Saturday, September 08, 2007

Francis Ford Coppola, a Kid to Watch

The New York Times
September 9, 2007

"Youth Without Youth," Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in 10 years, is about Dominic Matei, an elderly Romanian professor of linguistics who, after being struck by lightning, becomes young again. Though Matei, played by Tim Roth, retains a septuagenarian’s memories and experiences, his body, restored to 30-year-old fighting trim, is mysteriously immune to the effects of time.

The professor’s condition is presented as a medical curiosity and a metaphysical conundrum — like the novella by Mircea Eliade on which it is based, Mr. Coppola’s movie is a complex, symbol-laden meditation on the nature of chronology, language and human identity — but it also speaks to a familiar and widespread longing. What if, without losing the hard-won wisdom of age, you could go back and start again? What if you could reverse and arrest the process of growing old, securing the double blessing of a full past and a limitless future?

Seeing “Youth Without Youth” for the first time this summer, I tried to resist the impulse to imagine parallels between the filmmaker and his hero. Was Mr. Coppola trying to recapture something of his own youth in telling this story? Was Matei’s state — a predicament as well as a blessing — also, in some way, the director’s own? Did this project, a return to filmmaking after a long hiatus, represent an attempt to turn back the clock and start again?

Having been trained to be skeptical of easy biographical interpretations, I dismissed such questions as too obvious to take seriously. My high-minded, theoretically correct determination to avoid them did not last long, however. When I spoke to Mr. Coppola on the phone a few weeks later, he was quick to suggest the connection himself. “I’m really a lot like the man in the movie,” he said.

Not literally of course. The plot of “Youth Without Youth” is an otherworldly blend of moods and genres. At first Matei’s story, which begins in Bucharest in 1938, seems like a World War II-era spy thriller, complete with Nazi agents in trench coats and a femme fatale with swastikas on her garters. But the political intrigue dissipates once Matei falls in love with a young woman who seems able to travel backward in time, and the movie settles into a curious blend of romance, mystery and philosophical speculation.

In its calm, formal assurance, in the way it effortlessly tackles difficult shot sequences and narrative tangles, in its almost classical elegance and its reflective tone, “Youth Without Youth” is evidently the work of a master, a mature artist who has probably forgotten more about making movies than the entire current student body at U.C.L.A. film school will ever know. (Mr. Coppola, who is 68, received his master of fine arts degree in directing there in 1967.)

But in other ways the movie feels like the work of a much younger man. It bristles with restless, perhaps overreaching intellectual ambition, and without being overtly autobiographical, it feels intensely and earnestly personal.

All of which seems, to borrow a word that Mr. Coppola uses frequently, quite deliberate. As he sees it, “Youth Without Youth” (set to open Dec. 14) is not so much a return to form as a new beginning. “I wanted to make a movie the way a film student would,” he said.

He was introduced to Eliade’s story by the religious scholar Wendy Doniger, a childhood friend of his and the Mircea Eliade professor at the University of Chicago. With a modest bankroll provided by his successful California winery, Mr. Coppola shot “Youth Without Youth” in Romania, recruiting most of his cast and crew from that country’s flourishing pool of cinematic talent. He also limited himself to equipment that could be transported in a single specially outfitted truck, a technique he had developed when working on his thesis film, “You’re a Big Boy Now,” four decades ago.

Shooting “Youth Without Youth” was “guerrilla filmmaking, real independent filmmaking,” he said with audible enthusiasm. And throughout our conversation he took evident delight in presenting himself — one of the old lions of the New Hollywood; an Oscar and Palme d’Or winner; a man whose professional life has been a 40-year epic of triumph and catastrophe; Francis Ford Coppola, for goodness sake! — as a young upstart with a gleam in his eye and a camera on his shoulder.

“My dream is to have the career I wanted when I was 18,” he said. “When I started, I never thought I was going to be a successful Hollywood director. When I was young, I got to have the big career, and I’m hoping that now I can have the little one.”

The big career offers, among other things, an incomparable case study in some of the paradoxes that define modern American movies. Taking early note of Mr. Coppola in “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968,” Andrew Sarris remarked, rather guardedly, that he was “probably the first reasonably talented and sensibly adaptable directorial talent to emerge from a university curriculum in filmmaking.”

But even as he had pursued his academic studies, Mr. Coppola was also directing “Dementia 13” for Roger Corman, the cheapskate exploitation impresario whose production company served as a kind of unaccredited training school for budding auteurs.

As his talent flowered in the 1970s, Mr. Coppola came to embody some of the tensions inherent in the idea of the director as auteur. As Mr. Sarris had articulated it, the auteur theory was partly a means of identifying movies produced under the aegis of the old studio system as legitimate and coherent works of art. It was understood that they were also, nearly always, works done for hire. And of course the work that is likely to remain Mr. Coppola’s masterpiece, notwithstanding any changes in critical fashion, was a project he took on for money, and for Paramount, while he was trying to finish “The Conversation.”

The first two “Godfather” movies, along with “The Conversation,” will forever quiet any skepticism about whether or not Mr. Coppola is a great filmmaker. Subsequent turns in the big career, however, are often taken as cautionary tales about what happens when artistic ambitions grow too large. The long, difficult making of “Apocalypse Now” is conventionally grouped with other late-’70s New Hollywood flameouts, even though the film itself was both a critical and a commercial success.

But Mr. Coppola’s reputation was nonetheless dented, in the ’80s and ’90s, by other grandiose, ill-fated projects, notably his dreamy Las Vegas fantasia “One From the Heart” (1982) and “The Cotton Club” (1984), a period gangster epic that was sometimes more exciting to read about in magazine exposés than to watch on screen. And of course there was “The Godfather: Part III.”

But all of these films, for all their flaws, demonstrate the talent and adaptability that Mr. Sarris had noticed at the start. If none quite hangs together, each one includes some extraordinary filmmaking.

In retrospect it seems that Mr. Coppola’s sheer technical virtuosity — in particular his ability to bring large, crowded scenes into intimate dramatic focus — has been taken for granted. And his missteps have been dissected with an eagerness that distracts from a record of pretty solid accomplishment. Between “One From the Heart” and “The Cotton Club,” Mr. Coppola released “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish,” exquisite, modest adaptations of S. E. Hinton novels that have lost little of their power over the years. These movies also, not incidentally, demonstrate Mr. Coppola’s ability to bring out the best in actors. Have Patrick Swayze and Mickey Rourke ever been better?

Mr. Coppola’s record through the ’80s — at the moment everybody’s least favorite decade in the history of American cinema — is disappointing only when held up against his work in the ’70s. Nobody will argue that “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986), “Gardens of Stone” (1987) and “Tucker: The Man and his Dream” (1988) are masterpieces, but they hold up pretty well. Kathleen Turner, James Caan and Jeff Bridges are all in good form, and if the movies were underappreciated in their time, it was in no small part because the man who directed them had, not so long before, made “The Conversation” and the first two “Godfather” pictures in a three-year span.

In other words, it may have been the burden of the big career that made it hard for Mr. Coppola to carve out a medium-size career as a maker of moderately ambitious, high-quality commercial movies. So after “The Rainmaker” in 1997 — another decent, well-acted, sharply directed movie with no evident aspirations to be anything more — he seemed to enter a phase of semi-retirement, devoting himself to winemaking and proud papahood. The first time I met him, in Cannes in 2001, when he was showing the expanded version of “Apocalypse Now,” he seemed at times more interested in talking about his filmmaker children, Roman and Sofia, than about his own work.

And now, as he talks about the reawakening of his teenage aspirations, he sounds like the youngest Coppola of them all. For his next film he will take his bare-bones outfit to Argentina. Without elaborating, he describes the project as autobiographical. Which is just what a talented, ambitious indie filmmaker might say.

In 1968 Mr. Sarris concluded his short entry on Francis Ford Coppola (in the section of “The American Cinema” called “Oddities, One-Shots and Newcomers”) with a prediction that was prophetic at the time and may still be: “Coppola may be heard from more decisively in the future.”

As the Iraqis Stand Down, We’ll Stand Up

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 9, 2007

IT will be all 9/11 all the time this week, as the White House yet again synchronizes its drumbeating for the Iraq war with the anniversary of an attack that had nothing to do with Iraq. Ignore that fog and focus instead on another date whose anniversary passed yesterday without notice: Sept. 8, 2002. What happened on that Sunday five years ago is the Rosetta Stone for the administration's latest scam.

That was the morning when the Bush White House officially rolled out its fraudulent case for the war. The four horsemen of the apocalypse — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice — were dispatched en masse to the Washington talk shows, where they eagerly pointed to a front-page New York Times article amplifying subsequently debunked administration claims that Saddam had sought to buy aluminum tubes meant for nuclear weapons. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said Condoleezza Rice on CNN, introducing a sales pitch concocted by a White House speechwriter.

What followed was an epic propaganda onslaught of distorted intelligence, fake news, credulous and erroneous reporting by bona fide journalists, presidential playacting and Congressional fecklessness. Much of it had been plotted that summer of 2002 by the then-secret White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a small task force of administration brass charged with the Iraq con job.

Today the spirit of WHIG lives. In the stay-the-surge propaganda offensive that crests with this week's Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, history is repeating itself in almost every particular. Even the specter of imminent "nuclear holocaust" has been rebooted in President Bush's arsenal of rhetorical scare tactics.

The new WHIG is a 24/7 Pentagon information "war room" conceived in the last throes of the Rumsfeld regime and run by a former ABC News producer. White House "facts" about the surge's triumph are turning up unsubstantiated in newspapers and on TV. Instead of being bombarded with dire cherry-picked intelligence about W.M.D., this time we're being serenaded with feel-good cherry-picked statistics offering hope. Once again the fix is in. Mr. Bush's pretense that he has been waiting for the Petraeus-Crocker report before setting his policy is as bogus as his U.N. charade before the war. And once again a narrowly Democratic Senate lacks the votes to stop him.

As always with this White House, telegenic artificial realities are paramount. Exhibit A, of course, was last weekend's precisely timed "surprise" presidential junket: Mr. Bush took the measure of success "on the ground here in Anbar" (as he put it) without ever leaving a heavily fortified American base.

A more elaborate example of administration Disneyland can be found in those bubbly Baghdad markets visited by John McCain and other dignitaries whenever the cameras roll. Last week The Washington Post discovered that at least one of them, the Dora market, is a Potemkin village, open only a few hours a day and produced by $2,500 grants (a k a bribes) bestowed on the shopkeepers. "This is General Petraeus's baby," Staff Sgt. Josh Campbell told The Post. "Personally, I think it's a false impression." Another U.S. officer said that even shops that "sell dust" or merely "intend to sell goods" are included in the Pentagon's count of the market's reopened businesses.

