go around.

America’s unwillingness to recognize the socioeconomic context of the drug crisis at home and abroad, to see that being surrounded by failing states threatens its security, to provide aid where it is most effective, and to acknowledge that the root cause of this hemispheric disaster is not supply but its own citizens’ insatiable demand for illicit drugs, is as incomprehensible as the quagmire in Iraq.

A Ford White House aide mentioned in last Saturday’s column should have been Robert Goldwin, not Goldman.

Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, is a guest columnist.

A Risky Game of Risk

The New York Times
January 13, 2007


I feel good about the new war with Iran.

How can you not have confidence in the crackerjack team that brought you Operation Iraqi Freedom, which foundered and led to Operation Together Forward, which stumbled and led to Operation Together Forward II, which collapsed and was replaced by The New Way Forward, the Surge now being launched even though nobody’s together and everything’s going backward?

I say, bring it on. If a pre-emptive war in Iraq doesn’t work, why not try a pre-emptive war on Iran in Iraq?

Although Tony Snow dismissed the idea of war with Iran as an “urban legend” yesterday, Condi Rice revealed to New York Times reporters that President Bush acted months ago to parry Iran’s ambitions, issuing orders for a military campaign against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces sneaking into Iraq. Using diplomatic passports, the agents have been smuggling in sophisticated bomb-making components and infrared trigger devices, which could be used to blow up American soldiers.

The move against Iran allows the president and Dick Cheney — who was, natch, militating for the Surge — to blow off, once more, the Iraq Study Group and Congress, to push back rather than make up.

James Baker and Lee Hamilton had recommended playing nice with the mad mullahs, which even they acknowledged was a long shot, given that the Bush administration can offer them little except acquiescence in their nuclear weapons program, which is not going to happen.

Joe Biden, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Condi on Thursday that Mr. Bush did not have the authority to pursue the networks over the border into Iran or Syria. On Friday, Bob Gates assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iranians they target won’t be in Iran.

We’re trying to stanch a self-inflicted wound: our failed occupation gave Iran the opening in Iraq we’re now trying to shut down.

The White House had to admit this week what has been obvious to everybody else for eons, including a list of lame assumptions they embraced during the first few years of the occupation: “Majority of Iraqis will support the coalition and Iraqi efforts to build a democratic state” has now been supplanted by “Iraqis increasingly disillusioned with coalition efforts.”

It’s a remarkable moment, W. standing nearly alone, deserted by more and more Republicans, generals and Americans, risking it all on a weak reed like Prime Minister Maliki.

It’s impossible to know what W. was really thinking as he stiffly delivered his fantasy scheme in the White House library. The whole capital was fraught, but the president may simply have been musing to himself: “I’m hungry … I wonder what time the game starts on ESPN? …Has anybody read all these books?”

W. always acts like he’s upping the ante in a board game where you roll the dice and bet your plastic army divisions on the outcome. This doesn’t surprise some of his old classmates at Yale, who remember Junior as the riskiest Risk player of them all, known for dropping by the rooms of friends, especially when they were trying to study for exams, for extended bouts of “The Game of Global Domination.”

Junior was known as an extremely aggressive player in the venerable Parker Brothers board game, a brutal contest that requires bluster and bluffing as you invade countries, all the while betraying alliances. Notably, it’s almost impossible to win Risk and conquer the world if you start the game in the Middle East, because you’re surrounded by enemies.

His gamesmanship extended to sports — he loved going into overtime and demanding that points be played over because he wasn’t quite ready.

As Graydon Carter recollects in the new Vanity Fair, Gail Sheehy wrote an article for the magazine about W. that made this point: “Even if he loses, his friends say, he doesn’t lose. He’ll just change the score, or change the rules, or make his opponent play until he can beat him.”

W.’s best friend when he was a teenager in Houston, Doug Hannah, told Ms. Sheehy: “If you were playing basketball and you were playing to 11 and he was down, you went to 15.”

Even if it was clear who was winning, W. wanted to go further to see what would happen. It was a technique that worked well in Tallahassee in 2000, but not so well in Tikrit.

Word is that even as they Surge, the Bush team is already working on Plan C, or as they will no doubt call it, The New, New Way Forward II.


What he really thinks of you!


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Golden State Gamble

The New York Times
January 12, 2007

A few days ago. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled an ambitious plan to bring universal health insurance to California. And I’m of two minds about it.

On one side, it’s very encouraging to see another Republican governor endorse the principle that all Americans are entitled to essential health care. Not long ago we were wondering whether the Bush administration would succeed in dismantling Social Security. Now we’re discussing proposals for universal health care. What a difference two years makes!

And if California — America’s biggest state, with a higher-than-average percentage of uninsured residents — can achieve universal coverage, so can the nation as a whole.

On the other side, Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan has serious flaws. Maybe those flaws could be fixed once the principle of universal coverage was established — but there’s also the chance that we would end up stuck with those flaws, the way we ended up stuck with a dysfunctional system of insurance tied to employment.

Furthermore, in the end health care should be a federal responsibility. State-level plans should be seen as pilot projects, not substitutes for a national system. Otherwise, some states just won’t do the right thing. Remember, almost 25 percent of Texans are uninsured.

