Wednesday, February 7, 2007

How Joe Lieberman sees himself

Editor's note: I am moving over to the other blog. Be sure to also see the new articles below.
One of the neocon liars who got the Iraq war going.

Lieberman Suggests Tax For War On Terror
A war tax. Imagine that. Perpetual war encouraged by politicians so they can grab taxpayer paid for pork. How f'ing insane this guy is, a first class whacko elected by some good citizens of Conneticut - the richest state per capita in the union. Think about it.

How Joe Lieberman sees himself.
Issue of 2007-02-12
Posted 2007-02-05

Hillary Rodham Clinton, like many capable politicians, has the ability to arrange her face in such a way as to convey nothing but placidity and benign pity when confronted by a hostile or unpleasant comment. On occasion, though, when her benevolence or, worse, her honor is questioned, her facial muscles tighten, her lips purse, and her eyes seem to darken. Such was the case at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in late January, when Senator Joseph Lieberman, of Connecticut, the committee’s army of one—he is the last self-identified Democrat in Congress, and perhaps in America, to express admiration for George W. Bush’s course in Iraq—accused his colleagues (and not only Democrats but those Republicans who are irresolute in their support for the President) of providing encouragement to America’s enemies.

The purpose of the committee meeting was to consider the nomination of Lieutenant General David Petraeus as commander of the ever-more American multinational force in Iraq, but Petraeus was marginal to the proceedings. The real cause of the cross-party and intra-party squabbling was a nonbinding resolution stating that President Bush’s plan to send more soldiers to Iraq was “not in the national interest.” Lieberman opposed the resolution, as did most Republicans. For the senators on the committee who would like to succeed President Bush—Clinton and the ranking Republican, John McCain—the hearing could also be understood as campaigning by other means. Clinton, for example, had been using it to help the electorate forget that she initially endorsed the invasion.

The Iraq war has upended the Senate, as it has all politics. Previously stubborn hawks among the Republicans have become critics of Bush’s war plans. John Warner, one of the committee members, has begun invoking Vietnam when talking about Iraq. His colleague Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, a Vietnam veteran and a possible Presidential candidate, has become an apostate among many Republicans for his attacks on the President, whose new plan for Iraq he called a “blunder.”

Then, of course, there is Lieberman. He was the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the 2002 Senate resolution authorizing the war, and seems to have had no second thoughts. Indeed, it is difficult to locate a Republican who is quite as sunny about Iraq’s future as Joe Lieberman is. Even McCain, who supports the President’s new plan, is openly frustrated with the Administration’s prosecution of the war, and has been especially critical of Vice-President Dick Cheney; Lieberman won’t criticize anyone involved but the comprehensively discredited former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Iraq is the reason that Lieberman calls himself an “independent Democrat.” Democratic voters in Connecticut abandoned him in last year’s primary, favoring the antiwar candidate Ned Lamont. Lieberman ran as an independent, and beat the ineffectual Lamont in the general election in large part because Republicans voted for him. In the campaign, Lieberman said that he would join the Democratic caucus if elected, and his victory was the deciding one that gave the Democrats control of the Senate. But he told me recently that his attachment to the Party is based in some measure on sentiment, and should not necessarily be thought of as eternal.

“A lot of Democrats are essentially pacifists and somewhat isolationist,” he told me. He had particular problems with Senator Edward Kennedy’s proposal to deny the President funding for a troop surge, and with an idea recently raised by the senior senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd, to cap the number of American soldiers in Iraq. Lieberman was not willing to say whether he would remain a Democrat if the Party cut off funding for the war. “That would be stunning to me,” he said. “And very hurtful. And I’d be deeply affected by it. Let’s put it that way.”

Lieberman’s Democratic colleagues know that if he switched parties they would lose their majority, and so they tend to indulge him, unless they are speaking to reporters off the record. Even when Lieberman defends Bush, which is often, his colleagues avoid criticizing him in public—except when it becomes a bit too much, as it did, apparently, for Hillary Clinton.

Lieberman, after reviewing Petraeus’s testimony, said, “You have also said that you fear that there would be disastrous consequences for Iraq, for the region, for the world economy, for the United States in the war on terrorism if we exit Iraq prematurely.”

“Correct, sir,” the General replied.

Lieberman asked what effect the resolution would have “on our enemies in Iraq.”

Petraeus said that, as a soldier, he had put himself “in harm’s way” to protect the right to free speech, but added, “A commander in such an endeavor would obviously like the enemy to feel that there’s no hope.”

Lieberman, fortified by this response, said, “A Senate-passed resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq would give the enemy some encouragement, some feeling that—well, some clear expression that the American people were divided.”

“That’s correct, sir,” Petraeus said.

In that case, Lieberman said, he would “make a plea” to his colleagues on Petraeus’s behalf to defeat it. “If, God forbid, you are unable to succeed, then there will be plenty of time for the resolutions of disapproval.”

As Lieberman spoke, Clinton’s mask of equanimity seemed to slip for a moment, until she could assimilate the idea that Lieberman had, in essence, accused the Democratic Party of encouraging America’s enemies.

When it was her turn to respond, Clinton spoke with heat: “I very sincerely but wholeheartedly disagree with those who are trying to once again up the rhetoric about our position in Iraq instead of taking a hard look about what will actually, on the ground, change the behavior and actions of this Iraqi government.” What she wanted, she said, was “to send a very clear message to the Iraqi government that they cannot rely on the blood and treasure of America any longer.”

Then she delivered a polite rebuke to Lieberman, saying that she rejected the idea put forward by her “friends on the panel who think that statements of disapproval are somehow going to undermine our effort, when I think they will send the clearest message.” (Last week, Democrats agreed to a milder, compromise resolution, sponsored by the Republican Warner; Lieberman still opposed it.)

Three days after the hearing, I went to see Lieberman in his office. He was cheerful and easygoing and more convinced than usual of the essential rightness of his vision. I asked him if he thought that Democrats who voted for the resolution would truly be giving encouragement to the enemy. “The enemy believes—Ahmadinejad has said this repeatedly—that we don’t have the will anymore for a long battle,” he said, referring to the President of Iran.

When I asked him if he understood why Hillary Clinton might have reacted the way she did, he said, “I can’t explain why she did that.” Then he shook his head, apparently in sorrow.

Lieberman, who was the Democrats’ nominee for Vice-President in 2000, clearly believes that he owes his party nothing. Only five Senate Democrats campaigned for him in last year’s general election, and he has said that he will not necessarily support the next Democratic nominee for President. Dodd, who recently launched a campaign for the Democratic nomination—one that is seen as semi-quixotic, even though he has more experience than Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards—certainly cannot count on Lieberman’s support. Their friendship was ruptured when Dodd campaigned for Lamont in the Senate election last year.

Iraq has tested several relationships in the Senate. McCain and Carl Levin, the Armed Services Committee’s Democratic chairman, have taken to bickering in public and on occasion seem unwilling to even look at each other. At one hearing, Levin asked for a review of certain benchmarks agreed to by the Iraqi government. McCain said, “Well, if you want to look back, that’s fine, Mr. Chairman. But the fact is, I’m trying to look forward. I’m trying to stop from sending the wrong message to the men and women who are going to be at risk, some of whom are going to die, that we disapprove of their mission.” The exchange continued:

LEVIN: According to the public-opinion polls, a significant amount of the troops that are there want us to change the direction in Iraq. So it’s not us sending the wrong message; the troops themselves and their families have indicated very strongly in large numbers that the message that they want to get to the Iraqis is get on with their own government, get on with their own nation. So we’re going to call—
MCCAIN: Mr. Chairman, I think I’m familiar with the sentiment of many of the troops. And the fact is, they want to win.
LEVIN: We all want—
MCCAIN: And that’s what they want, and that’s why we’re changing the strategy, Mr. Chairman. And I’m sorry you don’t support the strategy.
LEVIN: Well, it’s a strategy which has failed.

But few relationships are as unhappy as the one between Connecticut’s two senators. A wall in Lieberman’s office is covered with photographs of the two men together. One is inscribed, by Dodd, “To Joe, our first appearance together as Senators! You obviously have forgotten the first rule of a junior senator. They should be seen and not heard!” Lieberman has, in past years, described Dodd as his “best friend” in the Senate. When I asked him if this was still true, his eyes narrowed, and he said, “I have so many good friends in the Senate. John McCain is a very good friend.”

These days, most of Lieberman’s closest friends in the Senate are Republicans. One of them is the Maine Republican Susan Collins. “In the lame-duck session right after the election, I went up to him on the floor of the Senate and gave him a kiss and welcomed him back,” Collins said. “And one reason I did this was that his Democratic colleagues didn’t rush over. I think they were worried about the reaction they would get from him. Some of them were embarrassed. Here he is, he’s back. And he’s the kingmaker, he holds their fate in his hands. How ironic is that?”