One Baghdad visitor left unimpressed was Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Chicago, who dined with her delegation in Mr. Crocker's Green Zone residence last month while General Petraeus delivered his spiel. "He's spending an awful lot of time wining and dining members of Congress," she told me last week. Though the menu included that native specialty lobster tortellini, the real bill of fare, Ms. Schakowsky said, was a rigid set of talking points: "Anbar," "bottom up," "decrease in violence" and "success."

In this new White House narrative, victory has been downsized to a successful antiterrorist alliance between Sunni tribal leaders and the American military in Anbar, a single province containing less than 5 percent of Iraq's population. In truth, the surge had little to do with this development, which was already being trumpeted by Mr. Bush in his January prime-time speech announcing the surge.

Even if you believe that it's a good idea to bond with former Saddamists who may have American blood on their hands, the chances of this "bottom up" model replicating itself are slim. Anbar's population is almost exclusively Sunni. Much of the rest of Iraq is consumed by the Sunni-Shiite and Shiite-Shiite civil wars that are M.I.A. in White House talking points.

The "decrease in violence" fable is even more insidious. Though both General Petraeus and a White House fact sheet have recently boasted of a 75 percent decline in sectarian attacks, this number turns out to be as cooked as those tallies of Saddam's weapons sites once peddled by WHIG. As The Washington Post reported on Thursday, it excludes Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence. The Government Accountability Office, which rejected that fuzzy math, found overall violence unchanged using the methodology practiced by the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

No doubt General Petraeus, like Dick Cheney before him, will say that his own data is "pretty well confirmed" by classified intelligence that can't be divulged without endangering national security. Meanwhile, the White House will ruthlessly undermine any reality-based information that contradicts its propaganda, much as it dismissed the accurate W.M.D. findings of the United Nations weapon experts Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei before the war. General Petraeus intervened to soften last month's harsh National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Last week the administration and its ideological surrogates were tireless in trashing the nonpartisan G.A.O. report card that found the Iraqi government flunking most of its benchmarks.

Those benchmarks, the war's dead- enders now say, are obsolete anyway. But what about the president's own benchmarks? Remember "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down"? General Petraeus was once in charge of the Iraqi Army's training and proclaimed it "on track and increasing in capacity" three years ago. On Thursday, an independent commission convened by the Republican John Warner and populated by retired military officers and police chiefs reported that Iraqi forces can take charge no sooner than 12 to 18 months from now, and that the corrupt Iraqi police force has to be rebuilt from scratch. Let us not forget, either, Mr. Bush's former top-down benchmarks for measuring success: "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." On that scorecard, he's batting 0 for 3.

What's surprising is not that this White House makes stuff up, but that even after all the journalistic embarrassments in the run-up to the war its fictions can still infiltrate the real news. After Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two Brookings Institution scholars, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed article in July spreading glad tidings of falling civilian fatality rates, they were widely damned for trying to pass themselves off as tough war critics (both had supported the war and the surge) and for not mentioning that their fact-finding visit to Iraq was largely dictated by a Department of Defense itinerary.

But this has not impeded them from posing as quasi-journalistic independent observers elsewhere ever since, whether on CNN, CBS, Fox or in these pages, identifying themselves as experts rather than Pentagon junketeers. Unlike Armstrong Williams, the talking head and columnist who clandestinely received big government bucks to "regularly comment" on No Child Left Behind, they received no cash. But why pay for what you can get free? Two weeks ago Mr. O'Hanlon popped up on The Washington Post op-ed page, again pushing rosy Iraq scenarios, including an upbeat prognosis for economic reconstruction, even though the G.A.O. found that little of the $10 billion earmarked for reconstruction is likely to be spent.

Anchoring the "CBS Evening News" from Iraq last week, Katie Couric seemed to be drinking the same Kool-Aid (or eating the same lobster tortellini) as Mr. O'Hanlon. As "a snapshot of what's going right," she cited Falluja, a bombed-out city with 80 percent unemployment, and she repeatedly spoke of American victories against "Al Qaeda." Channeling the president's bait-and-switch, she never differentiated between that local group he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and the Qaeda that attacked America on 9/11. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't even exist on 9/11, may represent as little as 2 to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, according to a new investigation in The Washington Monthly by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for Stars and Stripes.

Next to such "real" news from CBS, the "fake" news at the network's corporate sibling Comedy Central was, not for the first time, more trustworthy. Rob Riggle, a "Daily Show" correspondent who also serves in the Marine Reserve, invited American troops in Iraq to speak candidly about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation.

When the line separating spin from reality is so effectively blurred, the White House's propaganda mission has once more been accomplished. No wonder President Bush is cocky again. Stopping in Sydney for the economic summit after last weekend's photo op in Iraq, he reportedly told Australia's deputy prime minister that "we're kicking ass." This war has now gone on so long that perhaps he has forgotten the price our troops paid the last time he taunted our adversaries to bring it on, some four years and 3,500 American military fatalities ago.

Old School Inanity

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 9, 2007


Dying for a daddy, the Republicans turn their hungry eyes to Fred.

Fred Thompson acts tough on screen. And like Ronald Reagan, he has a distinctively masculine timbre and an extremely involved wife.

In his announcement video, Mr. Thompson stood in front of a desk in what looked like, duh, a law office, rumbling reassuringly that in this “dangerous time” he would deal with “the safety and security of the American people.”

As Michelle Cottle wrote in The New Republic, far more than puffy-coiffed Mitt and even more than tough guys Rudy and McCain, the burly, 6-foot-5, 65-year-old Mr. Thompson exudes “old-school masculinity.”

“In Thompson’s presence (live or on-screen),” she wrote, “one is viscerally, intimately reassured that he can handle any crisis that arises, be it a renegade Russian sub or a botched rape case.” But she wondered, was he really “enough of a man for this fight,” or just someone who meandered through life, creating the illusion of a masculine mystique?

Newsweek reported that some close to the Tennessean “question whether moving into the White House is truly Thompson’s life ambition — or more the dream of his second wife, Jeri, a former G.O.P. operative who is his unofficial campaign manager and top adviser.”

It took only two days of campaigning to answer the masculine mystique question. Fred gave an interview to CNN’s John King as his bus rolled through Iowa.

“To what degree should the American people hold the president of the United States responsible for the fact that bin Laden is still at large six years later?” Mr. King asked.

“I think bin Laden is more of a symbolism than he is anything else,” Mr. Thompson drawled. “Bin Laden being in the mountains of Afghanistan or — or Pakistan is not as important as the fact that there’s probably Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States of America.”

Usually, you can only get that kind of exquisitely inane logic from the president. Who does Fred think is sending operatives or inspiring them to come?

Fred is not Ronnie; he’s warmed-over W. President Reagan always knew who the foe was.

Fred followed W.’s nutty lead of marginalizing Osama on a day when TV showed another creepy, fruitcake manifesto by the terrorist, who was wearing what seemed to be a fake beard left over from Woody Allen’s “Bananas” and bloviating on everything from the subprime mortgage crisis to the “woes” of global warming to a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory to the wisdom of Noam Chomsky to the unwisdom of Richard Perle to the heartwarming news that Muslims have lived with Jews and not “incinerated them” to the need to “continue to escalate the killing and fighting” against American kids in Iraq.

Can we please get someone in charge who will stop whining that Osama is hiding in “harsh terrain,” hunt him down and blast him forward to the Stone Age?

Fred must have missed the news of the administration’s intelligence estimate in July deeming Al Qaeda rejuvenated and “a persistent and evolving terrorist threat” to Americans.

Pressed by Mr. King on the fact that the Bush hawks went after Saddam instead of Osama, Fred continued to sputter: “You — you’re — you’re not served up these issues one at a time. They — they come when they come, and you have to — you have to deal with them.”

Democrats pounced. John Edwards issued a statement saying, “That bin Laden is still at large is Bush’s starkest failure.” John McCain and Rudy Giuliani also stressed the need to take out Osama.

Fred quickly caved on the matter of men in caves. At a rally later in the day he manned up. “Apparently Osama bin Laden has crawled out of his cave long enough to send another video and he is getting a lot of attention,” he said, “and ought to be caught and killed.”

He continued to insist that killing bin Laden would not end the terrorist threat, without realizing that this is true now because, by not catching bin Laden, W. allowed him to explode into an inspirational force for jihadists.

Republicans are especially eager for a papa after their disappointing experiences with Junior. After going through so many shattering disasters, W. seems more the inexperienced kid than ever.

In Australia, the president called Australian soldiers in Iraq “Austrian troops,” and got into a weird to-and-fro on TV with the South Korean president.

W. cooperated with Ropert Draper, the author of a new biography of him, yet the portrait was not flattering. Like a frat president sitting around with the brothers trying to figure out whether to party with Tri-Delts or Thetas, W. asked his advisers for a show of hands last year to see if Rummy should stay on. And W. is obsessed with getting the Secret Service to arrange his biking trails.

“What kind of male,” one of his advisers wondered aloud, “obsesses over his bike riding time, other than Lance Armstrong or a 12-year-old boy?”

What’s Missing in Baghdad

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 9, 2007

Erbil, Iraq

One of the most troubling lessons of the Iraq invasion is just how empty the Arab dictatorships are. Once you break the palace, by ousting the dictator, the elevator goes straight to the mosque. There is nothing in between — no civil society, no real labor unions, no real human rights groups, no real parliaments or press. So it is not surprising to see the sort of clerical leadership that has emerged in both the Sunni and Shiite areas of Iraq.

But this is not true in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan. Though not a full-fledged democracy, Kurdistan is developing the key elements of a civil society. I met in Erbil with 20 such Kurdish groups — unions, human rights and political watchdogs, editors and women’s associations. It is worth studying what went right in Kurdistan to understand what we still can and can’t do to promote democratization in the rest of Iraq and the Arab world.

The United States played a critical role in Kurdistan. In 1998, we helped to resolve the Kurdish civil war — the power struggle between two rival clans — which created the possibility of a stable, power-sharing election in 2005. And by removing Saddam, we triggered a flood of foreign investment here.

But that is all we did. Today, there are almost no U.S. soldiers or diplomats in Kurdistan. Yet politics here is flourishing, as is the economy, because the Kurds want it that way. Down south, we’ve spent billions trying to democratize the Sunni and Shiite zones and have little to show for it.

