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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

What to Make of the 9/11 Commission's Report

Arthur Schrader writes in the pages of The Colonial Music Institute something that corrects a mistake -

On a March Allegedly Played by the British at Yorktown, 1781
Since 1881, a story has circulated among some Americans that the British played a march called "The World Turned Upside Down" (hereafter WTUD or Yorktown/WTUD) during their surrender at Yorktown in October 1781. Over the years this story has been accepted by more and more Americans (though without corroboration). After 1940 at least 33 American professional historians accepted the story and published it in their textbooks (still without corroboration). This seems to have encouraged several American novelists and one British poet, Robert Graves, to adopt the story and embroider it for their books.

What are the problems? First: The evidence that this happened is poor by any historical standard but historians haven't bothered to look. Second: Nearly one hundred years of professional cataloging of early Anglo-American music hasn't turned up a single eighteenth-century British tune or march called WTUD. (Writers who say there were several English WTUD tunes in the eighteenth-century are guessing from bad extrapolations). Third: Three different twentieth-century American groups have made strong claims for three different tunes, they call the Yorktown/WTUD but not one of these claims stands up to investigation.
And then Schrader goes on and explains at all in detail - and you can click on the link if you have a need to know more.

Well, no brass bands are current thumping away at "The World Turned Upside Down" - if there is such a tune at all - but they might as well be.

This 9/11 Commission issued a report that is messing with some heads, as they say.

Take the columnist David Brooks. He is one of them who is now saying odd things - the author of the best seller Bobos in Paradise and its new follow-up On Paradise Drive. Brooks has been the younger of the two token conservative columnists at the Times (the other is the senior William Safire) since September 2003 - after being the moderate, reasonable guy at the neoconservative pro-war Weekly Standard.

Note: see Just Above Sunset for June 20, 2004 - David Brooks: "Isn't it pretty to think so?" - a detailed discussion of Brooks' writing.

Anyway, last weekend in the Times Brooks went off the conservative reservation after he thought about what the commission was actually saying.

War of Ideology
David Brooks, The New York Times, July 24, 2004

Key observations?
We're not in the middle of a war on terror, they note. We're not facing an axis of evil. Instead, we are in the midst of an ideological conflict.

We are facing, the report notes, a loose confederation of people who believe in a perverted stream of Islam that stretches from Ibn Taimaya to Sayyid Qutb. Terrorism is just the means they use to win converts to their cause.

It seems like a small distinction - emphasizing ideology instead of terror - but it makes all the difference, because if you don't define your problem correctly, you can't contemplate a strategy for victory.

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

As an ideological movement rather than a national or military one, they can play by different rules. There is no territory they must protect. They never have to win a battle but can instead profit in the realm of public opinion from the glorious martyrdom entailed in their defeats. We think the struggle is fought on the ground, but they know the struggle is really fought on satellite TV, and they are far more sophisticated than we are in using it.
Whoa, Nellie! This from the man who said the war was wonderful - even if we screwed up everything quite badly since the fall of Baghdad - because it was the right thing to do.

Now he says, pretty clearly, maybe a war, in the conventional sense of a war - kill the bad guys and occupy their land - was a stunningly bad idea. Say what?

What should we have done? Well, he is now suggesting what we should do.
We ... need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive. The commissioners recommend that the U.S. should be much more critical of autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our principles. They suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own. If you are a philanthropist, here is how you can contribute: We need to set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce them to Western intellectuals.
Yeah, well. We could have done that in the first place.

And Brooks says this now-
... we need to see that the landscape of reality is altered. In the past, we've fought ideological movements that took control of states. Our foreign policy apparatus is geared toward relations with states: negotiating with states, confronting states. Now we are faced with a belief system that is inimical to the state system, and aims at theological rule and the restoration of the caliphate. We'll need a new set of institutions to grapple with this reality, and a new training method to understand people who are uninterested in national self-interest, traditionally defined.

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be military. The rest will be ideological.
What? Our experience over the last several years has been misleading? We've got a long struggle ahead, but at least we're beginning to understand it?

Hey, who misled us - and said it was simple? They were bad. We were good. They hate us. Conquer and occupy Iraq and things will be better. All else is nuance, of the French sort. You might point the finger at Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz. Or at David Brooks.

It would have been nice if we decided that a bit earlier. But we had the war.

And NOW we're supposed to consider what they think and how we can counter that by non-military means? Okay.

Better late than never. Don't expect the Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz troika buy that idea, David.


Caleb Carr - a professor of military history at Bard College and the author of "The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians" - takes up the topic four days after Brooks, with a different twist.

