Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Zionist Vs. Zionist

Controversy breaks out within the Israel on Campus Coalition.

Web Exclusive: 01.04.07

A national pro-Israel campus group took a risk when several of its chapters brought former Israeli soldiers to their campuses to expose their country's military practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Now, it might be paying the price.

The Union of Progressive Zionists, some of whose chapters and affiliates brought the "Breaking the Silence" tour to places like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Maryland, is a part of the Israel on Campus Coalition. This December, the 30,000-member Zionist Organization of America (an ICC member) sent a letter to the ICC demanding that the UPZ be removed from the coalition because of this tour. Other ICC members include the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). UPZ is an affiliate member.

The speaking tour, which was covered in the mainstream media, featured former Israeli soldiers who served in the occupied Palestinian territories. The project has also interviewed former combat soldiers and has drafted testimonials of what goes on in the occupied territories. During the tour, participants also showed photos of what they considered excessive force and unethical military behavior.

This is a big problem for Morton Klein, the president of the ZOA. In reference to "Breaking the Silence," Klein maintains that when Israeli soldiers talk about the brutal things their military does to innocent Palestinians, they are only reporting isolated incidents and are painting an inaccurate, unfair picture. "Israel has the most humane army on earth," he says.

Klein's objections are strategic as well as substantive. The ICC, which is partnered with Hillel, aims to increase advocacy of Israel on American college campuses. It was launched in 2002, two years after the first intifada in Palestine broke out, when college groups critical of the Israel occupation started to become more vocal and better organized. To have events like this that align with some of the rhetoric in pro-Palestine groups, Klein warns, is a conflict. "This is not the mission of the ICC," he says.

The D.C.-based ICC is conducting an investigation and the leadership may hand down a decision regarding the UPZ's status at its meeting later this month. The ZOA will drop their demand that the UPZ be expelled from the ICC if their chapters cease bringing "Breaking the Silence" to campuses. And if UPZ is kicked out of the ICC, it will continue to operate as an independent organization.

Klein says his organization is dedicated to fighting what it calls anti-Israel biases in schools and in the media. He refers to the West Bank by the Biblical names, "Judea and Samaria," and doesn't consider them or Gaza to be places occupied by Israel, because they weren't an independent country before 1967.

Tammy Shapiro, the director of UPZ, thinks the ZOA has misinterpreted the message of "Breaking the Silence" and why UPZ chapters and affiliates brought it to their campuses. "We think that there is definitely a plurality of views in the coalition," Shapiro says. "Our students are doing this out of love for Israel." Zionism historically has been made up of a variety of ideologies, some religious and some secular, and the politics of Zionism run the gamut from left to right.

Shapiro believes that the ICC is supportive of her organization's cause, and is optimistic about its pending decision. "It doesn't look good for them to oust Zionist students," Shapiro says.

Pro-Israel groups have often been accused of chilling speech concerning the Middle East conflict. "My own experience of American Zionist organizations is that they are becoming increasingly intolerant and bullying," Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan and author of the blog Informed Comment, writes in an email. "So the UPZ is just being treated as everyone else is that does not toe the ZOA party line, which is: no criticism of Israel is allowed by anyone, ever, and where someone dares engage in it, they should be relentlessly marginalized and punished."

Shapiro values UPZ's affiliation with the ICC, even though it could operate independently. She believes the UPZ is the only Zionist campus group that can reach Arab students, because of things like "Breaking the Silence." She thinks the pro-Israel community needs that, as without them, Arab students would only interact with anti-Zionist groups. A group like the UPZ in the coalition enables dialogue between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine communities on campuses around the country, she argues, helping to achieve the goals and vision that the UPZ shares with the other members. If the ZOA has its way, it will have a chilling effect on speech and activity within the pro-Israel community. This case may be a big test for campus Zionism's dedication to real debate.

"As long as we believe in support for a Jewish and democratic Israel," Shapiro says, "we will not be outside the big tent they are trying to create."

By Ari Paul

Ari Paul writes frequently about politics and religion. His articles have appeared in In These Times, Z Magazine, and openDemocracy.net.

Video: Kennedy speaks on his stop the surge bill

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) speaks at the National Press Club about his legislation to require congressional approval before President Bush can escalate the war in Iraq.

Destabilizing the Horn


[from the January 22, 2007 issue]

The stability that emerged in southern Somalia after sixteen years of utter lawlessness is gone, the defeat of the ruling Islamic Courts Union now ushering in looting, martial law and the prospect of another major anti-Western insurgency. Clan warlords, who terrorized Somalia until they were driven out by the Islamists, and who were put back in power by the US-backed and -trained Ethiopian army, have begun carving up the country once again.

With these developments, the Bush Administration, undeterred by the horrors and setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, has opened another battlefront in this volatile quarter of the Muslim world. As with Iraq, it casts this illegal war as a way to curtail terrorism, but its real goal appears to be to obtain a direct foothold in a highly strategic area of the world through a client regime. The results could destabilize the whole region.

The Horn of Africa, at whose core Somalia lies, is newly oil-rich. It is also just miles across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, overlooking the daily passage of large numbers of oil tankers and warships through that waterway. The United States has a huge military base in neighboring Djibouti that is being enlarged substantially and will become the headquarters of a new US military command being created specifically for Africa. As evidence of the area's importance, Gen. John Abizaid, the military commander of the region, visited Ethiopia recently to discuss Somalia, while Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Horn countries a few months ago in search of oil and trade agreements.

The current series of events began with the rise of the Islamic Courts more than a year ago. The Islamists avoided large-scale violence in defeating the warlords, who had held sway in Somalia ever since they drove out UN peacekeepers by killing eighteen American soldiers in 1993, by rallying people to their side through establishing law and order. Washington was wary, fearing their possible support for terrorists. While they have denied any such intentions, some Islamists do have terrorist ties, but these have been vastly overstated in the West.

Washington, however, chose to view the situation only through the prism of its "war on terror." The Bush Administration supported the warlords--in violation of a UN arms embargo it helped impose on Somalia many years ago--indirectly funneling them arms and suitcases filled with dollars.

Many of these warlords were part of the Western-supported transitional "government" that had been organized in Kenya in 2004. But the "government" was so devoid of internal support that even after two years it was unable to move beyond the small western town of Baidoa, where it had settled. In the end, it was forced to turn to Somalia's archenemy Ethiopia for assistance in holding on even to Baidoa. Again in violation of the UN arms embargo, Ethiopia sent 15,000 troops to Somalia. Their arrival eroded whatever domestic credibility the government might have had.

The United States, whose troops have been sighted by Kenyan journalists in the region bordering Somalia, next turned to the UN Security Council. In another craven act resembling its post-facto legalization of the US occupation of Iraq, the Council bowed to US pressure and authorized a regional peacekeeping force to enter Somalia to protect the government and "restore peace and stability." This despite the fact that the UN has no right under its charter to intervene on behalf of one of the parties struggling for political supremacy, and that peace and stability had already been restored by the Islamists.

The war came soon after the UN resolution, its outcome a foregone conclusion thanks to the highly trained and war-seasoned Ethiopian army. The African Union called for the Ethiopians to end the invasion, but the UN Security Council made no such call. Ban Ki-moon, the incoming Secretary General, is being urged to treat the enormously complex situation in Darfur as his political challenge, but Somalia, while less complex, is more immediate. He has an opportunity to establish his credentials as an unbiased upholder of the UN Charter by seeking Ethiopia's withdrawal.

The Ethiopian military presence in Somalia is inflammatory and will destabilize this region and threaten Kenya, a US ally and the only island of stability in this corner of Africa. Ethiopia is at even greater risk, as a dictatorship with little popular support and beset by two large internal revolts by Ogadenis and Oromos. It is also mired in a military stalemate with Eritrea, which has denied it secure access to seaports. It now seeks such access in Somalia.

The best antidote to terrorism in Somalia is stability. Instead of engaging with the Islamists to secure peace, the United States has plunged a poor country into greater misery in its misguided determination to dominate the world.

How the Pentagon Stole the Future

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, How the Pentagon Stole the Future

Just this week, the Bush administration is considering making a little futuristic news. The President might soon approve "a major step forward in the building of the country's first new nuclear warhead in nearly two decades," the Reliable Replacement Warhead. If only names were reality...

Critics are already claiming that the new "hybrid" design of the weapon, now planned to come on-line in 2012, will raise safety and other questions (and may someday lead to the resumption of underground nuclear testing). In other words, peering into our nuclear future, it's possible to imagine that -- to the tune of an estimated $100 billion -- the crucial word is likely to be "proliferation."