Three lessons: 1) Until the power struggle between Sunnis and Shiites is resolved, you can’t establish any stable politics in southern Iraq. 2) When people want to move down a progressive path, there is no stopping them. When they don’t, there is no helping them. 3) Culture matters. The Kurdish Islam is a moderate, tolerant strain, explained Salam Bawari, head of Kurdistan’s Democracy and Human Rights Research Center. “We have a culture of pluralism,” he said. “We have 2,000 years of living together with people living around us.” Actually, there are still plenty of Arab-Kurdish disputes, but there is an ethos of tolerance here you don’t find elsewhere in Iraq.

While visiting Kurdistan, I read a timely new book, “Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Form of Government,” by my friend Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign affairs expert at Johns Hopkins University. It is highly relevant to America’s democracy project in Iraq and beyond.

Mr. Mandelbaum argues that democracy is made up of two elements: liberty and popular sovereignty. “Liberty involves what governments do” — the rule of law, the protection of people from abuses of state power and the regulations by which government institutions operate, he explains. Popular sovereignty involves how the people determine who governs them — through free elections.

What Baghdad exemplifies, Mr. Mandelbaum says, is what happens when you have elections without liberty. You end up with a tyranny of the majority, or what Fareed Zakaria has labeled “illiberal democracy.” Kurdistan, by contrast, has a chance to build a balanced democracy, because it is nurturing the institutions of liberty, not just holding elections.

What the Kurdistan-Baghdad contrast also illustrates, notes Mr. Mandelbaum, is that “we can help create the conditions for democracy to take root, but people have to develop the skills and values that make it work themselves.”

In the southern part of Iraq “you have people who are undemocratic who have a democratic government,” said Hemin Malazada, who heads a Kurdish journalists’ association. “In Kurdistan, you have a democratic government for a democratic people.”

One way a country develops the software of liberty, Mr. Mandelbaum says, is by nurturing a free market. Kurdistan has one. The economy in the rest of Iraq remains a mess. “A market economy,” he argues, “gives people a stake in peace, as well as a constructive way of dealing with people who are strangers. Free markets teach the basic democratic practices of compromise and trust.”

Democracy can fail because of religious intolerance, the curse of oil, a legacy of colonialism and military dictatorship, or an aversion to Western values — the wellspring of democracy. The Middle East, notes Mr. Mandelbaum, is the one region afflicted by all of these maladies. That doesn’t mean democratization is impossible here, as the Kurds demonstrate. But it does mean it’s really hard. Above all, Iraq teaches us that democracy is possible only when people want both pillars of it — liberty and self-government — and build both themselves. We’re miles away from that in Baghdad.

Taking the Guilt Out of the Death Penalty

This Land
The New York Times
September 9, 2007


Daryl Holton shaved his head clean a couple of months ago. He thought he could retain some control in this small way. But he also wanted to save the corrections officers the trouble.

“I wouldn’t want them to leave with a feeling of guilt,” he says, speaking from the other side with his hands and feet shackled. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a job. They’re just a bunch of guys trying to pay their rent.”

His head needs to be shaven; his legs, too. That is because, not long ago, he marked an ‘X’ beside a sentence on a document handed to him here at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution. That sentence read: “I waive the right to have my execution carried out by lethal injection and choose to be executed by electrocution.”

The crimes that Mr. Holton committed 10 years ago are so horrible and sad that it hurts to read even the most dispassionate description: he shot and killed his four children, ages 4, 6, 10 and 12. Two at a time, through the heart, after having them cover their eyes and asking them not to peek.

Was he punishing his ex-wife for obtaining an order of protection against him, as the state suggests? Or, as his defenders argue, was he depressed and temporarily insane, reasoning that his children were better off dead than to be raised by a mother with a history of alcoholism and abandonment?

Wouldn’t you have to be mentally ill to kill your own children?

Now, after all the motions filed in his behalf, often against his will and without his participation, and after the years of speculation about why he did what he did and does what he does, Daryl Keith Holton, 45, of sound body and court-determined competence — a supporter of the death penalty, by the way — is scheduled to be killed by the State of Tennessee on Wednesday morning, one o’clock.

To be electrocuted, by choice: this slender man sitting now in a room as small and stark as a confessional, his darkened teeth in need of repair, his voice raised to be heard through the Plexiglas that separates the free from the condemned. Articulate and wry, he speaks with a deference — If I could; If you don’t mind — that masks the slight condescension of someone experiencing what few can imagine.

The preferred method of execution in this country is lethal injection, based on the educated guess that it is more humane — at least when properly administered. In that context, the electric chair seems a gruesome relic from the last century, an incremental step up from the noose. Old Sparky. Throw the switch and the lights flicker, as warning to us all.

Ten states still permit its use, depending on the circumstances, although Nebraska alone provides for no other option. Here in Tennessee, where the electric chair has not been used since 1960, the law says that if you are sentenced to death for a crime committed before Jan. 1, 1999, you may choose to die sitting up, or die lying down.

“You have a lot of argument nowadays that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, by a number of my neighbors in here on death row — at least by their attorneys,” Mr. Holton says. “To be honest with you, they are both probably effective and painless methods of execution.”

He smiles the small smile of someone sharing an inside joke; it is not a smirk. “I’m using the word ‘probably’ because any evidence regarding that is going to be hearsay,” he says, then adds, “It’s rare that someone lives to tell about” — here a chuckle escapes — “how an execution felt.”

Point taken. But why the electric chair?

“It’s not very intellectual,” he says. “At the time of the commission of the offense, that’s the punishment that was in place. That was the law.”

His answer reflects the strangely ethical code by which he lives, one that may reflect his many years in the Army, or perhaps the external order he needs to corral some internal chaos. He abhors frivolous appeals, and refuses to accept the privileges he has earned as a model inmate. When he came close to being executed last year, he declined a special last meal, and ate what other inmates ate that night: a turkey-and-cheese hoagie.

Kelly Gleason, a lawyer with the state’s Office of the Post-Conviction Defender, sees a sad consistency in his thought process. Ms. Gleason has visited Mr. Holton two dozen times and considers him a friend, even though he counts her among the “well-intentioned do-gooders” who have waged, and lost, various legal battles to save his life.

“I would describe him as a highly ethical, moral person with a rigid moral code, who acts in accordance with that code,” she says. “In his mind, he killed his children out of the highest possible moral reasons, as odd as that might sound.”

Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School who supports the death penalty in some cases, disagrees. He has met and spoken with Mr. Holton several times as part of a self-appointed mission to extract remorse from the condemned man. So far his mission, videotaped and audiotaped for posterity, has failed.

“I think he’s not ceding, or seeing, that he committed a monstrously despicable crime,” Mr. Blecker says.

Time is nearly up. Corrections officers begin to hover. Hurriedly, Mr. Holton is asked whether he believes that he deserves to die for what he did. He answers in a way that continues to keep imminent things in the abstract.

“I’m taking myself out of the equation,” he says. “What I would say to you is that someone convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, with the aggravators that were found in my case, the aggravating circumstances — yes, that conviction is worthy of the death penalty.”

As Mr. Holton rises, his shackles chime. He says as he goes, “And good luck in your future endeavors.”

New Chapters in Summer’s Tales, From Paris to New Jersey

Our Towns
The New York Times
September 9, 2007

As summer fades to black, three updates — plus a late-breaking sports report — to summer tales from this space.

Leroy Varga, alas, didn’t make it.

The 80-year-old marathon man from Dover, N.J. (Our Towns, July 12), failed in his attempt to become the oldest person to complete the grueling Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur, in which contestants have to bicycle 750 miles through the French countryside in 90 hours.

He had figured he needed almost everything to go right to finish the trip. Instead, he ran into the Randonneur’s worst weather in memory, which inspired a newspaper headline reading: “Never as Cold Since 1970, Never as Wet Since 1950.” Cycling through 35-mile-an-hour winds, in a relentless downpour and temperatures around 50 degrees, shivering uncontrollably and weathering a bout of heart arrhythmia, he packed it in after going about 200 miles in 18 hours. As a reward, he got to pedal the 200 miles back to Paris.

It turned out he had plenty of company. About 28 percent of the cyclists who entered failed to finish, the highest rate in memory and about double that of most years. Back in New Jersey, he’s now on a much more leisurely cycling regimen, 50- or 60-mile trips instead of the 130-mile-a-day trips he made while training for the Randonneur.

Before he left for Paris, he figured this was his last shot at the Randonneur, held every four years. He says his responsibilities at home make it very hard to consider trying again. Still, sounding like a potential presidential candidate, he said he can’t imagine doing it. But if he were able to find the time to train, and if he felt as good as or better than he does now, well, who knows? “I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s not likely,” he said.

With the stakes much, much higher, Richard Lapointe didn’t make it either. Mr. Lapointe (Our Towns, July 15) is the mentally impaired man in Connecticut serving a life term for the 1987 rape and murder of his former wife’s grandmother. Over the years, a loyal core of supporters, saying he could not have committed the crime, have championed his innocence. Mr. Lapointe is now represented by Centurion Ministries, which has had enormous success in freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners.

Despite new testimony backing up his alibi from his ex-wife, who did not testify at his trial, a long-awaited hearing in July came to an abrupt end when Judge Stanley T. Fuger Jr. agreed to consider a prosecution motion to dismiss efforts for a new trial.

He rejected the request for a new trial in a stinging decision on Aug. 2 that said Mr. Lapointe’s petition was an abuse of the legal system that failed to document claims of constitutional errors. His supporters plan to appeal and continue the fight. But they face the hurdle common to similar cases: Absent slam-dunk DNA evidence, an argument for innocence, no matter how compelling, is not necessarily the same thing as a compelling case for constitutional errors that would merit a new trial.

Things went much better for Roger Baker, the Leonardo da Vinci of the lawn mower, whose 850,000-square-foot Purple Heart medal mowed into a field in Orange County, N.Y. (Our Towns, Aug. 5), ended up having an extended run. Usually he does his creations (Elvis, Albert Einstein, Jimi Hendrix) and they are soon given over to the ravages of bugs, wind and growing grass. But this piece of field art was done on county land, and county crews are keeping it mowed according to his directions. They plan to keep the image well into the fall.

Meanwhile, Mr. Baker is already thinking ahead. A huge fan of Luciano Pavarotti, whose music is often playing in his studio, Mr. Baker is already poring over photos and trying out sketches in hopes of cutting a giant Pavarotti next September on the first anniversary of the tenor’s death. His ideal canvas would be Central Park. But he’s open to whatever options present themselves. “It would really be a challenge to get it right, because of who he is and what it is , but I don’t know. Hudson Valley? Modena, Italy? Anywhere it’s supposed to be, that’s where I’ll do it. I just mow the lawn. It’s what I do.”