Wrong Definition For a War
Caleb Carr, The Washington Post, Wednesday, July 28, 2004; Page A19

Carr too does a riff on "The World Turned Upside Down" -
Toward the end of its widely praised report, the Sept. 11 commission offers a prescriptive chapter titled "What to Do?" There, it makes an assertion that is genuinely shocking. It says that in our current conflict, "the enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism [the report's emphasis] -- especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology."

... It seems almost incredible that we could have been at war this long without defining precisely who or what we are at war with. But such is the case, and it has never seemed an urgent matter to lawmakers. When I appeared before a congressional subcommittee studying strategies for the war on terrorism in 2002 and suggested that the first step should be the promulgation of just such a uniform definition, the members were momentarily dumbstruck. To their credit, they soon recovered and we began to discuss the issue, but a comprehensive definition of terrorism for the use of the American government and the education of the American people never emerged. Now, however, the president and his supporters are apparently ready to instantly approve the radical definition set forward by the commission.
Carr is doing a different riff on the theme of the apocryphal march. Carr doesn't say the war was the wrong way to meet the threat. He's saying we never really defined the threat at all - and the commission is finally doing that - even if they are doing it quite badly.

Well, it would be nice to define terrorism, precisely. Then we could work out, say, a plan to deal with it.

So, what do we do?
... first we must agree on an internationally acceptable definition. Certainly terrorism must include the deliberate victimization of civilians for political purposes as a principal feature -- anything else would be a logical absurdity. And yet there are powerful voices, in this country and elsewhere, that argue against such a definition. They don't want to lose the weapon of terror -- and they don't want to admit to having used it in the past. Should the United States assent to such a specific definition of terrorism, for example, it would have to admit that its fire-bombings of German and Japanese cities during World War II represented effective terrorism. On the other hand, few Muslim nations want to go up against the power of organized terrorist groups by declaring them de jure as well as de facto outlaws.
You see the problem.

Note: see Just Above Sunset - August 10, 2003 Mail: War Crimes - Or Just Standing Up for Yourself? - From Dresden to Tokyo to Inglewood to Baghdad - a discussion of such matters with comments from readers.

Well, Carr's issue is that the Commission's quick judgment that terrorism is too vague a term and Islamic extremists will do for now as a definition of "the problem we face" - well, that's just going to make things worse,
What the commission fails to see is that the word "extremist" (or "Islamist") is not what will be heard on the "Arab street," or indeed much of anywhere else in the world, when the new enemy is proclaimed. George Bush initially reacted to the Sept. 11 attacks by calling for a "crusade" against terrorism, but many Muslims heard only one word, "crusade," and they heard it in its historical rather than its rhetorical sense. The West, that word implied, is coming again to take control of Muslim nations and holy places, just as it did after the turn of the last millennium. The president later apologized for his thoughtlessness, but the damage had been done.

And now, when the Sept. 11 commission says that terrorism is no longer the enemy, that Islamist extremism has assumed that role, most Muslims are going to hear the same sort of threatening, generalized message, one constantly repeated by Osama bin Laden: The Americans are not really concerned with terrorism -- in fact, they've practiced it throughout their history; what they are embarked on is a war against Islam itself.
So what do we do?

We could convene an international conference to actually define what it is we are fighting. You know, get everyone on the same page. Make the whole thing a cooperative effort where everyone, at least all interested nations, gets a say in working out what we're trying to do, and to whom. Of course Dick Cheney might attend and tell each and every foreign leader, in his blunt, explicit way, to go... . Perhaps he should stay home, at his undisclosed location, being grumpy.

An international conference is unlikely. But the international conference idea has been floating around the Kerry camp - something they'd do first thing.

Of course, he will not be elected in November.


And what about Cheney? He's not budging. Leadership is standing firm on your positions. No matter how events, and facts, evolve. No flip-flops.

As the Democratic National Convention got underway in Boston, Cheney came out of hiding and spoke out here, down the coast at Camp Pendleton, the big marine complex out here. The Reuters report on that, via MSNBC, is here. Yes, it was counter-programming, so to speak.

His theme?

"Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness."

We keep fighting, militarily. All else is just stupid.

Juan Cole, the professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congress now and then, and pops up on the PBS "News Hour" every month or two, disagrees.

See Arguing with Cheney

Here's his history counterargument -
This statement is half right and half wrong. Some terrorist attacks are caused by the use of strength. For instance, the Shiites of southern Lebanon had positive feelings toward Israel before 1982. They were not very politically mobilized. Then the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied the South. They killed some 18,000 persons, 9,000 of them estimated to be innocent civilians. The Shiites of the South gradually turned against them and started hitting them to get them back out of their country. They formed Hizbullah and ultimately shelled Israel itself and engaged in terrorism in Europe and Argentina. So, Hizbullah terrorist attacks were certainly caused by Sharon's use of "strength."