In fact, the future, as the military sees it, is simply filled to the brim with multibillion dollar American weapons systems of a sort that were once relegated to sci-fi novels for spacey boys. Now, they are the property of spacey generals, strategists, military planners, and corporate CEOs. Just a week ago, the Bush administration presented a supplemental military budget of nearly $100 billion to Congress to cover our ongoing disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to replace equipment lost or worn out in both. But evidently Air Force officials, in a "feeding frenzy," just couldn't resist slipping in a futuristic ringer -- the funding, according to Jonathan Karp of the Wall Street Journal, for two of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a high-tech plane still in development.

By the way, as Richard Cummings points out in a stunning recent piece on Lockheed in Playboy, Dick Cheney's son-in-law, Philip J. Perry, is a registered Lockheed lobbyist and his wife Lynne was on Lockheed's board until he became Vice President. On settling into Washington, George Bush appointed Lockheed's President and CEO Robert J. Stevens to his Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. "Albert Smith, Lockheed's executive vice president for integrated systems and solutions, was appointed to the Defense Science Board. Bush had appointed former Lockheed chief operating officer Peter B. Teets as undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office," and that was just the beginning as the military-industrial revolving door spun wildly and the corporation made money hand over fist.

This month Tomdispatch is focusing special attention on the Pentagon, militarization, and the imperial path. Sunday, Nick Turse laid out Pentagon plans to fight crucial future battles in Baghdad 2025 and the mega-slums of other global cities. Today, Frida Berrigan of the Arms Trade Resource Center and a regular writer for this website, considers a range of weapons systems slated to come our way somewhere between tomorrow and 2040. If that's not ownership of the future, what is? Next week, stay tuned for a Michael Klare series on the militarization of energy policy. Tom

Raptors, Robots, and Rods from God

The Nightmare Weaponry of Our Future
By Frida Berrigan

We are not winning the war on terrorism (and would not be even if we knew what victory looked like) or the war in Iraq. Our track record in Afghanistan, as well as in the allied "war" on drugs, is hardly better. Yet the Pentagon is hard at work, spending your money, planning and preparing for future conflicts of every imaginable sort. From wars in space to sci-fi battlescapes without soldiers, scenarios are being scripted and weaponry prepared, largely out of public view, which ensures not future victories, but limitless spending that Americans can ill-afford now or twenty years from now.

Even though today the Armed Forces can't recruit enough soldiers or adequately equip those already in uniform, the Pentagon is committing itself to massive corporate contracts for new high-tech weapons systems slated to come on-line years, even decades, from now, guaranteed only to enrich their makers.

Future Combat Systems

The typical soldier in Iraq carries about half his or her body weight in gear and suffers the resulting back pain. Body armor, weapon(s), ammunition, water, first aid kit -- it adds up in the 120 degree heat of Basra or Baghdad.

Ask soldiers in Iraq what they need most and answers may include: well-armored Humvees (many soldiers are jerry-rigging their own homemade Humvee armor); more body armor (an unofficial 2004 Army study found that one in four casualties in Iraq was the result of inadequate protective gear), or even silly string (Marcelle Shriver found out that her son was squirting the goo into a room as he and his squad searched buildings to detect trip wires around bombs).

The same Army that can't provide such basics of modern war is now promising the Future Combat Systems network (FCS), a "family of systems" that will enable soldiers to "perceive, comprehend, shape, and dominate the future battlefield at unprecedented levels." The FCS network will consist of a "family" of 18 manned and unmanned ground vehicles, air vehicles, sensors, and munitions, including:

* eight new, super-armored, super-strong ground vehicles to replace current tanks, infantry carriers, and self-propelled howitzers;

* four different planes and drones that soldiers can fly by remote control;

* several "unmanned" ground vehicles.

Put together these are supposed to plunge soldiers into a video-game-like version of warfighting. The FCS will theoretically allow them to act as though they are in the midst of enemy territory -- taking out "high value" targets, blowing up "insurgent safe houses," monitoring the movements of "un-friendlies"-- all the while remaining at a safe distance from the bloody action.

To grasp the futuristic ambitions (and staggering future costs) of FCS, consider this: The Government Accounting Office (GAO) notes that "an estimated 34 million lines of software code will need to be generated" for the project, "double that of the Joint Strike Fighter, which had been the largest defense undertaking in terms of software to be developed."

In charge of this ambitious sci-fi style fantasy version of war are Boeing and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). They are the "Lead Systems Integrators" of this extraordinarily complex undertaking, but they are working with as many as 535 more companies across 40 states. They promise future forces the ability to break "free of the tyranny of terrain" and "an agile, networked force capable of maneuver in the third dimension" in the words last March of retired Major General Robert H. Scales in a Boeing PowerPoint presentation entitled "FCS: Its Origin and Op Concept."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld once famously asserted, ''You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have." Pentagon planners seem to have taken the opposite tack. They prefer the military they, or their blue-sky dreamers, wish to have for the kinds of wars they dream about fighting. And it won't be cheap. A March 2005 GAO report found that the total program cost of Future Combat Systems alone "is expected to be at least $107.9 billion." In 2005, the Pentagon had already allocated $2.8 billion in research and development funds to FCS and, in fiscal year 2006, that was expected to increase to $3.4 billion. (Keep in mind, that all such complex, high-tech, weapons-oriented systems almost invariably go far over initial cost estimates by the time they come on line.)

"The Maserati of the Skies"

In 2006, the F-22 Raptor began rolling off the assembly line. The Air Force plans to buy 183 of these high-tech, radar-evading stealth planes, each at a price tag of $130 million, being manufactured in a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. But it turns out that the $130 million per plane cost is just one-third of the total price, once development costs are factored in. The whole program is slated to cost the Pentagon 65 billion big ones. In July 2006, the Government Accountability Office asserted. "The F-22 acquisition history is a case study in increased cost and schedule inefficiencies."

Even if it were a bargain, however, it is a classic case of future-planning run amok. The plane was originally conceived to counter Soviet fighter planes, which haven't menaced the U.S. for more than 15 years. The plane itself is technologically awe-inspiring, reportedly having a twice-the-speed-of-sound cruising speed of Mach 2. (The Pentagon jealously guards its maximum speed as top secret.)

In 2007, the only reason the military might need such a plane is to outfight its predecessor, the F-22, which Lockheed Martin has sold to numerous countries that benefited from the corporation's vociferous lobbying for new markets and our government's lax enforcement of arms-export controls.

In this classic case of boomeranging weaponry, Lockheed Martin has triumphed three times: First, General Dynamics sold F-16 fighters to the Air Force beginning in 1976; second, Lockheed (which bought General Dynamics) sold the planes to Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and other nations from the 1980s to the present moment; and third, Lockheed Martin (having merged with Martin Marietta in 1995 and adjusted its name accordingly) now gets to produce an even higher tech plane for a U.S. Air Force that fears it might be outclassed by foreign military hardware that once was our own. The Bethesda-based company ended 2001 with a stock price of $46.67 a share -- and began 2007 at a celebratory $92.07.

The Next Generation Fighter

Of course, the lesson drawn from this is to produce yet more futuristic planes. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by a team led (yet again!) by Lockheed Martin, made its initial flight on December 15, 2006. The total program could surpass $275 billion, making it the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin is sharing the work and profits with partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems (not to speak of scads of subcontractors).

The Air Force already hails the F-35s "transformational sensor capability" and "low-observable characteristics" that will

"enable persistent combat air support over the future battlefield. Furthermore, [the] F-35 will help enable the negation of advanced enemy air defenses because it will possess the ability to perform unrestricted operations within heavily defended airspace."

Somewhere in there it is implied that this plane launches missiles that kill people, but it is very deeply embedded. Nowhere does it say that its opponent in the skies could be the F-22 Raptor, once it is sold to all those nations who find their F-16s woefully out of date.

What's Next Next Next Next?

Even with such spiraling, mind-boggling investments in advanced weapons systems, the aerospace industry is never satisfied. The quest for new justifications for ever "better" versions of already advanced weapons systems is the holy grail of the business. These justifications pile up in industry magazines like Aerospace America, the organ of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

In a typical article in that magazine, the industry makes much of a comment then-Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley made to Congress in March 2004. In charge of the U.S. air campaign over Iraq, he observed that most of the sorties originated from neighboring countries that were allies in Operation Enduring Freedom. But what if, he wondered, you wanted to go to war and there were no local allies willing to offer basing facilities. On the classic Boy Scout theory, be prepared, he promptly warned in written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, "In the future, we will require deep-strike capabilities to penetrate and engage high-value targets during the first minutes of hostilities anywhere in the battlespace."