Oh, and the lost boys of summer, the Can-Am Grays of the Can-Am League (Our Towns, July 26), finally got to go home. Despite playing a full season of just road games from late May to early September, they delighted spouses, moms and any other fans with an impressive 24-23 record for the second half of the season. But it wasn’t enough to join the North Shore Spirit, Atlantic City Surf, Nashua Pride and New Jersey Jackals in the Can-Am playoffs.

Best wishes for a few more weeks of summer to the game-but-tired Grays, and to us all.


Decoding the Style of Federer’s Game

Sports of The Times
September 9, 2007

In his Eddie Haskell moments, Novak Djokovic can mimic Maria Sharapova down to the way she sweeps away imaginary bangs before every serve, and he can deliver a dead-on Rafael Nadal to include the Spaniard’s habitual tug of his Hanes.

But how do you impersonate an evolving image? How do you copy Roger Federer?

He is fluid, still creating new angles out of geometric impossibilities as he did to close out Nikolay Davydenko yesterday at the United States Open on his way to a 10th straight major final today.

“Some points he play like so good,” Davydenko said. “I don’t understand how you can.”

Federer is adaptable, able to mentally map an opponent, to zoom in with a mind that seems one part Google Earth.

“I don’t need to sit down and talk about an opponent for an hour,” Federer said. “Takes me 15 seconds. I know everything I need to know.”

In so many ways, he is like a fashion line — constantly rolling out a new him. There is the crested Great Gatsby blazer Federer wore at Wimbledon, and the tuxedo shorts he sported during his night matches at the Open.

These aren’t simply wardrobe changes, but this is a look at Federer in a mode of constant self-discovery.

“Maybe seven years ago, when I started to date Mirka, it was, oh, God, you know, I had jogging shoes and a pair of jeans,” Federer said in a recent interview. “That was it, you know. And maybe one T-shirt. I’d wear that out to dinner.

“Then, I started to really enjoy dressing up. What is my style? Is it a suit? Is it casual? What is it? I’m young now. So I can make mistakes with my choices. It’s a way to discover what I like, who I am.”

Djokovic has the task of dismantling an amorphous man, a complicated talent. Is Federer the same Federer he upset in Montreal last month as the surprise Serb? You can tell that Djokovic, the master impersonator, can’t quite figure out Federer.

“Roger is too perfect,” Djokovic said in a YouTube clip of his Rich Little antics. “You cannot imitate him.”

He has tried, though. There is YouTube footage of his Federer attempt. There is proof that Djokovic has studied the ticks and quirks of Federer.

Djokovic, in many ways, is a reasonable facsimile of Federer in terms of his touch and speed, serve and versatility. He is a multitasker, just like Federer.

It makes for an intriguing final. This is the way it was supposed to be: the rising phenom vs. the establishment.

This is the way it had to be if you’re the United States Tennis Association. By dispatching Davydenko, Federer saved tennis from an awkward ending. Imagine a major final with all the scrutiny swirling around Davydenko, who is at the center of a match-fixing controversy triggered when a British Internet betting firm voided $7 million in wagers on one of his matches. Did the mob know Davydenko would retire in the middle of a match? Was it just a coincidence? Imagine the U.S.T.A. searching Davydenko’s box today for Sopranos-like figures.

Instead, the class clown will play best in class.

“I’d like to know if Roger is carbon-based like the rest of us,” the CBS analyst Mary Carillo said in an interview before the Open. “I’m not sure he has a navel. It’s like you need proof he’s human.”

Djokovic has the chance to uncover Federer’s faults. Federer doesn’t take any threat lightly. He is more protective of his history the closer he gets to making it. He is one final victory away from 12 majors, two short of Pete Sampras’s record. The burden has created pressure for Federer.

“It’s not like I’m 25 away from Pete Sampras,” Federer said. “I’m so close. So I think about it.”

Djokovic is so far away. He is new to this. If he can deal with the moment, Djokovic will be free to come out swinging, with nothing to lose.

“I’m not trying to look at Roger,” Djokovic said. “Roger has his own career, his own life. I have my own thing. We are two different personalities.”

True, Federer is more wry. Djokovic’s humor is overt — a Chevy Chase type in love with physical comedy. At 26, Federer is an adult. At 20, Djokovic is working on it.

Federer plays to sophisticated audiences. He is close friends with Tiger Woods, icon of the globe, and Anna Wintour, the fashion stickler of Vogue. Djokovic goofs around with his locker-room pals, nameless players who egg him on to be a ham.

Yes, Djokovic has pulled some impressive upsets — and he has earned his No. 3 seeding — but it is hard to take him seriously. Is he for real? Or just a copycat?

“Actually, I need to say in the last two days the people were more congratulating me for the impressions than for my tennis,” Djokovic said. “I was wondering, guys, am I here for the impersonations, entertaining, or to play tennis?”

Can Djokovic impersonate a fluid champion?


Sisters of the World United 50 Years After Gibson

Sports of The Times
September 9, 2007

Exactly 50 years ago yesterday, Althea Gibson became the first African-American to win the American tennis championship, receiving a trophy from Vice President Richard M. Nixon.

It was her second major celebrity encounter of the season. In early summer she had received the Wimbledon trophy from none other than Queen Elizabeth — not a bad season for a woman from uptown.

After winning in America, Gibson spoke from her heart and from her pocketbook, saying, “After all, I’ve got to start earning a living,” a reference to the prevailing pretense of amateurism, with its meager under-the-table payoffs.

Now, 50 years later, Gibson’s spiritual descendants have been earning a living at the tournament, now known as the United States Open — open referring to the coffers.

It is fair to say that Gibson, who died in 2003 at age 76, would recognize as her spiritual heirs not only the African-American sisters Serena and Venus Williams, but also the trim Justine Henin and the husky Svetlana Kuznetsova, who were to meet in the women’s final at the Open last night.

The presence of a Belgian and a Russian surely caused conniptions for CBS, which would have much preferred to show the two American sisters or the glamorous and don’t you forget it Maria Sharapova from that posh Russian tennis resort of Bradenton-on-Gulf.

None of them were available, having lost in the tournament that would pay $1.4 million to last night’s winner — a full $1.4 million more than Gibson earned exactly half a century ago. Henin had already earned $2,716,410 this year, while Kuznetsova had earned $1,167,109.

Gibson’s spiritual daughters run in all sizes and shapes, colors and humors, running into various expectations in this theoretically more enlightened age. The Williams sisters annoy some people with their self-preoccupation, but then again Henin turns off some fans because of her tense demeanor and a few past examples of gamesmanship, the type that made icons of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. Can’t please everybody.

Gibson ran into the perceptions of her own generation. After her great triumph in 1957, The New York Times used words like “lithe” and “muscular” and “saunters.” She was said to display “little emotion” and demonstrated a “powerful net attack” and was said to be “too strong” for her opponent in the semifinal, Dorothy Knode, who was described as “tenacious.”

These days it is somewhat more acceptable for Henin to be a driven jock with a killer one-handed backhand. Looking like a waif with her oversized ball cap and rather spartan outfit, Henin whacked sister Serena in the quarterfinals and sister Venus in the semifinals.

Half a century past the time when Gibson expressed gratitude for being allowed into the white enclave, the Williamses behave exactly as they want, even if they are criticized for it. Serena was a tad grumpy after her loss to Henin but no more than Andy Roddick was after losing yet again to Roger Federer one night later. Apparently, white men still get more leeway in the churlishness department.

After losing to Henin on Friday, Venus answered all the questions peppered at her by reporters about the trainer’s visit late in the match as well as her moments of lethargy. Her family is saying she may have anemia and they may have to check it out, but Venus did not push any alibis.

In this multicultural age of tennis, the tone is also set by people from different lands. On Sept. 11, 2004, two Russian finalists in prime time, Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva, mourned violence in both nations.

“Stay together and battle terrorism,” Dementieva told the crowd, referring to the horrors in the United States in 2001 as well as the more recent massacre of innocents at a school in Beslan, Russia, on Sept. 3, 2004.

In this Open, three of the most charismatic figures have come from war-ravaged Serbia. Novak Djokovic has not only been hilarious in his imitations of his peers but has been thoughtful in interviews, as have the two vanquished Serbs, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic.

With her warm smile, Jankovic captivated the crowd by applauding a few great shots by Venus, who beat her in the quarterfinals. Later, Jankovic said: “I think you have to have fun sometimes on the court. I don’t think you have to always be so serious like some of the players are. You have to enjoy it.”

Gibson might recognize Venus Williams’s stoic refusal to go easily in several taut matches. Asked if she had faith in her ability to bounce back, Venus said quickly, “Always.”

Questioned about her health on Friday, Venus said: “I don’t see any unfortunate circumstances in anything in life. I just feel fortunate to be here.” Going into this Open, Venus had career earnings of $17,801,117, a heritage from Althea Gibson. With her frank faith in professionalism — not that she ever made much money for herself — Gibson opened the door for all her sisters to make a living.


Heard the One About Al Franken, Senate Candidate?

Comedian Plays It Straight In Minnesota Campaign;
GOP Has Video Footage

The Wall Street Journal
September 7, 2007; Page A1

MINNEAPOLIS -- A man walks into a political campaign and calls his opponent for high public office the president's lackey -- no, actually, he says something cruder, more insulting.

Could that help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate?

The man is Al Franken, the 56-year-old former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and the bane of conservative talk-radio. The campaign is for the Senate seat now held by Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman.

And the question is no joke. Mr. Coleman is widely considered one of the Senate's most vulnerable members. His defeat would help secure the Democrats' control of the closely divided Senate.

Mr. Franken still needs to win the Democratic nomination before he can face Mr. Coleman. But with 15 months to go before the general election, he's competitive in the opinion polls. He has raised more money than Mr. Coleman has, with the help of contributors including comedians Dan Aykroyd and Robin Williams and cartoonist Garry Trudeau. His $3.3 million war chest puts him among the year's top congressional fund-raisers.

But in a 30-year comedy career, much of Mr. Franken's humor has been bawdy and crude -- not the tight-lipped chuckles that Minnesotans tend to favor, says University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs.

Mr. Franken is known for "the kind of trash talk and potty mouth that people find offensive," he adds. "I can imagine a whole line of attack ads," Mr. Jacobs says, and "all of a sudden, the challenger is on the defensive."

Mr. Franken has a ready response. "People should give Minnesotans credit for knowing what a joke is and what it isn't," he says before launching into examples of what a joke isn't, including the Iraq war, veterans' care and congressional earmarks.