Lieberman says that he does, at times, feel isolated. He is a liberal on social policy and a conservative on defense, in the bygone style of the late Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson. “I’m the Lorax,” he said. “I’m saving that one tree.”

In another conversation, he told me that he was reading “America Alone,” a book by the conservative commentator Mark Steyn, which argues that Europe is succumbing, demographically and culturally, to an onslaught by Islam, leaving America friendless in its confrontation with Islamic extremism.

“The thing I quote most from it is the power of demographics, in Europe particularly,” Lieberman said. “That’s what struck me the most. But the other part is a kind of confirmation of what I know and what I’ve read elsewhere, which is that Islamist extremism has an ideology, and it’s expansionist, it’s an aggressive ideology. And the title I took to mean that we Americans will have ultimate responsibility for stopping this expansionism.”

Lieberman likes expressions of American power. A few years ago, I was in a movie theatre in Washington when I noticed Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, a few seats down. The film was “Behind Enemy Lines,” in which Owen Wilson plays a U.S. pilot shot down in Bosnia. Whenever the American military scored an onscreen hit, Lieberman pumped his fist and said, “Yeah!” and “All right!”

I asked him if Steyn’s book appeals to him in part because he feels alone.

“Well, I’m surprisingly alone at this moment on the question of Iraq,” he said. “Which is to say, I’m surprised that I’m alone. But I do believe that on the larger question of Islamist extremism there are a lot of others in the Democratic Party who see that as well.” He went on, “One part of my sense of mission coming out of last year is to make this case within the Democratic Party, to be strong.”

To Democrats, Lieberman’s most vexing quality is not his early support for the war—Clinton, Dodd, and Edwards, among other senators, voted for the Iraq-war resolution in 2002. It is that no development—not the absence of weapons of mass destruction, or the Administration’s innumerable and well-documented mistakes in post-invasion Iraq—has lessened his admiration for President Bush or his belief that the war has aided America in its fight against Islamic terrorism.

“I’ve had a lot of disappointments along the way here,” Lieberman said. “So why do I trust President Bush in spite of the mistakes that were made, consequential mistakes? Because having watched him, having talked to him, I believe that he understands the life-and-death struggle we are in with the most deadly and unconventional enemy, Islamic extremism. And that he has shown himself, notwithstanding all these mistakes, willing to go forward with what he believes is right for the security of the country, regardless of what it has done to his popularity.”

“Isn’t President Bush responsible for losing this war?” I asked.

“Insofar as you have to hold the Chief Executive accountable, he bears responsibility for the mistakes that were made on his watch,” Lieberman said. “But I think he understands that now. And, look, Rumsfeld is no longer there. Gates”—Robert Gates, the new Secretary of Defense—“is there. There are a lot of changes happening. We’ve got a totally new plan for how to succeed in Iraq.”

Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew who takes his faith seriously, but there are times when he seems to wander across the line that separates piety from sanctimony. One such moment came on January 14th, when he appeared with Chuck Hagel on “Meet the Press.” Lieberman attacked senators who were critical of the President—including, presumably, Hagel—and said that his children and grandchildren would be imperilled by the unchecked rise of Islamic fundamentalism. “That’s why I want to do everything I can to win in Iraq,” he said. “And I think that’s what my oath of office requires me to do.”

Hagel became livid. “I am not, nor [is] any member of Congress that I’m aware of . . . advocating defeat,” Hagel said. “That’s ridiculous, and I’m offended that any responsible member of Congress or anyone else would even suggest such a thing. Senator Lieberman talks about his children and grandchildren. We all have children and grandchildren. He doesn’t have a market on that.”

McCain told me that one explanation for Lieberman’s obdurate support for the President was politics. Lieberman, he implied, had invested too much in his advocacy of the war to back away now. “It might be that Joe was assaulted so harshly in the campaign that he felt that if he showed any chink in his armor, people would exploit it,” he said. “You could do the commercial yourself.” He added, “I think Joe has been critical. But you know, he’s a much nicer man than I am, so maybe it’s just that.”

Christopher Dodd offered another perspective. A popular figure in the Senate who has the buoyancy of a natural politician, Dodd portrayed Lieberman as the last of the uncomplicated neoconservatives.

“I think there was this assumption that democracy was just waiting to blossom,” Dodd said of Iraq. “Let’s assume the President believed this, that it wouldn’t take much to produce a democratic society in Iraq. I’m not opposed to that, and I think that may happen, but the idea that you could go from where they were was a leap of faith, and many took that leap. Joe took that leap. He thought this was one way to bring stability in the region.”

Dodd went on, “I’m in the Brent Scowcroft school, the world as it is.” Once, this would have been a surprising statement, particularly to Brent Scowcroft, who might be called a Republican fatalist. But Dodd said that the last four years had been “sobering” for him. “I’d love to see a democratic Middle East,” he said. “But you’ve got to be a coherent society before you can be a democracy.” In the absence of weapons of mass destruction, “If you came to the country and said, ‘This guy’s a bad guy, we want to invade his country,’ I could not justify the loss of three thousand Americans for this, as much as I disliked Saddam.”

I asked Dodd if he has spoken to any other senators who are as optimistic as Lieberman is about Iraq. “I’ll tell you, I bet this has happened fifteen times in the last few days—conservative Republicans have said to me that they’ve told the White House that this is the last vote you’re going to get out of them, a vote against the Iraq resolution,” Dodd said. “They’re angry, and they sure don’t believe the new plan is going to work.”

Neither Lieberman nor Dodd was eager to discuss the unravelling of their relationship, in particular its most painful episodes: Dodd’s decision to endorse Lamont the morning after the Lieberman primary defeat, and his appearance in a Lamont television advertisement, in which he said, “People want different leadership in Washington.”

Lieberman’s friends were, of course, upset by Dodd’s infidelity. “I found that whole thing almost unbelievable,” Warren Rudman, the former New Hampshire senator, told me. “I can’t imagine why Chris Dodd did that.”

Dodd justifies his endorsement of Lamont as one of principle over friendship. “I’m the senior Democrat in the state,” he said. “What do I tell a twenty-year-old, what do I tell someone who wants to be a Democrat and join the process? ‘I’m sorry, the primary doesn’t count, it doesn’t make a difference’? It was painful. I didn’t like it. But I wasn’t going to turn around and tell people this doesn’t mean anything.” Dodd told me that the two still talk on the Senate floor. “Joe just said to me the other day, ‘I disagree with you on this, but at least you’re trying to get something done.’ ”

Another explanation for his endorsement could be deduced from Dodd’s appearance last month in Dover, New Hampshire. Dodd’s campaign for President is not a juggernaut—he jokes that he is currently competing with the margin of error in most polls. (“Is the motorcade ready?” he called out to me from his S.U.V. in Dover. The motorcade consisted of my rented Chevrolet.) But Dodd believes that it is still possible for a New England liberal (he prefers the word “progressive”) to succeed in national politics, particularly when the country is turning decisively against the war. Dodd wants a binding resolution to stop the President’s Iraq buildup, even though such a measure would almost certainly fail. “There’s nothing wrong with losing a vote if you’re making a point that people want us to make,” he said. “Things are going to get a lot harder in the next month or two. If we’re going to stop this, we have to stop it before the new troops get to Iraq. You’re not going to cut off their funds once they’re there. The window is closing. The country is way ahead of the Senate on this.”

Still, even Dodd, with his antiwar, anti-Lieberman credentials, seemed unprepared for the brash liberalism on display in Dover. At one point, he told a crowd of more than a hundred Democrats, “I’m a strong advocate, by the way, that military recruiters ought to be allowed on the campuses of the United States. If a corporation that can violate the law can recruit, then the Army, the Navy, the Air Force ought to be able to recruit good people.” This statement was met with near-silence. Finally, Dodd said, “It’s O.K. to applaud for that.” Few did.

Later, a leader of the local Strafford County Democrats, Tim Ashwell, said, “This is a very antiwar community.” I asked him about Lieberman, and his hapless 2004 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination; Lieberman placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary, and dropped out of the race soon after. Ashwell didn’t find that surprising. “People don’t think of Lieberman as a Democrat,” he said.

Bush's Iran madness

By demonizing Iran and stirring up sectarian hatred against it in the region, Bush is pouring gas on the fire he started in Iraq -- and empowering al-Qaida.

By Gary Kamiya

Feb. 06, 2007 | You wouldn't think that the masterminds who dreamed up the Iraq war could possibly match that grand plan, but they have. The ignorant ideologues who brought us Iraq have learned nothing. They are still reading from the same delusional neoconservative script. So, with Iraq a bloody nightmare, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process dead, Lebanon and Gaza on the brink of civil war, the entire Middle East dangerously unstable, and America's standing in the Arab/Muslim world at an all-time low, the Bush administration geniuses have come up with another grand plan: demonize Iran, push it to the brink of war, strong-arm U.S. allies into confronting it, and whip up sectarian hatred in the region.

