Thursday, January 19, 2006

Common sense on Iran

As our mainstream media seems to be indicating its willingness to go along for another ride towards an even more ridiculous, and probably infinitely more tragic confrontation with Iran, some common sense from Richard Jenkins, writing in the Guardian:
Never pick a fight you know you cannot win. Or so I was told. Pick an argument if you must, but not a fight. Nothing I have read or heard in recent weeks suggests that fighting Iran over its nuclear enrichment programme makes any sense at all. The very talk of it - macho phrases about "all options open" - suggests an international community so crazed with video game enforcement as to have lost the power of coherent thought.

Iran is a serious country, not another two-bit post-imperial rogue waiting to be slapped about the head by a white man. It is the fourth largest oil producer in the world. Its population is heading towards 80 million by 2010. Its capital, Tehran, is a mighty metropolis half as big again as London. Its culture is ancient and its political life is, to put it mildly, fluid.

All the following statements about Iran are true. There are powerful Iranians who want to build a nuclear bomb. There are powerful ones who do not. There are people in Iran who would like Israel to disappear. There are people who would not. There are people who would like Islamist rule. There are people who would not. There are people who long for some idiot western politician to declare war on them. There are people appalled at the prospect. The only question for western strategists is which of these people they want to help.

Of all the treaties passed in my lifetime the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) always seemed the most implausible. It was an insiders' club that any outsider could defy with a modicum of guile. So it has proved. America, sitting armed to the teeth across Korea's demilitarised zone, has let North Korea become a nuclear power despite a 1994 promise that it would not. America supported Israel in going nuclear. Britain and America did not balk at India doing so, nor Pakistan when it not only built a bomb but deceitfully disseminated its technology in defiance of sanctions. Three flagrant dissenters from the NPT are thus regarded by America as friends.

I would sleep happier if there were no Iranian bomb but a swamp of hypocrisy separates me from overly protesting it. Iran is a proud country that sits between nuclear Pakistan and India to its east, a nuclear Russia to its north and a nuclear Israel to its west. Adjacent Afghanistan and Iraq are occupied at will by a nuclear America, which backed Saddam Hussein in his 1980 invasion of Iran. How can we say such a country has "no right" to nuclear defence?

Read the whole article...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

America, fuck yeah!

"Instead of Zawahiri, the explosives landed on innocent villagers, including women and children."

McCain, the "moderate" sez: "This war on terror has no boundaries. We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out."

"It’s a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" sez potential Democratic challenger Evan Bayh.

Apologize, maybe?

Anyone else see something odd/way scary in the presumption that a single government can try to "take out" whoever it deems a terrorist—anywhere, anytime? Where to draw the line? Pakistan? Afghanistan? Italy? England? Canada?

Even if, practically speaking, this kind of shit didn't always have the opposite effect of the intended one, what kind of country allows extrajudicial, extraterritorial murder in its name? (Even if it struck its desired targets, it would be extrajudicial, extraterritorial murder.) How many deaths of innocent people is a tolerable number?

And that the U.S. government response to the outcry over civilians—women, old folks, and children—blown to bits and crushed to death under rubble is a curt "too bad"?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Plus ca change...

A wise man once said....
The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one.

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war.

Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world.

Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty.

But we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.

We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.

Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us.

If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance.

For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

—Excerpted from Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.

A really difficult speech to excerpt. The parallels to that time and today are too numerous. Substitute Iraq for Vietnam anywhere, or terrorism for Communism, and it reads like it was written this year. It's MLK Day. We should all be required to read the whole thing...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Happy anniversary

The United States attack on Iraq will turn fifteen on Monday. Ron Jacobs reminds us of the elder Bush's words on the eve of that attack:
"I've told the American people before that this will not be another Vietnam, and I repeat this here tonight.... I'm hopeful that this fighting will not go on for long and that casualties will be held to an absolute minimum. This is an historic moment. We have in this past year made great progress in ending the long era of conflict and cold war. We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order..."

Jacobs takes a long hard look at the state of the union after fifteen years of the New World Order. Ain't pretty.
The quick (and upon further thought, the most accurate) appraisal of the last fifteen years is simple. The US is wasting its resources on a war that benefits very few of its own citizens and not too many other people in the world either.

... The bad news is that they aren't finished. Most of the folks who run this country, no matter which major party they claim to belong to, think that they can win their various wars and start new ones, continue to privatize the government for the benefit of their friends (Social Security is next, mark my words), spy on and jail people at will, and then tell us that they're doing it for our own good. One party might wave a stick while the other holds a carrot in front of our nose, but the brutal reality is that both are riding the same horse into the ground--and that horse is this country we live in.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gruesome arithmetic

Tom Englehardt gives credit to Seymour Hersh for bringing America's savage air war in Iraq to widespread public attention with his New Yorker article in December, but Englehardt deserves credit himself for being one of the first to call attention to it fifteen months earlier and then in even greater detail in December 2004. That December article led me to The History of Bombing, which is still one of the best context-setting books for this horrific war.