Lorne Michaels, the producer of "Saturday Night Live," adds that Mr. Franken's humor isn't out of step with a generation that grew up watching the show and its irreverent take on authority. "Nothing in his résumé seems that unusual if you're in the baby boom," he says.

Still, the Republican party isn't wasting time. Minutes after Mr. Franken declared his candidacy in February, the party released four pages of what it called Mr. Franken's "mean-spirited and divisive partisan" remarks. Among them: Mr. Franken's statement, in a New Statesman magazine interview last fall, that Mr. Coleman is "one of the administration's leading b- boys."

Mr. Coleman calls the slur "out-of-control vitriol." Mr. Franken says, "It was meant as a joke. I should have used 'lap dog' and I've said I will use 'lap dog' from now on."

Among the Republicans' other examples: a proposal to raise money by raffling off former Attorney General Janet Reno as a lap dancer or blasting oldsters into space on pay-per-view TV. "It was hyperbole," Mr. Franken says now.

A Republican Party "tracker" also has been following Mr. Franken, videotaping his speeches and casual banter with voters. "Every once in a while, I don't do a joke I might have," Mr. Franken says, because of the tracker, a 21-year-old Duluth college student. Mark Drake, a Minnesota Republican spokesman, says the party is "gathering footage" on Mr. Franken.

That intense focus on his humor presents a problem for Mr. Franken, whose campaign crowds seem to expect a laugh or two. In a Franken appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" last year, Mr. Letterman raised what he called "the potential conflict between your comedic instinct versus political instinct," as he urged Mr. Franken to tell a particularly bawdy joke.

"If you were going to ever run for the Senate, you wouldn't tell it," Mr. Franken said of the joke, which he persuaded Mr. Letterman to tell instead.

Mr. Franken says his humor was political but nonpartisan during the 15 years he wrote for "Saturday Night Live." That changed in 1995, he says, when the Republicans began to pare funding for social programs while also portraying themselves as the party of family values.

His response was to write a string of books -- starting with "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" -- that relentlessly needled Republican Party luminaries and conservative talk-radio. He signed on as a talk-show host on the liberal Air America radio network, where he honed his outrage. He left that gig in February.

Two years ago, he began planning a run for the Senate seat that Mr. Coleman won in 2002 after the death, in a plane crash, of Mr. Franken's political idol, Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone. Mr. Franken moved from New York to Minneapolis where he had grown up as the son of a printing salesman, and spent a year headlining local-level party events.

He now runs his campaign from his downtown Minneapolis house. A billboard across the street advertises conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity, who is a regular object of Mr. Franken's scorn.

Mr. Franken's chances of winning Mr. Coleman's seat are helped by the revival of the Democrats' liberal base, whose politics neatly mirror his own. He is also helped by Mr. Coleman's support for the Iraq war and for President Bush, who headlined a Coleman fund-raiser last month.

In a July poll, market researcher SurveyUSA reported that Mr. Coleman led Mr. Franken by just seven percentage points, down from 22 points five months earlier.

Mr. Coleman attributes his declining poll numbers to voter "cynicism and frustration" and defends his support for the war as doing "what I think is right." He defends his ties to the president by insisting that "those relationships benefit Minnesota," citing as an example the quick federal commitment to rebuild the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed in August.

Mr. Franken isn't in for an easy race, though. His chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Michael Ciresi, did just as well in a two-way SurveyUSA match-up with Mr. Coleman. And Mr. Coleman already is attacking Mr. Franken for his support among "Hollywood ultra-liberals," although Mr. Franken also claims to have 42,000 other donors who have given him an average $65 each.

But mostly, there's Mr. Franken's long comic career -- all of it written or recorded and much of it directed at the Republicans he will have to work with should he be elected. "If you ask Minnesotans if this is the voice they want to represent them...," Mr. Coleman says, his voice trailing off to suggest that he thinks they don't.

Indeed, in a Minnesota Public Radio survey in May, 40% of the people who said they had heard of Mr. Franken said they had an unfavorable opinion of him.

"A candidate who's pretty vanilla might be what voters are looking for," says the University of Minnesota's Mr. Jacobs. That could be especially true given Minnesotans' election of Jesse "The Body" Ventura as governor in 1998. Mr. Ventura, the former professional wrestler, became the target of jokes -- many by Mr. Franken -- until he announced he wouldn't seek re-election.

These days, on the campaign trail, Mr. Franken offers only a few corny jokes. "I've been married 31 years, many of them happy," he told a group of Democratic picnickers in Oakdale, a Minneapolis suburb, on a recent Saturday as his wife sat gamely nearby.

After a few wheezes, Mr. Franken's stump speech quickly gives way to indignation over the Iraq war and government spending on veterans, health and education. That message got a warm reception -- followed by requests for Mr. Franken's autograph and queries about other comedians of his acquaintance.

"He's Paul Wellstone returned," said Tom Olson, a retired pharmacist who attended a Chisago County party picnic later in the day. "Wellstone stood for stuff and Al Franken is like that."

Mr. Franken faces months more of these picnics, barbecues, spaghetti dinners -- what he calls "bean feeds."

"I'm having a gas," he sometimes tells picnickers during an event. But he didn't serve up the gag to the dozen picnickers at Oakdale. The campaign is "energizing," he told them: "I love it."

Imminent Crises: Threats and Opportunities

by Noam Chomsky
Monthly Review
June 2007

Regrettably, there are all too many candidates that qualify as imminent and very serious crises. Several should be high on everyone’s agenda of concern, because they pose literal threats to human survival: the increasing likelihood of a terminal nuclear war, and environmental disaster, which may not be too far removed. However, I would like to focus on narrower issues, those that are of greatest concern in the West right now. I will be speaking primarily of the United States, which I know best, and it is the most important case because of its enormous power. But as far as I can ascertain, Europe is not very different.

The area of greatest concern is the Middle East. There is nothing novel about that. I often have to arrange talks years in advance. If I am asked for a title, I suggest “The Current Crisis in the Middle East.” It has yet to fail. There’s a good reason: the huge energy resources of the region were recognized by Washington sixty years ago as a “stupendous source of strategic power,” the “strategically most important area of the world,” and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”1 Control over this stupendous prize has been a primary goal of U.S. policy ever since, and threats to it have naturally aroused enormous concern.

For years it was pretended that the threat was from the Russians, the routine pretext for violence and subversion all over the world. In the case of the Middle East, we do not have to consider this pretext, since it was officially abandoned. When the Berlin Wall fell, the first Bush administration released a new National Security Strategy, explaining that everything would go as before but within a new rhetorical framework. The massive military system is still necessary, but now because of the “technological sophistication of third world powers”—which at least comes closer to the truth—the primary threat, worldwide, has been indigenous nationalism. The official document explained further that the United States would maintain its intervention forces aimed at the Middle East, where “the threat to our interests” that required intervention “could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door,” contrary to decades of fabrication.2 As is normal, all of this passed without comment.

The most serious current problem in the minds of the population, by far, is Iraq. And the easy winner in the competition for the country that is the most feared is Iran, not because Iran really poses a severe threat, but because of a drumbeat of government-media propaganda. That is a familiar pattern. The most recent example is Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was virtually announced in September 2002. As we now know, the U.S.-British invasion was already underway in secret. In that month, Washington initiated a huge propaganda campaign, with lurid warnings by Condoleezza Rice and others that the next message from Saddam Hussein would be a mushroom cloud in New York City. Within a few weeks, the government-media propaganda barrage had driven Americans completely off the international spectrum. Saddam may have been despised almost everywhere, but it was only in the United States that a majority of the population were terrified of what he might do to them, tomorrow. Not surprisingly, support for the war correlated very closely with such fears. That has been achieved before, in amazing ways during the Reagan years, and there is a long and illuminating earlier history. But I will keep to the current monster being crafted by the doctrinal system, after a few words about Iraq.

There is a flood of commentary about Iraq, but very little reporting. Journalists are mostly confined to fortified areas in Baghdad, or embedded within the occupying army. That is not because they are cowards or lazy, but because it is simply too dangerous to be anywhere else. That has not been true in earlier wars. It is an astonishing fact that the United States and Britain have had more trouble running Iraq than the Nazis had in occupied Europe, or the Russians in their East European satellites, where the countries were run by local civilians and security forces, with the iron fist poised if anything went wrong but usually in the background. In contrast, the United States has been unable to establish an obedient client regime in Iraq, under far easier conditions.

Putting aside doctrinal blinders, what should be done in Iraq? Before answering, we should be clear about some basic principles. The major principle is that an invader has no rights, only responsibilities. The first responsibility is to pay reparations. The second responsibility is to follow the will of the victims. There is actually a third responsibility: to bring criminals to trial, but that obligation is so remote from the imperial mentality of Western culture that I will put it aside.

The responsibility to pay reparations to Iraqis goes far beyond the crime of aggression and its terrible aftermath. The United States and Britain have been torturing the population of Iraq for a long time. In recent history, both governments strongly supported Saddam Hussein’s terrorist regime through the period of his worst crimes, and long after the end of the war with Iran. Iran finally capitulated, recognizing that it could not fight the United States, which was, by then, openly participating in Saddam’s aggression—something that Iranians have surely not forgotten, even if Westerners have. Dismissing history is always a convenient stance for those who hold the clubs, but their victims usually prefer to pay attention to the real world. After the Iran-Iraq war, Washington and London continued to provide military equipment to their friend Saddam, including means to develop weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems. Iraqi nuclear engineers were even being brought to the United States for instruction in developing nuclear weapons in 1989, long after Saddam’s worst atrocities and Iran’s capitulation.

Immediately after the 1991 Gulf War, the United States and the United Kingdom returned to their support for Saddam when they effectively authorized him to use heavy military equipment to suppress a Shi’ite uprising that might well have overthrown the tyrant. The reasons were publicly explained. The New York Times reported that there was a “strikingly unanimous view” among the United States and its allies, Britain and Saudi Arabia, that “whatever the sins of the Iraqi leader, he offered the West and the region a better hope for his country’s stability than did those who have suffered his repression”; the term “stability” is a code word for “following orders.”3 New York Times chief diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman explained that “the best of all worlds” for Washington would be an “iron-fisted military junta” ruling Iraq just the way Saddam did. But lacking that option, Washington had to settle for second-best: Saddam himself. An unthinkable option—then and now—is that Iraqis should rule Iraq independently of the United States.