In his State of the Union address, Bush singled out Iran as a hostile troublemaker in Iraq and promised to attack its "networks," which U.S. officials have claimed are supplying advanced weaponry to Shia militias who kill American soldiers. He then threatened to "kill or capture" any Iranian intelligence agents found in Iraq. American aircraft carriers have moved menacingly into the Gulf. U.S. troops seized six Iranian officials in northern Iraq, accusing them of spying. U.S. officials darkly conjectured that Iran was responsible for the abduction and killing of five U.S. soldiers in Karbala. At the same time, the Bush administration is twisting the arms of its "moderate" Sunni allies to take a hard line against Iran.

Some see this gambit as representing a welcome return to coldblooded, "Great Game" realism after the wishful thinking that led to the Iraq debacle. But this is a superficial misreading. Bush's Iran ploy reeks of desperation and shortsightedness; it is no more "realistic" than his Iraq strategy. It may briefly postpone the day of reckoning by diverting Americans' attention and providing a temporary bad guy, one Bush is sure to blame when his Iraq venture completely falls apart. But it flies in the face of a historical shift, the rise of Shia and Iranian power, that Bush himself rashly set in motion, and cannot now be undone. It could lead to a shooting war, which would be utterly disastrous for U.S. interests and would set back the cause of reform in Iran by years. And by further exacerbating sectarian and ethnic tensions in the Middle East while denying, in time-honored neocon fashion, that there are actual causes for what Bush simplistically labels "extremism," it is likely to further destabilize an already-chaotic region -- and empower al-Qaida, which thrives on hatred and chaos.

In effect, the Bush administration is trying to put out the flames of sectarian and ethnic hatred in Iraq, while pouring gasoline on them everywhere else. Somehow, despite the charred horror of Iraq, it does not seem to have realized that once the wildfire of sectarian hatred spreads, it is very hard to extinguish it.

For Bush neocons, whose mantra is "Anyone can go to Baghdad, real men go to Tehran," Iran has always been the perfect boogeyman. It is run by an intolerant fundamentalist Islamist regime. Its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is an ignorant and bigoted blowhard who questions the Holocaust. Along with the much smaller and weaker Syria, it is the only remaining state that carries the banner of Arab/Muslim nationalism and refuses to kowtow to America. It takes a hard line against Israel and supports Hezbollah and Hamas. Best of all, from the rolling-out-a-product point of view always so vital to the Bush administration, Iran is still widely hated by Americans because of memories of Ayatollah Khomeini and the 1979 hostage crisis.

Bush has been rattling his saber against Iran ever since his infamous "Axis of Evil" speech after 9/11. But now he has taken things to a whole new level.

Bush's charges against Iran are painfully reminiscent of his fearmongering about Iraq. Let's leave aside the laughably obvious fact, which Juan Cole and many other analysts have pointed out, that Iran is closely tied to America's Shiite allies in Iraq, and has nothing to do with the Sunni insurgents who are responsible for almost all the killings of American troops. Let's simply look at the claim that Iran is providing advanced weaponry to rogue Shiite militias who attack Americans. The actual evidence for these supposed misdeeds has yet to be produced, and U.S. officials keep postponing their presentation of it. So far, the charges consist almost entirely of vague speculation. The most egregious piece ran in the New York Times, under the headline "Iran May Have Trained Attackers That Killed 5 American Soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis Say." After noting that "Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection," the Times story contained this curious sentence: "Tying Iran to the deadly attack could be helpful to the Bush administration, which has been engaged in an escalating war of words with Iran." This is apparently the newspaper of record's post-Judy Miller way of saying, "This may all be bullshit, and we're probably carrying the administration's water by running it, but at least we warned you in a weird, Rosetta Stone-like way." Considering the Times' prewar record of itself being "helpful" to the Bush administration by repeating its propaganda about WMD, many readers may wonder whether the paper should continue to run stories containing unsourced allegations that just happen to support Bush administration spin.

As it has launched its media campaign and ratcheted up confrontation with Iran in Iraq, the Bush administration has simultaneously launched a regional diplomatic offensive to isolate Iran. Playing off the long-standing fears of our major allies, and popular anger inflamed by the Shia attacks on Sunni Iraqis (which, of course, America is responsible for), the U.S. has sought to sign up Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf Emirates to form a Sunni Arab opposition to Shia Iran. Interviewing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about this strategic "realignment," the Washington Post's David Ignatius wrote, "Rice said the new approach reflects growing Arab concern about Iran's attempt to project power through its proxies: 'After the war in Lebanon, the Middle East really did begin to clarify into an extremist element allied with Iran, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. On the other side were the targets of this extremism -- the Lebanese, the Iraqis, the Palestinians -- and those who want to resist, such as the Saudis, Egypt and Jordan.'"

The "moderate" Sunni states, angered by the killing of their co-religionists in Iraq's civil war and by the crudely vengeful execution of Saddam, suspicious of the non-Arab Iranians and fearing the erosion of their own power, have begun moving against Tehran. Jordan's King Abdullah warned in 2004 of a "Shiite crescent" stretching from Iran to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, which has been battling Iran for Islamic religious supremacy ever since Khomeini toppled the shah, has provided financial backing for Lebanon's embattled Prime Minister Fouad Siniora against the Iran-backed opposition and may be planning to keep oil prices low to hurt Iran's economy. In an ominous development, it went so far as to accuse Hezbollah of seeking to convert Sunnis to Shia. According to Mideast expert Marc Lynch, a political science professor at Williams College who closely follows the Arab media and Arab public opinion on his valuable site Abu Aardvark, this "Shia conversion meme" is now widespread throughout the Middle East. Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah took it seriously enough to devote a large portion of a recent speech to denying it. And Egypt's semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram suddenly accused Iran, citing "diplomatic sources," of being responsible for the 2005 murder of the Egyptian ambassador in Baghdad -- only to have the Egyptian Foreign Ministry say the story was "invalid." (Shades of "could be helpful"?)

The rising tensions between the Sunni states and Iran have led some analysts to declare that the Bush administration has succeeded, even if only by accident, in pulling off the oldest imperial trick in the book: divide and rule. In the Wall Street Journal, Edward Luttwak wrote, "Just as the Sunni threat to majority rule in Iraq is forcing [the Shiite party] SCIRI to cooperate with the U.S., the prospect of a Shiite-dominated Iraq is forcing Sunni Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Jordan, to seek American help against the rising power of the Shiites."

In the happy world imagined by Rice and Luttwak, the Sunni states' fear of Iran would outweigh their dislike of the U.S. and their solidarity with Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran would be contained. Syria would be forced to abandon its designs on Lebanon and its support for the Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups. Deprived of their backers, the militants would exit the scene: Hezbollah would be disarmed and Hamas would be replaced by a defanged Fatah, which would be forced to make peace on Israeli terms. Iraq -- well, there are some happy endings that even dreams can't make happen.

Sound familiar? It's basically the same scenario the Bush administration promised us would happen after it invaded Iraq. It didn't happen then, it's not going to happen now, and it should be amply clear that the longer we base our strategy on this belief, the more damage we will do to our strategic position, the more the Middle East will degenerate and the stronger al-Qaida will become. The reason the neocons continue to cling to this fantasy is that they really believe that the Middle East is divided between "extremists allied with Iran," the "targets of that extremism" and "those who want to resist." Forget history, invasions, occupations, injustice, disenfranchisement -- no, it's all about "extremists" (formerly "terrorists" or "evildoers") battling "moderates."

This delusion would be laughable if it didn't have such grave consequences. The fact is, of course, that by "moderate" and "extremist," the Bush administration really means "those who do what the U.S. and Israel want" and "those who don't do what the U.S. and Israel want." The idea that Saudi Arabia, land of Wahhabism, public beheadings and 15 of 19 9/11 attackers, is "moderate" is ridiculous. Egypt? Back when Bush was still talking about democracy and pressuring President Mubarak to reform his corrupt and autocratic government, it would have taken a face of brass to call it "moderate." But now that we realize that democracy means the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, democracy isn't such a big deal, and U.S.-friendly autocrats are suddenly "moderate."

It's true that the "moderate" states don't disturb the status quo. But it takes a lot of chutzpah for the Bush administration to suddenly begin singing the lofty moral praises of the status quo, just a few years after it bloodily launched a gratuitous war of choice against a major Arab nation so as to upend that status quo.

The "moderate" vs. "extremist" line is the last, rhetorically downsized gasp of the same discredited, moralistic worldview that the neocons used to justify the Iraq war. And it suffers from the same obvious contradictions, bias and historical blindness. Take what Rice called "the targets of this extremism." Are the Lebanese "targets" of Iran and Hezbollah? Maybe, but they don't see themselves that way. In a poll, 64 percent of Lebanese blamed Israel or the United States for the war, while only 18 percent blamed Hezbollah. Does that make the U.S. and Israel the "extremists"? Apparently not. As for the Palestinians, they elected Hamas, so it's a little hard to figure out how they are its "targets."

