Thursday, December 7, 2006

Time to leave Iraq

Outside View
By Douglas a. Macgregor
Dec 7, 2006, 14:41 GMT

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- More than two thousand years ago, a Spartan king resisted pressure to go to war saying, 'I am less afraid of the enemy`s strategy than I am of the mistakes we will make.' Today, no one in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group would question the Spartan King`s wisdom. It is painfully obvious that in Iraq, American power defeated itself.

The notion that a Muslim Arab country with no middle class or a culture that supports the rule of law could be transformed by Westerners in short order into anything resembling an Anglo-Saxon Democracy was fundamentally flawed. But applying the 'if we break it, we fix it' paradigm to Iraq, occupying and governing it directly with thousands of conventional U.S. combat troops under generals whose only strategy was brute force was even more disastrous. No nation wants foreign troops to police their country and Muslim Arabs loathe occupying Christian armies, especially brutal ones.

Any Arab, Sunni or Shiite, rebelling against such an occupation would always be able to cloak himself in nationalism, patriotism, and traditional religious values -- even if they were no better than criminals. And this is precisely what happened in Arab Iraq.

But this problem shrinks to insignificance next to the strategic blunder of defaulting to 'the Shiite strategy,' establishing with American military power in less than three years what the Iranian armed forces could not achieve in nearly a decade of war with Iraq: Shiite domination of Iraq`s army, police and administration.

Fearing the consequences of an Iranian-backed government in Baghdad, the Bush administration is turning to the Sunni Arab states that fear Iranian power. It makes sense. Sunni Arab leaders in Cairo, Amman and Riyadh understand that Iran aspires to be the core state of Islam, something Islam has lacked since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. For them, Shiite-dominated Iraq is a regional Frankenstein`s monster.

Unfortunately, it`s also a waste of time. Though Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have a stake in curbing Iranian influence inside Iraq, they have no interest in allying themselves with an American military occupation that is illegitimate in the eyes of the whole Muslim World. Until U.S. forces leave Iraq, cooperation with them is a non-starter.

Given these developments, disengaging from Iraq would seem imperative. But the desire on both sides of the political divide, Democratic and Republican, to conceal the true scale of the disaster created by the American military occupation of Central Iraq makes immediate withdrawal unpalatable.

Instead, politicians of all persuasions insist that for U.S. forces to simply leave Iraq and turn it over to the Arabs who live there would be a disaster for all kinds of reasons -- terrorism, regional instability and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Disengaging from Iraq, the argument goes, could lead to a replay of an August 1914-style slide into regional war.

Whether true or not, an American military force that cannot stop firefights or kidnappings on the streets of Baghdad, a force that is increasingly under attack from all sides, can do little to prevent a regional war, especially a conflict whose real issue is the Shia-Sunni struggle for control of Mecca and Medina and leadership of an Islamic movement that both Sunni and Shia Islamists believe will, once unified and purified, conquer the world.

Of course, if this is the regional war that is likely to occur, the real question is not how to stop it, but why U.S. forces should participate in it? Unless, America`s regional Sunni Arab partners ask for assistance, how would American involvement in such a conflict advance American security interests?

The answer is simple. It would not.

While Washington policymakers look for political cover on their way out of Iraq, the myth of American military omniscience and omnipotence, of limitless economic resources harnessed to a perpetual 'Wilsonian crusade for democracy,' is dying in Iraq along with American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

Meanwhile, knowing that nothing with American fingerprints will survive the withdrawal of U.S. forces including Iraq`s corrupt and ineffective government, the most vexing question for the Iraq Study Group is not whether anything can be done to prevent the United States from looking ridiculous when the 'Green Zone' is overrun, looted and destroyed by enraged Arabs. It`s how fast we can end the U.S. and British military occupation of Iraq, an occupation that is both an enormous strategic benefit to Iran and a liability to the West and the Arab World.

(Retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas A. Macgregor, PhD is lead partner in Potomac League, LLC. He is the author of 'Breaking the Phalanx.' Macgregor served in the first Gulf War and at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe during the Kosovo Air Campaign. he was an adviser to the Department of Defense on initial Second Gulf War plans and is an expert on defense policy issues of organization and transformation.)

Not What the American or Iraqi People Want

William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security

For all the hype, the Iraq Study Group offers two fundamental recommendations that the president might even be able to implement: The group calls for the United States to engage Iraq's neighbors, specifically Iran and Syria. The group recommends a shift in U.S. military force posture and approach from "combat" to training and advice to Iraqi forces.

The Iraq Study Group should be thanked for its service to America in throwing a bucket of cold water on the White House. But post-election, the Commission's many recommendations are merely the opening salvo of a barrage of recommendations that will now emerge from the government, the think tanks, and the politicos.

The wise men have confirmed what the American public has known for some time: Iraq is finished. Our strategy, whatever it is, isn't working. It is mighty disappointing, but not surprising, though that the Study Group couldn't see that there is nothing left that the United States can do to really influence what will happen there. What is more, what it actually is proposing in its two fundamental points isn't necessarily going to make any difference.

I already have written skeptically as to whether Iran and Syria will see it in their interests to assist the Bush administration. I wonder, if the president were to engage them successfully, whether their input would help. Washington's latest sage rule is that we should talk to our adversaries, just as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Only an extremist -- the president and the vice president, that is -- would argue that we shouldn't at least talk. But I doubt that bringing Iran and Syria into the mix is the panacea that the study group and reasonable Washington now pretends it is.

So, I am left thinking that it is not even a decent bet that asking Iran and Syria to lend their good offices to a healthy Iraq would yield much. It isn't clear that they would play. It isn't clear that they would be helpful if they did. The "process" of diplomacy and the inevitable wait that the United States would have to accept while questionable parties huddled to "negotiate" and arm twist and cut their own deals merely kicks the day of reckoning further down the road.

In the short term, the study group recommends an unclear and contradictory course for the American military. The call for the withdrawal of the U.S. "combat" troops is so qualified and hedged, I'm not sure that the headlines -- that the study group is calling for the removal of all combat brigades by early 2008 -- is even true. On the one hand, the group recommends that the independent conventional forces be removed. On the other, it calls for a significant force to stay, including special operations forces.

What the group is fundamentally proposing though is that the core of the U.S. military effort switches from independent combat to a combined U.S.-Iraqi effort.The number of U.S. personnel in uniform embedded in Iraqi units would increase significantly under this proposal.

Regardless of whether the president surges more forces to Iraq, whether or not he follows through on the study group's suggestion and indeed draws down independent U.S. combat brigades, builds a rapid reaction force, reduces the American footprint, the accelerated training mission is already underway.

Just like the imagined silver bullet of diplomacy with Iran and Syria, the tough question here is whether the training and advisory approach will make a difference. I don't think so for a number of reasons. First, we are assigning U.S. troops to an even more sensitive and intimate mission with Iraqi players when we have already shown time and again that we are culturally challenged when it comes to understanding the Iraqis. Second, we are shifting responsibility for the security and success of U.S. forces to another party, one whose motivations and capabilities are suspect.

This is not some back-handed stay the course argument. I think we should get out altogether.

But let's be realistic about what will likely unfold even if we adapt the group's proposal: First, there is the question again of waiting for the Iraqis to assume the responsibilities we are thrusting upon them. No wonder Baker and others speak of "years" of continued U.S. presence. Second there remains the question of Baghdad's authority and national mandate. It isn't clear that the Shi'a dominated government -- the faction of the Shiite-dominated government -- is interested in a national military for the purpose of bringing the country together.

I understand that this "new" solution is Washington's way of withdrawing without saying it is withdrawing. But there is too much hope associated with the shift: hope that if we just redouble our effort with the Iraqis, they will all of a sudden get it and transform. In here as well is the strange article of faith that less capable Iraqi military units will succeed where more capable U.S. units failed. It seems to me that if we are admitting that there is no military solution to the problem, there is no Iraqi military solution either.

And then there is the question of Americans in uniform being thrust into an impossible position. I know that the embedded American will be there to teach their Iraqi counterparts how to shoot straight, as show an example of camaraderie, and to school them in human rights and the laws of war. But it is only a matter of time before Americans are thrust in the middle of blood letting and abuse.