And he was only making a public point of already popular Air Force doctrine. The 176-page Air Force Transformation Flight Plan was issued in all its glittering verbosity in November 2003, bristling with a dismal, hyper-militarized view of the future. In it, Air Force planners envisioned a world with the United States even more embattled and unpopular than it was at that moment, and where we lacked all powers of persuasion to entice other nations to join future "coalitions of the willing."

The solution: new bombers that could fulfill those "deep-strike requirements" which, sadly, cannot be carried out by tomorrow's F-22 and F-35 fighter planes. (They "may not have enough range to attack critical ground targets far inside enemy territory, repeatedly, and under all circumstances.")

Not surprisingly, Lockheed Martin tried to knock two birds out of the sky with one stone, responding to criticism that the F-22 was irrelevant and too expensive, while rushing to meet the Air Force's perceived need for a new long-range bomber by suggesting yet another plane: the F/B (for fighter-bomber)-22. As they described it, in a vision of a kind of high artistry of death, this wonder of modern air war would even be capable of changing color to match the sky.

A January 2005 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution gave Lockheed Martin visionaries a chance to share their chameleon of a "high-speed, high-altitude bomber" which could also change shape, becoming "slimmer and more aerodynamic as its fuel tanks drain on long-distance flights. It would be invisible to radar, carry precision bombs and missiles, and fly fast enough to outrun most fighters." Sounds cool, right? This might be one instance where the weapons designers and imagineers took a few steps too far into fantasy land. There has not been any progress on the idea since 2005, but don't be surprised if the chameleon fighter-bomber changes color and shape and soars again in the race for future weapons funding.

Even without the magical fighter-bomber, over the next eight years or so the Air Force imagines fielding systems like the Common Aero Vehicle-- "a rapidly responsive, highly maneuverable, hypersonic glide vehicle that would be rocket-launched into space" according to the Air Force documents. The CAV would be equipped with sensors and bristle with weapons it could launch from space against fixed and moving targets on land, and that could be delivered anywhere on earth within two hours.

As John Pike, a weapons expert and director of GlobalSecurity.org, told the Washington Post in March 2005, CAV programs will allow the U.S. "to crush someone anywhere in world on 30 minutes' notice with no need for a nearby air base."

Looking beyond 2015, the Air Force sees systems like the B-X Bomber; space-based Hypervelocity Rod Bundles (nicknamed "rods from God"), a mystical sounding system that promises "to strike ground targets anywhere in the world"; the Guardian Urban Combat Weapon, an "air-launched lurk and loiter reconnaissance, rotary winged, unmanned, combat air vehicle designed for urban warfare"; and the High Powered Microwave Airborne Electronic Attack, an "anti-electronics high powered microwave weapon against ‘soft' electronic-containing targets" that would be operated "from an airborne platform at military significant ranges."

The Air Force and the Army are not alone in imagining fabulously wild wars of the future and the multi-billion dollar weapons systems they can build to fight them. The Navy has its own gold-plated crystal ball. Their new KDD(X) program could end up totaling $100 billion for some 70 warships including destroyers, cruisers, and a seagoing high-tech killer called LCS (Littoral Combat Ship).

Generously, the Pentagon decided to give the project to two different ship building companies -- Northrop-Grumman Ship Systems (Ingalls, Mississippi) and General Dynamics (Bath Iron Works, Maine). According to the Pentagon's "Program Acquisition Cost by Weapons System," the DD(X) will include "full-spectrum signature reduction, active and passive self-defense systems and cutting-edge survivability features." At $3.3 billion for two ships in 2007, it better.

Building one ship in each location with each contractor raised the cost by $300 million per ship, according to GlobalSecurity.Org, but to members of Congress representing each district that is a small price to pay for maintaining "flexibility." In this business, one becomes accustomed to flexibility's magical spending properties. In its 2006 report, the White House's Office of Budget and Management commented that the Littoral Combat Ship and other systems mentioned above have a "high potential to meet current and future threats." Congress, where so much of the game is bringing the bacon (i.e. shipbuilding contracts) back to the Baths of the nation, wholeheartedly concurred. That was just about the sum total of the debate about these multi-billion-dollar ship systems, multi-million-dollar boons for a few companies, and the dark specter of the future threats these ships will theoretically protect us against.

Missile Defense: The Great Misnomer in the Sky

While many of the systems described so far are, at least, futures that, in some heated imagination, exist, the misnamed Ballistic Missile Defense System is moving full steam ahead despite being irrelevant, unworkable, and obscenely expensive in our less-than-futuristic present moment. The BMD program got another boost recently when incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave it his full support, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee: "I know we've spent a lot of money on developing missile defense, but I have believed since the Reagan administration that if we can develop that kind of capability, it would be a mistake for us not to."

The mistake is wasting one more dime on decades-worth of failure and bombast that have cost an estimated $200 billion so far without producing a single workable system to shoot down an enemy missile or even the sitting-duck targets that have taken the place of such missiles in half-baked tests of the woeful project.

Missile defense funding is set to soak up another $9.4 billion in fiscal 2007 -- part of the Pentagon's ongoing corporate welfare system -- and the Defense Department's Future Years Defense Program report proposes that funding averaging $10 billion annually be continued for research and development of the system through… (this is not a misprint) 2024. (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that annual missile-defense costs will, in fact, increase to $15 billion by 2016.)

Nuclear Projections

And it is not just in the Pentagon where such blue-sky spending for an overarmed world is underway. Hidden in the innocuous sounding Department of Energy is the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has big plans laid through 2030. Their Complex 2030 vision, released in April 2006, sees a "responsive nuclear infrastructure" that can continuously dismantle and rebuild nuclear weapons, reducing their numbers and increasing their potency, while ensuring that, at any moment an American leader might want to destroy the planet many times over, nuclear production rates can be rapidly increased. The Department of Energy estimates that Complex 2030 will require a mere capital investment of $150 billion, but the Government Accountability Office suggests that, as with so many initial estimates for future weapons systems, that number was far too low. Even if the program cost only a dollar, it is but another typically dangerous and provocative step by the military-industrial complex that threatens, in this case, to encourage yet more global nuclear proliferation. Complex 2030 would, in fact, plunge us back into a Cold War atmosphere, but with far more nuclear-armed adversaries. It even promises a return to the underground testing of nuclear weapons and could require upping the production of new plutonium pits (the fissile heart of nuclear weapons).

What Do We Dream?

As engineers and physicists at Lockheed Martin and the Air Force dream up new weapons -- shaping bombers out of polymer and pixels -- politicians and Pentagoneers imagine the threats those super-bombers of the future will blast to bits.

Only the money -- billions and billions of dollars -- is real…

But as those billions are sucked away, what happens to our dreams of clear skies, cures for pandemics, solutions to global warming and energy depletion? To make more human dreams our future reality, we have to stop feeding the military's nightmare monsters.

Frida Berrigan (berrigaf@newschool.edu) is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. Her primary research areas with the project include nuclear-weapons policy, war profiteering and corporate crimes, weapons sales to areas of conflict, and military-training programs. She is the author of a number of Institute reports, including Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict.

[Note to Tomdispatch readers: Next week, as part of an ongoing series of pieces on the Pentagonization of our world, look for a Michael Klare two-parter on the militarization of energy policy.]

Copyright 2007 Frida Berrigan


January 08, 2007

Eric S. Margolis

The Bush/Cheney Administration has never concealed its sneering contempt for international law or world public opinion. Even so, the lynching of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq established a new nadir for America and shocked the entire globe.

This sordid act, which grossly violated international law, the Geneva Conventions, and basic human decency, provoked a well-deserved storm of criticism around the globe against the Bush/Cheney Administration. It also rekindled demands for an international abolition of the death penalty.

Washington professed surprise and denied blame for this disgusting spectacle. More lies. Saddam had been under US guard in a US-run prison in Baghdad’s US-run Green Zone. He was transferred under US guard to a US-run execution prison. What did US officials think would happen when they turned him over to a raging lynch mob of vengeful Shias? A parade?

The United States has already been heavily criticized for stage-managing the Soviet-style show trial and rigged kangaroo court that condemned Saddam and two of his closest henchmen.

It’s clear Iraq’s deposed leader was hurriedly executed to prevent him from revealing embarrassing details about his long collusion with the US, Britain, and Arab states.

Saddam’s principal crime was launching an unprovoked war against Iran that cost over one million casualties. This crime was never mentioned in President Hussein’s trial because, at the time, his principal accomplices were the United States, Britain and the Arab oil monarchs. Dead men tell no tales.