My point is not to argue whether Rice is right or wrong about who is responsible for the Lebanese war, or the crisis in Gaza. Nor is it to defend the dreadful regime in Iran, which most Iranians would be overjoyed to see end tomorrow. It is simply to point out that the Bush administration's simplistic vision of the Middle East is not shared by the vast majority of the people who actually live there. And pious but false beliefs, as the last five years should have taught us, are not a good basis for foreign policy.

What's really going on here, of course, is the Bush administration's attempt to use sectarian hatred and fear of Iran (the two are inseparable) to make the Arab world do what we want. The deepest desire of the neoconservatives who, incredibly, still drive Bush's Mideast policy is to kill off Arab nationalism, which they see as a threat because of its enmity toward Israel and resistance to American domination. To do this, they're taking the sectarian-war lemons they made in Iraq and trying to make lemonade. This is a very dangerous game. In fact, it is more than dangerous -- it is guaranteed to fail because even victory will amount to failure.

The only way to make the plan work is by whipping up sectarian hatred in Sunni countries. But that is a tiger we don't want to ride. Two words: al-Qaida. By fomenting Sunni sectarian extremism against Shiite Iran, we are rolling out the red carpet for more Osama bin Ladens. As Vali Nasr, author of the excellent book "The Shia Revival," and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., argued in testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, "In the Arab world and Pakistan, violent anti-Shiism is the domain of radical pro-al-Qaeda clerics, websites and armed groups. Sectarianism -- especially among Sunnis -- is a driver for radical jihadi ideology."

Nasr argues that Bush is trying to resurrect the old policy of "containment" -- and that it simply won't work anymore. "This policy is reminiscent of the containment strategy of the 1980s and early 1990s when the United States rallied Iran's neighbors to contain the spread of the Iranian revolution. However, at that time, Iran was weaker, and containment of Iran was anchored in Iraq's military capability, and Taliban and radical Sunni ideology's ability to counter Shia Iran's influence. But today the Iraqi military bulwark is no longer there. The task of militarily confronting and containing Iran will fall on U.S. shoulders. Moreover, in 2001 it became evident that the cost of Sunni containment of Shia Iran was the rise of radical Sunni jihadi ideology, al-Qaeda and 9/11."

In other words, in a futile attempt to check Iran's regional ambitions, Bush is reprising the tactics that brought us 9/11. History repeats itself, with Iran now playing the role of the evil Soviet empire, and the "moderate" Sunnis playing the mujahedin.

Bush's plan is dangerous in another way: It will destabilize the very "moderate" states whose arms he is twisting. It is certain to raise internal tensions within those states -- tensions that could boil over, even threatening the regimes themselves, if, say, another war with Israel breaks out. This is because the official position of the paid-off governments is radically different from that of their people. During last summer's Lebanon war, Egypt and Saudi Arabia's leaders, fearful of rising Shiite/Iranian power and no doubt under heavy pressure from the U.S., broke with decades of received Arab political behavior and denounced Hezbollah's cross-border raid as an irresponsible provocation. Neocons and right-wingers in the U.S. went wild with joy, seeing in this development -- to use Rice's now-infamous phrase -- "the birth pangs of a new Middle East." Alas, the baby only lived about a week before enormous public outrage forced the "moderate" states to reverse course, denounce Israel and celebrate Hezbollah. Hezbollah head Nasrallah became the most admired man in the Middle East, the new Nasser. And Iran was admired by many Arabs for its uncompromising stance. (Despite his gross incompetence, Iran President Ahmadinejad probably has held onto power as long as he has largely because he has cunningly played to the Arab/Muslim street by denouncing Israel and Bush.)

Today, the Sunni authorities are whipping up primeval fears to try to change all this. As the veteran Mideast analyst Helena Cobban notes in her must-read blog Just World News, things are changing in the region so fast it is impossible to say just how developments will play out. But one thing can be said: It will be virtually impossible for the U.S. to hold the "moderate" states in line unless there is real progress on the region's most crucial front: the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

There is a reason why the Iraq Study Group insisted that the U.S. must urgently broker a peace deal in the Holy Land. The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia can get away with snubbing Iran and Syria so long as there is real progress on the Palestinian front. If there is none, however, and Iran, Hezbollah and the Palestinians continue to represent the only resistance to Israel in Arab eyes, then those leaders who oppose them, no matter how much they play the sectarian card, will be regarded as traitors who have sold out the Arab/Muslim world's most sacred cause to curry favor with the increasingly despised Americans. Exactly this sin has caused Arab leaders to be assassinated -- and inspired fanatical jihadis. It is not in anyone's interests, not even ultimately the Israelis', to place either Arab governments or the Arab street in this untenable position. Yet because the Bush administration will do nothing to broker a real Arab-Israeli peace -- it is content to watch the Palestinians devour themselves in Gaza, in a kind of smaller version of divide and rule -- we are headed toward this combustible position. The Sunni states know this and will insist on a quid pro quo. Writing in Haaretz, the well-informed Israeli commentator Zvi Bar'el reported that as the price for their anti-Iranian position, the Saudis will insist that the U.S. and the rest of the "Quartet" recognize Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian negotiating party. (In a typical example of the grotesque disparity between what can be said in the mainstream Israeli press and what can be said in its American counterpart, Bar'el called this a "smart and sober step.")

Finally, there is Iran itself. The United States has real differences with Iran on many issues, including its nuclear ambitions, its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and its alliance with Syria. And it is in our interest, as well as the Iranian people's, to encourage regime change in Tehran. But Bush's pigheaded strategy actually works against our own interests in every one of these cases. It rallies the Iranian people against America, strengthens the nation's hard-liners and turns the people of the Middle East toward Iran -- and against us.

By now, nothing that the Bush administration does in the Middle East should come as a surprise. But its Iran gambit is so delusional that it raises the question of whether Bush is in fact playing an inept game of power politics, as I have suggested, or whether he is half-hoping to provoke open conflict with Iran. In a last desperate bid to save his disastrous presidency, does he actually want to provoke a war with a country three times larger than Iraq? It's hard to believe, but then his whole reign is becoming increasingly phantasmagorical. Unfortunately, this is one nightmare we're not going to wake up from for two more years -- and maybe a lot longer.

Iran: 'Give Us Proof'

Q&A: Iran’s Ambassador on Iraq Violence
Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad responds to charges that Tehran is fostering sectarian violence and helping insurgents in Iraq.
By Babak Dehghanpisheh
Updated: 4:47 p.m. MT Feb 6, 2007

Feb. 6, 2007 - Tensions between the United States and Iran, seldom below simmering, are reaching boiling point in Iraq. It started with a U.S. military raid on a Baghdad compound linked to Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest parliamentary bloc, last December. The soldiers detained two suspected Iranian agents, but released them later when it was proven they had diplomatic passports. That was followed up with another American raid on an Iranian office in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil in mid-January. Another five suspects were arrested and are still being held. And on Sunday, Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy, was kidnapped in a commercial district in central Baghdad by a group of armed men wearing Iraqi military uniforms and driving SUVs. The Iranians blame the U.S. military—which has denied any involvement—for Sharafi’s disappearance "These forces are under the supervision of the Americans, so we hold them responsible," an official at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, told NEWSWEEK.

U.S. officials say Iran is actively supporting armed groups in Iraq and helping with attacks against Coalition forces, a charge that Tehran has rejected. The two sides may not be talking but they're only a stone's throw away from each other in Baghdad: the Iranian embassy is just a short distance from the infamous Assassin's Gate, one of the entry points into Saddam Hussein's former palace that is now a checkpoint into the Green Zone. NEWSWEEK visited the embassy on a recent chilly morning. Gunfire crackled nearby, but the embassy grounds, which have been used by Iran for more than 80 years, seemed far removed from the violence outside: a lush garden with well-manicured lawns and trimmed palm trees surround the building. Statues of two Persian warriors, cut from stone, flank the main doorway of the embassy. Hassan Kazemi Qomi, Iran's ambassador to Iraq, discussed Tehran’s role in Iraq and whether Iran is helping to carry out attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq, in a wide-ranging 70-minute interview with Babak Dehghanpisheh. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: President Bush recently said that he had signed off on an order for the American military to confront or even kill [suspected] Iranian agents, in Iraq. What's your reaction?
Hassan Kazemi Qomi:
We aren't surprised by Bush's comments. Of course, he later corrected these comments. He said it wasn't [his] intention that they should kill Iranians. It's good that he corrected his statement. For the government of America it's not a good thing—a responsible leader shouldn't make such statements against another country.

