Sunday, February 11, 2007

Call apartheid what it is

Robert F. Boyd

Boyd, of Daleville, was a professor and science writer at Marquette University before his retirement.

We usually define genocide as the deliberate and systematic extermination of a cultural, political or racial group. We have read how millions were killed and more millions of the survivors were left emotionally scarred by the killings of relatives and friends. In most instances the destruction of the flesh was enhanced by laying waste to the spirit, i.e. a strategy of humiliation.

One technique is to displace the indigenous peoples from their land to which many have been connected for centuries. This prevents the displaced from making a living in addition to separating them from their heritage and identity as a people.

The second technique is called apartheid, i.e. the creation of a legal framework for segregation based on politics, race, religion or culture. In South Africa, for example, blacks became "guest laborers" forced to carry temporary work permits. Consequently, blacks weren't citizens in their own country. Most countries ignored the problem, which included the U.S. whose Southern segregation policy most closely resembled that of South Africa's.

Another unspoken-of apartheid system has been operating for 40 years -- the one the Israelis use to humiliate Palestinians. The silence to this conduct is not because some have not been courageous enough to expose its perpetrators. No, the word anti-Semitic is used by Israeli apologists to silence those who even dare to discuss the reality of Palestinian life under Israeli rule.

It appears not even those who have retired from public life are safe from the Israeli defenders, as Jimmy Carter can confirm after his most recently published book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." The president's attackers are well aware of the effect a well-placed negative political or religious label can be. It is especially productive when the public is ill-informed and is willing to ignore or deny the truth when it is presented.

Inflammatory words used to stereotype an opponent are nothing new, as those of us who remember Ronald Reagan can attest. His portrayal of Democrats as tax-and-spend, bleeding-heart liberals became the cornerstone of Republican debate. We know these representations are useful because they distract us from the real issues.

Likewise, those who recklessly use the anti-Semitic card do so to divert the audience's attention from the real issue of Palestinian plight to the dissimilar issue of Jewish hatred. They are not the same.

Shame on the media, Congress and the so-called Christian majority in this country for labeling Carter as being anti-Semitic.

For those who believe the term "apartheid" should not be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, I suggest you read Carter's book. If that doesn't convince you, I further recommend you read the Sept. 11, 2006, editorial "The Problem That Disappeared" in the leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It reads: "The apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood; under the yoke of Israeli occupation."

One can understand basking in the glory of your children's accomplishments, a sports team's victories or pride in your nation's positive accomplishments. But with that reveling comes a price: recognizing and acknowledging their faults. That means not falling into the trap of being an apologist, a condition that affects too many of us humans.

Many who support Israel, right or wrong, believe they are strengthening the Israeli cause. It is just the opposite. My wife's metaphor best describes the situation, "You can poke a sharp stick at a dog only so long before it bites you." Israel has been poking sticks at Palestinians for more than 40 years, and our government, with our tax money, has been supplying them with the sticks. This kind of humiliation has poisoned the psyche of not only the Palestinians but Muslims everywhere. If this kind of treatment doesn't stop, Israel and the United States will be in a conflagration with no end in sight.

Why is Israel afraid of being castigated as a practitioner of apartheid? Apartheid is a human rights violations. According to the 1949 Geneva convention, practices of apartheid are considered a war crime. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved only when Israel recognizes international law and the latter can begin only when the United States assumes the same responsibility.

I hope the media can begin the process of accurate and truthful reporting of this issue. Only when the public is provided the reality of the conflict can cooler heads prevail, and a resolution be forthcoming.

The 'Bush Doctrine' and Weapons in Space

February 12, 2007

by Rodrigue Tremblay

"The dangerous patriot: "The one who drifts into chauvinism and exhibits blind enthusiasm for military actions. He is a defender of militarism and its ideals of war and glory. Chauvinism is a proud and bellicose form of patriotism . . . which identifies numerous enemies who can only be dealt with through military power and which equates the national honor with military victory."

James A. Donovan, Colonel, US Marine Corps

"Where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control."

Lord Acton (1834-1902)

"If you want war, nourish a doctrine. Doctrines are the most frightful tyrants to which men ever are subject... "

William Graham Sumner

On September 20, 2002, George W. Bush, in conformity with the path that Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Rice and Co. had traced for him, adopted a hegemonic foreign policy and issued the famous hubristic "Bush Doctrine". His then Security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and her assistant, Philip D. Zelikow, drafted much of the 2002 report titled “The National Security Strategy of the United States”, which has come to be known as the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive wars and of American assertive military hegemony around the world.