Then followed the murderous sanctions regime imposed by the United States and Britain, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, devastated Iraqi civilian society, strengthened the tyrant, and forced the population to rely on him for survival. The sanctions probably saved Saddam from the fate of other vicious tyrants, some quite comparable to him, who were overthrown from within despite strong support from the United States and United Kingdom to the end of their bloody rule: Ceausescu, Suharto, and quite a rogues gallery of others, to which new names are being added regularly. Again, all of this is boring ancient history for those who hold the clubs, but not for their victims, or for people who prefer to understand the world. All of those actions, and much more, call for reparations, on a massive scale, and the responsibility extends to others as well. But the deep moral-intellectual crisis of imperial culture prevents any thought of such topics as these.

The second responsibility is to obey the will of the population. British and U.S. polls provide sufficient evidence about that. The most recent polls find that 87 percent of Iraqis want a “concrete timeline for US withdrawal,” up from 76 percent in 2005.4 If the reports really mean Iraqis, as they say, that would imply that virtually the entire population of Arab Iraq, where the U.S. and British armies are deployed, wants a firm timetable for withdrawal. I doubt that one would have found comparable figures in occupied Europe under the Nazis, or Eastern Europe under Russian rule.

Bush-Blair and associates declare, however, that there can be no timetable for withdrawal. That stand in part reflects the natural hatred for democracy among the powerful, often accompanied by eloquent calls for democracy. The calls for democracy moved to center stage after the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so a new motive had to be invented for the invasion. The president announced the doctrine to great acclaim in November 2003, at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. He proclaimed that the real reason for the invasion was not Saddam’s weapons programs, as Washington and London had insistently claimed, but rather Bush’s messianic mission to promote democracy in Iraq, the Middle East, and elsewhere. The media and prominent scholars were deeply impressed, relieved to discover that the “liberation of Iraq” is perhaps the “most noble” war in history, as leading liberal commentators announced—a sentiment echoed even by critics, who objected that the “noble goal” may be beyond our means, and those to whom we are offering this wonderful gift may be too backward to accept it. That conclusion was confirmed a few days later by U.S. polls in Baghdad. Asked why the United States invaded Iraq, some agreed with the new doctrine hailed by Western intellectuals: 1 percent agreed that the goal was to promote democracy. Another 5 percent said that the goal was to help Iraqis.5 Most of the rest took for granted that the goals were the obvious ones that are unmentionable in polite society—the strategic-economic goals we readily attribute to enemies, as when Russia invaded Afghanistan or Saddam invaded Kuwait, but are unmentionable when we turn to ourselves.

But rejection of the popular will in Iraq goes far beyond the natural fear of democracy on the part of the powerful. Simply consider the policies that are likely to be pursued by an independent and more or less democratic Iraq. Iraqis may have no love for Iran, but they would doubtlessly prefer friendly relations with their powerful neighbor. The Shi’ite majority already has ties to Iran and has been moving to strengthen them. Furthermore, even limited sovereignty in Iraq has encouraged efforts by the harshly repressed Shi’ite population across the border in Saudi Arabia to gain basic rights and perhaps autonomy. That is where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil happens to be.

Such developments might lead to a loose Shi’ite alliance controlling the world’s major energy resources and independent of Washington, the ultimate nightmare in Washington—except that it might get worse: the alliance might strengthen its economic and possibly even military ties with China. The United States can intimidate Europe: when Washington shakes its fist, leading European business enterprises pull out of Iran. But China has a three-thousand-year history of contempt for the barbarians: they refuse to be intimidated.

That is the basic reason for Washington’s strategic concerns with regard to China: not that it is a military threat, but that it poses the threat of independence. If that threat is unacceptable for small countries like Cuba or Vietnam, it is certainly so for the heartland of the most dynamic economic region in the world, the country that has just surpassed Japan in possession of the world’s major financial reserves and is the world’s fastest growing major economy. China’s economy is already about two-thirds the size of that of the United States, by the correct measures, and if current growth rates persist, it is likely to close that gap in about a decade—in absolute terms, not per capita of course.

China is also the center of the Asian Energy Security Grid and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes the Central Asian countries, and just a few weeks ago, was joined by India, Iran, and Pakistan as observers, soon probably members. India is undertaking significant joint energy projects with China, and it might join the Energy Security Grid. Iran may as well, if it comes to the conclusion that Europe is so intimidated by the United States that it cannot act independently. If Iran turns to the East, it will find willing partners. A major conference on energy last September in Teheran brought together government officials and scholars from Iran, China, Pakistan, India, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Georgia, Venezuela, and Germany, planning an extensive pipeline system for the entire region and also more intensive development of energy resources. Bush’s recent trip to India, and his authorization of India’s nuclear weapons program, is part of the jockeying over how these major global forces will crystallize. A sovereign and partially democratic Iraq could be another contribution to developments that seriously threaten U.S. global hegemony, so it is not at all surprising that Washington has sought in every way to prevent such an outcome, joined by “the spear carrier for the pax americana,” as Blair’s Britain is described by Michael MccGwire in Britain’s leading journal of international affairs.6

If the United States were compelled to grant some degree of sovereignty to Iraq, and any of these consequences would ensue, Washington planners would be facing the collapse of one of their highest foreign policy objectives since the Second World War, when the United States replaced Britain as the world-dominant power: the need to control “the strategically most important area of the world.” What has been central to planning is control, not access, an important distinction. The United States followed the same policies long before it relied on a drop of Middle East oil, and would continue to do so if it relied on solar energy. Such control gives the United States “veto power” over its industrial rivals, as explained in the early postwar period by influential planners, and reiterated recently with regard to Iraq: a successful conquest of Iraq would give the United States “critical leverage” over its industrial rivals, Europe and Asia, as pointed out by Zbigniew Brzezinski, an important figure in the planning community. Vice President Dick Cheney made the same point, describing control over petroleum supplies as “tools of intimidation and blackmail”—when used by others.7 He went on to urge the dictatorships of Central Asia, Washington’s models of democracy, to agree to pipeline construction that ensures that the tools remain in Washington’s hands.

The thought is by no means original. At the dawn of the oil age almost ninety years ago, Britain’s first lord of the admiralty Walter Hume Long explained that “if we secure the supplies of oil now available in the world we can do what we like.”8 Woodrow Wilson also understood this crucial point. Wilson expelled the British from Venezuela, which by 1928 had become the world’s leading oil exporter, with U.S. companies then placed in charge. To achieve this goal, Wilson and his successors supported the vicious and corrupt dictator of Venezuela and ensured that he would bar British concessions. Meanwhile the United States continued to demand—and secure—U.S. oil rights in the Middle East, where the British and French were in the lead.

We might note that these events illustrate the actual meaning of the “Wilsonian idealism” admired by Western intellectual culture, and also provide the real meaning of “free trade” and the “open door.” Sometimes that is even officially acknowledged. When the post-Second World War global order was being shaped in Washington, a State Department memorandum on U.S. petroleum policy called for preserving absolute U.S. control of Western hemisphere resources “coupled with insistence upon the Open Door principle of equal opportunity for United States companies in new areas.”9 That is a useful illustration of “really existing free market doctrine”: What we have, we keep, closing the door to others; what we do not yet have, we take, under the principle of the Open Door. All of this illustrates the one really significant theory of international relations, the maxim of Thucydides: the strong do as they can, and the weak suffer as they must.

With regard to Iraq today, talk about exit strategies means very little unless these realities are confronted. How Washington planners will deal with these problems is far from clear. And they face similar problems elsewhere. Intelligence projections for the new millennium were that the United States would control Middle East oil as a matter of course, but would itself rely on more stable Atlantic Basin reserves: West African dictatorships’ and the Western hemisphere’s. But Washington’s postwar control of South America, from Venezuela to Argentina, is seriously eroding. The two major instruments of control have been violence and economic strangulation, but each weapon is losing its efficacy. The latest attempt to sponsor a military coup was in 2002, in Venezuela, but the United States had to back down when the government it helped install was quickly overthrown by popular resistance, and there was turmoil in Latin America, where democracy is taken much more seriously than in the West and overthrow of a democratically elected government is no longer accepted quietly. Economic controls are also eroding. South American countries are paying off their debts to the IMF—basically an offshoot of the U.S. Treasury department. More frightening yet to Washington, these countries are being aided by Venezuela. The president of Argentina announced that the country would “rid itself of the IMF.” Rigorous adherence to IMF rules had led to economic disaster, from which the country recovered by radically violating the rules. Brazil too had rid itself of the IMF, and Bolivia probably will as well, again aided by Venezuela. U.S. economic controls are seriously weakening.

Washington’s main concern is Venezuela, the leading oil producer in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that its reserves might be greater than Saudi Arabia’s if the price of oil stays high enough for exploitation of its expensive extra-heavy oil to become profitable. Extreme U.S. hostility and subversion has accelerated Venezuela’s interest in diversifying exports and investment, and China is more than willing to accept the opportunity, as it is with other resource-rich Latin American exporters. The largest gas reserves in South America are in Bolivia, which is now following much the same path as Venezuela. Both countries pose a problem for Washington in other respects. They have popularly elected governments. Venezuela leads Latin America in support for the elected government, increasing sharply in the past few years under Chávez. He is bitterly hated in the United States because of his independence and enormous popular support. Bolivia just had a democratic election of a kind next to inconceivable in the West. There were serious issues that the population understood very well, and there was active participation of the general population, who elected someone from their own ranks, from the indigenous majority. Democracy is always frightening to power centers, particularly when it goes too far beyond mere form and involves actual substance.

Commentary on what is happening reveals the nature of the fears. London’s Financial Times warned that President Evo Morales of Bolivia is becoming increasingly “authoritarian” and “undemocratic.” This is a serious concern to Western powers, who are dedicated to freedom and democracy everywhere. The proof of his authoritarian stance and departure from democratic principles is that he followed the will of 95 percent of the population and nationalized Bolivia’s gas resources, and is also gaining popularity by cutting public salaries and eliminating corruption. Morales’s policies have come to resemble the frightening leader of Venezuela. As if the popularity of Chávez’s elected government was not proof enough that he is an anti-democratic dictator, he is attempting to extend to Bolivia the same programs he is instituting in Venezuela: helping “Bolivia’s drive to stamp out illiteracy and pay[ing] the wages of hundreds of Cuban doctors who have been sent to work there” among the poor, to quote the Financial Times’ lament.10

The latest Bush administration’s National Security Strategy, released March 2006, describes China as the greatest long-term threat to U.S. global dominance. The threat is not military, but economic. The document warns that Chinese leaders are not only “expanding trade, but acting as if they can somehow ‘lock up’ energy supplies around the world or seek to direct markets rather than opening them up.”11 In the U.S.-China meetings in Washington a few weeks ago, President Bush warned President Hu Jintao against trying to “lock up” global supplies. Bush condemned China’s reliance on oil from Sudan, Burma, and Iran, accusing China of opposition to free trade and human rights—unlike Washington, which imports only from pure democracies that worship human rights, like Equatorial Guinea, one of the most vicious African dictatorships; Colombia, which has by far the worst human rights record in Latin America; Central Asian states; and other paragons of virtue. No respectable person would accuse Washington of “locking up” global supplies when it pursues its traditional “open door policy” and outright aggression to ensure that it dominates global energy supplies, firmly holding “the tools of intimidation and blackmail.” It is interesting, perhaps, that none of this elicits ridicule in the West, or even notice.