Here's how I see Iraq playing out in the short term: The president makes an announcement within a month about his "new" plan. Washington is ever so pleased with a new approach. But the a la carte plan is seen by the Iraqis for what it is; it is not a U.S. timetable for withdrawal. It is not an unequivocal pledge not to establish permanent bases. It is sovereignty and authority in name only for Iraq with continued American control behind the scenes. I can't see who any of this equivocation will deflate the insurgency or stem the hatred for America that is fueled by our presence.

The "plan," in other words, is neither what the American people nor the Iraqi people want.

By William M. Arkin | December 7, 2006; 9:00 AM ET

Strong in spite of themselves

Now is the time for America's Arab allies to whisper advice to Washington, thanks to the resistance in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, writes Azmi Bishara

It will take more than a speech at Sde Boker, the Negev kibbutz where Ben Gurion lived until his death, to turn Ehud Olmert into Ben Gurion II. Taking advantage of a ceremony in honour of the first prime minister of Israel in that historic location was little more than a ploy devised by someone given to petty party intrigue. The not-so-historic speech itself succeeded only in treading the well-worn paths of the "empty quarter" of politics.

Olmert's announcement that Israel would be willing to agree to a geographically contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank is far from original. It was almost a word for word repetition of Sharon's announcement after having received Bush's letter of guarantees, the White House's version of the Balfour Declaration. Of course, what Sharon, Bush and then Olmert meant was that they would agree to a Palestinian state in exchange for the Palestinians relinquishing their demands for the right to return, for Jerusalem as their capital and even for Israel to withdraw to pre-June 1967 borders. But even this comes at a price: the Palestinians have to meet certain conditions in order to prove themselves worthy of an offer they have rejected. What are these conditions? Now we must be getting down to the point which made Olmert make his announcement. The Palestinians must accept the Quartet's conditions: relinquish terrorism, recognise Israel and abide by all previous agreements, even those Israel no longer recognises or never abided by to begin with.

Olmert, and those behind him, are trying to meddle in the Palestinian dialogue over a national unity government. They're churning the curds but in order to understand what kind of cheese they want to produce we need to recall that before this diplomatic offensive they subjected the Palestinians to an economic blockade that ultimately succeeded in forcing an elected government to concede to the need to change itself. So be it. Let there be change as long as it offers the only way out of a crisis that threatened to precipitate civil war. However, the dissolution of the present Palestinian government and its replacement by a national unity government is not exactly what Israel is after. Israel wants to force the Palestinians to accept the conditions of the Quartet and the Palestinian resistance to throw in the towel. To get this it needs the right type of Palestinian government with the right type of popular base.

The Palestinian politicians relying on international pressures on the Hamas government only agreed to the National Concord Charter grudgingly, and as a stopgap. Officially they claimed that while this document may form the basis for a national unity government it cannot form the basis for negotiations with Israel. Still they bowed to popular pressures, driven by the instinctive desire to avert civil war, and signed the charter on the grounds that it would serve as the foundation for domestic change. But what about the blockade, which is what made an elected government agree to change? No progress there. In Palestine they promised Hamas that the blockade would be lifted as soon as the national unity government was formed. Then it transpired that a new national unity government would have to accept the Quartet's conditions. The difference this time is that the debate over these conditions will take place among the members of a government with a different composition. Hunger is a powerful master and food is almost within reach. Hamas, they will say, has been very flexible till now and there is such a small distance between its current position and the Quartet's, so why not accept them? Then if Hamas sticks to its position it will be blamed for jeopardising the national unity government and obstructing the lifting of the blockade.

The national unity government is supposed to be a means to get the blockade lifted and enable the Palestinians to continue to hold out for as long as possible precisely because there is no just solution in sight. To some, however, it is no more than a tool to force Hamas into accepting the Quartet's conditions.

Hamas leaders are clearly aware of this situation and if they hadn't been, Egypt took the trouble to spell it out: Hamas had to take some solid steps towards a compromise with the Europeans and Americans. Until then it was decided to put issues relating to the national unity government on hold pending a clear assurance that the blockade would be lifted once such a government is formed and also pending an agreement over positions and portfolios. In other words, there are now two preconditions for forming a national unity government: receiving an unequivocal promise from some outside power that the blockade will be lifted and agreeing internally to the distribution of ministerial posts.

Then Olmert steps in with his speech -- erroneously dubbed an "initiative". Look at all the advantages you'll gain by accepting the Quartet's conditions compared to your current wretchedness under the blockade, he's telling them, in the hope the Palestinian people, or at least an influential segment of them, will push for settlement of their leadership issue. The speech is immediately greeted by applause from Europe, which couldn't wait to hail Olmert for his courage, even if it entailed no more than blowing the dust off of Sharon's ideas. Simultaneously, from inside Palestine, he expected voices announced these ideas were "positive" and could "serve as the basis for beginning negotiations".

As astute as Olmert thinks he is at reading the Palestinian map and intervening in favour of "moderate forces", these very "moderate forces" could reject his meddling because, even if they don't realise it, they are much stronger than before. They are strengthened by the Iraqi resistance which they hate, strengthened by Hizbullah's victory which they mock and by the fact that the US needs them more than ever now that the warmongering policy it initiated post 11 September is in crisis.

The Arabs still seem unaware they've become more powerful in spite of themselves. Perhaps they are suffering a form of jetlag from the rush of post-11 September events, because they act as though the US still wants to overthrow their regimes and, therefore, they feel that in order to get the US to back off with regard to their domestic affairs they have to offer concessions on Iraq, on Palestine and a range of other Arab issues and, above all, that they have to placate Israel. So, in spite of the fact that they don't have to ingratiate themselves to the US because now they have considerable leverage, they are still determined to play the butler ever vigilant over his employer's interests. Many Arabs are incapable of recognising their own strength when it's staring them in the face. But even if they do -- if, for example, they find people speaking to them more deferentially now in some conference or summit -- they get confused, avert their eyes, and continue taking orders. They're now so comfortably settled into playing the weakling before the American bully that any thought of standing up for themselves throws them entirely off balance.

But the fact is that with the American quagmire in Iraq, the failure of American plans to sort Lebanon out after the assassination of Rafik Al-Hariri and the failure of the Israeli adventure in Lebanon to straighten that out the Arabs could adopt a tougher tone towards the US. They could, for example, pound the table and insist the Europeans and Americans accept the results of the Palestinian consensus over the national unity government as reason to lift the blockade and they could caution them as to what might happen if they refuse this demand. They, or at least some of them, could offer advice to Washington over the folly of its confrontational policy against Syria and its determination to ignore Syrian opinion.

Any sane person who knows Iraq will never regain independence and security unless its neighbours, notably Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria, agree to cooperate in restoring stability in exchange for a complete and comprehensive withdrawal of American forces. America's Arab allies are in a position to persuade Washington that such an understanding among regional powers is the sensible course of action and that to obstruct it would only compound its follies. Similarly, Washington could really use a third party to tell it to pressure its allies in Lebanon into accepting the idea of national unity and not to prod them towards civil war by means of disastrous promises and reassurances that everything will be alright and nothing changes, least of all American policy.

But, in addition to the regimes that don't realise that thanks to the Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements they are in a position to do all of the above, there are regimes that prefer not to offer any advice at all. They're simply happy to bask in America's attention. It's not just that these regimes have grown accustomed to the indentured servant relationship they have with Washington, they have also developed an interest in keeping the relationship on that footing. Some of these are now economically dependent upon selling their security services to the Americans and, therefore, have no desire to see American policy change. Others have linked themselves so strongly to American policies that they were as upset by the outcome of the Congressional elections as any gung-ho Republican.

Some of these countries built up their sources of strength stealthily and resolved to use every piastre they have to ensure the perpetuation of the principle that an ounce of old policies is better than a pound of new. Rather than pressing their advantages on behalf of Arab causes and in defence of Arab positions, they press for their old list of demands pertaining to their narrow interests, or the interests of facilitating dynastic succession.

These are not regimes which regard rule as an instrument for implementing political, economic and social projects that promise to enhance the welfare of their countries. These are regimes that are incapable of thinking in any other terms than the benefits of rule to those who rule.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Al-Ahram Weekly Online

Chavez uses petro-dollars to help the poor - in America

Sheldon Alberts
CanWest News Service

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela - Hugo Chavez coasted to another six-year term as Venezuela's president on the strength of petro-dollars and promises to spread more of his country's oil wealth to the poor.

But as Chavez struggles to alleviate poverty for eight million of his own citizens, the 52-year-old leftist leader is using his oil riches in an unlikely way - by paying the winter heating bills for hundreds of thousands of underprivileged Americans.