Do you have contacts with armed groups in Iraq? Either Shia or Sunni?
One of the most important roles we can play is protecting and helping Iraq in securing its borders. Iran is ready to help complete their defensive and security structures. To help with issues of training, equipment and transfer of intelligence. Iran has a lot of experience in this area. Tehran at the beginning [of the Islamic Revolution in 1979] had more than 200 assassinations a day. The Islamic Republic was able to secure the capital with the participation of the people. Now, this is something we can see in Iraq itself. People's committees, or lijan shaabi, are slowly entering into the security process. So in the agreements that we've had, forming a joint security committee has come up in the sense that I've pointed out—if it's linked to the government's work. That's why a diplomatic committee from a security branch came here and started their research work. It was within these parameters that they came and were arrested by the Americans [in December.] But they were freed after nine days. Whether the Americans were sending a signal to the Iraqis—that they don't want other parties working on the security portfolio outside of their supervision—is a point that has now come up.

Has the security committee you mentioned been formed officially?
Agreements were reached. As I said, the diplomatic team from the security branch had come for this when we encountered the problem [of the arrests].

So the people who were arrested in December were security officials?
They were diplomats from the security branch.

Were the others arrested in Erbil also security officials?
They had nothing to do with security. They had no work outside of consular work. The views that have been expressed—that there were documents, that we were helping terrorists and [with the] transfer of weapons, and the things that American leaders announced—we say if there is proof they should show it. For America this was really an inappropriate act. And later it was announced that this action was undertaken by orders of the president. An attack on a consulate that had been established in a legal way within the parameters of cooperation. So we hope they are freed as soon as possible.

American military officials have said that Iranians may have played a role in the recent attack in Karbala, where American soldiers were kidnapped and shot. What's your reaction to this?
We don't have a role in any of these kinds of actions. And these accusations, from our standpoint, should be condemned. The Americans have announced they're investigating this incident and I'm sure they will find who is responsible for this. But we shouldn't forget one point, and that is that the root of the security crisis is the [American] occupation. And the second point—that Americans are the ones carrying out unilateral actions. The reason that the security crisis doesn't get resolved goes back to these two fundamental points. The solution to the security crisis in Iraq is to give the security portfolio back to the government of Iraq.

What kind of military or security help have you given Iraq? Have you given training or weapons?
The role that the neighboring or regional countries of Iraq can have in solving Iraq's problems is a very significant role. [They can help] control the borders [and] build up the security and military structures of the new Iraqi government [because] the security and military structures of the previous government crumbled. [We can help] with training, equipment, weapons and transferring experience in security, [and] pass on intelligence information to battle terrorism. Iraq's longest border is the border with Iran. If you look at Iraq's security problems, the safest border Iraq has today is the border with Iran. It shows that Iran, in helping secure borders, can have a very constructive role—fighting smuggling and so on … Iran is filling in that role [on the border]. We want a secure and stable Iraq. An insecure Iraq will become a base for terrorism. This base can spread destructive operations outside the borders of Iraq. Insecurity in Iraq can also be used as an excuse to continue the presence of foreign troops in Iraq.

Before you came to Iraq you were posted to the Iranian consulate in Herat [Afghanistan.] Did you meet [U.S. Ambassador] Zalmay Khalilzad there?
In Afghanistan, I didn't have any contact with Mr. Khalilzad.

So you don't know Khalilzad personally?
I never had any personal or work relationship with him.

Have any of the other representatives of the embassy in Baghdad had contact with Khalilzad?
No. We haven't had communication with American officials. And no relations between the two embassies.

How about informally, through Iraqi officials?
The Americans have passed on their messages through Iraqi government officials. They've said what they wanted. And it's not something secret. It was announced. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been willing to examine constructive proposals that will help solve the crisis in Iraq. And the leaders of Iraq want this. They say that if these problems are solved the foreign military troops will leave Iraq and we would like them to leave.

Who did the Americans use to pass messages?
It was done in a transparent way. It was the president [Jalal Talabani] [and Shiite leader] Mr. [Abdul Aziz] Hakim.

What kind of messages did they pass on to you? Warnings from the American military?
They didn't give us any kind of ultimatums through the Iraqi leaders. For Iran, ultimatums aren't really the way to make something happen. We've got a transparent policy in Iraq. A policy that's got the interests of the people of the two countries in mind and the interests of the region.

Iran has a very long border with Iraq. In the past few years, have you ever had any sort of confrontations or skirmishes with the American military?
There's no problem worth mentioning. But the thing to remember is this: the borders of the two countries are the responsibility of the two governments. We won't accept the authority of any government except the government of Iraq. The presence of foreign troops on the border is completely unacceptable. With regard to controlling and securing the border, it's going to be between us and the government of Iraq. We're eager to start a joint border committee so we can secure the border in a good and complete way. Which we've been able to do so far. And the evidence is that among those arrested as foreign terrorists [inside Iraq] there isn't a single Iranian. Of course this also shows that the support of both the Iranian government and the Iranian people is with Iraq—despite all the accusations [from Americans].

What kind of economic aid has Iran given Iraq?
We have divided our policy with regard to Iraq into three categories: help with the political process, help with security and help with reconstruction. We have a shared culture and religion and ancient ties between our people. The Iranian and Iraqi society is intermixed. Iran has the shortest, most stable and secure transit route for Iraq. Iran also has the experience of reconstruction after war. Iran can supply the Iraqi market. The goal of the leaders of the two countries is to expand cooperation. The role of Iran in reconstructing this country can be a serious role. To help facilitate reconstruction, we want to start financial institutions here. Good agreements have been signed with the Iraqi government. In the days ahead our first bank will probably open.

Which banks?
Bank Melli. [And] Bank Keshavarzi and Bank Sepah are in the initial stages. It’s also worth noting that there are three private banks that have expressed interest and submitted applications for working here. They may operate independently or as joint ventures. We also have a readiness for insurance companies. Under the current situation the risk of investment is high, [so] there is a possibility that our insurance companies can work here.

Do you have exact figures for the aid the Iranian government has given the Iraqi government for reconstruction?
We have signed good cooperation agreements. For example, extending credit of $1 billion with very good terms. One of the biggest issues in Iraq, under the current conditions, and if we want reconstruction to begin, is the issue of energy—oil, electricity. We've started help in the electricity sector. Our electric network is linked to the Iraqi network. We're transmitting 150 megawatts. This is in the central part of the country, from Qasr e Shirin to Khaneqin. The second point is our readiness to help reconstruct the power plants. These are things we are studying and hoping to move to the execution phase. We're looking at joint oil wells. And also constructing oil pipelines. Fuel needs like liquid gas, kerosene, gas-oil, petroleum, are being provided from Iran today. A good amount also transits through Iran.

American military officials have accused Iranian agents of supplying technology for "shaped charge" explosives to militants in Iraq. This was an explosive that Hizbullah used in Lebanon.
If this was the case it would have become known. I pointed out before, that we suffer if there's insecurity in Iraq. The Islamic Republic of Iran plays a protective role. After the fall of the regime, Iran was the first country to recognize the Iraqi government. Many people criticized us and said this is an American government. We said no, these are the same leaders from the opposition. We want security and stability. We want a popular and strong government.

What is the relationship of the Iranian government or its representatives with [Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s] Mahdi Army? American officials say Iran is passing weapons to militant groups.
We have repeatedly said: give us the proof. With regard to the accusations that Iran is supplying weapons or supporting armed groups, if there is any evidence then show this evidence. Why do they keep repeating these accusations? The government of America has 150,000 troops here. It has its security and intelligence services in Iraq. And there are other services who are helping them. If Iran was involved in actions against Americans, they should have discovered the evidence. We're against any action that adds to insecurity here, whether in Baghdad or Basra.

Bombs away over Baghdad

By withholding figures on the expenditure of various kinds of munitions in air strikes, the Pentagon conceals information on the size, scope and damage involved in its air operations in Iraq. In the coming months, however, as the US "surge" in Baghdad bites, the true nature of the air war - and the devastation it causes - will emerge.

Tomgram: Nick Turse, America's Secret Air War in Iraq

Just last week, in a typical air strike of the Iraq War, two missiles were fired at targets somewhere in the city of Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar province in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, in the course of a battle with American forces stationed there. According to newspaper accounts, "18 insurgents" were killed.

Air power has, since World War II, been the American way of war. The invasion of Iraq began, after all, with a dominating show of air power that was meant to "shock and awe" -– that is, cow -- not just Saddam Hussein's regime, but the whole "axis of evil" and other countries the Bush administration had in its mental gun sights. Among the largest of America's "permanent" megabases in Iraq is Balad Air Base with the sorts of daily air-traffic pile-ups that you would normally see over Chicago's O'Hare Airport. And yet, as has written numerous times over these last years, reporters in Iraq almost determinedly refuse to look up or report on the regular, if intermittent, application of American air power especially to heavily populated neighborhoods in Iraq's cities.