Ironically, Saddam’s courage and dignity on the gallows will reinforce his claim to martyrdom and make him the hero in death that he certainly was not in life. This process has already begun.

By contrast, the UN’s new South Korean secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who was maneuvered into office by Washington, shamefully supported Saddam’s execution even though the UN has long opposed the death penalty, and its human rights chief, Louise Arbour, had condemned the brutal execution . This was an inauspicious start for a timid yes-man.

This week, the Bush/Cheney Administration is widely expected to announce plans to deploy another 20,000 or more troops to Iraq and allocate billions more for the war effort and economic reconstruction. This will be George Bush’s petulant reply to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s wise proposal that all US combat forces withdraw from Iraq within a year.

Senior American generals charged with Iraq, including Gen. John Abazaid and Gen. George Casey, openly disagreed with Bush’s plans for a `surge’ in US troop deployment. These able officers told media they didn’t need more troops. They warned additional US troops would deter Iraq’s Shia regime from developing its own security forces and keep it dependant on the US and death squads.

These statements were a shocker. American generals are not supposed to publicly disagree with the president. Both officers have just been replaced in command. Gen. Abazaid, who speaks Arabic and understands Iraq, is retiring early, in disgust, say friends.

Casey and Abazaid follow another fine officer, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who choose duty to America over career. He was forced to retire by the White House after publicly stating a minimum of 300,000 US troops would be needed to pacify Iraq. The 140,000 US troops currently in Iraq, and the 80,000 or so mercenaries(`civilian contractors’ in Pentagon and media doublespeak) supporting them, are stretched to the breaking point and hard pressed to defend their own bases and vulnerable supply lines.

Iraq’s western Anbar Province has become a Ft Apache for the US Marines, who are barely able to defend their own besieged bases. Iraq’s Sunni resistance forces have almost defeated American forces there in spite of massed US air, artillery, and armor support.

Many US senior military officers privately say it is small wonder Bush, who styles himself the `war president,’ is so deficient in military experience and knowledge. A few months in the Texas Air National Guard evading wartime military service during Vietnam certainly did not prepare him to wage two wars. The real power behind the throne, VP Dick Cheney, also avoided military service, claiming he was `too busy.’

Responsible presidents know when to listen to their generals, and when to retreat from stalemated or lost wars. If Bush does send thousands more troops to Iraq, he will be risking more American lives in a desperate, 11th-hour political gamble to show voters he has a new plan to resolve the horrible mess in Iraq that he created.

The White House’s last gamble may call for stationing the new troops in and around Baghdad to end the anarchy in Iraq’s capitol and reinforcing embattled US units in Anbar Province.

But most of the new troops will come from US units currently in Iraq that were due to be withdrawn, or are US-based troops slated for deployment to Iraq. Morale among US occupation forces is already rock bottom. This news about delayed departures and accelerated deployments could ignite the same kind of malaise and indiscipline experienced by US troops in the later part of the lost Vietnam War. It could also get yet more US troops stuck in the Iraqi quagmire.

But 20,000-30,000 more US troops thrown into the cauldron of Iraq will make little military difference. One hundred fifty thousand or more might, but the US has run out of soldiers. Even massive reinforcements will not resolve the basic problem of Iraq’s post-Saddam political instability and the inability of its component groups to forge national consensus.

If Bush pours more troops into this a lost war, he will fall into the trap of many bad gamblers who double up their bets in a reckless effort to recoup previous losses.

Bush continues ignoring his generals while still heeding the siren song of the pro-Israel neoconservatives around him. Their goal is not a stable Mideast, but total destruction of Iraq, then Iran.

Current Republican presidential front-runner Sen. John McCain has joined Bush and Cheney in urging more troop be sent to Iraq. All three have clearly lost touch with reality and America’s basic values.

Call it Saddam’s curse.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007

Petrodollars, al-Sadr and the Proposed Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law

January 07, 2007

It has been obvious from the outset that the invasion of Iraq had a lot more to do with the geopolitics of oil than it did with any humanitarian concerns about Saddam Hussein's regime.

In the early 1970s oil production in the United States peaked, and a whole host of related economic problems began to surface. President Nixon had to take the United States off the gold standard, inflation started to rise and the long-term economic future of the United States appeared in doubt. The United States rescued itself from this situation by striking a deal with Saudi Arabia in which Saudi Arabia was guaranteed protection by the United States, but in return most of the petrodollars that were created by Saudi oil sales would be recycled back into United States economy. In the following 20 years, hundreds of billions of petrodollars made their way back into the United States as a result of long-term service contracts, construction contracts, arms sales and other transactions.

In addition, the discovery and exploitation of the North Sea and Prudhoe Bay oilfields had much to do with the economic growth that the United States and United Kingdom have enjoyed over the past 20 years. By the beginning of the second Bush administration, however, it was clear that both of these oil-producing regions were in an advanced state of depletion and that their production would soon began to quickly decline. In fact, their production has declined markedly within the past few years. This represented a significant threat to the economy of the United Kingdom in particular.

The single most important goal of the Iraq invasion was to ensure that Iraq ended up on a petrodollar recycling arrangement like the United States has had with Saudi Arabia, where much of the money is sent back to the US through service contracts, and the much of the rest is invested on Wall Street. In fact, President Bush's advisers may have been telling him that literally the economic future of the United States hinges on long term success (and by success I mean the recycling of petrodollars back into the US economy) in Iraq. The US is already on a precarious economic footing with its budget deficit and current account deficit both spiraling out of control. This would explain the uncharacteristic behavior of officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney over the past five years.

Making the economic situation even more critical is the fact that that the major Western oil companies are already having a big problem with reserve replacement that is going to get a lot worse in the years to come. Many have likely been fudging their books for years as Royal Dutch Shell was caught doing a few years ago. The market capitalization of the oil companies, which is critical to Wall Street, ultimately hinges on their ability to replace the oil that is being produced and sold to consumers with new reserves. They have been frustrated in being able to do this by the fact that they are for the most part frozen out of the best areas of the world by national oil companies, which dominate OPEC.

Iraq has the second largest conventional oil reserves in the world (five times more oil than in the United States), and they are largely undeveloped. This is shown in the scatter chart that is depicted below. It would have been clear to any sophisticated observer of the oil industry back in 2001 that Iraqi oil production was destined to increase significantly within the next few decades, simply because that is where the oil is. As Saudi production declines (it may be beginning to decline right now), within a decade or so Iraq will almost certainly become the world's leading oil exporter. It is clear that the US/UK saw Iraq as a ripe plum for the picking back in 2003. What we don't know is whether they thought control of Iraqi oil was a dire necessity to US interests or that it would just be nice to have. We are going to find out in the next year, I think. Reserves and Production Mapping.gif

The US occupation of Iraq has failed to quell the insurgency, and continued occupation has become politically unacceptable in the absence of another event that galvanizes public opinion such as the attacks of September 11, 2001. Given the stakes involved, though, it is unlikely that the United States is prepared to give up its ambitions for control of Iraq's oil resources.
Recent events suggest that the end game for the control of Iraqi oil has begun. The opening gambit on the part of the United States is the introduction of the proposed new hydrocarbon law to the Iraqi parliament that is planned within the next few days. This new law would give Western oil companies a very lucrative long-term deal at over twice the standard industry profit level through profit-sharing agreements (PSAs) and would preclude the Iraqi government from nationalizing its oil industry in the future as most of the other OPEC nations have. The Independent has been doing some excellent reporting on this in the past few days. From that article:

"Three outside groups have had far more opportunity to scrutinise this legislation than most Iraqis," said Mr Muttitt. "The draft went to the US government and major oil companies in July, and to the International Monetary Fund in September. Last month I met a group of 20 Iraqi MPs in Jordan, and I asked them how many had seen the legislation. Only one had."

Clearly, this legislation was written by and for the major Western oil companies. The proposed legislation also provides insurance against possible future policy changes by Iraqi governments that may not be as compliant as this one is to foreign interests:

Iraq's sovereign right to manage its own natural resources could also be threatened by the provision in the draft that any disputes with a foreign company must ultimately be settled by international, rather than Iraqi, arbitration.

In other words, if Iraq tries to nationalize its oil industry and kick the oil companies out within the next 30 years an arbitrator will rule against it and the United States will have a pretext to invade again.