The lead story in the New York Times on the Bush-Hu meeting reported that “China’s appetite for oil also affects its stance on Iran....The issue [of China’s effort to ‘lock up’ global supplies] is likely to come to a particular head over Iran,” where China’s state-owned oil giant signed a $70 billion deal to develop Iran’s huge Yadavaran oil field.12 That’s a serious matter, compounded by Chinese interference even in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. client state since the British were expelled during the Second World War. This relationship now threatened by growing economic and even military ties between China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, now China’s largest trading partner in West Asia and North Africa—perhaps further proof of China’s lack of concern for democracy and human rights. When President Hu visited Washington, he was denied a state dinner, in a calculated insult. He cheerfully reciprocated by going directly to Saudi Arabia, a serious slap in the face to Washington that was surely not misunderstood.

This is the barest sketch of the relevant global context over what to do in Iraq. But these critical matters are scarcely mentioned in the ongoing debate about the problem of greatest concern to Americans. They are barred by a rigid doctrine. It is unacceptable to attribute rational strategic-economic thinking to one’s own state, which must be guided by benign ideals of freedom, justice, peace, and other wonderful things. That leads back again to a very severe crisis in Western intellectual culture, not of course unique in history, but with dangerous portent.

We can be confident that these matters, though excluded from public discussion, engage the attention of planners. Governments typically regard their populations as a major enemy, and keep them in ignorance of what is happening to them and planned for them. Nevertheless, we can speculate. One reasonable speculation is that Washington planners may be seeking to inspire secessionist movements that the United States can then “defend” against the home country. In Iran, the main oil resources are in the Arab areas adjacent to the Gulf, Iran’s Khuzestan—and sure enough, there is now an Ahwazi liberation movement of unknown origin, claiming unspecified rights of autonomy. Nearby, Iraq and the gulf states provide a base for U.S. military intervention.

The U.S. military presence in Latin America is increasing substantially. In Venezuela, oil resources are concentrated in Zulia province near Colombia, the one reliable U.S. land base in the region, a province that is anti-Chávez and already has an autonomy movement, again of unknown origins. In Bolivia, the gas resources are in richer eastern areas dominated by elites of European descent that bitterly oppose the government elected by the indigenous majority, and have threatened to secede. Nearby Paraguay is another one of the few remaining reliable land bases for the U.S. military. Total military and police assistance now exceeds economic and social aid, a dramatic reversal of the pattern during Cold War years. The U.S. military now has more personnel in Latin America than most key civilian federal agencies combined, again a sharp change from earlier years. The new mission is to combat “radical populism”—the term that is regularly used for independent nationalism that does not obey orders. Military training is being shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon, freeing it from human rights and democracy conditionality under congressional supervision—which was always weak, but had some effects that constrained executive violence.

The United States is a global power, and its policies should not be viewed in isolation, any more than those of the British Empire. Going back half a century, the Eisenhower administration identified three major global problems: Indonesia, North Africa, and the Middle East—all oil producers, all Islamic. In all cases, the concern was independent nationalism. The end of French rule in Algeria resolved the North African problem. In Indonesia, the 1965 Suharto coup removed the threat of independence with a huge massacre, which the CIA compared to the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. The “staggering mass slaughter,” as the New York Times described it, was greeted in the West with unconcealed euphoria and relief.13 The military coup destroyed the only mass-based political party, a party of the poor, slaughtered huge numbers of landless peasants, and threw the country open to Western exploitation of its rich resources, while the large majority tries to survive in misery. Two years later, the major problem in the Middle East was resolved with Israel’s destruction of the Nasser regime, hated by the United States and Britain, which feared that secular nationalist forces might seek to direct the vast energy resources of the region to internal development. A few years earlier, U.S. intelligence had warned of popular feelings that oil is a “national patrimony” exploited by the West by unjust arrangements imposed by force. Israel’s service to the United States, its Saudi ally, and the energy corporations confirmed the judgment of U.S. intelligence in 1958 that a “logical corollary” of opposition to Arab nationalism is reliance on Israel as “the only strong pro-Western power in the Middle East,” apart from Turkey, which established a close military alliance with Israel in 1958, within the U.S. strategic framework.14

The U.S.-Israeli alliance, unique in world affairs, dates from Israel’s 1967 military conquests, reinforced in 1970 when Israel barred possible Syrian intervention in Jordan to protect Palestinians who were being slaughtered during Black September. Such intervention by Syria was regarded in Washington as a threat to its ally Jordan and, more important, to the oil-producers that were Washington’s clients. U.S. aid to Israel roughly quadrupled. The pattern is fairly consistent since, extending to secondary Israeli services to U.S. power outside the Middle East, particularly in Latin America and southern Africa. The system of domination has worked quite well for the people who matter. Energy corporation profits are breaking all records. High-tech (including military) industry has lucrative ties with Israel, as do the major financial institutions, and Israel serves virtually as an offshore military base and provider of equipment and training. One may argue that other policies would have been more beneficial to the concentrations of domestic power that largely determine policy, but they seem to find these arrangements quite tolerable. If they did not, they could easily move to terminate them. And in fact, when there are conflicts between U.S. and Israeli state power, Israel naturally backs down; exports of military technology to China are a recent example, when the Bush administration went out of its way to humiliate Israel after it was initially reluctant to follow the orders of what Israeli commentator Aluf Benn calls “the boss-man called ‘partner.’”

Let us turn next to Iran and its nuclear programs. Until 1979, Washington strongly supported these programs. During those years, of course, a brutal tyrant installed by the U.S.-U.K. military coup that overthrew the Iranian parliamentary government ruled Iran. Today, the standard claim is that Iran has no need for nuclear power, and therefore must be pursuing a secret weapons program. Henry Kissinger explained that “For a major oil producer such as Iran, nuclear energy is a wasteful use of resources.” As secretary of state thirty years ago, Kissinger held that “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals,” and the United States acted to assist the Shah’s efforts. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, the leading planners of the second Bush administration, worked hard to provide the Shah with a “complete ‘nuclear fuel cycle’—reactors powered by and regenerating fissile materials on a self-sustaining basis. That is precisely the ability the current administration is trying to prevent Iran from acquiring today.” U.S. universities were arranging to train Iranian nuclear engineers, doubtless with Washington’s approval, if not initiative; including my own university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, despite overwhelming student opposition. Kissinger was asked about his reversal, and he responded with his usual engaging frankness: “They were an allied country.”15 So therefore they had a genuine need for nuclear energy, pre-1979, but have no such need today.

The Iranian nuclear programs, as far as is known, fall within its rights under Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which grants non-nuclear states the right to produce fuel for nuclear energy. The Bush administration argues, however, that Article IV should be strengthened, and I think that makes sense. When the NPT came into force in 1970, there was a considerable gap between producing fuel for energy and for nuclear weapons. But with contemporary technology, the gap has been narrowed. However, any such revision of Article IV would have to ensure unimpeded access for nonmilitary use, in accord with the initial bargain. A reasonable proposal was put forth by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency: that all production and processing of weapon-usable material be under international control, with “assurance that legitimate would-be users could get their supplies.”16 That should be the first step, he proposed, towards fully implementing the 1993 UN resolution calling for a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (called FISSBAN, for short), which bans production of fissile materials by individual states. ElBaradei’s proposal was dead in the water. The U.S. political leadership, surely in its current stance, would never agree to this delegation of sovereignty. To date, ElBaradei’s proposal has been accepted by only one state, to my knowledge: Iran, last February. That suggests one way to resolve the current crisis—in fact, a far more serious crisis: continued production of fissile materials by individual states is likely to doom humanity to destruction.

Washington also strenuously opposes a verifiable FISSBAN treaty, regarded by specialists as the “most fundamental nuclear arms control proposal,” according to Princeton arms control specialist Frank von Hippel.17 Despite U.S. opposition, in November 2004, the UN Disarmament Committee voted in favor of a verifiable FISSBAN. The vote was 147 to 1, with 2 abstentions: Israel, which is reflexive, and Britain, which is more interesting. British ambassador John Freeman explained that Britain supported the treaty, but could not vote for this version, because he said it “divides the international community”—divided it 147 to 1.18 A later vote in the full General Assembly was 179 to 2, Israel and Britain again abstaining. The United States was joined by Palau.

We gain some insight into the ranking of survival of the species among the priorities of the leadership of the hegemonic power and its spear carrier.

In 2004, the European Union (EU) and Iran reached an agreement on nuclear issues: Iran agreed to temporarily suspend its legal activities of uranium enrichment, and the EU agreed to provide Iran with “firm commitments on security issues.” As everyone understands, the phrase “security issues” refers to the very credible U.S.-Israeli threats and preparations to attack Iran. These threats, a serious violation of the UN Charter, are no small matter for a country that has been tortured for fifty years without a break by the global superpower, which now occupies the countries on Iran’s borders, not to speak of the client state that is the regional superpower.

Iran lived up to its side of the bargain, but the EU, under U.S. pressure, rejected its commitments. Iran finally abandoned the bargain as well. The preferred version in the West is that Iran broke the agreement, proving that it is a serious threat to world order.

In May 2003, Iran had offered to discuss the full range of security matters with the United States, which refused, preferring to follow the same course it did with North Korea. On taking office in January 2001, the Bush administration withdrew the “no hostile intent” condition of earlier agreements and proceeded to issue serious threats, while also abandoning promises to provide fuel oil and a nuclear reactor. In response, North Korea returned to developing nuclear weapons, the roots of another current crisis. All predictable, and predicted.

There are ways to mitigate and probably end these crises. The first is to call off the threats that are virtually urging Iran (and North Korea) to develop nuclear weapons. One of Israel’s leading military historians, Martin van Creveld, wrote that if Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, then they are “crazy,” immediately after Washington demonstrated that it will attack anyone it likes as long as they are known to be defenseless.19 So the first step towards ending the crisis would be to call off the threats that are likely to lead potential targets to develop a deterrent—where nuclear weapons or terror are the only viable options.