On the other hand, it is the case that a perception of weakness can invite terrorist attacks by ambitious and aggressive enemies. Usamah Bin Laden recites a litany of instances in which the United States abruptly withdrew when attacked, and takes comfort in the idea of the US as a paper tiger. He instances Reagan's 1983 withdrawal from Beirut after the Marine barracks was bombed and Clinton's departure from Somalia after the Blackhawk Down incident.

The lesson I take away from all this is that the US should not get involved in places that it may get thrown out of, because that projects an image of weakness and vulnerability to the country's enemies. There was no way the United States could possibly have maintained a presence in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and Reagan was foolish to put those Marines in there, and even more foolish to put them in without pilons around them to stop truck bombs. The country was embroiled in a civil war, and it would have taken a massive commitment of troops to make a difference. In the wake of the Vietnam failure, the American public would not have countenanced such a huge troop build-up. Likewise, Bush senior was foolish to send those troops to Somalia in the way he did (which became a poison pill for his successor, Bill Clinton).

The question is whether the quagmire in Iraq makes the US look weak. The answer is yes. Therefore, by Cheney's own reasoning, it is a mistake that opens us to further attacks.
Ah, history can be so very irritating. And ambiguous.

Reuters - "Cheney said Americans were safer and he stood by prewar characterizations of Iraq as a threat despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and new warnings by Cheney and other administration officials that another major terrorist attack may be coming."

Juan Cole: -
Iraq was not a threat to the United States. Period. Let me repeat the statistics as of the late 1990s:

US population: 295 million
Iraq population: 24 million

US per capita annual income: $37,600
Iraq per capita annual income: $700

US nuclear warheads: 10,455
Iraq nuclear warheads: 0

US tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 31,496
Iraq tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 0

While a small terrorist organization could hit the US because it has no return address, a major state could not hope to avoid retribution and therefore would be deterred. Cheney knows that Baathist Iraq posed no threat to the US. He is simply lying. I was always careful not to accuse him of lying before the war because who knows what is in someone else's mind? Maybe he believed his own bullshit. But there is no longer any doubt that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no active nuclear weapons program, no ability to deliver anything lethal to the US homeland, and no operational cooperation with al-Qaeda. These things are not matters of opinion. They are indisputable. Ipso facto, if an intelligent person continues to allege them, he is prevaricating.

"President Bush is determined to remove threats before they arrive instead of simply awaiting for another attack on our country. So America acted to end the regime of Saddam Hussein . . . Sixteen months ago, Iraq was a gathering threat to the United States and the civilized world. Now it is a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror and the American people are safer for it."

I have never understood the phrase "civilized world." To what exactly does it refer? How do you get into it? Can you drop out of it? Is Germany in it? How about 1933-1945? Is Egypt in it? (Surely it helped invent "civilization"?)

But the more important point is that a) there was no threat to the United States from the regime of Saddam Hussein, and there certainly was no gathering threat. The Iraqi military was more dilapidated by the hour; and b) It is obvious any situation that kills and maims thousands of US servicemen and women every year is not "making us safer" (the troops are part of "us", Mr. Cheney).
I think Cole is upset.

Perhaps, should Kerry win the election in November, Cheney can lead the band playing a rousing chorus or two of "The World Turned Upside Down" at the inauguration in January.

Posted by Alan at 22:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 July 2004 22:17 PDT home

Topic: Election Notes

Boston ? What to do with the apolitical majority?

Anne Applebaum has a long, meandering column in the Post today that finally gets to the core issue with these political conventions. No one cares.

The Politicized And the Apolitical
Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post, Wednesday, July 28, 2004; Page A19

Here?s the key nugget -
But simply by virtue of being in Boston, the delegates to this convention and the Republican convention next month in New York really are oddballs. Not only do they know which party the president belongs to, they also know what his party, and their party, are supposed to stand for. And not only that, they feel very strongly about it. What they cannot seem to do is transmit those strong feelings to the rest of the country, and, in particular, to the sort of person who isn't quite sure whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican. Much is made of how "radical" delegates, left or right, find it difficult to appeal to "moderates" in the rest of the country. But the far knottier problem is how the politicized can appeal to the apolitical. Offstage, a frequent theme of Democratic officials here is the knotty question of how to "break through," how to "get out the message" about the budget deficit, or the remoter fields of foreign policy. One Kerry policy aide said they'd been talking about maybe spending less time with the "coastal" media, the Washington/New York/Los Angeles reporters, and concentrating harder on those places in between, where news coverage was a lot slimmer. Another wistfully reminisced about the time in 1992 when "two out of three networks" carried news of then-candidate Bill Clinton's manufacturing policy. Ah, those halcyon days.