As Englehardt himself points out, it's really quite shocking that American reporters in Iraq have basically refused to "look up, or even to acknowledge the planes, predator drones, and low-flying helicopters passing daily overhead." But that's the way it's been. So props to Sy Hersh and Englehardt for calling attention to this appalling blindness on the part of our press.

Today, on the tomdispatch site, Michael Schwartz takes a look at the de facto rules of engagement in Iraq today:

that the war should be conducted to absolutely minimize the risk to American troops; that guerrilla fighters should not be allowed to escape if there is any way to capture or kill them; and that Iraqi civilians should not be allowed to harbor or encourage the resistance fighters....

As one American officer explained to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, the willingness to sacrifice local civilians is part of a larger strategy in which U.S. military power is used to "punish not only the guerrillas, but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating." A Marine calling in to a radio talk show recently stated the argument more precisely: "You know why those people get killed? It's because they're letting insurgents hide in their house."

This is, by the way, the textbook definition of terrorism – attacking a civilian population to get it to withdraw support from the enemy. What this strategic orientation, applied wherever American troops fight the Iraqi resistance, represents is an embrace of terrorism as a principle tactic for subduing Iraq's insurgency.

Schwartz concludes his piece by inviting us to ponder "this gruesome arithmetic":

If the U.S. fulfills its expectation of surpassing 150 air attacks per month, and if the average air strike produces the (gruesomely) modest total of 10 fatalities, air power alone could kill well over 20,000 Iraqi civilians in 2006. Add the ongoing (but reduced) mortality due to other military causes on all sides, and the 1,000 civilian deaths per week rate recorded by the Hopkins study could be dwarfed in the coming year.

The new American strategy, billed as a way to de-escalate the war, is actually a formula for the slaughter of Iraqi civilians.

Read the whole article...

It's lately become clear that the original estimated cost of the war is off by several orders of magnitude. I'm betting in months to come our media will be shocked—shocked!—to learn that they'll need to add a zero or two to the human cost estimates as well.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Man of Peace

As a bizarre, unpleasant controversy rages over Sharon's treatment ("Some Israeli doctors are saying anyone else in Mr Sharon's condition would have been allowed to die peacefully last Wednesday night"), a heart-rending, appalling must-read excerpt from Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East puts Sharon's career into perspective (note the cameo by Rummy—war criminals always looking out for each other):

I shook hands with him once, a brisk, no-nonsense soldier's grip from Sharon as he finished a review of the vicious Phalangist militiamen who stood in the barracks square at Karantina in Beirut. Who would have thought, I asked myself then, that this same bunch of murderers - the men who butchered their way through the Palestinian Sabra and Chatila refugee camps only a few weeks earlier - had their origins in the Nazi Olympics of 1936. That's when old Pierre Gemayel - still alive and standing stiffly to attention for Sharon - watched the "order" of Nazi Germany and proposed to bring some of this "order" to Lebanon. That's what Gemayel told me himself. Did Sharon not understand this. Of course, he must have done.

Back on 18 September that same year, Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post and Karsten Tveit of Norwegian television and I had clambered over the piled corpses of Chatila - of raped and eviscerated women and their husbands and children and brothers - and Jenkins, knowing that the Isrealis had sat around the camps for two nights watching this filth, shrieked "Sharon!" in anger and rage. He was right. Sharon it was who sent the Phalange into the camps on the night of 16 September - to hunt for "terrorists", so he claimed at the time.

The subsequent Israeli Kahan commission of enquiry into this atrocity provided absolute proof that Israeli soldiers saw the massacre taking place. The evidence of a Lieutenant Avi Grabovsky was crucial. He was an Israeli deputy tank commander and reported what he saw to his higher command. "Don't interfere," the senior officer said. Ever afterwards, Israeli embassies around the world would claim that the commission held Sharon only indirectly responsible for the massacre. It was untrue. The last page of the official Israeli report held Sharon "personally responsible". It was years later that the Israeli-trained Phalangist commander, Elie Hobeika, now working for the Syrians, agreed to turn state's evidence against Sharon - now the Israeli Prime Minister - at a Brussels court. The day after the Israeli attorney general declared Sharon's defence a "state" matter, Hobeika was killed by a massive car bomb in east Beirut. Israel denied responsibility. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Brussels and quietly threatened to withdraw Nato headquarters from Belgium if the country maintained its laws to punish war criminals from foreign nations. Within months, George W Bush had declared Sharon "a man of peace". It was all over.

Read the entire excerpt...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Cost of war: only off by about three zeroes...

As reported at TPM Cafe, we're talking one to two trillion bucks for our grand (continuing) adventure.

Jan 05, 2006 -- 11:05:10 AM EST


A new study by two leading academic experts suggests that the costs of the Iraq war will be substantially higher than previously reckoned. In a paper presented to this week’s Allied Social Sciences Association annual meeting in Boston MA., Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes and Columbia University Professor and Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz calculate that the war is likely to cost the United States a minimum of nearly one trillion dollars and potentially over $2 trillion.