To understand both what’s right and what’s wrong with Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan, let’s compare what he’s proposing with the plan he rejected. Last summer, the California Legislature passed a bill that would have created a single-payer health insurance system for the state — that is, a system similar to Medicare, under which residents would have paid fees into a state fund, which would then have provided insurance to everyone.

But the governor vetoed that bill, which would have bypassed private insurance companies. He appears to sincerely want universal coverage, but he also wants to keep insurance companies in the loop. As a result, he came up with a plan that, like the failed Clinton health care plan of the early 1990s, is best described as a Rube Goldberg device — a complicated, indirect way of achieving what a single-payer system would accomplish simply and directly.

There are three main reasons why many Americans lack health insurance. Some healthy people decide to save money and take their chances (and end up being treated in emergency rooms, at the public’s expense, if their luck runs out); some people are too poor to afford coverage; some people can’t get coverage, at least without paying exorbitant rates, because of pre-existing conditions.

Single-payer insurance solves all three problems at a stroke. The Schwarzenegger plan, by contrast, is a series of patches. It forces everyone to buy health insurance, whether they think they need it or not; it provides financial aid to low-income families, to help them bear the cost; and it imposes “community rating” on insurance companies, basically requiring them to sell insurance to everyone at the same price.

As a result, the plan requires a much more intrusive government role than a single-payer system. Instead of reducing paperwork, the plan adds three new bureaucracies: one to police individuals to make sure they buy insurance, one to determine if they’re poor enough to receive aid, and one to police insurers to make sure they don’t discriminate against the unwell.

The plan’s supporters say that it would save money all the same. Those who are currently uninsured would receive preventive care, which is often cheaper than waiting until they show up in emergency rooms. Insurers would spend less money trying to weed out high-risk clients and more money actually paying for health care: the plan would require that insurers spend at least 85 percent of premiums on health care, considerably more than most insurers do now.

Still, why all the complexity? The smart, well-intentioned economists who devised the plan think they’re being more politically realistic than single-payer advocates — that it’s necessary to placate the insurers. But that’s what Bill and Hillary Clinton thought, too — only to find that their plan’s complexity confused the public, while the insurance industry went all-out to defeat it anyway.

So am I for or against the Schwarzenegger plan? That’s a tough question. As a practical matter, however, I suspect that the real question is what to do after the plan founders from its own complexity. And the answer is, damn the insurers — full speed ahead.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Make Them Fight All of Us

The New York Times
January 12, 2007

I’ve heard the president’s surge speech, and I have a reaction, an observation and some advice.

My reaction to the president’s speech was to recall a line from Bill Maher’s book about the war against terrorists: “Make them fight all of us.”

Mr. President, you want a surge? I’ll surge. I’ll surge on the condition that you once and for all enlist the entire American people in this war effort, and stop putting it all on the shoulders of 130,000 military families, and now 20,000 more. I’ll surge on the condition that you make them fight all of us — and that means a real energy policy, with a real gasoline tax, that ends our addiction to oil, shrinks the flow of petro-dollars to bad actors and makes America the world’s leader in conservation.

But please, Mr. President, stop insulting our intelligence by telling us that this is the “decisive ideological struggle of our time,” but we’re going to put the whole burden of victory on 150,000 U.S. soldiers. Yes, you’re right, confronting violent Islamic radicalism by trying to tilt Iraq and the Arab-Muslim world onto a more progressive track is indeed hugely important. But the way you have fought this war — with our pinky — is contemptible. For three years you would not summon the military means to back your lofty ends.

That led to a vacuum. The Sunnis, who refused to accept majority rule by Shiites, went on a murderous rampage, and that rampage has now metastasized into five different wars in Iraq: Sunnis against Shiites, Sunnis and Shiites against the U.S. “occupiers,” Al Qaeda against the U.S., Shiite theocratic thugs against ordinary Shiites, and Iran, Syria and all the Arab autocrats against any kind of democratic, Shiite-led Iraq that could be a model for their own people.

Hence my observation: The notion that the only war in Iraq now is good guys versus terrorists is ludicrous. There is no center in Iraq. And when there is no center and you put in more troops, you end up supporting a side. (See Lebanon: 1982)

And now for the advice. At this 11th hour, with Iraq’s sectarian fires raging, the only way more U.S. troops might bring stability is if you add two missing elements: a deadline and a floor.

You need to tell Iraqis that by calling for a surge in troops you’re giving them one last chance to reconcile, otherwise we’re gone by Dec. 1. And you need to tell Americans that you’re creating a $45-a-barrel floor price for imported oil, so investors can safely finance alternatives without worrying that they’ll be undercut by OPEC.

By not setting a hard date to leave Iraq, we are only putting a floor under bad behavior and allowing Iraqi leaders to pay wholesale, not retail, for their tribal politics. If Sunnis or Shiites want it “all” in Iraq, they have to pay for it all.

Of course, just leaving would be bad for us and terrible for those Iraqis who have worked with us. We need to give them all U.S. passports. We have a moral responsibility to them. But it would also be bad for a lot of bad people. They would be left to fight it out with each other. And yes, Syria and Iran would “win” Iraq — meaning they’d win the responsibility of managing the mess there or have it spill over on them. Have a nice day.