Now, the Bush "surge" is officially beginning. Little about it is strikingly new or untried -- except possibly the unspoken urge to ratchet up the use of air power in Iraq, the only thing a Pentagon with desperately overstretched ground forces really has to throw into the escalation breach (as in recent months it has drastically escalated the use of air power in Afghanistan). Pepe Escobar, the superb globe-trotting correspondent for Asia Times, has recently warned that the new Bush administration "plan" signals "the dire prospect... of a devastating air war over Baghdad" in which "Iraqification-cum-surge" will prove "a disaster mostly for every Baghdadi caught in the crossfire."

Just last week, Julian E. Barnes of the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Air Force has the Iraqi itch and is getting ready to scratch it. Air Force commanders are preparing for a "heightened role in the volatile region." They are, he reported, already "gearing up for just such a role in Iraq as part of Bush's planned troop increase" -- an expansion of air power that "could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants… [and] more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran."

Until now, U.S. air power in Iraq has been a non-story -- if you weren't an Iraqi. In the coming months, however, it may force its way onto the front pages of our papers and onto the nightly TV news -- but not if the Pentagon has anything to say about it. Doing some journalistic sleuthing, Nick Turse has discovered just how secretive the Pentagon has been about offering any significant information on the size, scope, and damage involved in its air operations over Iraq. The story of this secret American air war is now told for the first time -- and at this website. Tom

Bombs over Baghdad

The Pentagon's Secret Air War in Iraq
By Nick Turse

A secret air war is being waged in Iraq -- often in and around that country's population centers -- about which we can find out little. The U.S. military keeps information on the munitions expended in its air efforts under tight wraps, refusing to offer details on the scale of use and so minimizing the importance of air power in Iraq. But expert opinion holds that the forms of aerial assault being employed in that country, though hardly covered in our media, may account for most of the U.S. and coalition-attributed Iraqi civilian deaths there since the 2003 invasion.

While some aspects of the air war remain a total mystery, Air Force officials do acknowledge that U.S. military and coalition aircraft dropped at least 111,000 pounds of bombs on targets in Iraq in 2006. This figure, 177 bombs in all, does not include guided missiles and unguided rockets fired, or cannon rounds expended; nor, according to a U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) spokesman, does it take into account the munitions used by some Marine Corps and other coalition aircraft or any of the Army's helicopter gunships. Moreover, it does not include munitions used by the armed helicopters of the many private security contractors flying their own missions in Iraq.

Air War, Iraq: 2006

In statistics provided to Tomdispatch, CENTAF reported a total of 10,519 "close air support missions" in Iraq in 2006, during which its aircraft dropped 177 bombs and fired 52 "Hellfire/Maverick missiles." These air strikes presumably included numerous highly publicized missions ranging from the January air strike outside the town of Baiji that reportedly "killed a family of 12," including at least three women and three young children, to the December attack on an insurgent safehouse in the Garma area, near Fallujah, that reportedly killed "two women and a child" in addition to five guerillas. Then there were the even less well remembered events, such as those on July 28th when, according to official reports, an Air Force Predator unmanned aerial vehicle destroyed an "anti-Iraqi forces" vehicle with Hellfire missiles, while Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons "expended a GBU-12, destroying an anti-Iraqi forces location," both in the vicinity of the city of Ramadi.

The latter weapon, Guided Bomb Unit-12, a laser-guided bomb with a 500-pound general purpose warhead, was the most frequently used bomb in Iraq in 2006, according CENTAF statistics provided to Tomdispatch. In addition to the ninety-five GBU-12s "expended," sixty-seven satellite-guided, 500-pound GBU-38s and fifteen 2,000-pound GBU-31/32 munitions were also dropped on Iraqi targets last year, according to official Air Force figures.

One weapon conspicuously left out of this total is rockets -- such as the 2.75-inch Hydra-70 rocket which can be outfitted with various warheads and is fired from fixed-wing aircraft and most helicopters. The number of rockets fired is withheld from the press so as, according to a CENTAF spokesman, not to "skew the tally and present an inaccurate picture of the air campaign." The number of rockets fired may be quite significant as, according to a 2005 press release issued by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who helped secure a $900 million Hydra contract from the Army for General Dynamics, "the widely used Hydra-70 rocket… has seen extensive use in Afghanistan and Iraq… [and] has become the world's most widely used helicopter-launched weapon system." Early last year, Sandra I. Erwin of National Defense Magazine noted that the U.S. military was looking to the Hydra to serve as a low-cost weapon for Iraq's urban areas. "The Army already buys and stockpiles thousands of the 2.75-inch Hydra rockets, and is seeking to equip as many as 73,000 with the laser kits, under a program called 'advanced precision kill weapon system,' or APKWS. The Navy would purchase 8,000 for Marine Corps helicopters," she wrote.

The number of cannon rounds fired -- some models of the AC-130 gunship, for instance, have a Gatling gun that can fire up to 1,800 rounds in a single minute-- is also a closely guarded secret. The official reason given is that "special forces often use aircraft such as the AC-130" and since "their missions and operations are classified, so therefore these figures are not released."

Repeated inquiries concerning another reporter's statistics on cannon rounds fired by CENTAF aircraft prompted the same official to emphatically state in an email: "WE DO NOT REPORT CANNON ROUNDS." His superior officer, Lt. Col. Johnn Kennedy, the Deputy Director of CENTAF Public Affairs, followed up, noting:

Glad to see you appreciate the tremendous efforts [my subordinate] has already expended on you. Trust me, it's probably much more significant than the relentless pursuit of the number of cannon rounds.

But the number of cannon rounds and rockets fired by U.S. aircraft is not an insignificant matter, according to Les Roberts, formerly an epidemiologist for the World Health Organization in Rwanda during that country's civil war and an expert on the human costs of the war in Iraq. According to Roberts, who was last in Iraq in 2004 (where, he says, he personally witnessed "the shredding of entire blocks" in Baghdad's Sadr City by aerial cannon fire), "rocket and cannon fire could account for most coalition-attributed civilian deaths." He adds, "I find it disturbing that they will not release this [figure], but even more disturbing that they have not released such information to Congressmen who have requested it."

Non-CENTAF military officials were equally tight-lipped about such munitions -- at least with me. A Public Affairs officer from U.S. Central Command told me that the Command didn't track such information. When I questioned a coalition spokesman in Baghdad about the number of rockets and cannon rounds fired by Army and Marine Corps helicopters in Iraq in 2006, I was told, "We cannot comment on your inquiry due to operational security."

I then pointed out that just last month, in National Defense Magazine, Col. Robert A. Fitzgerald, the Marine Corps' head of aviation plans and policy, was quoted as saying that, in 2006, "Marine rotary-wing aircraft flew more than 60,000 combat flight hours, and fixed-wing platforms completed 31,000. They dropped 80 tons of bombs and fired 80 missiles, 3,532 rockets and more than 2 million rounds of smaller ammunition."

When asked if this admission had endangered operational security, the spokesman responded, "I cannot comment on the policies or release authority of a Marine colonel."

While the Marine Corps' statistics presumably include totals of munitions used in Afghanistan, where American air power has played a large role in the fighting, they do remind us that the minimal figures given out by CENTAF don't give an accurate picture of the air war in Iraq. These particular totals are, according CENTAF, "separate from the data provided" to Tomdispatch on Iraqi bomb and missile expenditure in 2006.

"Relentless Pursuit"

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the American air war in Iraq, often targeting urban areas, has been given remarkably short shrift in the media. In 2004, Tom Engelhardt, writing at Tomdispatch, called attention to this glaring absence. Seymour Hersh's seminal piece of reportage, "Up in the Air," published in the New Yorker in late 2005, ushered in some mainstream attention to the subject. Articles by Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist who covered the American occupation and war in Iraq, before and after the Hersh piece, are among the smattering of pieces that have offered glimpses of the air campaign and its impact. To date, however, the mainstream media has not, to use the words of Lt. Col. Kennedy, engaged in a "relentless pursuit of the number of cannon rounds" fired or any other aspect of the air war or its consequences for the people of Iraq.

While we will undoubtedly never know the full extent of the human costs of the U.S. air campaign, just a few dogged reporters assigned to the air-power beat might, at the very least, have offered some sense of this one-sided air war. Since this has not been the case, we must rely on the best available evidence. One valuable source is a national cross-sectional cluster sample survey of mortality in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Carried out by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health and Iraqi physicians organized through Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, it estimated 655,000 "excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war." The study, published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, in October 2006, found that from March 2003 to June 2006, 13% of violent deaths in Iraq were caused by coalition air strikes. If the 655,000 figure, including over 601,000 violent deaths, is anywhere close to accurate -- and the study offered a possible range of civilian deaths that ran from 392,979 to 942,636 -- this would equal approximately 78,133 Iraqis killed by bombs, missiles, rockets, or cannon rounds from coalition aircraft between March 2003 when the invasion of Iraq began and last June when the study concluded.