Even as Chavez demonized the United States as an evil imperialist empire during campaign events leading to his re-election Sunday, Venezuela's state-owned oil company renewed a deal to provide 40 per cent discounts on furnace oil to 400,000 people in 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The act of generosity is dismissed by Chavez's critics as pure propaganda - an attempt to embarrass the Bush administration - and it is drawing mixed reaction among Venezuelans.

''I think he is just giving the money away,'' huffs Carmen Herrara, a retiree who lives in a suburb of east Caracas. ''There is a lot of poverty in this country that needs to be solved first.''

The heating-oil program offered by Venezuelan-owned Citgo is but one element of an incredibly complex, carrot-and-stick relationship Chavez and the U.S. have with each other, one revolving predominantly around the politics and economics of oil.

Chavez won Sunday with 61 per cent of the vote.

In Washington, the Bush administration expressed hope the U.S. could improve relations with Venezuela even though Chavez called his victory another "defeat for the devil."

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said "we hope that we could have a positive constructive relationship" with Chavez in the future.

"There are, of course, well-reported frictions on some issues. From our standpoint, there don't have to be any frictions," said McCormack, who added the U.S. was awaiting reports from international election observers before passing final judgement on the election.

Chavez had rankled President George W. Bush in August 2005 when he offered to ship emergency fuel supplies to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

He followed up by personally endorsing a plan by Citgo, the U.S. subsidiary of state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., to offer the heating oil discounts through a non-profit Massachusetts-based group called Citizen's Energy Corp.

The latest public-relations bonanza from that venture was a splashy press conference two weeks ago at the home of 75-year-old widow Matilda Winslow in Dorchester, a hardscrabble neighbourhood of Boston.

With Venezuelan officials present, Winslow took delivery of a winter's worth of heating oil.

''No matter the differences we might have, there is always room for co-operation,'' said Bernardo Alvarez, the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S.

In a telephone interview Monday, Winslow said she had no qualms about accepting discounted oil from a country whose leader called Bush ''Mr. Danger'' following Sunday's elections.

''Bush bothers me, not Chavez,'' said Winslow, who has survived on Social Security since the death of her husband five years ago. ''I figure that Bush should wake up and think about the elderly and low-income people out here.''

American critics of Chavez are not as impressed.

In an editorial last week, the Wall Street Journal questioned Chavez's motives. The Venezuelan leader ''is trying to shape U.S. public opinion in the hope that more gringos will come to see the Chavez government as benevolent,'' the newspapers said.

But Brian O'Connor, a spokesman for Citizens Energy, said the Venezuelan oil is vital to low-income families because funds for a U.S. government heating-fuel assistance program have failed to grow in line with rising energy costs.

''It's about need, not politics,'' said O'Connor, who said Citgo was the only major company to respond to appeals for assistance to poor U.S. families.

Despite the political differences between governments in Washington and Caracas, Venezuela and the U.S. have a mutually dependent relationship.

Venezuela exported almost 560-million barrels of oil and petroleum products to America last year - not only from Citgo but from U.S. companies such as Chevron and Exxon, which have major operations here.

''What Citgo is doing is providing 2.4-million barrels, which is one half of one per cent of all the oil products sold into the U.S. from Venezuela,'' said O'Connor. ''So how do you criticize that tiny fraction that is used to help the poor?''

Chavez's anti-U.S. rhetoric, however, is threatening to damage his nation's oil industry.

After the Venezuelan president called Bush ''the devil'' at the United Nations in September, the 7-Eleven convenience store chain announced it was dropping Citgo as the gasoline supplier to more than 2,000 stations across the U.S.

''Regardless of politics, we sympathize with many Americans' concerns over the derogatory comments about our country and its leadership,'' 7-Eleven said in a statement.

Citgo's heating-oil subsidies in the U.S. are modeled after Chavez's PetroCaribe program, which provides oil to a dozen Caribbean nations, including Cuba. The program, which allows countries to defer payments for 25 years on low interest, has helped Chavez gain influence over the U.S. in Latin America.

Venezuelans benefit too - gasoline here sells at about 17 cents a gallon thanks to government price controls.

But some domestic opponents say Chavez's penchant for peddling discount oil comes at the expense of Venezuelans.

An estimated 33 per cent of the country's 25 million residents live in poverty.

Chavez has also used oil revenues to pay for infrastructure in countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay.

''He has been using very audaciously money from oil to buy support, in the same imperial way of the United States,'' says Teodoro Petkoff, editor of Caracas' Tal Cual newspaper and a senior opposition party strategist.

''This country can afford to be generous. But if you give money for a hospital in Uruguay when the majority of Venezuelan hospitals are worth nothing, then people resent that.''

But not everyone.

In Caracas neighbourhoods such as Petare, a sprawling hillside barrio, many residents approve of Chavez selling low-cost oil, even to the richest nation in the world.

''He is not giving it to the government of the United States,'' says Manuel Jose Petate, 46. ''He is giving it to poor people who need it, who live in poor neighbourhoods like this. If it is necessary, then I think it is good that some of these Americans have it.''

CanWest News Service

EDs: Updated with U.S. reaction to Chavez win in firstoptional cut

© CanWest News Service 2006

Meese of Arabia and the Baker Group's Grab for Black Gold


The Iraq Study Group's report simply confirms, yet again, the bedrock truth of the war: the American Establishment has no intention of leaving Iraq, ever, and no intention of having anything but a pliant, cowed, bullied puppet government in Baghdad.

The reaction from actual Iraqis on the just-released report by the "Iraq Study Group"? They don't like it; it won't work; it's largely a tissue of fantasies and shows no grasp of the true situation in Iraq; it has nothing to do with solving Iraq's problems but everything to do with the American Establishment's desperate attempt to save face, no matter how many people must be slaughtered in the process.

But why should we listen to these wretched malcontents in Iraq? How the hell could they know more about the reality of their lives than Jim "Bagman" Baker and Lee "Whitewash for Hire" Hamilton and Harriet "Here's the PB&J, George" Miers and Ed "Porn Man" Meese? I mean, come on: who on God's green earth knows more about the political, social, ethnic, historical, religious and military complexities of Iraq than Ed Meese? The Heritage Foundation's Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy? Man, he's the go-to guy for all things Iraqi! There's no freaking, frigging way that any Hakim or Abdul or Nouri or Motqada or Mahmoud is gonna have any greater insight on Iraq than Ed Meese. Are you kidding me?

Listen, if you start listening to actual Iraqis, you might as well hang it up right now. Because poll after poll shows that actual Iraqis overwhelmingly favor a single option for the U.S. military forces in their country: cut and run, the sooner the better. That's what they want; but of course, they're just like children, aren't they, the precious little primitive critters. And everybody knows you can't give children everything they want. It's not good for them. So we have to hold the Iraqis' hands until they can toddle on their own -- and we have to slap their hands if they don't do what we know is best for them.

Or as the Baker boys themselves put it: "If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government." Nice little country you got there, Hassan; too bad if something, like, happens to it, eh? I think you'd better play ball. See these here milestones we've concocted on the padded chairs in our paneled boardroom? You better meet 'em, chop-chop—or we can make your life...difficult. You savvy?

The Iraq Study Group's report simply confirms, yet again, the bedrock truth of the war: the American Establishment has no intention of leaving Iraq, ever, and no intention of having anything but a pliant, cowed, bullied puppet government in Baghdad to carry out whatever the Establishment decides is in its best interests on any given day. Iraq was invaded because large swathes of the American elite thought they could make hay of it one way or another (financially, politically, ideologically or even psychologically, for those pathetic souls who get their sense of manhood or personal validation from their identification with a big, swaggering, domineering empire). And U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, indefinitely, at some level, because the American elite think they can make hay of the situation one way or another. The war is all about—is only about—what the American elite feel is in their own best interest, how it aggrandizes their fortunes, flatters their prejudices, serves their needs. That's it. The rest is just bullshit and murder.

Threats Wrapped in Misunderstandings (Washington Post) The Iraq Study Group's prescriptions hinge on a fragile Iraqi government's ability to achieve national reconciliation and security at a time when the country is fractured along sectarian lines, its security forces are ineffective and competing visions threaten to collapse the state, Iraqi politicians and analysts said Wednesday.

They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes. They described it as a strategy largely to help U.S. troops return home and resurrect America's frayed influence in the Middle East.

Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.

UPDATE: You simply must read this report by the incomparable Antonia Juhasz, which underlines, in copious detail, precisely the kind of "hay" these elitist insiders hope to make in Iraq: the kind that's thick, black, oozy and slick. That's right: buried in the Iraq Study Group's solemn report—and ignored by virtually every mainstream story on the subject—you will find the usual smoking gun of the Bush-Baker power faction...oil. Juhasz writes:
The report calls for the United States to assist in privatizing Iraq's national oil industry, opening Iraq to private foreign oil and energy companies, providing direct technical assistance for the "drafting" of a new national oil law for Iraq, and assuring that all of Iraq's oil revenues accrue to the central government. President Bush hired an employee from the U.S. consultancy firm Bearing Point Inc. over a year ago to advise the Iraq Oil Ministry on the drafting and passage of a new national oil law. As previously drafted, the law opens Iraq's nationalized oil sector to private foreign corporate investment, but stops short of full privatization. The ISG report, however, goes further, stating that "the United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise." In addition, the current Constitution of Iraq is ambiguous as to whether control over Iraq's oil should be shared among its regional provinces or held under the central government. The report specifically recommends the latter: "Oil revenues should accrue to the central government and be shared on the basis of population." If these proposals are followed, Iraq's national oil industry will be privatized and opened to foreign firms, and in control of all of Iraq's oil wealth.
Juhasz then takes us on a magical history tour of the long, intricate effort to suck Iraq's oil wealth away from its people by two of the principals of the "blue-ribbon" ISG: Baker, of course, and Lawrence Eagleburger, his longtime partner in backroom grease. Both men played major roles in skewing US policy to favor their favorite Arab strongman, Saddam Hussein, for years—and both men then cashed in bigtime on the policies they had crafted.

As Juhasz notes, the need to force the "sovereign Iraqi government" to turn over its oil fields to American energy barons is surely one of the main reasons that the ISG -- and that "breath of fresh air," Robert Gates—are adamant about the maintaining the presence of US troops in Iraq for the next two years, at the very least.

So it's not just about "kicking the can down the road" until Bush can wash his hands of the mess and the warmongers can blame the defeat on someone else (although certainly that's one of the report's charms for the Bush Faction). As I have written over and over here and elsewhere for more than four years, even before the war began: these guys have a plan, they have an objective, and they keep their eyes on the prize. "Success" and "victory" in Iraq have nothing to do with democracy or security or freedom or fighting terrorism or any of that stuff: the "success" of the war will be measured solely in terms of how much wealth and privilege the warmongering elite can derive from it. If they fail to nail down the oil deal, the war will have been a defeat; if they get it, it will be a victory.

Again, you must read the whole report by Juhasz. Of course, all of these objective, irrefutable historical facts should have been standard background fare in the multitude of media stories about the Baker group and its report. But then, that would be journalism, wouldn't it? And lord knows, we can't have the sacred precincts of the corporate media sullied with such a lowbrow practice as journalism, now can we? Fortunately, we have stalwarts like Juhasz on the case. Read it and weep—with rage.

Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including the Nation, CounterPunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many others. He is the author of Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium, and is co-founder and editor of the "Empire Burlesque" political blog. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2006 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on December 7, 2006.

China sounds alarm on falling greenback

Friday, December 08, 2006

China's central bank issued a warning Thursday about the risks of dollar weakness, piling fresh pressure on the US currency after a steep drop over the past few weeks.

The warning was contained in the full version of the central bank's 2006 financial stability report, which it posted on its Web site.

"If external capital stops flowing into the United States, a significant drop in the US dollar may occur with consumption and investment shrinking, interest rates rising and financial markets experiencing turbulence - endangering global financial and economic stability," the report said.

The central bank, holder of the world's largest foreign currency reserves, said more capital will flow into China as the US dollar weakens and fund managers dump dollar-denominated assets.

Inflows of cash have undermined efforts to cool growth in the world's fastest growing major economy and increased the risk that banks will be saddled with bad loans, the bank said.

The country's trade surplus, forecast by the government to swell 65 percent to a record US$168 billion (HK$1.31 trillion) this year, has flooded the economy with funds and sparked calls by trading partners for faster gains in the yuan. China's October money supply unexpectedly accelerated for the first month in five.

"Everyone's looking for excuses to get out of the dollar and bet on more Asian currency strength, and this provides it," said Claudio Piron, head of Asian currency research at JPMorgan Chase Bank in Singapore.

"It's providing support for all the Asian currencies."

The world economy has been enjoying the strongest sustained growth in 30 years, even as the US current account deficit steadily widens and surpluses grow in Asia and oil- producing countries. But the People's Bank of China said the longer the imbalances persist, the greater the risk of a disorderly adjustment and of damage to the world economy.

"If the US current account deficit continues to grow faster than GDP, then the investment value of US assets may be subjected to doubts and challenges and the willingness of investors to continue holding and buying US financial products may weaken," the central bank said.

After marking time for months, the dollar has now lost 2.5 percent against the yen in less than three weeks, 3.6 percent against the euro and 4 percent against the British pound.

The Chinese central bank also said it saw a chance that Asian and oil- producing countries would adjust their foreign currency reserve portfolios.



DECEMBER 6, 2006

by Steve Wolfson and Roger Wolfson

So my son calls me today, and I answer the phone from my desk, and I guess I was a little surly. “Whatcha grumbling about, Dad?”

“I think I’m hungry.”

“You’re suddenly unable to feed yourself?”

“I could feed myself just fine. In fact, one of the pharmaceutical companies is offering a free lunch 20 feet away, and it smells like fancy stuff.”

“Why aren’t you there?”

“I never go to those things. It’s fine for drug companies to invest in research, but when they spend a fortune doling out food and propaganda to doctors, it just drives me nuts.”

My son paused for a second. That’s always a dangerous sign. You see, I’d forgotten that he can be, well… political. “Dad, this is fantastic.”

“Before you get any big ideas…”

“No, really. This is great. You should lead a boycott. A boycott of pharmaceutical graft!”


“No doctor should take gifts from a drug company without disclosing the gifts to their patients –- just like a politician can’t take money from a lobbyist without disclosing this to his constituents!”

“That’s not really fair to my colleagues…”

“So? Don’t you want to know if anyone giving you a recommendation is compensated by the beneficiary of the recommendation?”

“Son, it’s embarrassing, but doctors can’t afford to blow off the drug companies.”


“Calm down, calm down. Here’s the thing. Our low-income patients are in desperate need of the free samples we get from the drug companies. Free samples keep them alive.”

“I’m not saying I have a problem with that…”

“And it’s not like pharmaceutical companies are all bad. The drugs they develop save lives. And with the government slowing down its investment in research, the big companies have picked up some of the slack.”

“But on the other hand, Dad…”

I sighed. And admitted: “yeah, on the other hand, they spend more on marketing than on research. They only support the publication of research that boosts their products. They unleash an army of attractive drug representatives to cozy up to physicians. The reps offer free lunches, camaraderie that I confess really can brighten a workday, and glossy brochures that highlight the success and obscure the failure of their products. Meanwhile, their advertising directed to patients generates demand that bears little relationship to real needs.”

“Dad, you’re a columnist. Write an article about this!”

“You seem pretty charged up.”

“We could write it together! We could ask every doctor to say no to the free lunches and the glossy brochures. Don’t some hospitals and medical schools already do that? Doesn't Yale? We could ask for more free samples, instead! And we could ask physicians and patients who read this article to ask their elected representatives to regulate pharmaceutical marketing! It’s the only way to change things, Dad! We need a movement! Let’s ask doctors and patients to stand up for honest marketing and for assistance to patients who can’t afford drugs they need!”

I confess, I was reluctant to get involved in this. But ultimately, I realized — I paid for the man’s education, and he was right. So we wrote this article, and we hope you’ll mention it to everyone you know, and that this movement will catch on.

Steven Wolfson is a cardiologist in New Haven. Roger Wolfson is a writer living in Los Angeles.

A damning indictment of a President and his policy

Leading article

Published: 07 December 2006

A more devastating indictment of the strategy of a sitting American president could not be imagined. The cross-party Iraq Study Group's recommendations on future US policy in that blighted country were made public yesterday. Gone are the illusions of "progress" and "victory" peddled by George Bush - and, until recently, Tony Blair. Instead, it paints an unvarnished picture of the "dire" reality in Iraq. It breaks new ground not in the proposals it makes, but in the bluntness with which it speaks truth to power.

"Frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq." These are the words of Robert Gates, the former CIA director and member of the ISG until he was nominated to the Pentagon. They should banish any notion that somewhere within this report is buried a lapidary cure-all for the gigantic mess Mr Bush has created.

It is not - because such a panacea does not exist. Every possible exit strategy from the 44-month-long war has been floated, examined and found wanting. There are no good answers, only least-bad ones. That said, the ISG proposals are very sensible. The group would like virtually all US combat troops withdrawn by early 2008, but does not set a timetable. Thousands of soldiers, however, would stay on to train and embed with the Iraqi security forces. On the diplomatic front, it urges quick steps towards direct engagement with Iran and Syria, and a new push for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. But not one of these suggestions is new. Their novelty is not military or diplomatic, but political.

For the first time, a credible set of ideas on Iraq bears a cross-party imprimatur. The document may be remembered as the "Baker report", after its co-chairman James Baker, the canny and vastly experienced former Secretary of State under this president's father, who has been its most visible face. From today, when Mr Blair meets Mr Bush in Washington, the report could have transatlantic support as well.

Listening to Mr Baker yesterday was to be transported back to an era when America's foreign policy was run by people who understood the world contained other countries than their own. But the group contains five eminent Democrats as well as four other Republicans. It thus offers precious cover not only to the President at this most critical of junctures, but also to Congress, whose unity is essential if the necessary decisions are to be made.

But the window of opportunity will last only a few months at most. By spring, the 2008 Presidential race will be under way in earnest, distracting the country's attention and stretching bipartisanship to the limit. Then there are events on the ground. If the sectarian violence in Iraq continues to worsen, all bets will be off, and the ISG report will be ancient history.

Nor is there the slightest guarantee that Iran and Syria will co-operate. Why should Tehran, whose position in the region has been greatly enhanced by Mr Bush's blundering, lend a helping hand now? Even if it did, so great is the chaos in Iraq that it might make little difference.

Most important, however, is the reaction of this most obstinate of presidents. Mr Bush says he will take the report "very seriously". But he has hitherto shown little inclination to engage Iran and Syria, and none whatsoever to put pressure on Israel. He still talks of "seeing the job through", and says the ISG report is just one of several sets of proposals he is considering.

But none will be as authoritative. Can he now, for once, take the advice of people whose views are not his own? It is most certainly his best chance, and probably his last one, of salvaging something from one of the greatest foreign disasters in American history.




For immediate release 7 December 2006


JERUSALEM, 7 December 2006 – Twelve UN agencies together with 14 NGOs operating in
the occupied Palestinian territory today launched an emergency Appeal for $453.6
million to help meet increasing Palestinian humanitarian needs in 2007. It is the largest appeal for emergency humanitarian assistance ever launched in the occupied Palestinian territory and the third biggest in the world.

“We have been compelled to launch a larger Appeal in the face of the increased need
among the Palestinian population”, said Kevin Kennedy, the UN’s Humanitarian
Coordinator. “It is particularly aimed at assisting the most vulnerable Palestinians,
including children who make up about half of the population”.

“Two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are now living in
poverty. Growing numbers of people are unable to cover their daily food needs and
agencies report that basic services such as health care and education are deteriorating and set to worsen much further”, he added.

The rapid deterioration is linked with the fiscal crisis facing the Palestinian Authority that has been unable to pay its 160,000 staff, on whom another one million family members depend for support. In addition, Palestinians are subject to increasing restrictions on their freedom of movement, limiting their access to jobs, markets, health services and schools.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd says, “The loss of life, livelihood and security in the oPt is most distressing. It is increasingly difficult for people to cope in such a volatile and unpredictable environment. UNRWA strives to provide services that enhance the human potential of the refugee population. However, we must go beyond this crisis to be able to help people regain the hope and optimism required for building a stable future. Providing the support outlined in this appeal will be a large step in the right direction.”

Most of the 2007 emergency funding sought will go towards addressing poverty through
emergency employment programmes, and expanding food and agricultural aid. Agencies
will also support the Palestinian institutions that deliver health, education and psychosocial services. This year’s Appeal also includes a new protection sector in response to the increased death toll and vulnerability of Palestinian civilians.

“Humanitarian assistance can cushion a deteriorating situation, but it ultimately cannot stop the decline,” said David Shearer, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “Ultimately only a political settlement can generate a significant improvement,” he added.

“We are anxious to help the most needy maintain their dignity and have income. But the humanitarian community is not in a position to provide the full range services offered by the Palestinian Authority – and has no ambitions to do so”.
For more information please contact
Chris Gunness, UNSCO, 054-5-627-825
Allegra Pacheco OCHA – 0545-627-848
Johan Eriksson, UNRWA, 054-240-2632


Nir Rosen on latest situation in Iraq, and the "Baker-Hamilton" commission report (Iraq Study Group)

Date: Wednesday, December 6, 2006 mp3

Nir Rosen
Freelance writer, photographer and film-maker who has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, and has just returned from Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia. Nir has spent a total of two and a half years in Iraq since the invasion. He is a Fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of the book "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq".


The latest situation in Iraq, and the "Baker-Hamilton" commission report on Iraq. Nir Rosen says: "The U.S. can make things worse in Iraq, but it can't make things better. Everything it has touched in the region has turned to dust."

Hey, We Got Beat Fair and Square

Dec 7, 2006

By Mike Whitney

The hearings for Robert Gates were about as weird as it gets.

Gates wasn’t asked one tough question the whole time. It was all a meaningless formality. Besides, Gates had all the qualifications the senate was looking for. In other words, he wasn’t Rumsfeld and that’s all that mattered.

For Gates it was more like Coronation Day than a serious inquiry into past indiscretions. Did anyone care about his involvement in Iran-Contra and his propensity to “fix the intelligence to fit the policy” or were they too busy showering him with praise?

And, what happened to our tough new Democratic majority? Did the midterm elections really change anything?

Oh, yeah; we traded a rubber-stamp Republican congress for a rubber-stamp Democratic congress. Now that’s progress.

No one bothered to ask Gates how he felt about military tribunals, although that will be one of his many responsibilities as Secretary of Defense.

And, no one asked him about Guantanamo Bay, or habeas corpus, or extraordinary rendition, or deploying the military inside the US, or covert assassination programs, or collecting information on American citizens, or placing propaganda in the foreign press.

Not one senator was even curious to know if he would continue to spy on Quakers, antiwar protestors or peace activists. And what about terror suspects; will he give them a fair hearing in front of a federal judge or run them through Rummy’s Star Chamber?

These are important questions, but they never showed up on the senatorial radar.


Because the rights of “We the People” don’t amount to a hill-o-beans and the politicians don’t give a hoot if we know it or not.

What really matters is Iraq, Iraq, and Iraq. That’s why Rep. Steny Hoyer muscled out John Murtha as House Majority Leader. And that’s why the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep Silvestre Reyes, wants to send another 30,000 troops to the Iraqi sinkhole.

The Democrats won’t get us out of Iraq. They’re already arming the war-donkey for another 4 years.

And it’s no different with the Baker group either.

Sure there’s plenty of gloom and doom in the report, but its all window-dressing. We’re not pulling-out. Heck no! Baker just wants to reduce troop levels to patch up the army and bolster public support for the next big bloodbath.

“Let’s talk to our enemies,” Baker opines. “Let’s talk to Iran”.

Okay. But, I’ll tell you what they’ll say. They’ll say:

“Your time is up, George W. Bush. You just did us the biggest favor anyone could ever dream of. You crushed our enemies in Afghanistan and destroyed our arch-rival, Saddam Hussein. You’re army is overextended, your people are fed up, and you’ve spent zillions of dollars that you’ll never see again. On top of that, you’ve thrown your support behind our main agent, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who runs the most feared death squad in all of Iraq; The Badr Brigade”

“Thank you, Great Satan. How can we ever repay you?”

Baker is a smooth-talking attorney and a good diplomat, but he won’t get us out of this mess. His hands are tied. Besides, there’s nothing he can do. There’s nothing anyone can do. Its not a matter of whether we keep 70,000 or 140,000 troops in Iraq. The troop-size is irrelevant.

The place is unraveling!

Why don’t the American people understand that?

Iran can’t fix it. Syria can’t fix it. No one can fix it.