Onstage, as at most recent conventions, the solution has been to make the proceedings look like something else. Old-timers always complain that "nothing happens" at conventions, but something is happening: A bunch of unusually politically motivated people have come together to present their candidate and his policies to the rest of the country -- and why not? Yet, instead of portraying that reality, the convention -- or at least, again, the parts on TV -- is at times made to seem like a rock concert, with cheering groupies, loud music and even cigarette lighters in the dark. At other times, it is made to look like a late-night talk show. Speakers walk on stage to a blast of canned music -- "New York State of Mind" for Hillary, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" for Bill -- and often get a Hollywood hug from the presenter, who is Glenn Close or someone of her ilk. At still other times, it feels like a one-sided sporting event, with chanting and a scoreboard-style video screen showing individual members of the crowd, who scream and wave when they see themselves screaming and waving.

It's a formula that may have outlived its usefulness.
I think she has it right. There are passionate conservatives who will appear in New York next month in support of endless war, occupation of uppity foreign nations and a Christian theocracy now. And the folks in Boston are equally passionate for ?social justice? and all the rest. But a whole lot of folks are just going to work and taking care of the kids and don?t care much one way or the other.

The conventions are not for them ? but whether Scott Peterson or Michael Jackson or Kobe Bryant goes to jail is for them. A just what will Martha Stewart be doing with her time in that minimum security Federal Prison?

Tim Rutten has a piece in the Los Angeles Times that touches on some of this. His issue is with how the media feed this apolitical world in which we live. The big three networks - ABC, a Disney property, CBS, which belongs to Viacom, and NBC, a division of General Electric ? are hardly covering the Boston convention at all. And the New York convention will be much that same in late August. He attributes this to, on their part, a ?growing inability to distinguish between the public's interest ? fascination with entertainment and celebrity ? and the public interest ? a deference to the common good.?

Maybe so.

What about serving the public interest?
? Unlike newspapers, magazines or cable channels, the networks ? and all local television stations, for that matter ? transmit their signals over airwaves owned by the people of the United States. Their licenses, in fact, require them to operate in the public interest. In recent years, timid federal regulators have more or less construed that requirement as a tedious formality. But it remains on the books, and flouting it in so flagrant a fashion is, at the very least, in poor taste. Taste, as we know, is very much on the networks' minds these days, though the corporate conscience ? does not extend to questions of responsibility.
But these are corporate entities. They make money on ? and their survival depends upon ? giving people what they want, so they can insert commercial advertisements in whatever it is they want, and thus be able to continue to do what it is they do, at a reasonable profit.

Skipping the political is the only choice.

Those who care about such things are the oddballs, or at least they are not the demographic that will have advertisers bidding furiously for thirty-second spots for their products. Those who may want to hear what Al Sharpton has to say Wednesday night are not the kind of folks who are going to plunk down 105,000 dollars for one of the many pristine, new Hummer H1 beauties that are cluttering dealerships across America. No one is buying those much these days. And this is about moving the product.

So, if most folks have a fascination with entertainment and celebrity, shows of such is where you spend your advertising budget. And you don?t tell corporations to take a loss for the public interest and try to sell airtime for something folks are just not watching. That makes no sense. And thus you air shows that make enough money to keep your network viable.

That?s just the way it is.

Posted by Alan at 10:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Election Notes

Election Notes: Events NOT Occurring in Boston


Coburn Wins Nomination for Oklahoma Senate Seat
Ron Jenkins - The Associated Press - Tuesday, July 27, 2004; 10:28 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Former three-term Rep. Tom Coburn won the Republican nomination Tuesday for the seat of GOP Sen. Don Nickles, trouncing a popular Oklahoma politician after a bruising and expensive campaign marked by allegations of backstabbing and shady land deals.
And the AP story gives more detail.

So what?

Amy Sullivan?s analysis in the Washington Monthly -
Campaign observers widely believed that Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who was one of two Republicans challenging Coburn for the spot, has much broader appeal for swing voters and would have been a formidable opponent in November. Coburn, on the other hand, has the backing and financial resources of a number of conservative groups, but also the baggage of a right-wing reputation. He only made things worse for himself a few weeks ago when he remarked that doctors who perform abortions should get the death penalty. And then clarified that while there isn't yet a law that would allow capital punishment for such doctors, he would support the passage of one. Nice.
She goes on to say Oklahoma isn?t like this at all ? they have a Democratic governor, after all. Coburn may or may not win, but she says he?s an aberration. Maybe he is.