There are indications that the U.S. air war has taken an especially grievous toll on Iraqi children. According to statistics provided to Tomdispatch by The Lancet study's authors, 50% of all violent deaths of Iraqi children under 15 years of age, between March 2003 and June 2006, were due to coalition air strikes.

The Lancet study used well-established survey methods, which have been proven in conflict zones from Kosovo to the Congo, and interviewers actually inspected death certificates from 92% of the households surveyed where they were requested (which they did 87% of the time). The Iraq Body Count Project, a group of researchers based in the United Kingdom who maintain a public database of Iraqi civilian deaths resulting from the war, carefully restricts itself to the sparser media reports of civilian fatalities that come out of Iraq. While a much lower number (currently the range of media-reported deaths stands at: 55,441-61,133) than the The Lancet's findings, an analysis of their carefully limited data also offers a glimpse of the human costs of the air war.

Statistics provided to Tomdispatch by the Iraq Body Count Project show that since the U.S. invasion in 2003, coalition air strikes have, according to media sources alone -- which as we know have covered the air war poorly -- caused between 15,593-17,067 Iraqi civilian casualties, including 3,625-4,093 deaths. Last year, media reports listed between 169-200 Iraqis killed and 111-112 injured in twenty-eight separate coalition air strikes, according to the IBC project.

These numbers also appear to be on the rise. In an email message to Tomdispatch last month, John Sloboda, the co-founder and spokesperson for the IBC Project, notes that the "vast majority [of lethal air strikes] have been in the last half of the year."

When asked about the modest air power casualty figures provided by the Iraq Body Count Project and whether CENTAF accepts them, Lt. Col. Kennedy dodged the question, telling Tomdispatch, "We do not track such numbers and so cannot comment on the Project's efforts or validity." He had a similar answer when it came to The Lancet study's findings.

Asked about the assertion that the second half of 2006 was much deadlier for Iraqis due to U.S. air strikes and the possible reasons for this, Kennedy waxed eloquent, "War, by its very nature has ebbs and flows, and we constantly review the application of airpower to best support the forces on the ground in theater. We view this as simply part of our contract to the warfighters. As we do not discuss operational aspects of missions, I'll decline further comment."

Kennedy went on to say that the U.S. makes "every effort" to "minimize collateral damage regardless of whether the enemy is on open ground or within the confines of a city." Just days ago, in the Los Angeles Times, Lt. Gen. Carrol H. "Howie" Chandler, the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements, expanded on this line of thought, noting, "I wouldn't automatically write off air power in an urban environment for fear of collateral damage… We have the capability with precision targeting and the new weapons to operate in an urban environment."

Sarah Sewall, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense from 1993 to 1996 and is now Director for the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, agrees that air power has a role to play in urban operations, and may even mitigate civilian harm in certain instances. She warns, however, "I have a lot of skepticism about the applicability of air power for all types of problems and particularly for the types of problems that we see commonly, on a day to day basis, in Iraq today." As she told Tomdispatch, "The problem comes when you think it is the functional equivalent of ground forces."

The Pace Quickens

In 2005, CENTAF reported using 404 bombs and missiles in Iraq. In 2006, an apparent lull (whether in lethal attacks or just in their reporting) in the first half of the year seems to have given way to a rise in deadly attacks during the second half. Only days into 2007, the U.S. military had already conducted air strikes in three nations -- Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. And in Iraq, the air war may be increasing in pace and ferocity. For example, on January 9th, the U.S. unleashed its air power on Baghdad's Haifa Street, a "mostly Sunni Arab enclave of residential buildings and shops." According to the Washington Post, "F-15 fighter jets strafed rooftops with cannons, while the Apache[ helicopter]s fired Hellfire missiles." Elsewhere in Iraq that day, according to Air Force reports, F-16s strafed targets near Bayji with cannon fire, while others dropped GBU-38s on targets near Turki Village; and F-15Es provided "close-air support" to troops near Basrah.

That same evening, back in the U.S., a broadcast of Fox News Channel's "Special Report with Brit Hume" offered a brief glimpse of the air war in a story by reporter David Macdougall who was, said Hume, "embedded with the Air Force in a location we cannot identify, where not only fighter jets, but bombers roared into the air headed for other targets in Iraq." Macdougall reported that the B-1B Lancer, the long-range bomber that carries the largest payload of weapons in the Air Force was, for the first time in over a year, again being employed in combat in Iraq.

"These B-1 bombers were central to the raid. We're told they flew a ten-hour mission, and by the looks of their empty bomb bays, these planes dropped thousands of pounds of munitions. They bombed 25 targets deep inside Iraq," he said. At one of these sites, he reported, Army troops sent in after the air strike reportedly found a "command and control center, insurgent hospital, and a closet-sized room covered in blood." We may never know if that "room covered in blood" was a torture center, part of the hospital, or if it became "covered" in the same manner that caused the 280 Iraqi civilian casualties from air strikes reported in the media, and the many more that undoubtedly went unreported and ignored, last year. This is yet another facet of the air war that will remain a mystery.

The Secret Air War

While reporting on the air war has often been barely evident, except as the odd paragraph in daily round-up battle pieces from Iraq (which rely mainly on military handouts or press briefings), the gaps in our knowledge about the air war have been facilitated by the U.S. military's failure to be honest and forthcoming with both data and doctrine. In this respect, the military has been the media's enabler.

Given CENTAF's knowledge that, no matter how "smart" their munitions or how precise their targeting, noncombatants, especially in urban neighborhoods, are sure to die in air strikes, I had a question for Lt. Col. Kennedy: Could he explain how CENTAF decided what was an acceptable level of civilian caualties it was willing to sacrifice for military aims? His answer: "Not in a sufficient manner that you would be happy with."

Kennedy's response echoed a running theme in his replies to my questions. At one point in our exchanges, he actually suggested that an article on the air war in Iraq was not "a viable story" and told me not to contact him again until I was under contract to produce an article that met his standards. He later claimed that his viability comment was due to my "apparent freelance status" and the fact I had not provided "a copy of any contract, nor contacts with a publisher."

"When you provide such information I'll be happy to entertain your questions," he wrote. After providing proof that I was, indeed, a journalist, he deigned to answer me again, concluding, "This is the last email I will respond to from you."

Kennedy was just one of a number of U.S. military officials who thwarted attempts to uncover the barest outline of the real extent and nature of the American air war and its toll on Iraqis. Aside from the Air Force's daily release of airpower summaries of dubious worth, the military's efforts have kept almost all substantive aspects of the air war essentially a secret from Americans at home.

During the Vietnam War, the United States conducted a clandestine air war in Cambodia, lied about it to the press, and hid it from the American public. In Iraq, the military has, these last years, engaged in a different kind of secretive air campaign, but their methods of keeping it a mystery appear to have certain similarities. A few years ago, at a meeting at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event, Les Roberts, a co-author of The Lancet study and now on faculty at Columbia University's Program on Forced Migration and Health, recalls a Pentagon spokesman's declaration that, aside from some sites in Najaf and al-Anbar province, the military had refrained from any attacks on mosques in Iraq. Roberts said that the spokesman's rhetoric differed markedly from the facts on the ground, recalling that "just weeks before I had seen helicopter gunships destroy a beautiful Mosque about an hour south of Baghdad."

When I asked Lt. Col. Kennedy why CENTAF did not track figures on civilian casualties of the air war, he laid the blame on higher headquarters, namely the Office of the Secretary of Defense: "Go ask OSD as we do not set policy here," he wrote.

"I think that it's a red herring," Sewall, the former Pentagon official, told Tomdispatch. "They spend a tremendous amount of energy using computer models to predict where the glass shards are going to go, and then they don't actually care about whether or not that effort to control the direction of the glass shards results in killing fewer people, because they've never bothered to find out whether it, in fact, succeeded in killing fewer people." As she pointed out in a telephone interview, it is "a rather absurd position."

"If they wanted to, they could certainly, as a matter of their own internal procedures, do it," Sewall said of tracking civilian casualties. "I think it's inexcusable that they don't do a better job."

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for Tomdispatch.

Copyright 2007 Nick Turse

U.S. soldier to be tried in Italy

By MARTA FALCONI, Associated Press Writer 31 minutes ago

A judge Wednesday ordered a U.S. soldier to stand trial in absentia for the fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence agent at a checkpoint in Baghdad, the prosecutor said.

Spc. Mario Lozano is indicted for murder and attempted murder in the death of Nicola Calipari, who was shot on March 4, 2005, on his way to the Baghdad airport shortly after securing the release of an Italian journalist who had been kidnapped in the Iraqi capital, prosecutor Pietro Saviotti said.