Bush can either follow Baker’s advice or go ahead and do it his own way; it won’t make a damn bit of difference. The outcome will be exactly the same. Events on the ground are outpacing all of the political posturing and decision-making. In fact, the Baker report is probably already obsolete. Bush started a brushfire that’s going to zip right across the entire Middle East taking down all the US puppets on the way.

Yee-hah! Isn’t liberation fun?

But what happens when all of our Arab gas station attendants join the resistance and turn off the oil spigot? Won’t that put a hurtin’ on our economy?

Maybe we should’ve thought about that first?

Baker thinks he can stop this madness; this worm of anarchy that is sweeping through Iraq, but he’s dreaming. “Democracy is on the march!” The entire region is sliding towards chaos. By the time the tsunami hits Saudi Arabia even the impervious Bush will be pacing the deck.

The Baker Commission is just a finger in the dike. They can keep braying about “enhanced diplomatic and political efforts”, but that’s just because they’ve run out of options?

The military option flopped. Now what; flatten every city from Baghdad to the Syrian border? It wouldn’t work anyway; just look at Falluja. The Marines want another 20,000 troops just to maintain order in al-Anbar Province and THEY’VE ALREAY REDUCED THE WHOLE AREA TO RUBBLE.

What’s next; bomb the rubble into finely-ground sand?

Hey, we got beat fair and square. Now, let’s pack it in.

Like the report says: “The ability of the United States to influence events within Iraq is diminishing”. The relentless aerial bombardment and the massive counterinsurgency operations have achieved their objective; the country is in a state of collapse.

Isn’t that what Bush wanted?

Iraq will never recover from this war and neither will America.

Even the strongest country can only suffer the choices of idiots for so long.

France 24, On-line TV in English

Thursday, December 07, 2006

France 24, on-line TV

JustmeinParis has often wished that one simple connection to the internet would bring voice, video, text and images directly to the television, local PC and please, just one, one portable telephone with one unique number that we can carry anywhere and talk with anyone.

Internet Channel France 24
We are one step closer to this dream with the introduction of France 24. This on-line, live channel on the internet is a 24/7 news channel based in France and certainly France's answer to CNN. Jacques Chirac proposed this concept four years ago and last evening at 7:30pm, the station president pushed the "go live" button. The broadcast is made on normal televisions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The rest of the world must go on line to France 24 to watch the broadcast.

In an recent interview Chirac said that France has it's view of the world and should broadcast this view that conforms with the French traditions and their concept of peace, humanism and globalism.

On this live telecast, there are a French, Englih and Arabic versions but.. hmm, the Arabic version switched to English this evening. Well, this will be resolved soon I am sure.

Also this evening at 8:30pm France time, France24 introduced the full France 24 website. Wow, it's so cool to click between the French and English versions. The news stories are not exactly the same but they are quite similar and are broadcast in parallel. Certainly for the students of French, it is a great tool to improve the comprehension of French.

It is estimated that this channel will reach 190 million viewers. Hey, why not be the 190 millionth at first viewer ?

Setting the limits of invasion journalism

7 Dec 2006

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger reports an unprecedented study by three UK universities which found that, contrary to myth, 80 per cent of the media followed "the government line" on Iraq and only 12 per cent challenged it. He analyses the subtleties and insidious nature of censorship in free societies and asks why this is neglected by many media colleges.

On 14 November, Bridget Ash wrote to the BBC’s Today programme asking why the invasion of Iraq was described merely as “a conflict”. She could not recall other bloody invasions reduced to “a conflict”. She received this reply:

Dear Bridget
You may well disagree, but I think there’s a big difference between the aggressive “invasions” of dictators like Hitler and Saddam and the “occupation”, however badly planned and executed, of a country for positive ends, as in the Coalition effort in Iraq.
Yours faithfully,
Roger Hermiston
Assistant Editor, Today

In demonstrating how censorship works in free societies and the double standard that props up the facade of “objectivity” and “impartiality”, Roger Hermiston’s polite profanity offers a valuable exhibit. An invasion is not an invasion if “we” do it, regardless of the lies that justified it and the contempt shown for international law. An occupation is not an occupation if “we” run it, no matter that the means to our “positive ends” require the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and an unnecessary sectarian tragedy. Those who euphemise these crimes are those Arthur Miller had in mind when he wrote: “The thought that the state... is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.” Miller might have been less charitable had he referred directly to those whose job it was to keep the record straight.

The ubiquity of Hermiston’s view was illuminated the day before Bridget Ash wrote her letter. Buried at the bottom of page seven in the Guardian’s media section was a report on an unprecedented study by the universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds on the reporting leading up to and during the invasion of Iraq. This concluded that more than 80 per cent of the media unerringly followed “the government line” and less than 12 per cent challenged it. This unusual, and revealing, research is in the tradition of Daniel Hallin at the University of California, whose pioneering work on the reporting of Vietnam, The Uncensored War, saw off the myth that the supposedly liberal American media had undermined the war effort.

This myth became the justification for the modern era of government “spin” and the “embedding” (control) of journalists. Devised by the Pentagon, it was enthusiastically adopted by the Blair government. What Hallin showed – and was pretty clear at the time in Vietnam, I must say – was that while “liberal” media organisations such as the New York Times and CBS Television were critical of the war’s tactics and “mistakes”, even exposing a few of its atrocities, they rarely challenged its positive motives – precisely Roger Hermiston’s position on Iraq.

Language was, and is, crucial. The equivalent of the BBC’s sanitised language in Iraq today is little different from America’s “noble cause” in Vietnam, which was followed by the “tragedy” of America’s “quagmire” – when the real tragedy was suffered by the Vietnamese. The word “invasion” was effectively banned. What has changed? Well, “collateral damage”, the obscene euphemism invented in Vietnam for the killing of civilians, no longer requires quotation marks in a Guardian editorial.

What is refreshing about the new British study is its understanding of the corporate media’s belief in and protection of the benign reputation of western governments and their “positive motives” in Iraq, regardless of the demonstrable truth. Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester, who led the research team, says that the “humanitarian rationale” became the main justification for the invasion of Iraq and was echoed by journalists. “This is the new ideological imperative shaping the limits of the media,” he says. “And the Blair government has been very effective at promoting it among liberal internationalists in the media.” It was the 1999 Kosovo campaign, promoted by Blair and duly echoed as a “humanitarian intervention”, that set the limits for modern invasion journalism.

The Kosovo adventure has long been exposed as a fraud that ridicules warnings of a “new genocide like the Holocaust”, though little of this has been reported. It as if our long trail of blood is forever invisible, intellectually and morally. Certainly, it is time those who run media colleges began to alert future journalists to their insidious grooming.

Oil for Sale: Why the Iraq Study Group is Calling for the Privatization of Iraq's Oil Industry

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

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Among its recommendations, the Iraq Study Group advised that Iraq privatize its oil industry and to open it up to international companies. Author and activist Antonia Juhasz writes "Put simply, the oil companies are trying to get what they were denied before the war or at anytime in modern Iraqi history: access to Iraq's oil under the ground." [includes rush transcript]

  • Antonia Juhasz, author and activist. Her latest book is "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time,"


AMY GOODMAN: The Iraq Study Group also recommended for Iraq to privatize its oil industry and to open it up to international companies. The author and activist, Antonia Juhasz, has been closely watching this aspect of the Iraq reconstruction process. She’s author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. Antonia Juhasz, thanks for joining us in studio in San Francisco. Your response to the report, not talked about almost at all, the issue of privatization?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, absolutely. And good morning, Amy. It’s a completely radical proposal made straightforward in the Iraq Study Group report that the Iraqi national oil industry should be reorganized as a commercial enterprise. The proposal also says that, as you say, Iraq’s oil should be opened up to private foreign energy and companies. Also, another radical proposal: that all of Iraq’s oil revenues should be centralized in the central government. And the report calls for a US advisor to ensure that a new national oil law is passed in Iraq to make all of this possible and that the constitution of Iraq is amended to ensure that the central government gains control of Iraq’s oil revenues.