And by not setting a hard floor price for oil to promote alternative energy, we are only helping to subsidize bad governance by Arab leaders toward their people and bad behavior by Americans toward the climate.

Make them fight all of us, Mr. President, or don’t do it at all! If we made ourselves energy independent, we would bring down global oil prices, which would not only shrink the resources for mischief by our enemies and limit Saudi Arabia’s ability to transform Islam all over the world into its most intolerant Wahhabi form, but also, more important, would force the Arab world to reform. It would force Arab leaders, including Iraqis, to organize their societies in ways that would tap their people, not just their oil wells — whether our troops were there or not. Also, if the rest of the world saw all of us sacrificing to win this war, we might actually be able to enlist them to help a little.

More troops alone will not suffice. The only tiny hope left of transforming Iraq is if its leaders have to pay the full retail price of their passions and we have to pay the full retail price of our oil. And if even that won’t work, then setting a date and setting an oil price will extract us from this disaster and make us less vulnerable to the madness we leave behind.

If we fail in Iraq, at least let America be stronger — by being energy independent — the morning after.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Globalization in Retreat

by Walden Bello
Foreign Policy In Focus
December 27, 2006

When it first became part of the English vocabulary in the early 1990s, globalization was supposed to be the wave of the future. Fifteen years ago, the writings of globalist thinkers such as Kenichi Ohmae and Robert Reich celebrated the advent of the emergence of the so-called borderless world. The process by which relatively autonomous national economies become functionally integrated into one global economy was touted as “irreversible. ” And the people who opposed globalization were disdainfully dismissed as modern day incarnations of the Luddites that destroyed machines during the Industrial Revolution.

Fifteen years later, despite runaway shops and outsourcing, what passes for an international economy remains a collection of national economies. These economies are interdependent no doubt, but domestic factors still largely determine their dynamics.

Globalization, in fact, has reached its high water mark and is receding.

Bright Predictions, Dismal Outcomes

During globalization’s heyday, we were told that state policies no longer mattered and that corporations would soon dwarf states. In fact, states still do matter. The European Union, the U.S. government, and the Chinese state are stronger economic actors today than they were a decade ago. In China, for instance, transnational corporations (TNCs) march to the tune of the state rather than the other way around.

Moreover, state policies that interfere with the market in order to build up industrial structures or protect employment still make a difference. Indeed, over the last ten years, interventionist government policies have spelled the difference between development and underdevelopment, prosperity and poverty. Malaysia’s imposition of capital controls during the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 prevented it from unraveling like Thailand or Indonesia. Strict capital controls also insulated China from the economic collapse engulfing its neighbors.

Fifteen years ago, we were told to expect the emergence of a transnational capitalist elite that would manage the world economy. Indeed, globalization became the “grand strategy” of the Clinton administration, which envisioned the U.S. elite being the primus inter pares -- first among equals -- of a global coalition leading the way to the new, benign world order. Today, this project lies in shambles. During the reign of George W. Bush, the nationalist faction has overwhelmed the transnational faction of the economic elite. These nationalism-inflected states are now competing sharply with one another, seeking to beggar one another’s economies.

A decade ago, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was born, joining the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the pillars of the system of international economic governance in the era of globalization. With a triumphalist air, officials of the three organizations meeting in Singapore during the first ministerial gathering of the WTO in December 1996 saw the remaining task of “global governance” as the achievement of “coherence,” that is, the coordination of the neoliberal policies of the three institutions in order to ensure the smooth, technocratic integration of the global economy.

But now Sebastian Mallaby, the influential pro-globalization commentator of the Washington Post, complains that “trade liberalization has stalled, aid is less coherent than it should be, and the next financial conflagration will be managed by an injured fireman.” In fact, the situation is worse than he describes. The IMF is practically defunct. Knowing how the Fund precipitated and worsened the Asian financial crisis, more and more of the advanced developing countries are refusing to borrow from it or are paying ahead of schedule, with some declaring their intention never to borrow again. These include Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, and Argentina. Since the Fund’s budget greatly depends on debt repayments from these big borrowers, this boycott is translating into what one expert describes as “a huge squeeze on the budget of the organization.”

The World Bank may seem to be in better health than the Fund. But having been central to the debacle of structural adjustment policies that left most developing and transitional economies that implemented them in greater poverty, with greater inequality, and in a state of stagnation, the Bank is also suffering a crisis of legitimacy.

But the crisis of multilateralism is perhaps most acute at the WTO. Last July, the Doha Round of global negotiations for more trade liberalization unraveled abruptly when talks among the so-called Group of Six broke down in acrimony over the U.S. refusal to budge on its enormous subsidies for agriculture. The pro-free trade American economist Fred Bergsten once compared trade liberalization and the WTO to a bicycle: they collapse when they are not moving forward. The collapse of an organization that one of its director generals once described as the “jewel in the crown of multilateralism” may be nearer than it seems.

Why Globalization Stalled

Why did globalization run aground? First of all, the case for globalization was oversold. The bulk of the production and sales of most TNCs continues to take place within the country or region of origin. There are only a handful of truly global corporations whose production and sales are dispersed relatively equally across regions.