The hydrocarbon legislation is just the first step in implementing the US plan. The oil fields and pipelines will of course need "protection" from insurgents that is paid for out of Iraqi government funds to US/UK mercenary/security companies such as Blackwater. The Iraqi government will need "guidance" investing its oil revenues. Bechtel and Halliburton will be given billions of dollars of contracts to provide reconstruction from all of the damage caused by US bombing and years of sanctions in the 1990s. When all is said and done, billions of new Iraqi petrodollars be recycled back into the US and British economies in order to offset the loss of revenue from domestic oil production.

Of course, questions remain as to whether the Iraqi parliament is actually going to pass the proposed legislation. Beyond that, there are also questions as to whether the Iraqi people are going to stand for the law even after it passes the parliament (the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are in opposition to long term US involvement in Iraq). The key group of lawmakers within the Iraqi parliament would appear to be the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. Originally part of the pan-Shi'ite United Iraqi List supported by Ayatollah Sistani, the Sadrists have been boycotting parliamentary sessions and there have been rumors that they have been contemplating leaving the Shi'ite bloc in favor of a coalition with Sunni legislators. This has caused a great deal of concern, both in Washington and Iran. Despite a low level of armed conflict between al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and certain Sunni factions (possibly exaggerated by elements that would like to drive them apart), the Sadrists and the Sunnis have certain positions in common, such as favoring a strong central government and opposition to the continued presence of foreign troops within Iraq. A successful Sadr-Sunni alliance would be a disaster for US neocon policy makers.

The principal rival to the Sadrists within the Shi'ite bloc is the Supreme Council of The Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which like the Sadrists possesses an armed militia, the Badr Brigades. SCIRI appears to be more compliant with the Western agenda at this point than the Sadrists are. SCIRI has not publicly taken a position on the proposed hydrocarbon law, but it is extremely unlikely that the United States would be pushing the bill's introduction at this point without its strong support. In the past, SCIRI has taken positions that would seem to indicate that it would be supportive of regional rather than central control of the oil industry, meaning that the Shi'ites of southern Iraq would end up controlling the lion's share of the Iraqi oil revenues. It is unclear at this point whether the proposed hydrocarbon law has been drafted with SCIRI's preferences in mind, but it is probably a good assumption.

Does the United States have enough votes within the Iraqi parliament to ensure passage of this law? It is realistic to expect that widespread bribery and extortion is going on to turn as many votes as possible in favor of the legislation. Would the United States ease pressure on Iran in exchange for Iran using its influence to support the passage of this law in the Iraqi Legislature?

The hasty recent execution of Saddam Hussein may have been arranged in order to placate the Sadrists and have them return to the parliament, not because they would be likely to support the law, but in order to give it greater legitimacy should it pass. Al-Sadr has not made any public statements on the proposed legislation, but his history as a strong Iraqi nationalist makes it likely that he will strongly oppose it. Will the Sadrists be upset enough over the proposed legislation to leave the pan-Shi'ite list and join forces with the Sunnis and other minor parties such as those representing the Turkish minority? If they do so, will they have enough votes to thwart the plan? If the legislation passes, will the Sadrists actively join the insurgency? Is the threat of this the reason that the Bush administration is proposing a troop surge within the next few months? If the South of Iraq erupts in insurrection, will the United States be able to adequately supply its troops using ground convoys when the sandstorms of spring arrive?

The next few months will be very interesting.

Discuss this topic at Strategytalk.org

Why New York Times is backing Iraq escalation

Alexander Cockburn argues that the New York Times, having played a key role in fomenting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is now "waging an equally disingenuous campaign to escalate American troop levels in this doomed enterprise." Just as one reporter, Judy Miller, was responsible for the pro-invasion coverage, so one reporter, Michael Gordon, the Times'smilitary correspondent, is responsible for the escalation push, writes Cockburn. He claims Gordon is the mouthpiece for a military faction ­led by General David Petraeus, and makes out an argument that should give Times editors pause for thought. (Via Counter Punch)

Was the drafting of the new Iraqi petroleum law outsourced to a US contractor?

Saturday, 06 January 2007

Outsourcing U.S. foreign policy: the ultimate rip-off


John Dexter’s letter “Working for the Government, or Acting as It?” to the WaPo editors in reaction to a December 26 page A-19 article by Glenn Kessler struck a raw nerve. So I dug up Kessler’s “Old Iraq Strategy Lives On In Weekly Progress Reports.” In it, Kessler mentioned, but peculiarly did not question - as retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer Dexter pointed out - the outsourcing of the process of administering American foreign policy in Iraq to BearingPoint, Inc. by the State Department for a mere $2 million.

Kessler’s article, in fact, alludes - almost under the radar - to what may turn out to be the tip of yet another contractor cronyism iceberg – or perhaps more accurately given the terrain and changes in Congress, minefield. But this is more than just your ordinary Teapot Dome scandal – it’s a scandal that goes to the essence of government itself.

Reams have been written – and we’re told that the new Democratic Congress is preparing to hold hearings - on the waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, mismanagement and lack of oversight surrounding huge Pentagon-related Iraq and Afghanistan war contracts to such now household company names as Halliburton, SAIC and Lockheed-Martin. There are also indications that the House’s Government Reform Committee under new committee chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif) and Homeland Security Committee under Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) will also closely examine contractor abuse and political corruption in their respective spheres.

Waxman has proposed the establishment of five subcommittees, the first to focus on national security and international relations.

But what about the House Foreign Affairs or Senate Foreign Relations Committees?

Will they too focus on problems surrounding State Department and USAID contractors where substantial sums have also changed from public to private hands in the vain hope of turning Iraq and Afghanistan into models of western democratic nations in the heart of the Middle East? Or will these committees stand aside and let Waxman bear the brunt of the investigatory process? I certainly hope not. Beyond the financial waste and abuse that may well be lurking here lies the broader issue of outsourcing the integrity and accountability of our foreign policy.

It doesn’t take much googling to put at least a few of the pieces together with respect to the incredible magnitude of the privatization of American foreign policy during the W administration – and not just what has occurred under the auspices of the DOD.

As others have suggested, this vicious turning riches-into-more-riches cycle for giant corporations includes corporate PAC and other campaign contributions to W’s election and reelection campaigns as well as those to selected members of Congress.

Yet, at least some of the big-ticket projects which the Republicans in Congress and the White House have blithely tossed to their pals in the private sector over the past six years would have been handled by career federal employees in times past, at, I would venture to suggest, far less expense, far more loyalty to the common good and with greater expertise.

BearingPoint represents another of the many private centipede contractors tied by enormous strings to thousands of subcontractors which eat away at the traditional functions of the U.S. government. Given the nature and enormity of this single corporation’s operation – I’ve read that it has contracts from all 14 US government departments - I’ve undoubtedly only stumbled onto bits and pieces of its whole.

What is BearingPoint?

From 1997 - October 2002, BearingPoint was the consulting arm of the more than a century old auditing firm KPMG. In the wake of the Enron-Arthur Andersen debacle, KPMG’s less-than-five-year-old consulting arm was quickly spun off under its new name.

BearingPoint aka KPMG consulting, however, had already entered the lucrative foreign aid contracting business during the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia at a time when USAID had begun outsourcing ever more of the tasks assigned it, in part at least, because this was the only way the Agency could respond to increasing US governmental demands for its services despite its shrinking staff. But it wasn’t until after 2000 that enormous civilian foreign affairs contracts started to flow in BearingPoint’s direction.

By that time, career USAID, State and USIA staffs had been dramatically reduced, thanks in good part to an isolationist Republican Congress that thought the world was flat and ended at the ocean’s edge and a Democratic White House that wanted to demonstrate that it could dramatically reduce the size of the US government in line with the “peace-dividend” at the “end of history” after the end of the Cold War.

Yet even during the 1990s, overall coordination for US government spending on civilian democracy-building-type projects for the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia took place within specially created offices for each in the State Department. I remember having to comply with their decisions, whether I agreed or not. These offices were staffed largely by career foreign service and civil servants even though much of the money was contracted out and the heads of the offices had strong political connections.

Thus outsourcing had already become the name of the civilian foreign affairs projects and programs game well before W rode into town. But at least it was career government employees - tending to see things in terms of the common public good that policed the private contractors – not private contractors “policing themselves” with all eyes focused principally on their company’s balance sheet.

As it turns out, BearingPoint’s current $2 million contract with the State Department to administer the government’s Iraq policy process is, in fact, small potatoes compared to the billions of dollars in contracts BearingPoint, Inc. has thus far received from USAID for projects just in connection with the economies of Iraq and Afghanistan.

BearingPoint, unsurprisingly therefore, turns up on the Center for Corporate Policy's list of one of ten major corporations in 2004 to profit the most from the Iraq war as well as one of the top 100 federal contractors overall. What distinguishes BearingPoint from companies that have profited even more - for instance Halliburton and Lockheed Martin - is that BearingPoint’s largest contracts come from USAID, not the military.