All told, the report calls for privatization of Iraq’s oil, turning it over to private foreign corporate hands, putting all of the oil in the hands of the central government, and essentially, I would argue, extending the war in Iraq to ensure that US oil companies get what the Bush administration went in there for: control and greater access to Iraq's oil.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, let’s talk about the members of this Iraq Study Group. That might explain what their approach has been, particularly James Baker, the former Secretary of State, and also Lawrence Eagleburger. Talk about the two of them.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Both Baker and Eagleburger have spent their careers doing one of two things: working for the federal government or working in private enterprise taking advantage of the work that they did for the federal government. So, in particular, in this case, both Baker and Eagleburger were key participants throughout the ’80s and early 1990s of radically expanding US economic engagement with Saddam Hussein, with a very clear objective of gaining greater access for US corporations, particularly oil corporations, to Iraq's oil, and doing everything that they could to expand that access.

Baker has his own private interest. His family is heavily invested in the oil industry, and also Baker Botts, his law firm, is one of the key law firms representing oil companies across the United States and their activities in the Middle East. And Lawrence Eagleburger was president of Kissinger Associates, which was one of the leading multinational advising firms for advising US companies who were trying to get contracts with Saddam Hussein and get work in Iraq.

Now, these two members of the Iraq Study Group are joined by two additional members who are representatives of the Heritage Foundation, and the Heritage Foundation is one of the few US organizations that point-blank called for full privatization of Iraq's oil sector prior to the invasion of Iraq, as a stated goal of the invasion. And to call point-blank for full privatization, as I said, is truly radical. It’s actually a shift for the Bush administration, which has for the past about two years been working on a more sort of privatization-lite agenda, putting forward what are called production-sharing agreements in Iraq that would have the same outcome of privatization without calling it privatization.

For the Iraq Study Group, which is supposed to be, you know, the meeting of the pragmatists, the sort of middle-ground group that’s going to help solve the war in Iraq, to put forward this incredibly radical proposal and to have nobody talk about it, to me, is fairly shocking and makes clear that still the Democrats, the Republicans, the media are afraid to talk about oil, but that oil, in my mind, still remains the lynchpin for the administration and for all those in the oil sector in the United States, Baker and Eagleburger counted among them, for why US troops are being committed and committed to stay. And the report says troops will stay until at least 2008 -- I think that is at a minimum -- to guarantee this oil access to US oil companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Secretary of State James Baker in 2003 went to Rome, Moscow, London, first official trip since he joined the Bush administration as a point person on issues around Iraq in 2003, but remained a senior partner in the law firm, Baker Botts, which, among others, represents Halliburton, as well as the Saudi government, in the suit filed by family members who lost relatives in 9/11. Now, that’s the family members who lost their loved ones versus the Saudi government, and he was representing the Saudi government.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, he’s definitely had his allegiance spread, and it almost always, in the bottom line, has to do with oil. And as the public has been very clear in saying in its reports on Baker -- or rather, excuse me, the media -- that Baker is a pragmatist. He is a pragmatist. The Iraq Study Group report, page 1, chapter one, says that the reason why Iraq is a critical country in the Middle East, in the world and for the United States, is because it has the second-largest reserves of oil in the world. The report is very clear.

The report is also very clear, however, that this isn’t a report where the recommendations can be picked and choosed. It says that all of the recommendations should be applied together as one proposal, that they shouldn’t be separated out. That means that the authors of the report are saying that oil, privatization of oil, and foreign corporate access to oil is as key as any other recommendation that they have made.

And the report also says that the US government will withhold military, economic and political support of the Iraqi government, unless the recommendations are met. That’s a pretty straightforward statement. The US government will not provide any support to the al-Maliki government, unless it advances the changes to the Iraqi constitution and changes to Iraqi national law that essentially privatize Iraq’s oil.

That is something for us in the antiwar movement to be very, very clear about, that this is their objective and that we have to, as I repeatedly say, not just call for the end of troops in Iraq, but make clear that the US corporate invasion cannot be progressed or continue, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, I want to thank you very much for being with us, author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time, speaking to us from San Francisco.

The Democrats' Not-So-Secret Plan?

The Democrats' Not-So-Secret Plan
By Cliff Kincaid | December 7, 2006
The plan is quite simple: increase the U.S. armed forces by 100,000, and use them and NATO for "collective security."

Some are saying that congressional Democrats came to power without a plan. In fact, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, architect of the Democratic victory, co-authored a book in 2006 called The Plan. Its subtitle: Big Ideas for America. One of them, in the critical field of foreign policy, is a "new strategy to win the war on terror" by reforming and strengthening multilateral institutions. The book cites Will Marshall's call for a doctrine of "progressive internationalism" and cites the work of Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and author of the book, A New World Order.

The plan is quite simple: increase the U.S. armed forces by 100,000, and use them and NATO for "collective security." The U.N., meanwhile, will be assigned duties in the areas of "economic and social assistance" to the rest of the world.

The military phase is actually an old plan. It was originally proposed by George Soros, who wrote Toward a New World Order: The Future of NATO, back in 1993. He figured that NATO could take on the military responsibilities of the New World Order until the U.N. was ready to do the job.

Will Marshall's book, With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty, includes a chapter by Slaughter, "Reinventing the United Nations," which urges fulfillment of the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, which will cost the U.S. $845 billion, and creation of a "more globally inclusive NATO."

Not surprisingly, Slaughter cites the views of Senator Joseph Biden, incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who she notes has argued for "reorienting" the U.N. and Bretton Woods institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

He once wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal under the headline, "How I Learned to Love the New World Order." He has emerged as one of the strongest advocates of making NATO, once an anti-Communist alliance, into a military arm of the U.N. He also supported creation of the International Criminal Court.

Biden is a Vietnam War draft dodger and plagiarist who was forced out of the 1988 presidential race when his plagiarism was exposed. He supported the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia on behalf of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), some of whose fighters were trained by Osama bin Laden. Radical Islamists are now poised to take over Kosovo and make it into an independent state, if the U.S. and the U.N. give it their final approval.

Litvinenko: Kremlin Conspiracy or Blofeld Set-Up?

The radioactive poisoning of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko raises many disturbing questions. And, as British Home Secretary John Reid said, the investigation should not make any premature assumptions and should be prepared to go in every possible direction. The Putin government, assuming it has nothing to hide, should cooperate with the British. The Kremlin’s own self-interest requires nothing less than clearly addressing Western suspicions about its possible role in the assassination.

When a vitriolic critic of President Vladimir Putin is poisoned with a nuclear isotope, questions about Moscow’s involvement are inevitable and appropriate. What is not appropriate is the highly simplistic and sometimes even misleading coverage of the affair in some Western media. Consider a December 5 story in The Washington Post, “British Police Take Poisoning Inquiry to Moscow,” by Mary Jordan and Peter Finn. It starts by referring to Litvinenko as “a former Russian spy.” But there is no record that Litvinenko ever served with Russian foreign intelligence, either in the post-KGB foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR, or military intelligence, known as the GRU. On the contrary, after junior assignments in FSB counterintelligence, the post-KGB internal security agency, Litvinenko built a name for himself in its organized crime department. According to a remarkably insightful story in The New York Times (“Russian Ex-Spy Lived in a World of Deceptions,” by Alan Cowell, December 3), in that capacity Litvinenko developed a relationship with leading Russian oligarch Boris Berzovsky as early as 1994. During that period of free fall after the collapse of Soviet institutions, Berezovsky openly mixed his senior positions in the Russian government with aggressive privatization of state assets for his own benefit. And Litvinenko’s department in the FSB was frequently viewed not so much as a law enforcement agency, but as a part of organized crime itself.

Worse, The Washington Post misleadingly describes Berezovsky as “a billionaire now living in self-imposed exile in London” who “was a friend of Litvinenko’s.” Anyone who read Paul Klebnikov’s Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia would know that Litvinenko’s “friend” was much more than an anti-Putin business leader. He was a master of Kremlin intrigue, widely reputed in numerous, and now public, accounts of bribing and corrupting everything and everyone around him, including members of Boris Yeltsin’s family. And Berezovsky does not just oppose Putin’s rule—he has said on several occasions that he is actively pursuing regime change in Russia using his base in London and his business and political contacts from Ukraine to Georgia.

In the first days after Litvinenko’s illness became known to the public, the primary source of information about what had happened and Litvinenko’s suspicions of Putin was Alex Goldfarb, who The Washington Post and others describe as “a friend of Litvinenko’s” or a “friend of the family.” Goldfarb certainly was a friend and could probably even be considered a member of the family—in the same way that Tom Hagen was a key member of the Godfather’s family in the famous movie. Goldfarb—officially the director of Berezovsky’s Foundation for Civil Liberties—is one of Berezovsky’s close associates. Interestingly, despite being known as a relentless publicity seeker, Berezovsky has sought to downplay his role and that of his organization in this instance. Based on his past conduct, one would have expected at a minimum that Berezovsky would attempt to use the Litvinenko matter to pursue his stated objective of discrediting and undermining Putin.