Another agent, who was driving the car, and the journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, were wounded.

"This looks to me like the first step on a long road toward truth and justice, and I hope justice will come in the end," said a visibly emotional Rosa Calipari, the agent's widow.

Lozano was not at the hearing and his whereabouts are not known, but defendants can be tried in absentia in Italy. Judge Sante Spinaci set his trial date for April 17.

Prosecutors so far have not sought the soldier's arrest. Lozano, a member of the New York-based 69th Infantry Regiment, has said through friends in the military that he had no idea the car was carrying the Italians.

The case has strained U.S.-Italian relations. The United States and Italy drew different conclusions in reports on the incident. U.S. authorities have said the vehicle was traveling fast, alarming soldiers, who feared an insurgent attack. Italian officials claimed the car was traveling at normal speed and accused the U.S. military of failing to signal there was a checkpoint.

Calipari's death angered Italians, already largely opposed to the war in Iraq, and the agent was mourned as a national hero.

A US sea-change over Iran

Despite the Bush administration's public disavowals that it plans to attack Iran directly, the disposition of US forces in the Persian Gulf puts these in serious doubt. Iran will have noted that Admiral William Fallon, the new commander in the region, has no experience fighting insurgents but is an expert in carrier-borne air strikes.

Feb 8, 2007

By Jason Motlagh

WASHINGTON - The drumbeat for a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities over the past year has waxed and waned in Washington corridors, but refuses to go away. The US administration's selection of Admiral William J Fallon to lead Central Command suggests that the latest naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, missile shipments to Sunni Arab allies, and charges that Iran in using Iraq as a proxy may add up to a more-than-familiar tune.

A new US intelligence estimate released last Friday concluded that Iranian meddling is "not likely" a major cause of violence in Iraq. This has not stanched the rhetoric of administration officials, who contend they have a "mountain of evidence" to prove Iran is providing arms and funding to Shi'ite militias engaged in sectarian clashes, though they have yet to disclose any.

The ante was upped when US forces raided a diplomatic compound in northern Iraq last month and detained five alleged Iranian agents they accused of aiding insurgents. President George W Bush has also issued an "order to kill" Iranian operatives who interfere with US objectives in Iraq.

"To the extent that anybody, including Iranians, are smuggling weapons, bringing in fighters, killing Americans, trying to destabilize the democracy in Iraq, we will take appropriate measures to defend our troops and also to defend the mission," White House spokesman Tony Snow said last week.

Interestingly, the need to show America's enduring commitment to Iraq was also cited by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to justify a sudden military escalation beyond its borders: a second aircraft-carrier battle group is now en route to the Gulf, while upgraded Patriot anti-missile missiles have been deployed to Israel and other Arab Gulf states threatened by Iran's emergence as a regional power.

Fears that Iran would retaliate to a US or Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities by launching short-range missiles at neighborhood rivals, according to one analyst, indicate that the military buildup "has Iran written all over it".

Asked whether an offensive against the Islamic Republic is kicking into gear, Gates said at a Pentagon news conference on Friday, "We are not planning for a war with Iran." He echoed the words of Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who told a radio interviewer the night before: "We've been very clear we don't intend to cross the border into Iran, we don't intend to strike into Iran, in terms of what we are doing in Iraq."

European diplomats insist all the saber-rattling should be understood as an aggressive US effort to deter Iran from proceeding with uranium enrichment in accord with United Nations demands, now enforced by stringent economic sanctions.

Even the most ominous estimates hold that the country is still years away from developing a nuclear weapon. But Iran has nevertheless begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz facility, which could be used to convert uranium into weapons-grade material for bombs. Meanwhile, Russia says it will uphold its pledge to send nuclear fuel to the Bushehr nuclear power plant by next month. Some analysts say that if the Bushehr shipment were diverted to Natanz, enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb could be produced quickly.

"If the Iranians drop [the Russian shipment] into Natanz, within a couple of weeks they would have enough highly enriched uranium for an atomic bomb," John Pike, a defense expert at, told Asia Times Online. "By the end of this month, we will [either] have bombed Iran or not."

If an attack is in the offing, there could arguably be no better man calling the shots than Admiral Fallon. In recent years, Fallon, a former navy pilot, has headed Pacific Command, a theater of operations largely centered on air and maritime tactical strategies. His specialty is maritime-based air power, and he has been successful in conveying to China and other nations in Northeast and Southeast Asia that the United States was willing to enforce its traditional security role in the region as an ally of Taiwan.

Outside of an imminent strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, or a possible Iranian attack on US forces in Iraq or other allies in the region, the appointment of a navy admiral to head up CentCom is hard to square. CentCom oversees US military operations in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has traditionally been commanded by army or Marine Corps generals well versed in ground warfare. Unlike outgoing CentCom chief army General John Abizaid, Fallon has never commanded US forces fighting a guerrilla insurgency such the one being played out in cities across Iraq.

However, analysts say his experience with carrier-borne air strikes makes him ideally suited to coordinate a possible move on Iran.

"That's been the buzz since he was announced," said Pike. "As the pot has begun to bubble with missile and carrier deployments, [his naval background] reinforces the theory" of a strike against Iran. The net effect of Fallon's appointment and recent military deployments around the Gulf, he added, could also ensure that Tehran remains "in a deterrence state of mind" as it decides to move ahead with uranium enrichment.

On January 30, Fallon told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he "philosophically" favors engagement with Iran. "The extent that we can understand better the thoughts and actions of others removes substantially, in my experience, the danger of miscalculation, and so I strong endorse that approach," he said. "In the Iranian situation I've got to get a better assessment of where we stand."

But the admiral went on to note that Iran is maneuvering itself to prevent the United States from gaining access to the Persian Gulf, while "destabilizing" the region at large.

Jason Motlagh is deputy foreign editor at United Press International in Washington, DC.

Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.

Israel weighing force against Hezbollah

By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press Writer 50 minutes ago

Israel's defense minister on Wednesday accused Syria of allowing the rearmament of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and said Israel has the right to act "forcefully" against the Shiite militia to counter the threat.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz's comments came days after Israel said it discovered four bombs in northern Israel recently planted by Hezbollah guerrillas. The Israeli claim, denied by Hezbollah, immediately raised tensions along the volatile border.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war last summer before a U.N.-brokered cease-fire took hold. Under the truce, thousands of Lebanese government troops and international peacekeepers patrol the border to maintain calm. The cease-fire also bars armed Hezbollah fighters from the border area and calls for a halt in unauthorized weapons transfers to the guerrilla group.

Speaking to visiting U.S. Jewish leaders, Peretz said Syria, Hezbollah's main ally, is continuing to allow weapons shipments to the group to cross its border with Lebanon.

"We can't under any circumstances ignore the transfer of weapons and ammunition to Hezbollah," Peretz said. While Israel remains committed to the cease-fire, he said, "we reserve the right to protect the citizens of the state of Israel and we will do this forcefully without any compromises."

In Beirut, a Hezbollah official declined comment.

Syria is Hezbollah's closest ally, and Israel accuses the Damascus government of providing weapons to the group and allowing arms from the guerrillas' other main supplier, Iran, to pass through its territory to Lebanon.

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on Wednesday said Syria recently transferred Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles to Hezbollah in violation of the cease-fire agreement. The report cited unidentified "senior political sources."

During a trip to Moscow in October, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed concern that Russian missiles were reaching Hezbollah through third parties. At the time, Russia's defense minister said his government had settled the matter with Israel.

Peretz gave no firm evidence of the weapons transfers and did not specify what would provoke Israeli military action in Lebanon. But he said this week's discovery of the bombs along the border showed how critical the situation has become.

Israeli military officials said the bombs were planted in recent days, under the cover of bad weather. If true, it would mark a violation of the cease-fire and indicate a failure by the international peacekeepers to prevent new attacks on Israel.

Hezbollah denied the allegation, saying the explosives were planted months ago before the war. U.N. officials are looking into the Israeli report.

Peretz has come under heavy criticism for his handling of the war, which has widely been perceived as a failure by the Israeli public. Israel attacked Hezbollah on July 12 after the group infiltrated Israel, killing three soldiers and capturing two others.

Despite an advantage in firepower, the army failed to accomplish the two main goals set by Israeli leaders — destruction of Hezbollah and rescuing the two captured soldiers. It also was unable to prevent Hezbollah from raining thousands of rockets onto northern Israel.

A total of 159 Israelis were killed, including 39 civilians killed by Hezbollah rockets. More than 1,000 people were killed on the Lebanese side, according to tallies by government agencies, humanitarian groups and The Associated Press.

The count includes 250 Hezbollah fighters that the group's leaders now say died during Israel's intense air, ground and sea bombardments in Lebanon. Israel has estimated its forces have killed 600 Hezbollah fighters.