Second, rather than forge a common, cooperative response to the global crises of overproduction, stagnation, and environmental ruin, national capitalist elites have competed with each other to shift the burden of adjustment. The Bush administration, for instance, has pushed a weak-dollar policy to promote U.S. economic recovery and growth at the expense of Europe and Japan. It has also refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol in order to push Europe and Japan to absorb most of the costs of global environmental adjustment and thus make U.S. industry comparatively more competitive. While cooperation may be the rational strategic choice from the point of view of the global capitalist system, national capitalist interests are mainly concerned with not losing out to their rivals in the short term.

A third factor has been the corrosive effect of the double standards brazenly displayed by the hegemonic power, the United States. While the Clinton administration did try to move the United States toward free trade, the Bush administration has hypocritically preached free trade while practicing protectionism. Indeed, the trade policy of the Bush administration seems to be free trade for the rest of the world and protectionism for the United States.

Fourth, there has been too much dissonance between the promise of globalization and free trade and the actual results of neoliberal policies, which have been more poverty, inequality, and stagnation. One of the very few places where poverty diminished over the last 15 years is China. But interventionist state policies that managed market forces, not neoliberal prescriptions, were responsible for lifting 120 million Chinese out of poverty. Moreover, the advocates of eliminating capital controls have had to face the actual collapse of the economies that took this policy to heart. The globalization of finance proceeded much faster than the globalization of production. But it proved to be the cutting edge not of prosperity but of chaos. The Asian financial crisis and the collapse of the economy of Argentina, which had been among the most doctrinaire practitioners of capital account liberalization, were two decisive moments in reality’s revolt against theory.

Another factor unraveling the globalist project is its obsession with economic growth. Indeed, unending growth is the centerpiece of globalization, the mainspring of its legitimacy. While a recent World Bank report continues to extol rapid growth as the key to expanding the global middle class, global warming, peak oil, and other environmental events are making it clear to people that the rates and patterns of growth that come with globalization are a surefire prescription for ecological Armageddon.

The final factor, not to be underestimated, has been popular resistance to globalization. The battles of Seattle in 1999, Prague in 2000, and Genoa in 2001; the massive global anti-war march on February 15, 2003, when the anti-globalization movement morphed into the global anti-war movement; the collapse of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun in 2003 and its near collapse in Hong Kong in 2005; the French and Dutch peoples’ rejection of the neoliberal, pro-globalization European Constitution in 2005 -- these were all critical junctures in a decade-long global struggle that has rolled back the neoliberal project. But these high-profile events were merely the tip of the iceberg, the summation of thousands of anti-neoliberal, anti-globalization struggles in thousands of communities throughout the world involving millions of peasants, workers, students, indigenous people, and many sectors of the middle class.

Down but not out

While corporate-driven globalization may be down, it is not out. Though discredited, many pro-globalization neoliberal policies remain in place in many economies, for lack of credible alternative policies in the eyes of technocrats. With talks dead-ended at the WTO, the big trading powers are emphasizing free trade agreements (FTAs) and economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with developing countries. These agreements are in many ways more dangerous than the multilateral negotiations at the WTO since they often require greater concessions in terms of market access and tighter enforcement of intellectual property rights.

However, things are no longer that easy for the corporations and trading powers. Doctrinaire neoliberals are being eased out of key positions, giving way to pragmatic technocrats who often subvert neoliberal policies in practice owing to popular pressure. When it comes to FTAs, the global south is becoming aware of the dangers and is beginning to resist. Key South American governments under pressure from their citizenries derailed the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA -- the grand plan of George W. Bush for the Western hemisphere -- during the Mar del Plata conference in November 2005.

Also, one of the reasons many people resisted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the months before the recent coup in Thailand was his rush to conclude a free trade agreement with the United States. Indeed, in January this year, some 10,000 protesters tried to storm the building in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where U.S. and Thai officials were negotiating. The government that succeeded Thaksin’s has put the U.S.-Thai FTA on hold, and movements seeking to stop FTAs elsewhere have been inspired by the success of the Thai efforts.

The retreat from neoliberal globalization is most marked in Latin America. Long exploited by foreign energy giants, Bolivia under President Evo Morales has nationalized its energy resources. Nestor Kirchner of Argentina gave an example of how developing country governments can face down finance capital when he forced northern bondholders to accept only 25 cents of every dollar Argentina owed them. Hugo Chavez has launched an ambitious plan for regional integration, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), based on genuine economic cooperation instead of free trade, with little or no participation by northern TNCs, and driven by what Chavez himself describes as a “logic beyond capitalism.”

Globalization in Perspective

From today’s vantage point, globalization appears to have been not a new, higher phase in the development of capitalism but a response to the underlying structural crisis of this system of production. Fifteen years since it was trumpeted as the wave of the future, globalization seems to have been less a “brave new phase” of the capitalist adventure than a desperate effort by global capital to escape the stagnation and disequilibria overtaking the global economy in the 1970s and 1980s. The collapse of the centralized socialist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe deflected people’s attention from this reality in the early 1990s.