BearingPoint has also profited from DOD contracts and even more mightily from Department of Homeland Security contracts (for things like improving airport security) but the biggest single grant I located was for a second round USAID economic contract for Iraq awarded to BearingPoint in 2005.

BearingPoint’s initial USAID contract for the project which had been increased from $79, 583,885 to $103,500,000 by the time it had ended was then topped by that new contract for $184,637,237 in 2005. All together, BearingPoint received from USAID, between 2003-2005, contracts worth $288,137,237 solely for its work in Iraq – a remarkable accomplishment in less than three years.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Not only has BearingPoint profited mightily from huge USAID projects, it turns out that it wrote the specifications for USAID’s contract for the original Iraq economic project. In contrast, the other nine contractors who also bid on the proposal had only a single week to read the specifications written by BearingPoint and submit their final bids. In essence, this turned the entire competitive bidding process into a sham.

Results? BearingPoint hardly received so much as a slap on the wrist. Instead, it was rewarded with that first nearly 80 million dollar contract and then, within less than two years, was allowed to “compete” for - no surprises here – and won an even larger contract for a follow-up project. This, despite the irregularities that surrounded the first contract and not to mention the fact that the USAID Inspector General’s office found the company out of compliance in its administration of a grant for similar work in Afghanistan.

Wait: there’s more . . .

Where does loyalty lie?

Kessler’s article tells us that not only do ten employees of BearingPoint, Inc. write State’s thirty page weekly “progress” report on Iraq but that staff, working out of offices in the State Department, “arrange the meetings, set the agendas, take notes, and provide summaries of the discussions” for the working groups across the US government that implement Iraq policy on a daily basis. In addition, according to Kessler, BearingPoint “maintains the website of the US Embassy in Baghdad.” Would someone please tell me how many other Embassy web pages are maintained by contractors - and why any are?
More to this post’s point, if BearingPoint writes the government’s weekly “Iraq report card” – whether the categories it uses to “classify” the data are still relevant or not – then it is highly likely that its employees sit in positions that no other contract staff does. Thus, BearingPoint employees have the unique ability to present information in the reports cited so as to make their own employer’s project results look good – or at least not as ineffectual as they might otherwise appear.

BearingPoint also has access to what was once considered privileged information by virtue of its staff’s strategic place - in Kessler’s words, “arranging interagency meetings, setting their agendas, taking notes and providing summaries of discussions.” They are, therefore, also in a unique position to learn what funding for what types of projects is coming down the line, to know how their competitors are faring and even which officials are likely to support what.

The usual rationale most frequently resorted to by the-privatize-the-government conservative crowd is that contracting out saves the government money because contract staffs are allegedly cheaper than permanent government workers. In reality, this assertion is highly questionable.

If contractors can be said to be cheaper, it would have to be because of retirement benefits. Excluding the pension question, however, I understand that a contract employee costs 20-50 percent more to the US government than does a full time government employee. And as Joseph Neff of the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer wrote on December 24, “US taxpayers pay the premiums to insurance companies for these contractors. When the contractors are killed or injured in war, taxpayers pay the benefits, too. . . . No agency regulates the premiums, and no one tracks the overall costs.”

It is undisputed that government short term contracts for commercial tasks and certain nongovernmental functions are beneficial. For example, no one expects the government to get into the paper towel/toilet paper manufacturing business. But selling out the policy-and-programs store to a private profit making enterprise is something else again. As Dexter pointed out in responding to Kessler’s article, the “normal functions of responsible government agencies [are] not technical or advisory services that can be ‘privatized’ without compromising the integrity and accountability” of government itself.

Tracing the entangled relationships between various kinds of campaign contributions and lobbying efforts is another ballgame. But it does concern me that BearingPoint contributed $2,000 to the 2006 reelection campaign of Bennie Thompson, who now chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, and $10,000 for the same campaign to Tom Davis, now the ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee. The good news: at least Henry Waxman, the latter committee’s new chair does not appear on any BearingPoint pay-off Congressional list that I have found and neither does Tom Lantos, the new chair of House Foreign Affairs Committee. This gives hope for genuine reform.

Only time will tell whether the 110th Congress will turn more than fleeting attention to BearingPoint and other corporations who have also reaped untold profits from the civilian side of the Iraq fiasco. But while they’re at it, I wish they’d also look at something else.
Once upon a time we had a career, professional civil and Foreign Service large enough to handle our government’s important tasks. This system supplanted the corrupt, inefficient spoils system that had gone before. The new Civil and Foreign Service systems were design to operate on merit principles, to avoid nepotism and to employ professionals with the consistent skills and expertise needed to operate an ever more complex government.

This system functioned well for years – but beginning in 1980 when the anti-government movement hit Washington, it began to falter. The politicization of the federal bureaucracy is now at fever pitch.
Yet, if US taxpayers want competent, uncorrupt government then they also need to bite the bullet and pay for it. This means a turn-around in the number and quality of full-time career government employees supported by strong ethics legislation with teeth in it.

Would this Congress please, at least, give both a try?

This post was prepared with assistance from Washington attorney Elizabeth D. Dyson who worked in the General Counsel’s office at the US Office of Personnel Management for 15 years.

For the first time, a real blueprint for peace in Iraq

Mr. Allawi's plan was widely hailed by politicians and by journalists and analysts in Britain, but in the insular US it has barely gotten a hearing.
By Ali Allawi, former Iraqi Defence Minister
Published: 05 January 2007

The Iraqi state that was formed in the aftermath of the First World War has come to an end. Its successor state is struggling to be born in an environment of crises and chaos. The collapse of the entire order in the Middle East now threatens as the Iraq imbroglio unleashes forces in the area that have been gathering in virulence over the past decades.

It took the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the mismanagement of the country by both the Coalition Provisional Administration and subsequent Iraqi governments, to bring matters to this dire situation.

What was supposed to be a straightforward process of overthrowing a dictatorship and replacing it with a liberal-leaning and secular democracy under the benign tutelage of the United States, has instead turned into an existential battle for identity, power and legitimacy that is affecting not only Iraq, but the entire tottering state system in the Middle East.

The Iraq war is a global predicament of the first order and its resolution will influence the course of events in the Middle East and beyond for a considerable time. What we are witnessing in Iraq is the beginning of the unravelling of the unjust and unstable system that was carved out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. It had held for nearly 100 years by a mixture of foreign occupation,outside meddling, brutal dictatorships and minority rule.

At the same time, it signally failed in providing a permanent sense of legitimacy to its power, engaged its citizens in their governance, or provided a modicum of well-being and a decent standard of existence for its people.

The Key Challenges

The nature and scope of the Iraq crisis can be encapsulated in the emergence of four vital issues that have challenged the entire project for remaking the Iraq state. In one form or another, these forces also affect the countries of the Arab Middle East, as well as Turkey and Iran, and the relationships between all of them.

Firstly, the invasion of Iraq tipped the scales in favour of the Shia, who are now determined to emerge as the governing majority after decades, if not centuries, of perceived disempowerment and oppression. The consequences of this historic shift inside Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are incalculable.

Secondly, the invasion of Iraq legitimised the semi-independent region that Iraq's Kurds had forged over the past decade. The Kurds whose rights to self-determination were acknowledged in the 1920 Sevres Treaty, and then subsequently ignored by the states of the post-Ottoman Middle East, have received an enormous fillip in their march towards recognition of their unique status.

What is still left to be decided is the geographic extent of the Kurdish region in Iraq, and whether it would have proprietary access to the resources of that area. This may prove a way station to the beginnings of the formation of a Kurdish state. The challenges that will pose to the integrity and self-definition of Turkey, Iran and Syria now or in the future is another formidable side effect of the overthrow of the old Baathist state.

Thirdly, the uneven, poorly prepared and messy introduction in Iraq of democratic norms for elections, constitution-writing and governance structures is a stark break with the authoritarian and dictatorial systems that have prevailed in the Middle East. While the Iraqi experiment has so far been marred by violence, irregularities and manipulation, it is quite likely to survive as the mechanism through which governments will be chosen in the future.

Lastly, the overthrow of Saddam coincided with the attempts by Iran to assert its influence and to gain entry into regional counsels. That has exercised a number of countries in the area no end, giving rise to alarmist warnings of Iranian hegemonistic designs and "Shia crescents". The responses that are being planned for the perceived threat are terrifying in their implications, with scant attention paid to their consequences to the peace and stability of the area.