And maybe many family planning doctors should be executed for murder. Or maybe not.


Lost Record '02 Florida Vote Raises '04 Concern
Abby Goodnough, The New York Times, July 28, 2004
Almost all the electronic records from the first widespread use of touch-screen voting in Miami-Dade County have been lost, stoking concerns that the machines are unreliable as the presidential election draws near.

The records disappeared after two computer system crashes last year, county elections officials said, leaving no audit trail for the 2002 gubernatorial primary. A citizens group uncovered the loss this month after requesting all audit data from that election.

A county official said a new backup system would prevent electronic voting data from being lost in the future. But members of the citizens group, the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, said the malfunction underscored the vulnerability of electronic voting records and wiped out data that might have shed light on what problems, if any, still existed with touch-screen machines here. The group supplied the results of its request to The New York Times.

"This shows that unless we do something now - or it may very well be too late - Florida is headed toward being the next Florida," said Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a lawyer who is the chairwoman of the coalition.

After the disputed 2000 presidential election eroded confidence in voting machines nationwide, and in South Florida in particular, the state moved quickly to adopt new technology, and in many places touch-screen machines. Voters in 15 Florida counties - covering more than half the state's electorate - will use the machines in November, but reports of mishaps and lost votes in smaller elections over the last two years have cast doubt on their reliability.
The item goes on to explain how ?event logs? in the systems aren?t very reliable ? and this is not Diebold. This is Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Nebraska. Crashes. Lost data. No possible recovery. Oh well.

A comment from ?Holden? at Eschaton -
Florida May Be the Next Florida

Hey, Florida - ever hear of backing your data up on CD? Coupled with Jeb's new law prohibiting manual recounts of electronic votes and his continued attempts to disenfranchise non-Hispanic felons and - well, I think you can see where this is going.
Yep. The answer to the question of the upcoming presidential election ? how to make it fair - is to forget Florida. Win enough votes elsewhere so that it doesn?t matter who ?wins? in Florida.

Write it off. It?s a lost cause.

What about things out here in California?

See Fear of Fraud, Paul Krugman in the New York Times on July 27, 2004 explained what happened here -
It's election night, and early returns suggest trouble for the incumbent. Then, mysteriously, the vote count stops and observers from the challenger's campaign see employees of a voting-machine company, one wearing a badge that identifies him as a county official, typing instructions at computers with access to the vote-tabulating software.

When the count resumes, the incumbent pulls ahead. The challenger demands an investigation. But there are no ballots to recount, and election officials allied with the incumbent refuse to release data that could shed light on whether there was tampering with the electronic records.

This isn't a paranoid fantasy. It's a true account of a recent election in Riverside County, Calif., reported by Andrew Gumbel of the British newspaper The Independent. Mr. Gumbel's full-length report, printed in Los Angeles City Beat, makes hair-raising reading not just because it reinforces concerns about touch-screen voting, but also because it shows how easily officials can stonewall after a suspect election.
Yep, and down that way many precincts recorded quite a few more votes than they had registered voters, a new twist on the old Chicago theme of vote early and vote often. Now you don?t even have to show up.

These sorts of things in Florida and California, and one presumes elsewhere, cannot possibly be fixed by November. It?s over. We won?t need the Supreme Court this time around.

Posted by Alan at 09:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 27 July 2004

Topic: World View

The Brits Look at America Again ? Using the law to keep delusions under control, and another stab at why we had to have this war?.

Some of the more interesting commentary often comes from the outside. And the left-of-center Guardian is always amusing.

Wednesday?s edition carries on.

Here?s one. It tangentially refers to the case of Maher Arar discussed in Just Above Sunset here ? December 21, 2003- Bitter Brits. Arar was the Canadian citizen we secretly deported to Syria. We don?t do torture. They do. Torture is not US policy. And we thought he was a bad guy. We picked him up at the Newark airport. But, damn, is seems he wasn?t as bad guy. We had bad information. As this item points out, his crime was that his mother's cousin had joined the Muslim Brotherhood long after Maher moved to Canada. And after ten months of torture and incarceration in a quite tiny cell in Syria, he was allowed to return to his home in Canada. Oops. Now he is suing the US government. He is not happy.

Well, we were just being careful, and a bit overly enthusiastic. Understandable, of course.

The larger issue is covered in this ?