Many in progressive circles still think that the task at hand is to “humanize” globalization. Globalization, however, is a spent force. Today’s multiplying economic and political conflicts resemble, if anything, the period following the end of what historians refer to as the first era of globalization, which extended from 1815 to the eruption of World War I in 1914. The urgent task is not to steer corporate-driven globalization in a “social democratic” direction but to manage its retreat so that it does not bring about the same chaos and runaway conflicts that marked its demise in that earlier era.

Walden Bello is professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines and executive director of the Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South. An extended version of this piece titled "The Capitalist Conjuncture: Overaccumulation, Financial Crises, and the Retreat from Globalization," appears in the latest issue of Third World Quarterly (Vol. 27, No. 8, 2006).

Venezuela to nationalize all power companies

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuela said Thursday it would nationalize all power firms, including a U.S.-owned electrical company in the capital, in the latest step in President Hugo Chavez's push to speed the country's drive to socialism in his new six-year term. [ MORE ]

Nicaragua's Ortega pledges unity among leftists

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- Former Marxist guerrilla Daniel Ortega celebrated his return to power in Nicaragua with two of Washington's biggest critics -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales -- who welcomed him as an ally in their campaign to curb U.S. influence in Latin America. [ MORE ]

NYT Editorial: The Real Disaster

President Bush told Americans last night that failure in Iraq would be a disaster. The disaster is Mr. Bush’s war, and he has already failed. Last night was his chance to stop offering more fog and be honest with the nation, and he did not take it.

Americans needed to hear a clear plan to extricate United States troops from the disaster that Mr. Bush created. What they got was more gauzy talk of victory in the war on terrorism and of creating a “young democracy” in Iraq. In other words, a way for this president to run out the clock and leave his mess for the next one.

Mr. Bush did acknowledge that some of his previous tactics had failed. But even then, the president sounded as if he were an accidental tourist in Iraq. He described the failure of last year’s effort to pacify Baghdad as if the White House and the Pentagon bore no responsibility.

In any case, Mr. Bush’s excuses were tragically inadequate. The nation needs an eyes-wide-open recognition that the only goal left is to get the U.S. military out of this civil war in a way that could minimize the slaughter of Iraqis and reduce the chances that the chaos Mr. Bush unleashed will engulf Iraq’s neighbors.

What it certainly did not need were more of Mr. Bush’s open-ended threats to Iran and Syria.

Before Mr. Bush spoke, Americans knew he planned to send more troops to pacify lawless Baghdad. Mr. Bush’s task was to justify that escalation by acknowledging that there was no military solution to this war and outlining the political mission that the military would be serving. We were waiting for him to detail the specific milestones that he would set for the Iraqis, set clear timelines for when they would be expected to meet them, and explain what he intended to do if they again failed.

Instead, he said he had warned the Iraqis that if they didn’t come through, they would lose the faith of the American people. Has Mr. Bush really not noticed that the American people long ago lost faith in the Iraqi government — and in him as well? Americans know that this Iraqi government is captive to Shiite militias, with no interest in the unity, reconciliation and democracy that Mr. Bush says he wants.

Mr. Bush said yet again that he wanted the Iraqi government to step up to the task of providing its security, and that Iraq needed a law on the fair distribution of oil money. Iraq’s government needs to do a lot more than that, starting with disarming the sectarian militias that are feeding the civil war and purging the police forces that too often are really death squads. It needs to offer amnesty to insurgents and militia fighters willing to put down their weapons. It needs to do those things immediately.

Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government has heard this list before. But so long as Mr. Bush is willing to back that failed government indefinitely — enabling is the psychological term — Iraq’s leaders will have no reason to move against the militias and more fairly share power with the Sunni minority.

Mr. Bush did announce his plan for 20,000 more troops, and the White House trumpeted a $1 billion contribution to reconstruction efforts. Congress will debate these as if they are the real issues. But they are not. Talk of a “surge” ignores the other 132,000 American troops trapped by a failed strategy.

We have argued that the United States has a moral obligation to stay in Iraq as long as there is a chance to mitigate the damage that a quick withdrawal might cause. We have called for an effort to secure Baghdad, but as part of the sort of comprehensive political solution utterly lacking in Mr. Bush’s speech. This war has reached the point that merely prolonging it could make a bad ending even worse. Without a real plan to bring it to a close, there is no point in talking about jobs programs and military offensives. There is nothing ahead but even greater disaster in Iraq.

Iraqi regime set to hand over oil reserves to US energy giants

By Jerry White
11 January 2007

As the Bush administration prepares to escalate military violence against the Iraqi people the US-installed regime in Baghdad is set to approve a new hydrocarbon law that will hand unprecedented control of the country’s vast oil reserves to US and British energy conglomerates. The new law, the terms of which were detailed by the British newspaper the Independent on January 7, makes a mockery of any claims of Iraqi sovereignty and underscores that the real aim of the bloody enterprise by US imperialism has been to colonize the country and seize some of the largest untapped oil resources left on the globe.

The language of the new law—which is expected to be approved by the Iraqi parliament any day and put into place by March—was written by a US consulting firm hired by the Bush administration and presented to the major oil companies and the International Monetary Fund during the summer. As of December, many if not most Iraqi parliamentary members had still not seen the legislation.