Iraq was used as a foil to revolutionary Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, with devastating consequences for both. We are witnessing a possible reprise, the consequence of which, if the new warmongers get their way, will be catastrophic for it will go to the heart of the fragile societies of the Middle East. Shia will be pitted against Sunni not only in Iraq but in Lebanon, and the Gulf countries.

Dangers of Sunni Insurgency

In the sterile world of zero-sum politics, the loss of power of the Sunni Arab community in Iraq was soon translated into a raging insurgency that challenged not only the US occupation but also the new political dispensation.

The insurgency fed on the deep resentment Sunni Arabs felt to their loss of power and prestige. It has been aggravated by the fact it was a totally unexpected force that achieved the impossible- the dethronement of the community from centuries of power in favour of, as they saw it, a rabble led by Persianate clerics. The Sunni Arabs' refusal to countenance any serious engagement with the new political order had effectively pushed them into a cul-de-sac and has played into the hands of their most determined enemies.

The state is now moving inexorably under the control of the Shia Islamists, albeit with a supporting role for the Kurds. The boundaries of Shia-controlled Baghdad are moving ever westwards so that the capital itself may fall entirely under the sway of the Shia militias.

The only thing stopping that is the deployment of American troops to block the entry of the Shia militias in force into these mixed or Sunni neighbourhoods. The geographic space outside Baghdad in which the insurgency can flourish will persist but the country will be inevitably divided. Under such circumstances, the power of the Shia's demographic advantage can only be counter-balanced by the Sunni Arabs' recourse to support from the neighbouring Arab states. It is inconceivable that such an outcome can possibly lead to a stable Iraqi state unless one side or another vanquishes its opponent or if the country is divided into separate states.

Impact of Shia Ascendancy

The response to these existential challenges emanating from the invasion of Iraq, both inside Iraq and in the Arab world has been panic-stricken or fearful, and potentially disastrous to the stability in the area and the prospects for its inhabitants.

The Arab countries of the Middle East have been unable to adjust to events in Iraq, not so much because of the contagion effect of the changes that have taken place there. This had virtually disappeared as Iraq cannot be seen as model for anything worth emulating. It has less to do with the instability that might spill over from the violence in the country. It is more to do with accommodating an unknown quantity into a system that can barely acknowledge pluralism and democracy, let alone a Shia ascendancy in Iraq.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, linchpins of the American security order in the Arab world, cannot accept the principle of a Shia-dominated Iraq, each for its own reasons. They will do their utmost to thwart such a possibility, and failing that, will probably try to isolate such an entity from regional counsels

Implications for Middle East

It is this with this backdrop that solutions are being proffered to resolve the Iraqi crisis. However, rather than treat the problem in a much wider context, each party is determined to stake out its narrow position irrespective of its effects on other communities, groups and countries.

The seeds of another 100 years of crisis are being sown, with the Middle East consigned to decades of turbulence and the persistence of unmitigated hatreds and grudges. The most serious issue that is emerging is the exacerbation of sectarian differences between Shia and Sunni. That is a profoundly dangerous issue for it affects not only Iraq but also Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf countries.

It is plausible that the cost of a Shia ascendancy in Iraq, if it is marked as such, will be further pressure on the vulnerable Shia communities in the Gulf countries. There is already the rekindling of anti-Shia rhetoric in a remarkably similar rerun to the pattern that accompanied the Saudi-led campaign to contain the Iranian revolution in the 1980s. The effect of that was the rise of the jihadi culture that was the harbinger of mass terrorism and suicide bombings.

This may drag the entire area into war or even the forced movement of people as fearful countries seek to "quarantine" or expel their Shia population.

The Solution

It requires genuine vision and statesmanship to pull the Middle East from its death spiral. The elements of a possible solution are there if the will exists to postulate an alternative to the politics of fear, bigotry and hatred.

The first step must be the recognition that the solution to the Iraq crisis must be generated first internally, and then, importantly, at the regional level. The two are linked and the successful resolution of one would lead to the other.

No foreign power, no matter how benevolent, should be allowed to dictate the terms of a possible historic and stable settlement in the Middle East. No other region of the world would tolerate such a wanton interference in its affairs.

That is not to say that due consideration should not be given to the legitimate interests of the great powers in the area, but the future of the area should not be held hostage to their designs and exclusive interests.

Secondly, the basis of a settlement must take into account the fact that the forces that have been unleashed by the invasion of Iraq must be acknowledged and accommodated. These forces, in turn, must accept limits to their demands and claims. That would apply, in particular, to the Shias and the Kurds, the two communities who have been seen to have gained from the invasion of Iraq.

Thirdly, the Sunni Arab community must become convinced that its loss of undivided power will not lead to marginalisation and discrimination. A mechanism must be found to allow the Sunni Arabs to monitor and regulate and, if need be, correct, any signs of discrimination that may emerge in the new Iraqi state.

Fourthly, the existing states surrounding Iraq feel deeply threatened by the changes there. That needs to be recognised and treated in any lasting deal for Iraq and the area.

A way has to be found for introducing Iran and Turkey into a new security structure for the Middle East that would take into account their legitimate concerns, fears and interests. It is far better that these countries are seen to be part of a stable order for the area rather than as outsiders who need to be confronted and challenged.

The Iraqi government that has arisen as a result of the admittedly flawed political process must be accepted as a sovereign and responsible government. No settlement can possibly succeed if its starting point is the illegitimacy of the Iraqi government or one that considers it expendable.

A Brighter Future

The end state of this process would be three interlinked outcomes. The first would be a decentralised Iraqi state with new regional governing authorities with wide powers and resources.

Devolution of power must be fair, well planned, and executed with equitable revenue-distribution. Federal institutions would have to act as adjudicators between regions. Security must be decentralised until such time as confidence between the communities is re-established.

The second essential outcome would be a treaty that would establish a confederation or constellation of states of the Middle East, initially including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The main aim of the confederation would be to establish a number of conventions and supra-regional bodies that would have the effect of acting as guarantors of civil, minority and community rights.

The existence of such institutions can go a long way towards removing the anxiety disadvantaged groups feel when confronted with the radical changes sweeping the area. The gradual build up of such supra-national institutions in the proposed confederation may also expand to cover an increased degree of economic integration and harmonisation.

That may include a regional development body which would help establish and fund common energy and infrastructure policies. Lastly, an indispensable end outcome is a regional security pact that would group the countries of the Arab Middle East with Iran and Turkey, at first in some form of anti-terrorism pact, but later a broader framework for discussing and resolving major security issues that impinge on the area as a whole.

That would also provide the forum for combating the spread of virulent ideologies and sectarian hatreds and provide the basis for peacefully containing and resolving the alarm that some countries feel from the apparent expansion of Iranian influence in the area.

The Importance of the US

It was the US that launched this phase of the interminable Middle East crisis, by invading Iraq and assuming direct authority over it. Whatever project it had for Iraq has vanished, a victim of inappropriate or incoherent policies, and the violent upending of Iraq's power structures.

Nevertheless, the US is still the most powerful actor in the Iraq crisis, and its decisions can sway the direction and the manner in which events could unfold.

In other areas of the world, the US has used its immense influence and power to cement regional security and economic associations. There is no reason why the regional associations being mooted in conjunction with a decentralised Iraqi state, could not play an equally important part in resolving the Iraqi crisis and dispersing the dangerous clouds threatening the region.

The Iraqi proposals

1 Iraq government calls for regional security conference including Iraq's neighbours to produce an agreement/treaty on non-intervention and combating terrorism. Signatory states will be responsible to set of markers for commitments.

Purpose: To reduce/eliminate neighbouring countries' support for insurgents, terrorists and militias.

2 Iraq government calls for preparatory conference on a Middle-Eastern Confederation of States that will examine proposals on economic, trade and investment union. Proposals will be presented for a convention on civil, human and minority rights in the Near East, with a supreme court/tribunal with enforcement powers.

Purpose: To increase regional economic integration and provide minorities in signatory countries with supra-national protection.

3 Iraq government calls for an international conference on Iraq that would include Iraq, its regional neighbours, Egypt, the UAE, the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China that would aim to produce a treaty guaranteeing:

a. Iraq's frontiers.
b. The broad principles of Iraq's constitutional arrangements.
c. Establishing international force to replace the multi-national force over 12 to 18 months. Appointing international co-ordinator to oversee treaty implementation.

Purpose: To arrange for the gradual and orderly withdrawal of American troops, ensure that Iraq develops along constitutional lines, confirm Iraq and its neighbours' common frontiers.