Eight months before, in his January 29, 2002 first State of the Union Address, Bush, inspired by his neocon and theologian speech writers, had singled out three disparate countries as belonging to an "axis of evil" (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea), even though two of these countries had been at war at each other for years (Iraq and Iran) and the third (North Korea) had no visible political ties to the first two. Bush also expressed his intention that the United States control both the Earth and Outer Space, no matter what the other 191 countries of the world think and no matter what international law and international treaties call for.

On Earth, the neocon Bush-Cheney administration's goal was to invest so much in military gear, and to take military actions if necessary, that no other country would ever challenge its status as the world's sole military superpower.

The intention was to establish a military New American Empire for the 21st Century, along the lines of the British Empire in the 19th Century.

In Space, the administration asserted the "far out" claim that the United States has the right to control Outer Space and to deny access to space to any country not in sync with U.S. interests. Bush's then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in the so-called report on "Counterspace Operations Doctrine" (2004), even stated that the U.S. should not refrain from using such tactics as "cover, concealment, and deception" and "satellite jamming" to control Outer Space. —The chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, General Peter Pace, said that (Donald) Rumsfeld must truly be 'inspired by God!' This hairy policy was revisited and signed into law by President George W. Bush, on October 18, 2006, thus initiating a new and dangerous Space arms race.

The U.S. already has a 'Air Force Space Command', which was created on September 1, 1982, by the Reagan administration. But to indicate that nothing is off-limits, the U.S. Air Force also announced, on November 2, 2006, that it was setting up what could become a new four-star command to fight in cyberspace, where officials say the United States has already come under attack from China, among others. In the words of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, "The aim is to develop a major command that stands alongside Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command as the provider of forces that the President, combatant commanders and the American people can rely on for preserving the freedom of access and commerce, in air, space and now cyberspace."

However, the goal of preserving free access to Space and cyberspace is paramount. Worldwide, most people believe that Space should not be militarized. The underlying principle here is that Space, Outer Space and celestial resources, such as the Moon or the planets, are the common heritage of humanity as a whole and should not be appropriated by any one country or any nation in particular, through military means or otherwise. Besides, any attempt by one nation to militarize Space, and even to take control of cyberspace, would be in violation of the spirit of the 1967 “Outer Space Treaty” (OST). This fundamental treaty has been signed by 125 countries and ratified by 98, and it solemnly bars participating nations from placing nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in orbit of Earth, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or to otherwise station them in Outer Space.

That is why the world entered into a new era when China, on January 11 (2007), launched a missile strike against one of its old orbiting weather satellites, 800 kilometers above Earth. The Chinese government also announced that the deployment of its anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon was a move to demonstrate the danger of having weapons in Space, and that its objective was to encourage the Bush-Cheney administration to enter into talks aiming at abolishing weapons in Space. Unfortunately, the current administreation had already announced that it opposes the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that would seek to prohibit or limit access to, or use of, Space. —It acts like it would welcome a new arms race in Space and possibly would like to start a new 'Cold War' with China and Russia.

The issue of weapons in Space is not new. In 1981, the old Soviet Union developed an ASAT system consisting of a bomb-carrying satellite, which was positioned next to a target satellite to be destroyed. During the same period, the United States developed an ASAT system, whereby an F-15 fighter would carry a two-stage missile to a high altitude and let the missile tracking system guide it to a target missile set to be destroyed. Since Congress voted a moratorium on the development of ASAT systems, in 1985, the United States has not tested any new ASAT system.

However, the Chinese demonstration and the Bush-Cheney avowed policy of taking military control of Space indicate that urgent action is required on this issue, if Space is to be kept demilitarized. A U.N. agency tailored along the International Atomic Energy Agency should have the responsibility to inspect any rocket launch to make sure that it does not carry armaments into Space. That may be the only way to make sure that no national government place armaments into Space.

Therefore, it would seem appropriate that the United Nations, under its new leadership, convene an international conference and adopt necessary measures to reinforce the Outer Space Treaty and make sure that no single nation-state can dominate Space or could ever claim that Space belongs to it.

Rodrigue Tremblay lives in Montreal and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at

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Posted, February 12, 2007, at 5:30 am

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Cheney & the Fourth Branch of Government?