The Independent, which obtained a leaked version of the law, reported Sunday, “The Iraqi Council of Ministers is expected to approve, as early as today, a controversial new hydrocarbon law, heavily pushed by the US and UK governments, that will radically redraw the Iraqi oil industry and throw open the doors to the third-largest oil reserves in the world. It would allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil companies in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.” The newspaper added that the new law would be “radical departure from the norm for developing countries” and would be the first of its kind for any major oil producer in the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world’s number one and two largest producers, “both tightly control their industries through state-owned companies with no appreciable foreign collaboration,” as do most members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The most significant legal aspect of the pending legislation is the introduction of so-called production-sharing agreements (PSAs), in which the state maintains formal ownership of oil reserves but pours out billions in compensation to foreign oil companies for their investment in the infrastructure and operation of drills, pipelines and refineries.

According to the draft of the legislation, the PSAs in Iraq would be fixed for 30 years or more, allowing foreign oil companies to maintain favorable arrangements no matter what a future government might do to regulate their profits, tax rates or production levels. One provision in an earlier draft of the new law—which may or may not be retained in the latest version—insists that any disputes with a foreign company must ultimately be settled by international, rather than Iraqi, arbitration.

The terms granted under the new law guarantee will guarantee massive profits to ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and other energy conglomerates. While recovering the costs of their initial investment to develop an oil field, foreign companies will be able to retain 60 to 70 percent of oil revenue. After recouping their initial outlay, the companies can take up to 20 percent of the profit.

By contrast, the French oil company Total signed a deal with Saddam Hussein before the second Iraq war to develop a huge field that would have allowed the company to retain only 40 percent of the profits while it was recovering its costs and 10 percent afterwards, according to Dr. Muhammed-Ali Zainy, a senior economist at the Centre for Global Energy Studies.

Energy experts say the terms about to be accepted by the Iraqi government are only comparable to the production-sharing agreements Russia signed with Shell in the 1990s, following the liquidation of the USSR and the economic “shock therapy” that accompanied the dismantling of the nationalized economy.

In the first half of the twentieth century, under the system of concession agreements, foreign oil companies controlled the petroleum underneath the ground in their colonies and paid nominal royalty fees to the so-called national governments. In the face of the anti-colonial upsurge following World War II, the multinational energy companies began to promote the system of production-sharing agreements in opposition to the growing tide of oil industry nationalizations in the Middle East and elsewhere. First introduced in Indonesia following the US-backed overthrow of the nationalist Sukarno regime in 1965, such arrangements allowed foreign companies to extract oil and vast profits while maintaining the fiction of national sovereignty.

According to International Energy Agency figures, PSAs are used in connection to only 12 percent of world oil reserves, in countries were exploration prospects are uncertain and production costs are high. None of this applies to Iraq, where the cost-per-barrel of extracting oil is among the lowest in the world because the reserves are relatively close to the surface, and many fields have already been discovered but not developed due to years of war and economic sanctions. Most of Iraq’s giant oil fields have already been mapped and therefore there are no exploration costs and risks, unlike the North Sea, the Amazon or from tar sands in Canada, where huge outlays are required.

The agreement signed by the US-backed regime in Baghdad harkens back to the concessions system in British-controlled Iraq. The Independent notes, “Under the chapter entitled, ‘Fiscal Regime,’ the draft spells out that foreign companies have no restrictions on taking their profits out of the country, and are not subject to any tax when doing this.” The draft law states, “A Foreign Person may repatriate its exports proceeds [in accordance with the foreign exchange regulations in force at the time].” Shares in oil projects can also be sold to other foreign companies: “It may freely transfer shares pertaining to any non-Iraqi partners.”

A war for oil

Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves—10 percent of the world’s total—and it is estimated that a fully functioning industry could generate $100 billion in annual revenue. The most important resources are in the Majnoon and West Qurna fields, close to Basra in the south of the country, which contain nearly a quarter of Iraq’s proven reserves. On top of this, Iraq is estimated to have between 100 and 200 billion barrels of possible reserves, including in the western desert.

These vast untapped reserves of easily reachable and low-cost oil, not to mention natural gas, have long been a crucial target of the US and British energy conglomerates, particularly as the discovery of new oil deposits elsewhere in the world have drastically slowed and existing reserves have declined. With demand increasing, particularly from rapidly developing countries such as China and India, control of Middle East oil, and control of the Iraq’s vast reserves in particular, became a vital geo-strategic goal for American imperialism.

As early as the mid-1990s, there was growing concern that the unraveling of the United Nations sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War would enable Saddam Hussein to establish lucrative agreements with French, Russian, Chinese and other oil companies that would leave the US and Britain out and realign the global energy industry. Political writer Kevin Phillips noted in his book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrow Money in the 21st Century, “So long as the United States and Britain could keep these sanctions in place, using allegations concerning weapons of mass destruction, Saddam could not implement his own plan to extend large-scale oil concessions (estimated to be worth $1.1 trillion)” to their economic rivals in Europe and Asia.