The 800lb gorilla in American foreign policy
Alleged terror suspects are held incommunicado all over the world
Isabel Hilton, The Guardian (UK), Wednesday July 28, 2004

After a nod to the ongoing Democratic Party Convention in Boston, Hilton lays out the issue ? and that is respect for the law.
The delusion that officeholders know better than the law is an occupational hazard of the powerful and one to which those of an imperial cast of mind are especially prone. Checks and balances - the constitutional underpinning of the democratic idea that no one individual can be trusted with unlimited power - are there to keep such delusions under control.

The Abu Ghraib photographs awakened many in the US to the abuses that lie beneath the rhetoric of the global war on terror but the institutions responsible have not taken the message on board. On the day the Congressional report into 9/11 was published, another document was quietly released - a military report that exonerated the high command for the Abu Ghraib abuses. The implications go beyond Abu Ghraib: without a repudiation of the administration's actions, there will be no remedy for the even more sinister treatment of the unknown number of prisoners not captured on camera - those who have been kidnapped and disappeared by US forces across the world.

Under military order No 1, issued by President Bush in November 2001, the president gave himself the right, in defiance of national and international law, to detain indefinitely any non-US citizen anywhere in the world. Many ended up in Guantanamo where at least some of their names were discovered. Others simply vanished. They became in the US euphemism, "ghost prisoners", an unrecorded host held in secret, their detention denied, hidden from the Red Cross, legal or family access barred, their fate in the hands of unaccountable and unnamed US personnel.

When disappearance became state practice across Latin America in the 70s it aroused revulsion in democratic countries where it is a fundamental tenet of legitimate government that no state actor may detain - or kill - another human being without having to answer to the law. Not only has President Bush discarded that principle, he even brags about it. In his state of the union address in February 2003, he said: "More than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Put it this way, they're no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."

What are we to understand by this? That they have been murdered? That they are rotting in some torture cell in Jordan, or Egypt, or Diego Garcia? And, given the US record on "suspected terrorists" - who have included taxi drivers and their passengers, boys of 13, old men who could hardly walk and migrants whose crime was to overstay a visa - how can we trust a practice that disposes of people first and asks questions afterwards?
Well, I guess the answer is you just have to trust your leaders.

More detail?
Beyond the Iraqi jails, others - including, but not limited to, the dozen or so high-profile al-Qaida detainees captured since the war in Afghanistan - have disappeared into the international ghost prison system, detained in one country and secretly transferred to another in what the official euphemism describes as "extraordinary rendition".

Extraordinary rendition was codified in the Clinton administration. Under Bush it has been hugely expanded. As the US co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, Cofer Black, acknowledged in April 2003, "a large number of terrorist suspects were not able to launch an attack last year because they are in prison. More than 3,000 of them are al-Qaida terrorists and they were arrested in over 100 countries."

Congressman Edward Markey, who last month introduced a bill to make extraordinary rendition illegal in US law, has noted that in the year after 9/11, George Tenet, then director of the CIA, admitted to the rendition of 70 people, describing them all as terrorists.
Markey is a Democrat from Massachusetts (Seventh District) ? first elected in 1976 and probably in Boston at the moment. (A profile here if you are at all interested?)

His bill, to make extraordinary rendition illegal, is going nowhere. No one wants to be seen as soft on these terrorist folks. But Hilton points out he is not a happy camper ? and quote him - "Extraordinary rendition is the 800 pound gorilla in our foreign and military policymaking that nobody wants to talk about. It involves our country out-sourcing interrogations to countries that are known to practice torture, something that erodes America's moral credibility."

Will his fellow Democrats to support him? Probably not. And it wouldn?t matter anyway. Both houses of congress are firmly in control of the president?s party. Why bother?

Is the problem big? Hilton notes this -
Some indication of the scale of the network of detention centres can be gleaned from a recent report by Human Rights First, formerly the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights. In Afghanistan, they say, in addition to the Bagram and Kandahar bases, the US acknowledges 20 other centres. In Iraq, there are three official centres, including Abu Ghraib, and an additional nine US military facilities. In Pakistan, a prison at Kohat, near the Afghan border, is under US control. In Jordan, the al-Jafr prison in the southern desert is used as a CIA detention centre. Human Rights First suspects that prisoners are held on US military ships and in bases such as Diego Garcia. Other prisoners have been "rendered" to Egypt and, as in the Arar case, to Syria, both countries in which torture is well established.

Torture is illegal in the US. Facilitating torture elsewhere is also illegal under the convention against torture, to which the US is a signatory. "I think it's time," said Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, "that we began to recognise that ghost prisoners are the new disappeared. And disappearance is almost invariably associated with mistreatment and torture."
Yeah, yeah.

Let them complain. We do what we want. And Markey is tilting at windmills.