4 Iraq government will introduce changes to government by creating two statuary bodies with autonomous financing and independent boards:

a. A reconstruction and development council run by Iraqi professionals and technocrats with World Bank/UN support.
b. A security council which will oversee professional ministries of defence, interior, intelligence and national security.

Purpose: To remove the reconstruction and development programme from incompetent hands and transfer them to an apolitical, professional and independent body. Also to remove the oversight, command and control over the security ministries from politicised party control to an independent, professional and accountable body.

5 The entire peace plan, its preamble and its details must be put before the Iraqi parliament for its approval.

Ali A Allawi was Minister of Trade and Minister of Defence in the Iraqi Governing Council Cabinet (2003-2004). He was in the Transitional National Assembly, and Minister of Finance, Transitional National Government of Iraq (2005-2006). His book, 'The Occupation of Iraq Winning the War, Losing the Peace' will be published in March

The YouTube Get Out Of Iraq Campaign


Just make any vid stating 'get out of iraq' and reply to this one.

The YouTube Get Out Of Iraq Campaign


Just make any vid stating 'get out of iraq' and reply to this one.

Making a Killing on Perpetual War: Bush and the F-Word Forever


    "I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." - George W. Bush, June 2002

    "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war." - US Army Gen. John Abizaid, when asked how the United States was doing in Iraq, September 2006

Hitler committed suicide. Mussolini was executed and hung on a meat hook in a town square. Suharto avoided prosecution and has kept the billions he's accused of embezzling from Indonesia.

What will be the fate of Bush & Co.?

In 2003, Laurence Britt crystallized 14 points of fascism from regimes including those of Hitler, Mussolini and Suharto, then suggested similarities under Bush.

This three-part series, entitled "Bush and the F-Word," has applied Britt's fascism framework to the Bush administration's record in 2006. Today's Part III finishes up Britt's final two points, makes predictions for 2007 and discusses how to fight back.


13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.

January 2006 began with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleading guilty to multiple criminal felony counts. Repercussions ensued for Republican politicians accused of having accepted pricey trips and other illegal bribes in exchange for political favors.

While former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) had earlier described Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends," after the scandal broke he insisted, "the notion that he was a close friend and wielded influence over me is absolutely untrue." DeLay is battling a separate money laundering charge, and two of his former aides have already been convicted in the Abramoff scandal.

Former Rep. Bob "Freedom Fries" Ney (R-OH) will be sentenced later this month on felony charges related to the Abramoff scandal, but still gets to keep his congressional pension benefits.

Ongoing questions continue to swirl around Abramoff's links to other Republican politicians, including Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT). Meanwhile, the White House has refused to divulge exactly who Abramoff met with and when.

In other scandals, former Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA) was sentenced to over 8 years in prison for crimes including tax evasion and bribery, and former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is under investigation for exchanging political favors for family-member perks.

Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) made improper sexual advances to young male pages over a ten-year period and fellow Republican lawmakers were accused of having covered it up. Nonetheless, in December, the Republican-run House Ethics Committee decided, as outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) put it, "there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff."

Ken Lay, the former CEO of Enron and a major Republican donor, was found guilty on 10 counts of securities fraud and other charges in May 2006, but passed away before being sentenced. Months later, a Houston federal judge cleared Lay's name on a technicality and the Republican-led Congress failed to posthumously seize Lay's assets in order to compensate beleaguered Enron investors and employees.

Before Congress adjourned for the November elections, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, demonstrated a novel approach to avoiding his own corruption charges by firing 60 investigators working on exposing "fraud, waste and abuse."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in March, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee refused to create a watchdog office charged with looking into congressional ethics abuses.

2006 was a rough year for government watchdog offices across the board as inspectors general of federal agencies found themselves increasingly targeted. The Pentagon, for example, forced its inspector general to use lawyers approved by Rumsfeld, and congressional Republicans tried to stop investigations into Iraqi reconstruction abuses, such as cases of overbilling by administration-linked defense contractors.

In a related move, the White House stalled investigations into allegations of bribery from the time Dick Cheney was CEO of defense-contractor Halliburton.

Halliburton-subsidiary KBR and other defense contractors were also found complicit in the failed rebuilding of areas devastated by Katrina. As CorpWatch noted in August, "Many of the same 'disaster profiteers' and government agencies that mishandled the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq are responsible for the failure of 'reconstruction' of the Gulf Coast region. The Army Corps, Bechtel and Halliburton are using the very same 'contract vehicles' in the Gulf Coast as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq... the person in charge of the Army Corps of Engineers today, Lieutenant General Carl A. Strock, is the very man who was in charge of the Halliburton contracts in Iraq." Halliburton reportedly received a 600% gain on contracts (to roughly $6 billion per year) for its $4 million in political donations since 2000.

Meanwhile, the Independent recently reported that the US government had helped write a law which "would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972." But, of course, the invasion of Iraq wasn't about oil.

14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

An October Gallup poll showed that only 28% of Americans were "very confident" that the vote casting and counting in the 2006 midterm elections would be conducted accurately. In other words, almost 3 out of 4 Americans doubt the integrity of their own electoral system.

It's no small wonder, when electronic voting machines (many owned by partisan officials) are both widely used and easily hacked. In Florida's midterms, for example, electronic voting machines "flipped" votes for Democrats to the Republican candidates in early balloting, then ended up "losing" almost 18,000 votes in the official tally for the 13th Congressional district, thus handing a 386 vote lead to the Republican candidate. Senate Democratic challenger Jim Webb had his name "hacked" off by electronic voting machines in Virginia, and in California, thousands of pre-programmed touch-screen voting machines were sent home with temporary poll workers weeks before the election. The machines can be hacked in less than a minute.

The 2006 elections were also characterized by partisan dirty tricks. In New Mexico, for example, the GOP was accused of providing Democratic voters with incorrect information on polling locations, and in California, letters were sent to thousands of Latino-Americans (potentially more likely to vote Democratic) warning that if "you're an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that can result in incarceration."

Targeting Latino voters with electoral scams is unfortunately not unprecedented in the US; in fact, the systematic disenfranchisement is an increasingly serious problem, with an estimated one million minority votes left uncounted in the 2006 midterms.

Other midterm dirty tricks included a "robocall" campaign to alienate voters against Democratic candidates and phony voter guides linking popular Democrats with right-wing initiatives. A conservative talk radio station in Sacramento even commandeered the Federal Emergency Alert System to force a paid political advertisement onto other stations' airwaves.

The list of scandals goes on and on.

If a democracy is only as strong as its voting system, then the US showed signs of serious trouble in the 2006 midterms.


While the similarities between Laurence Britt's 14 points of fascism and the Bush administration's record in 2006 are profound, it doesn't mean the US is a fascist country - I wouldn't be able to write this if it were. The pattern of rollbacks is disturbing though and begs the question: How much more damage can Bush do?

Ongoing chaos and destruction would work in the administration's favor over the next two years. Another domestic terrorist attack, for example, could be used to unify the masses, criminalize dissent and build the case for further war. How intriguing that the FBI and FEMA recently announced plans to move their operations to Virginia, outside of the "fallout zone" of a nuclear blast in DC.

Within this context, Bush's request for up to 20,000 more combat troops for Iraq shouldn't come as a surprise. Neither should the fact that he's reshuffling his military and diplomatic teams to make room for an attack on Iran.

So what can be done to help take back America?

1. Urge Congress to act: House Speaker Pelosi's ambitious 100-hour plan for the Democratic-controlled House is a great beginning, but now is the time to urge Congress to take on additional tough issues in its first 100 days. How about the Military Commissions Act, the Patriot Act and net neutrality for starters? How about outlawing Bush from making any more signing statements and how about ensuring that the administration doesn't follow through on its plan to invest $100 billion in new nuclear weapons? The possibilities are endless.

Consider encouraging Democratic leaders to institute probes and investigations across the board to "drain the swamp" and provide leverage for changing Bush's policies. (The administration is already running scared, beefing up its legal team to handle the expected onslaught of subpoenas from Democrats.)

2. Get involved: Rev. Martin Luther King once said, "A time comes when silence is betrayal" and that time is now.

Contact your congressmembers and let your voice be heard. Write letters to the editor and call talk radio shows. Join activists in your community or online (if you're focused specifically on combating the slide towards fascism, a handy list of links for each of Britt's 14 points is provided below). Commit at least ten minutes a day to positive action, knowing that the fate not only of Bush and Co., but indeed of the entire country, is in your hands.


1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.

5. Rampant sexism.

6. A controlled mass media.

7. Obsession with national security.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.

9. Power of corporations protected.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.

14. Fraudulent elections.

Note: Originally published: January 8, 2007