Months after the US invasion of Iraq—and after a long legal battle with the White House—it was revealed that control of Iraq’s oil fields was one of the chief issues discussed in Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force meeting with oil executives in 2001. Among the items released under court order were maps of Iraq’s oil fields, pipelines and refineries, with a supporting list of “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts,” naming more than 60 firms from 30 countries, most prominently France, Russia and China, that had projects either agreed upon or under discussion with Baghdad. The French giant, Total, for example, was to get the 25-billion barrel Majnoon oil field, while Russia’s Lukoil had deals to develop the West Qurna fields.

The Independent article on the new hydrocarbon law noted that it was doubtful that these contracts would be considered valid by the Iraqi government, and that “ExxonMobil is now seen by insiders as the frontrunner to nab the rights to the Majnoon field.”

The actions of the puppet regime in Baghdad have confirmed the fact—suspected by millions of people throughout the world—that that an entire country has been shattered and hundreds of thousands killed in a war for oil and profit.

Home in the Ruins

The New York Times
January 11, 2007

New Orleans

As its problems mount, the Big Easy is becoming increasingly unnerved.

Local officials, who will never be mistaken for the brightest lights in the firmament, have been unable to stem a hideous wave of murders. On Tuesday Mayor C. Ray Nagin said, “Enough is enough,” then added, “But we’ve said that before.”

The public school system, one of the worst in the nation, is trying to sell off some of its buildings to help with a desperate cash crunch.

Most depressing, more than 17 months after the horror of Hurricane Katrina, mile after mile after mile of the city that loved to present itself as the epicenter of laughter and good times still lies in ruin.

New Orleans is a place that could use a hopeful sign of any kind, some positive development to signal that perhaps better times are coming.

Enter Ghebre Selassie Mehreteab. Most people call him Gabe, and so will I for the rest of this column. Gabe is a middle-aged bundle of energy who heads the NHP Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that has taken on the difficult mission of providing quality housing at rents that poor and middle-class families can afford. There is no more imperative need in New Orleans than affordable housing.

On Garden Oaks Drive in the Algiers neighborhood Gabe showed me a remarkable sight — a sparkling two-story apartment complex, neatly landscaped, that was owned by NHPF, was badly damaged by the hurricane, and is now being completely renovated at a cost of $20 million.

Nearby are buildings that look like the hurricane hit them yesterday. The NHPF complex, known as Forest Park, will have 284 solid, attractive, energy-efficient units completed this year, with tenants beginning to move in as early as May. The rents will range from $194 to $673 a month.

In New Orleans East, which had been completely submerged in the flood, I stood with Gabe and an architect at what was once the site of a housing complex known as Walnut Square. “New Orleans East was under water for eight days,” said Gabe. “We had to raze it. It’s demolished.”

A quiet wind was blowing across the vast empty space where 18 residential buildings used to be.

The effort to rebuild Walnut Square, at a cost of $37 million, is already under way. There will be 209 apartments, with rents ranging from $130 to $820 a month. There will also be a commercial strip, a community center and day care facilities. (The apartments will be built on raised foundations to guard against future catastrophic floods.)

Eventually Gabe hopes to build 3,000 affordable rental apartments in and around New Orleans at a total cost of $300 million.

How does he do it, when others find the task so daunting?

The key, he said, is to combine the expertise of a successful real estate operation with the talent and vision of an experienced foundation committed to what is essentially a charitable mission. NHPF, which has its Louisiana office in Baton Rouge, gets the funds to build from government grants, tax credits and low-interest loans, as well as conventional financing.

As Gabe dryly noted, “There is not much profit in developing low- income housing.”

No successful rebirth of New Orleans is possible without substantial amounts of new and rebuilt housing — housing that the city’s very large percentage of low-income residents can afford. Most of the people homing in on development opportunities here have either no interest or no expertise in building such housing.

“There are essentially two kinds of organizations here,” said Gabe. “You have out-of-town real estate developers who look at this as a tremendous opportunity and their main concern, quite naturally, has been how much money they can make. On the other hand, you have well-meaning nonprofit entities that unfortunately, in most cases, do not have the capacity to develop on a significant scale.”

Compounding the problem has been the lack of housing expertise in New Orleans. Much of the city’s housing stock pre-Katrina was so poor as to be illegal in most major American cities. The Housing Authority of New Orleans, which administered public housing, was in such bad shape its operations had to be taken over by the federal government.

Half the population of New Orleans has been dispersed across the United States. Many of those still in the city are living in trailers or are doubled up with relatives and friends. There is no way to overstate the desperate need for housing.

Gabe and the NHP Foundation have provided at least one model that works.

The Fog Over Iraq

The New York Times
January 11, 2007

If the Democrats don’t like the U.S. policy on Iraq over the next six months, they have themselves partly to blame. There were millions of disaffected Republicans and independents ready to coalesce around some alternative way forward, but the Democrats never came up with anything remotely serious.

The liberals who favor quick exit never grappled with the consequences of that policy, which the Baker-Hamilton commission terrifyingly described. The centrists who believe in gradual withdrawal never explained why that wouldn’t be like pulling a tooth slowly. Joe Biden, who has the most intellectually serious framework for dealing with Iraq, was busy yesterday, at the crucial decision-making moment, conducting preliminary fact-finding hearings, complete with forays into Iraqi history.