The study expands on traditional budgetary estimates by including costs such as lifetime disability and health care for the over16,000 injured, one fifth of whom have serious brain or spinal injuries. It then goes on to analyze the costs to the economy, including the economic value of lives lost and the impact of factors such as higher oil prices that can be partly attributed to the conflict in Iraq. The paper also calculates the impact on the economy if a proportion of the money spent on the Iraq war were spent in other ways, including on investments in the United States

“Shortly before the war, when Administration economist Larry Lindsey suggested that the costs might range between $100 and $200 billion, Administration spokesmen quickly distanced themselves from those numbers,” points out Professor Stiglitz. “But in retrospect, it appears that Lindsey’s numbers represented a gross underestimate of the actual costs.”

The Allied Social Sciences Association meeting is attended by the nation’s leading economists and social scientists. It is sponsored jointly by the American Economic Association and the Economists for Peace and Security.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bush and the Republicans

A good centrist take from Time's Tony Karon. I've come to expect nuanced analysis from him every time out (remarkable, considering he writes for Time), and here he doesn't disappoint. He describes concisely and accurately the myriad disasters Bush has wrought on America and the world, but saves some contempt for the Kerry/Hillary inanities—which he nicely describes as an "often incomprehensible excercise in self-congratulatory political ju-jitsu." Personally, I'm not thrilled to be trusting in the Arlen Specters and John McCains of the world, but, with the democrats in a stupor, the Republican moderates are really holding the cards these days.

Even though the signs were there a year ago, I’ve certainly been shocked by the speed of Bush’s domestic political decline, or the intensity of the resistance he’s faced from within the GOP. By year’s end, Bush was recording defeat after defeat, and sometimes on key issues — failing to get the Patriot Act renewed; being forced by McCain to back down on torture; failing to get his White House counsel appointed to the Supreme Court; scolded by a key conservative Republican-appointed judge on the handling of the Jose Padilla case; and most recently, facing the prospect of Capitol Hill hearings, arranged by Republican judiciary committee chair Arlen Specter, into his decision to order the NSA to bypass the established legal system to conduct domestic eavesdropping. We could go on and on, with Karl Rove, various budget setbacks, Michael Brown and Katrina, and so on.

Although most of these wounds have been self-inflicted, I suspect the thoughtful Republican realists in the Senate (and in the military, intelligence services and State Department) have recognized that Iraq symbolizes Bush’s catastrophic stewardship of U.S. national interests on the global scale. Not only has the idea of projecting force into the heart of the Middle East with the aim of transforming its politics along lines desired by Washington been a disaster — even the elections the administration so proudly touts portend civil war and an entrenchment of the insurgency — the U.S. appears to have lost any prospect of securing short-term tactical advantages from its occupation (access to Iraqi oil reserves; long-term military bases from which force can be projected throughout the region). And in the process the U.S. has squandered the deterrent power of its military by showing the limits of its capacity to sustain an occupation, emboldening the likes of Iran — which, curiously enough, ends up holding the key to the U.S. exit strategy by virtue of its influence with the Shiite parties that appear to have again prevailed at the polls. And the failure of the invasion to vindicate a universally unpopular decision to invade (by either turning up weapons of mass destruction, or by producing a more, not less stable region) have accelerated the decline of U.S. leadership over its traditional allies. The whole episode has made it possible for allies to say no to Washington, and then to cluck in smug sympathy while conspicuously avoiding saying “told you so.”

Iraq, overwhelmingly unpopular abroad and increasingly so at home, stands at the center of Bush’s decline — the fact that his agenda is collapsing despite his party’s control over all the levers of government is a sure sign that the sober Republicans who may have long doubted the wisdom of Bush’s choices are now no longer remaining silent. The irony is that they appear to be more inclined than the Democrats have been to distance themselves from Bush, and to challenge him directly on matters of national security. The Democrats are still flailing about unable to take a coherent position on Iraq (with a few honorable exceptions). Listen to John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, and you hear an often incomprehensible excercise in self-congratulatory political ju-jitsu — they’re quite simply not prepared to challenge the basics, which leaves them to argue that they would have invaded Iraq, but done it “properly” — more troops, more allies, that sort of thing. Frankly, that’s the same unprincipled, politically cowardly doggerel we’ve heard from them all along, and is ultimately so indistinguishable from the administration’s own positions that it simply make the Dems sound petty and partisan. There was no way to get more allies on board for the operation for the simple reason that most of the world believed there was no good reason to invade Iraq, and they wouldn’t have followed Hillary or Kerry or even Bill into that quagmire any more readily than they followed Bush. More troops? I don’t think the U.S. has enough combat troops to sustain an occupation force much larger than the one they currently have there. And the bottom line is that the Iraqis would certainly not have been any less inclined to resist an occupation designed by a Kerry or Clinton administration than the one designed by Bush.