At present, there are three main theories of Litvinenko’s killing. One is the Kremlin plot that Goldfarb described when quoting what Litvinenko allegedly dictated on his deathbed. This requires one of two assumptions. The first—that the leader of a major nuclear power is dangerously devoid of basic common sense and any instinct for self-preservation—defies our previous experience with Putin. Killing a fairly insignificant political opponent in a key European capital with a highly traceable material would demonstrate an appalling lack of judgment in an area where most of Putin’s critics see sinister genius rather than Yeltsin-style bumbling.

But this logic holds only if Litvinenko was nothing more than an extremely harsh Putin critic, someone who accused the pesident of being a pedophile on a Chechen website and blamed him for bombings in Moscow and even in London, but ultimately did little to endanger Putin’s or Russia’s security in a serious way. The alternative assumption is that the Kremlin saw Litvinenko as a real threat, perhaps because of his Chechen links. It is clear that Litvinenko was quite close to at least some Chechen rebels, like exiled separatist spokesman Akhmed Zakayev, whom he saw on November 1, the day he was reportedly poisoned. If Litvinenko had been actively involved with Chechen insurgents, Moscow’s calculations could have been quite different. After all, it is widely believed, and even privately admitted in Moscow government circles, that the Kremlin authorized the killing of former Chechen president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in 2004. And the Duma recently passed a law authorizing the assassination of suspected terrorists outside Russian borders. So, before dismissing the Kremlin connection, it is essential to establish what exactly Mr. Litvinenko—a recent convert to Islam—was involved in and to examine any involvement he could have had with Islamic extremist organizations that might be interested in polonium-210 for dirty bombs or other uses.

The second theory of Litvinenko’s poisoning comes straight from the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice. In the film, the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Blofeld, seeks to provoke a U.S.-Soviet confrontation by creating a false impression that they are seizing each other’s spacecraft. In this instance, Berezovsky would be the mastermind of an effort to set Britain and the West against Putin. He would have both a motive and the capability to use the Litvinenko assassination to frame the Russian leader. And anyone familiar with Berezovsky’s activities in Russia would have to entertain the possibility that he would have the combination of imagination, resources and utter ruthlessness to sacrifice his former protégé to advance his anti-Putin designs.

A new book published in Moscow by Alexander Khinshtein, a pro-Kremlin journalist and Duma member, provides a detailed account (with transcripts of Berezovsky’s phone conversations in July 1996), demonstrating Berezovsky’s key role in creating quite “a performance” to let Yeltsin think that his security chiefs were involved in a conspiracy against the Russian president (Yeltsin. Kreml. Istoriya bolezni, Alexander Khinshtein, 2006). The purpose was to remove from Yeltsin’s entourage those who were an obstacle to Berezovsky’s influence. In 1999, according to the memoirs of former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Berezovsky again fed false information to Yeltsin and his family to create an impression that they were threatened by Primakov’s anti-corruption investigations. Later, Berezovsky used his control of TV channel ORT to launch a vicious and highly misleading campaign against Primakov on behalf of the new Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, whom he helped come to power. With Putin at first refusing to follow Berezovsky’s guidance and then strongly moving against the oligarch, Berezovsky made it his mission in life to have a regime change in Moscow.

What speaks against this scenario is the terrible personal risk Berezovsky would be taking in the process. He would have to anticipate that while he and his allies could influence Western opinion, they would be in a much weaker position to manipulate a professional investigation by Scotland Yard or by Russian security services determined to demonstrate that Moscow was not to blame. With his obvious connection to Litvinenko and his reputation as an unscrupulous intriguer, Berezovsky would have to know that he himself would become a target of any serious investigation.

Andrey Lugovoi, another former FSB officer now identified as a prime suspect in some news reports, could have been a key player in either the Kremlin or the Berezovsky scenarios. Lugovoi met with Litvinenko on November 1 and was on one of the British Airways flights contaminated by polonium-210. And he has both an obvious FSB connection as well as a less-discussed Berezovsky connection: while still with the FSB in the 1990s, Lugovoi was simultaneously a security officer at the Russian television channel ORT, then controlled by Berezovsky. In 2001-02, he spent time in the infamous Lefortovo prison for helping another Berezovsky associate, Nikolai Glushkov, to escape from detention. His loyalty in this instance is unclear, and Moscow should provide Scotland Yard with direct access to him.

The third and final theory relates to Litvinenko’s personal pursuits rather than his struggle against Putin or his affiliation with Berezovsky. A Russian academic in England recently claimed that Litvinenko was thinking about making money by blackmailing Russian businessmen. Should that be true, a number of individuals and groups could have had a motive to kill him. Suspicions that groups of current and former FSB officers are responsible for killing Litvinenko fit right into this theory.

While the Litvinenko mystery is right out of a spy movie, the stakes in real life—including for the West’s relationship with Russia—are very high. If the evidence does indeed lead to the Kremlin, whitewashing it is not an option. But what is not in the West’s interest is to allow Putin’s political enemies at home and abroad to bring both him and the West into a confrontation based on a set-up, or at least on false information.

Posted by Dimitri Simes at 12/06/2006 02:36:14 PM |

Interior Ministry denies citizenship status to children of Arab residents

28 Nov. 06: Interior Ministry denies status to children of East Jerusalem residents

Until May 2002, citizens and residents of Israel (including residents of East Jerusalem) married to residents of the Occupied Territories could request a legal status in Israel for their spouse and that their children be registered in their identity cards and as residents of Israel . In May 2002, the government of Israel decided to freeze the handling of requests by Israeli residents for family unification with Palestinians from the Occupied Territories . On 31 July 2003, the government's decision was enshrined in the Nationality and Entry into Israel (Temporary Order) Law, 5762 – 2003. The Law – and the interpretation given it by the Interior Ministry – denies many children, those with one parent who is a resident of Israel and the other a resident of the Occupied Territories , the possibility of obtaining a permanent status in Israel .

Children between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, to whom the Law applies, are not allowed to obtain a status in Israel , even if they live inside Israel with a parent who is a resident of Israel . They are only entitled to a permit to stay temporarily in Israel . This permit is given for short periods, of three to six months, and does not entitle the minor to any social rights. To obtain the permit, the parent must prove that the child's center of life is in Israel . When they reach eighteen, they are liable to lose their entitlement to the permit.

As for children under the age of fourteen, the Law allows granting them status in Israel , but the Interior Ministry issues them only a "temporary-resident" visa. This visa entitles the child to all the social rights to which permanent residents are entitled (among them social security and national health benefits), but the visa is good for only two years. Here, too, the parent must prove that the child's center of life is located in Israel . The Interior Ministry refuses to indicate how it will treat these children after the two years have expired: will it upgrade their status to permanent resident or will it take away their "temporary-resident" status?

The Law also impairs the children's freedom of movement. Many of these children are delayed and harassed at checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel , particularly at checkpoints entering and exiting East Jerusalem , despite the permits in their possession. The Law also prevents children over eighteen who are living with their parents, but do not have a permit, from living a normal life – working, marrying, and the like – alongside their families and without the constant fear of deportation.

Occasionally, the Law results in siblings holding different statuses: some are permanent residents, others are temporary residents, and some hold temporary permits. This situation impairs family stability and relations among the family members.

In May 2006, the High Court of Justice rejected several petitions opposing the Law, among them petitions filed by Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel , and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual. In rejecting the petitions, the court accepted the state's official explanation that the sole purpose of the Law was security related, despite the public statements of state representatives and cabinet ministers that the real objective of the Law was primarily demographic. The High Court also ignored the severe harm that the Law causes to children.

The Law violates the best interest of the child and the right to family life, which are enshrined in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and in international law. The Law also discriminates between the children of Palestinian residents and citizens of Israel and the children of residents and citizens who are not Palestinians.

HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and B'Tselem call on the Knesset to repeal the Law. At least, its sweeping application to minors should be repealed. The Interior Ministry must promptly start registering children again, in an efficient manner based on the merits of the particular case, recognizing the right of all residents and citizens of Israel to live with their children where they choose.