The Democrats have been fecund with criticisms of the war, but when it comes to alternative proposals, a common approach is social Darwinism on stilts: We failed them, now they’re on their own.

So we are stuck with the Bush proposal as the only serious plan on offer. The question is, what exactly did President Bush propose last night? The policy rollout has been befogged by so much spin and misdirection it’s nearly impossible to figure out what the president is proposing.

Nonetheless, here’s my reconstruction of how this policy evolved:

On Nov. 30, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki presented Bush with a new security plan for Baghdad. It called for U.S. troops to move out of Baghdad to the periphery, where they would chase down Sunni terrorists. Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish troops, meanwhile, would flood into the city to establish order, at least as they define it.

Maliki essentially wanted Americans protecting his flank but out of his hair. He didn’t want U.S. soldiers embedded with his own. He didn’t want American generals hovering over his shoulder. His government didn’t want any restraints on Shiite might.

Over the next weeks, Bush rejected the plan and opted for the opposite approach. Instead of handing counterinsurgency over to the Iraqis/Shiites, he decided to throw roughly 20,000 U.S. troops — everything he had available — into Baghdad. He and his advisers negotiated new rules of engagement to make it easier to go after Shiites as well as Sunnis. He selected two aggressive counterinsurgency commanders, David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, to lead the effort. Odierno recently told John Burns of The Times that American forces would remain in cleared areas of Baghdad “24/7,” suggesting a heavy U.S. presence.

Then came the job of selling the plan. The administration could not go before the world and say that the president had decided to overrule the sovereign nation of Iraq. Officials could not tell wavering Republicans that the president was proposing a heavy, U.S.-led approach.

Thus, administration officials are saying that they have adopted the Maliki plan, just with a few minor tweaks. In briefings and in the president’s speech, officials claimed that this was an Iraqi-designed plan, that Iraqi troops would take on all the primary roles in clearing and holding neighborhoods, that Iraqis in mixed neighborhoods would scarcely see any additional Americans.

All of this is designed to soothe the wounded pride of the Maliki government, and to make the U.S. offensive seem less arduous at home. It’s the opposite of the truth.

Yesterday, administration officials were praising Maliki lavishly. He wants the same things we want, they claimed. He has resolved to lead a nonsectarian government. He is reworking his governing coalitions and marginalizing the extremists. “We’ve seen the nascent rise of a moderate political bloc,” one senior administration official said yesterday.

But the selling of the plan illustrates that this is not the whole story. The Iraqi government wants a unified non-sectarian solution in high-minded statements and in some distant, ideal world. But in the short term, and in the deepest reptilian folds of their brains, the Shiites are maneuvering amid the sectarian bloodbath all around.

This is not a function of the character of Maliki or this or that official. It’s a function of the core dynamic now afflicting Iraqi society.

Administration officials have come up with as good a military strategy as is now possible. They’ve made intelligent moves to use reconstruction money to deepen contacts with a decentralized array of Iraqi leaders and factions. But on the political level, they have papered over the unpleasant reality with salesmanship and spin.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007



The White House did not want anyone to see this photo. So…What else are they hiding?


McCain deserves to take a nice long rest…back at the HANOI HILTON…!

Daniel Ellsberg: “Bush is Dangerous. He has to Go!”

Daniel Ellsberg of “Pentagon Papers” fame was one of the riveting speakers at an event at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., held on Jan. 4, 2007.

It was sponsored by the World Can’t Wait organization.

Ellsberg said that President George W. Bush and V.P. Dick Cheney have to go. He labeled Bush “dangerous!”

He urged activists to push for a two pronged Congressional strategy:

First, to cut off all funding for the Iraqi War; and, secondly, to investigate the serial crimes of the Bush-Cheney Gang.

UFO Crash in Central Iran

TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- An Unidentified Flying Object crashed in Barez Mounts in the central province of Kerman Wednesday morning.

Deputy Governor General of Kerman province Abulghassem Nasrollahi told FNA that the crash which was followed by an explosion and a thick spiral of smoke has caused no casualties or damage to properties.

He further denied earlier reports that the explosion has been the result of a plane or chopper crash, reminding that all the passing aircrafts have been reported as sound and safe.

The official further stated that investigations are underway by police and other relevant authorities in this regard.

While other reports spoke of meteors, Nasrollahi said there were no conclusive witnesses in this regard but he did not dismiss the possibility that the crash has been caused by a meteor.

Eye-witnesses assure that the explosion has been caused as a result of the crash of a radiant unidentified flying object onto the ground.

Meantime, an informed source told FNA that the object has been on fire and there has been thick smoke coming out of it prior to the crash, concluding that the object couldn't have been a meteor as meteors do not smoke.

The source also said that the crash has been witnessed by people in several cities, and mentioned that the rendezvous point is located 100 kilometers from the provincial capital city of Kerman.

He said that people in the city of Rafsanjan also reported to have witnessed a similar incident several days ago.

Similar crash incidents have been witnessed frequently during the last year all across Iran, and officials believe that the objects could be spy planes or a hi-tech espionage device.

COMMENT: Must be Zionist spacecraft from Planet Tevya in the Gimel Galaxy…Damn them…!

Web Site Hit Counters
High Speed Internet Services