A second step would be to join with other efforts to reintegrate Iran into the global economy. A third step would be to join the rest of the world in accepting a verifiable FISSBAN treaty, and to join Iran in accepting ElBaradei’s proposal, or something similar—and I repeat that the issue here extends far beyond Iran, and reaches the level of human survival. A fourth step would be to live up to Article VI of the NPT, which obligates the nuclear states to take “good faith” efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, a binding legal obligation, as the World Court determined. None of the nuclear states have lived up to that obligation, but the United States is far in the lead in violating it—again, a very serious threat to human survival. Even steps in these directions would mitigate the upcoming crisis with Iran. Above all, it is important to heed the words of Mohamed ElBaradei: “There is no military solution to this situation. It is inconceivable. The only durable solution is a negotiated solution.”20 And it is within reach. Similar to the Iraq war: a war against Iran appears to be opposed by the military and U.S. intelligence, but might well be undertaken by the civilian planners of the Bush administration: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and a few others, an unusually dangerous collection.

There is wide agreement among prominent strategic analysts that the threat of nuclear war is severe and increasing, and that the threat can be eliminated by measures that are known and in fact legally obligatory. If such measures are not taken, they warn that “a nuclear exchange is ultimately inevitable,” that we may be facing “an appreciable risk of ultimate doom,” an “Armageddon of our own making.”21 The threats are well understood, and they are being consciously enhanced. The Iraq invasion is only the most blatant example.

Clinton’s military and intelligence planners had called for “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment,” much in the way armies and navies did in earlier years, but now with a sole hegemon, which must develop “space-based strike weapons [enabling] the application of precision force from, to, and through space.” Such measures will be needed, they said, because “globalization of the world economy” will lead to a “widening economic divide” along with “deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation,” hence unrest and violence among the “have-nots,” much of it directed against the United States. The United States must therefore be ready to plan for a “precision strike from space [as a] counter to the worldwide proliferation of WMD” by unruly elements.22 That is a likely consequence of the recommended military programs, just as a “widening divide” is the anticipated consequence of the specific version of international integration that is misleadingly called “globalization” and “free trade” in the doctrinal system.

A word should be added about these notions. Both are terms of propaganda, not description. The term “globalization” is used for a specific form of international economic integration, designed—not surprisingly—in the interests of the designers: multinational corporations and the few powerful states to which they are closely linked. An opposing form of globalization is being pursued by groups that are far more representative of the world’s population, the mass global justice movements, which originated in the South but now have been joined by northern popular organizations and meet annually in the World Social Forum, which has spawned many regional and local social forums, concentrating on their own issues though within the same overarching framework. The global justice movements are an entirely new phenomenon, perhaps the seeds of the kind of international that has been the hope of the workers movements and the left since their modern origins. They are called “antiglobalization” in the reigning doctrinal systems, because they seek a form of globalization oriented towards the interests of people, not concentrated economic power—and unfortunately, they have often adopted this ridiculous terminology.

Official globalization is committed to so-called neoliberalism, also a highly misleading term: the regime is not new, and it is not liberal. Neoliberalism is essentially the policy imposed by force on the colonies since the eighteenth century, while the currently wealthy countries radically violated these rules, with extensive reliance on state intervention in the economy and resort to measures that are now banned in the international economic order. That was true of England and the countries that followed its path of protectionism and state intervention, including Japan, the one country of the South that escaped colonization and the one country that industrialized. These facts are widely recognized by economic historians.

A comparison of the United States and Egypt in the early nineteenth century is one of many enlightening illustrations of the decisive role of sovereignty and massive state intervention in economic development. Having freed itself from British rule, the United States was able to adopt British-style measures of state intervention, and developed. Meanwhile British power was able to bar anything of the sort in Egypt, joining with France to impose Lord Palmerston’s doctrine that “No ideas therefore of fairness towards Mehemet [Ali] ought to stand in the way of such great and paramount interests” as barring competition in the eastern Mediterranean.23 Palmerston expressed his “hate” for the “ignorant barbarian” who dared to undertake economic development. Historical memories resonate when, today, Britain and France, fronting for the United States, demand that Iran suspend all activities related to nuclear and missile programs, including research and development, so that nuclear energy is barred and the country that is probably under the greatest threat of any in the world has no deterrent to attack—attack by the righteous, that is. We might also recall that France and Britain played the crucial role in development of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Imperial sensibilities are delicate indeed.

Had it enjoyed sovereignty, Egypt might have undergone an industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. It shared many of the advantages of the United States, except independence, which allowed the United States to impose very high tariffs to bar superior British goods (textiles, steel, and others). The United States in fact became the world’s leader in protectionism until the Second World War, when its economy so overwhelmed anyone else’s that “free competition” was tolerable. After the war, massive reliance on the dynamic state sector became a central component of the U.S. economy, even more than it had been before, continuing right to the present. And the United States remains committed to protectionism, when useful. The most extreme protectionism was during the Reagan years—accompanied, as usual, by eloquent odes to liberalism, for others. Reagan virtually doubled protective barriers, and also turned to the usual device, the Pentagon, to overcome management failures and “reindustrialize America,” the slogan of the business press. Furthermore, high levels of protectionism are built into the so-called “free trade agreements,” designed to protect the powerful and privileged, in the traditional manner.

The same was true of Britain’s flirtation with “free trade” a century earlier, when 150 years of protectionism and state intervention had made Britain by far the world’s most powerful economy, free trade seemed an option, given that the playing field was “tilted” in the right direction, to adapt the familiar metaphor. But the British still hedged their bets. They continued to rely on protected markets, state intervention, and also devices not considered by economic historians. One such market was the world’s most spectacular narcotrafficking enterprise, designed to break into the China market, and also producing profits that financed the Royal Navy, the administration of conquered India, and the purchase of U.S. cotton—the fuel of the industrial revolution. U.S. cotton production was also based on radical state intervention: slavery, virtual extermination of the native population, and military conquest—almost half of Mexico, to mention one case relevant to current news. When Britain could no longer compete with Japan, it closed off the empire in 1932, followed by other imperial powers, a crucial part of the background for the Second World War. The truth about free trade and economic development has only a limited resemblance to the doctrines professed.

Throughout modern history, democracy and development have had a common enemy: the loss of sovereignty. In a world of states, it is true that decline of sovereignty entails decline of hope for democracy, and decline in ability to conduct social and economic policy. That in turn harms development, a conclusion well confirmed by centuries of economic history. The work of economic historian M. Shahid Alam is particularly enlightening in this respect. In current terminology, the imposed regimes are called neoliberal, so it is fair to say that the common enemy of democracy and development is neoliberalism. With regard to development, one can debate causality, because the factors in economic growth are so poorly understood. But correlations are reasonably clear. The countries that have most rigorously observed neoliberal principles, as in Latin America and elsewhere, have experienced a sharp deterioration of macroeconomic indicators as compared with earlier years. Those that have ignored the principles, as in East Asia, have enjoyed rapid growth. That neoliberalism harms democracy is understandable. Virtually every feature of the neoliberal package, from privatization to freeing financial flows, undermines democracy for clear and well-known reasons.

The crises we face are real and imminent, and in each case means are available to overcome them. The first step is understanding, then organization and appropriate action. This is the path that has often been followed in the past, bringing about a much better world and leaving a legacy of comparative freedom and privilege, for some at least, which can be the basis for moving on. Failure to do so is almost certain to lead to grim consequences, even the end of biology’s only experiment with higher intelligence.

1. See Aaron David Miller, Search for Security (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1980); Irvine Anderson, Aramco, the United States and Saudi Arabia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981); Michael Stoff, Oil, War and American Security (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980); Steven Spiegel, The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 51.
2. National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington DC: The White House, March 1990).
3. Alan Cowell, “Kurds Assert Few Outside Iraq Wanted Them to Win,” New York Times, April 11, 1991.
4. Nina Kamp and Michael E. O’Hanlon, “The State of Iraq,” New York Times, March 19, 2006.
5. Walter Pincus, “Skepticism About U.S. Deep, Iraq Poll Shows; Motive for Invasion Is Focus of Doubts,” Washington Post, November 12, 2003; Richard Burkholder, “Gallup Poll of Baghdad,” Government & Public Affairs, October 28, 2003.
6. Michael MccGwire, “The Rise and Fall of the NPT,” International Affairs 81 (January 2005): 134.
7. Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Hegemonic Quicksand,” National Interest 74 (Winter 2003/2004): 5-16; Stefan Wagstyl, “Cheney Rebukes Putin on Energy ‘Blackmail,’” Financial Times, May 4, 2006.
8. See Ian Rutledge, Addicted to Oil (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005).
9. See Multinational Oil Corporation and U.S. Foreign Policy, Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, January 2, 1975 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1975).
10. Hal Weitzman, “Nationalism Fuels Fears over Morales’ Power,” Financial Times, May 2, 2006.
11. National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington DC: The White House, March 2006), 41.
12. David E. Sanger, “China’s Rising Need for Oil Is High on U.S. Agenda,” New York Times, April 18, 2006.
13. Editorial, New York Times, August 25, 1966
14. Mark Curtis, The Great Deception (London: Pluto Press, 1998), 133.
15. Darna Linzer, “Past Arguments Don’t Square with Current Iran Policy,” Washington Post, March 27, 2005.
16. Mohamed ElBaradei, “Towards a Safer World,” The Economist, October 16, 2003.
17. Frank von Hippel, “Coupling a Moratorium To Reductions as a First Step toward the Fissile-Material Cutoff Treaty,” in Rakesh Sood, Frank von Hippel, and Morton Halperin, “The Road to Nuclear Zero,” Center for Advanced Study of India, 1998, 17.
18. See Rebecca Johnson, “2004 UN First Committee,” Disarmament Diplomacy 79 (April/May 2005), and Jean du Preez, “The Fissban,” Disarmament Diplomacy 79 (April/May 2005),
19. Martin van Creveld, “Sharon on the Warpath” International Herald Tribune, August 21, 2004.
20. Jeffrey Fleishman and Alissa Rubin, “ElBaradei Asks for Restraint on Iran Sanctions,” Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2006.
21. Michael MccGwire, “The Rise and Fall of the NPT,” International Affairs 81 (January 2005), 127; John Steinbruner and Nancy Gallagher, “Constructive Transformation,” Daedalus 133, no. 3 (Summer 2004): 99; Sam Nunn, “The Cold War’s Nuclear Legacy Has Lasted too Long,” Financial Times, December 6, 2004.
22. National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015 (Washington DC, December 2000); U.S. Space Command, Vision for 2020 (February 1997), 7; Pentagon, Quadrennial Defense Review, May 1997.
23. See Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 240; Harold Temperley, England and the Near East (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1936).

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