February 11, 2007

The Constitution divided the government of the Republic into three branches - the executive, the legislative and the courts. Cheney, it appears, has designed his own separate branch of the Junta, which so far still has no name: no doubt it's all SECRET, private, and known only to his own shadow branch of government!


Bush's Next War Is Underway

No war with Iran

Friday, February 09, 2007

Norman Robbins

Seventy-five percent of Ameri cans want negotiations instead of war with Iran, but the Bush administration is charging ahead. Once again, military preparations are being paired with misinformation, and peaceful options are being dismissed. This time, Americans must inform themselves and take action before it is too late.

The fear and disinformation campaign is on. The administration repeatedly asserts, without definitive evidence, that Iran is developing a bomb, and the public is buying it. Citing legitimate concerns with Iran's past undeclared nuclear activity, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran, stated that "we haven't seen a smoking gun in Iran."

According to the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, a recent, classified CIA report came to the same conclusion. But regime change, not fact, is the administration's goal. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who estimated a 5-to-10-year window before Iran might have a weapon, is being replaced. The Pentagon's study group known as the "Iranian Directorate" will quash and cherry-pick information, as was done on Iraq. This should ring alarm bells.


The administration would also have us believe that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, master of outrageous statements, determines Iranian nuclear and foreign policy. In fact, it's mainly determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who issued a religious decree that Iran shall reject nuclear weapons. Moreover, his newspaper advised Ahmadinejad to stay out of nuclear issues. Ahmadinejad is also rapidly losing support because opposition leaders object to his policies and sanctions are hurting. None of this gets mentioned by the Bush administration, whose anti-Iranian rhetoric bolsters Ahmadinejad.

Congress needs to shine a light on all this by demanding access to undoctored CIA reports, interviewing ElBaradei and Iran experts, and determining what type of inspections would provide reasonable assurance about Iran's nuclear programs.

An administration intent on forcible regime change could easily take us to war. Risky provocation has already begun with clandestine activities inside Iran, aggressive kidnappings of Iranian nationals in Iraq and placement of a massive offensive armada close to Iran's shores, inviting clashes with Iranian ships. Any provoked skirmish resulting in American casualties could trigger a congressional war resolution.

Israel is another wild card. Its leaders have stated that they may preemptively attack Iran's nuclear installations even without U.S. approval. Bush has said he "could understand" an Israeli attack, knowing Congress would rally to Israel's support if Iran counterattacks.

Finally, Bush could find some pretext to launch and then announce a naval-air attack, regardless of congressional concern. Some insiders say that plans are in place and that the administration believes it has prior authorization. Again, when Iran strikes back, Congress is not likely to deny the president military support.

Prevention is urgent. Americans need to support congressional resolutions, such as H.J. Res. 14, which seek to prevent the president from attacking Iran without an attack on America or its troops, or without congressional authorization. These resolutions should also address provocation and Israel.

Americans must force the Bush administration and Congress to examine and openly disclose the disastrous consequences of an attack on Iran. Incredibly, administration planners may believe that air-naval attacks won't involve American troops and will topple the Iranian regime. Military and security experts, such as retired colonel and War College teacher Sam Gardiner, totally disagree. They expect slaughter of American troops in Iraq with more potent weapons and attacks, disruption of oil supplies and skyrocketing oil prices, more recruits for jihadists and attacks on Israel.

Americans must reject the administration's fraudulent choice between war or surrender. An overwhelming number of Iran and national security experts, such as Flynt Leverett, formerly a member of the CIA and National Security Council, believe that negotiations with Iran on a wide variety of issues (e.g. stabilizing Iraq, nuclear inspections, Hezbollah, Hamas) could be productive. But the Bush administration, blind to these opportunities, insists on regime change and sets preconditions that doom negotiations that might reduce tensions and violence in the Middle East.

The administration is intransigent. Its current policy is catastrophic. Only the media and Congress, under public pressure, can expose the flaws, explore the possibilities for negotiation and stop the rush to war.

Robbins is a professor emeritus at Case Western Reserve University and a co-coordinator of Case for Peace, a peace group at Case.

Republic or Empire: A National Intelligence Estimate on the United States

Republic or Empire

A National Intelligence Estimate on the United States [1]

By Chalmers Johnson [2]


The United States remains, for the moment, the most powerful nation in history, but it faces a violent contradiction between its long republican tradition and its more recent imperial ambitions.

The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.

Several factors, however, indicate that this course will be a brief one, which most likely will end in economic and political collapse.