Markey?s bill won?t come up as an issue at the convention is Boston. It would only give the Republicans one more way to say the Democrats hate America and are soft on terror.

The bill will die.


The second item of interest is this ?

The real reasons Bush went to war
WMD was the rationale for invading Iraq. But what was really driving the US were fears over oil and the future of the dollar
John Chapman. The Guardian (UK), Wednesday July 28, 2004

Chapman makes these points -
There were only two credible reasons for invading Iraq: control over oil and preservation of the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

? In the 70s, the US agreed with Saudi Arabia that OPEC oil should be traded in dollars. American governments have since been able to print dollars to cover huge trading deficits, with the further benefit of those dollars being placed in the US money markets. In return, the US allowed the OPEC countries to operate a production and pricing cartel.
And this is followed by along economic analysis.

And he calls for replacing the dollar with the euro for all oil trading. The euro then becomes the world's reserve currency. This would be a BIG deal.

It would likely devastate the US economy. We?d go third-world ? maybe.

But it?s not like this is news. A month before I launched Just Above Sunset - and many months before the web log As seen from Just Above Sunset first hit the net ? my friends and I were discussing this in ? in April of 2003 ? an analysis from Farrukh Saleem in The News International, Pakistan: Saddam falls, dollar rules

Here?s his opening -
Americans have now guaranteed America's continued global economic domination for another 25 years. The "liberation" of Baghdad has done it all. The American dollar shall continue to reign supreme as the planet's second largest oil reserves will only be available in exchange for dollars printed in the US.

Eleven OPEC-member countries hold 78.7 percent of world proven crude oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, UAE and Kuwait are 80 percent of OPEC. As long as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE and Kuwait demand US dollars for their oil some 200 countries and territories are bound to keep US dollar reserves to meet their oil imports. As long as the dollar remains the premier reserve currency America rules.

Saddam Hussein al Takrti tried to play it smart. In 1997, Saddam Hussein recruited three permanent members of the Security Council. Russia's Lukoil was contracted to extract 5 billion barrels of oil from Iraq's West Qurna field. France's TotalFinaElf was to develop Nahr bin Umar and the Majnoon field with 20 billion barrels of oil. The same year, China's National Petroleum Corporation signed a deal to develop the Adhab oilfield and the North Rumailah reservoir.

On 6 November 2000, Saddam played his second ace by instructing the United Nations to convert all his dollars accumulated through the UN 'food-for-oil' program into euros (the euro was launched on 1 January 1999 as an electronic currency and became legal tender on 1 January 2002). In November 2000, Saddam began switching his oil and non-oil international transactions from the dollar to the euro. If major OPEC producers move away from the dollar, the dollar falls in value and America looses the game.

On 31 December 2001, Iran announced that it "sees euro as a way to free itself from the US dollar." On 12 August 2002, Iran's Bank Markazi issued the country's first Eurobond raising Euro 625 million. Iran also converted 50 percent of its foreign exchange reserves to euros. More recently, North Korea has also announced that it will soon shift to euro. Saddam's disease was becoming contagious. After all, Iraq has common borders with Saudi Arabia (814km), Iran (1,458km) and Kuwait (240km). The disease had to be contained.
Hey, we had to take care of this.

According to OPEC's World Energy Model (OWNM), total world oil demand has been put at 76 million barrels a day. Of the total oil demand, OPEC produces around 27 million to 28 million barrels per day. If all of OPEC's oil was to be traded in dollars then central banks of oil importers need to hoard anywhere between $100 billion to $200 billion at any given point in time. If central banks were obliged to keep high dollar reserves for their essential imports of oil then they might as well trade other goods in dollars as well. Imagine, just one producer of dollars and hundreds who are out piling it. One supplier, a thousand users. Now, that's injecting real value into paper.
For decades Americans have been importing a whole lot more than they exported. It's like having fun at someone else's expense (and a whole lot of fun). In January 2003, American exports amounted to $81.9 billion while imports stood at $123 billion for a monthly deficit of $41.1 billion (if Pakistan runs an annual deficit of a couple of billions the IMF, the World Bank and the ADB begin calling us all sorts of names). America's goods and services deficit averages a colossal $350 billion a year or a billion dollars a day. By 2005, the current account deficit is projected to grow to about $600 billion a year or $1.5 billion a day.

How do Americans manage to have fun at others' expense? In America it's called 'OPM', 'other people's money'. As long as the dollar remains the premier reserve currency hoarders of dollars outside of America are bound to invest their dollars in dollar-denominated financial assets. According to the IMF, banks outside the Untied States have invested $2.5 trillion into the US by buying dollar denominated bonds issued by the US Treasury (where are our own $10 billion worth of reserves if not with the US Treasury?). In effect, America's huge surplus on the capital account covers her massive deficits on the trade account and that's how Americans manage to extend their picnic year in year out.
Got it?

It is pretty obvious that the whole American way of life actually depends on the strength of the dollar. And the secret lies in a strong, unchallenged dollar. And OPEC must conduct its trade in dollars. And the central banks of the world must be forced to keep heaps of dollars. The secret lies in keeping the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

Saddam and North Korea were moving toward the euro. They were starting a trend that could destroy us. And we nipped that in the bud.

So? And we have reason number six for why the war had be launched, and won. Last weekend the British government admitted the stories of the mass graves of those who Saddam killed was, well, over-reported. Try 5000 dead, not 400,000 or more. Oops.
? it does seem the reasons we said we had to got to war, against the advice of the UN and most of our traditional allies ? not to mention most world opinion - were not supported by the facts of the matter.

Of course since then we?ve said the original reason ? that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate and grave threat to this country ? wasn?t the REAL reason. It was the ties to al-Qaeda ? Iraq was in league with those guys to bring us down. Seems the facts don?t support that either.

We?ll that wasn?t the REAL reason. We went to war to liberate the Iraqi people. But they don?t seem to like our version of liberation and things are a bit difficult on the ground there. They don?t want this kind of liberation?

Well, that wasn?t the REAL reason we went war. It was set up a representative democracy there, with voting and a free press, and open, utterly deregulated markets ? and the nations in the area would then get the idea and toss out their monarchies or theocracies or tribal confederations and jump on the Jeffersonian bandwagon. The Iraq example would transform the region.

Well, that doesn?t seem to be working out as planned ? we?re selling this idea and not many folks are buying it, even with our armed troops in their streets and with many, many local folks in prison being treated, to put it mildly, shabbily, and we won?t tell them why they are in prison because we don?t have to. Guess they just get this democracy thing. They think we?re bullies and fools? Doesn?t matter.

That wasn?t the REAL reason we went to war. It was humanitarian - Saddam was a bad man. Yes he was. Did horrible things to his own people. He did. Things are better with him gone. Probably.

And now this. We were kind of exaggerating. We do that.

As someone else said, Stalin probably killed more people than this on any given Thursday in 1931, and if you amortize the executions Bush signed off on in his few years as the governor of Texas, versus the five thousand executions Saddam pulled off in twenty-five years, well, I wonder who?s ahead? Some wise-ass is probably doing the math right now.

I guess we may need a new reason why we did this war. Number six, if you?re keeping count.
And now reason number six has come up, a reason that actually defines a serious threat, and one that is hard to explain to the man in the street. But it was a real threat.

We took care of it.

Posted by Alan at 21:08 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 July 2004 21:15 PDT home

Monday, 26 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!"
King Lear - Act I, Scene 4

But Chalabi PROMISED this - and Wolfowitz and Perle told us Iraq would, first thing, recognize Israel and establish full diplomatic relations. For many neoconservatives, that was the WHOLE POINT of this war ? to change things. Peace in the Middle East depended upon this ? ?The road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad.? That was what we knew. So it seems we?ve been betrayed by this ex-CIA agent we installed to run Iraq. There is no justice in the world.

Iraqi PM: No Normalized Relations with Israel Before Mideast Settlement
Voice of America (VOA) News - 26 Jul 2004, 16:32 UTC
Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Allawi says his government will not normalize relations with Israel before other Arab states do as part of a Middle East settlement.

Speaking during a visit to Lebanon Monday, Mr. Allawi said Iraq's future relations with Israel will be determined by two issues, "international resolutions and a just and comprehensive peace."

Mr. Allawi also rejected as "totally false" reports that Israeli intelligence agents were operating out of Iraq.

The Iraqi prime minister said his country and its territory will not be a base for any action hostile to any Arab nation.
Richard Perle, for so many years the head of the Defense Advisory Board, the man who told Rumsfeld what to do, the man who for years ran Conrad Black?s Jerusalem Post, the man who was the key advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and told him to be tough with the Palistineans and kill them all if possible ? well, tonight Perle is probabaly contacting Guido from Detroit to arrange a hit on this man who embarassed him. Iyad Allawi is toast.


Background from Just Above Sunset -

On Richard Perle and just how important he is, or was, see November 23, 2003: Why We Fight

On Conrad Black and his press empire and how it fell apart, see December 28, 2003 - Lord Black and his pearl...

Perle and Henry Kissinger and the rest are all involved.

Posted by Alan at 18:53 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

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