Military Keynesianism: The imperial project is expensive. The flow of the nation's wealth—from taxpayers and (increasingly) foreign lenders through the government to military contractors and (decreasingly) back to the taxpayers—has created a form of “military Keynesianism,” in which the domestic economy requires sustained military ambition in order to avoid recession or collapse.

The Unitary Presidency: Sustained military ambition is inherently anti-republican, in that it tends to concentrate power in the executive branch. In the United States, President George W. Bush subscribes to an esoteric interpretation of the Constitution called the theory of the unitary executive, which holds, in effect, that the president has the authority to ignore the separation of powers written into the Constitution, creating a feedback loop in which permanent war and the unitary presidency are mutually reinforcing.

Failed Checks on Executive Ambition: The U.S. legislature and judiciary appear to be incapable of restraining the president and therefore restraining imperial ambition. Direct opposition from the people, in the form of democratic action or violent uprising, is unlikely because the television and print media have by and large found it unprofitable to inform the public about the actions of the country's leaders. Nor is it likely that the military will attempt to take over the executive branch by way of a coup.

Bankruptcy and Collapse: Confronted by the limits of its own vast but nonetheless finite financial resources and lacking the political check on spending provided by a functioning democracy, the United States will within a very short time face financial or even political collapse at home and a significantly diminished ability to project force abroad.


Military Keynesianism

The ongoing U.S. militarization of its foreign affairs has spiked precipitously in recent years, with increasingly expensive commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. These commitments grew from many specific political factors, including the ideological predilections of the current regime, the growing need for material access to the oil-rich regions of the Middle East, and a long-term bipartisan emphasis on hegemony as a basis for national security. The domestic economic basis for these commitments, however, is consistently overlooked. Indeed, America's hegemonic policy is in many ways most accurately understood as the inevitable result of its decades-long policy of military Keynesianism.

During the Depression that preceded World War II, the English economist John Maynard Keynes, a liberal capitalist, proposed a form of governance that would mitigate the boom-and-bust cycles inherent in capitalist economies. To prevent the economy from contracting, a development typically accompanied by social unrest, Keynes thought the government should take on debt in order to put people back to work. Some of these deficit-financed government jobs might be socially useful, but Keynes was not averse to creating make-work tasks if necessary. During periods of prosperity, the government would cut spending and rebuild the treasury. Such countercyclical planning was called “pump-priming.”

Upon taking office in 1933, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, with the assistance of Congress, put several Keynesian measures into effect, including socialized retirement plans, minimum wages for all workers, and government-financed jobs on massive projects, including the Triborough Bridge in New York City, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, a flood-control and electric-power-generation complex covering seven states. Conservative capitalists feared that this degree of government intervention would delegitimate capitalism—which they understood as an economic system of quasi-natural laws—and shift the balance of power from the capitalist class to the working class and its unions. For these reasons, establishment figures tried to hold back countercyclical spending.

The onset of World War II, however, made possible a significantly modified form of state socialism. The exiled Polish economist Michal Kalecki attributed Germany's success in overcoming the global Depression to a phenomenon that has come to be known as “military Keynesianism.” Government spending on arms increased manufacturing and also had a multiplier effect on general consumer spending by raising worker incomes. Both of these points are in accordance with general Keynesian doctrine. In addition, the enlargement of standing armies absorbed many workers, often young males with few skills and less education. The military thus becomes an employer of last resort, like Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, but on a much larger scale.

Rather than make bridges and dams, however, workers would make bullets, tanks, and fighter planes. This made all the difference. Although Adolf Hitler did not undertake rearmament for purely economic reasons, the fact that he advocated governmental support for arms production made him acceptable not only to the German industrialists, who might otherwise have opposed his destabilizing expansionist policies, but also to many around the world who celebrated his achievement of a “German economic miracle.”

In the United States, Keynesian policies continued to benefit workers, but, as in Germany, they also increasingly benefited wealthy manufacturers and other capitalists. By the end of the war, the United States had seen a massive shift. Dwight Eisenhower, who helped win that war and later became president, described this shift in his 1961 presidential farewell address:

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

Eisenhower went on to suggest that such an arrangement, which he called the “military-industrial complex,” could be perilous to American ideals. The short-term economic benefits were clear, but the very nature of those benefits—which were all too carefully distributed among workers and owners in “every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government”—tended to short-circuit Keynes's insistence that government spending be cut back in good times. The prosperity of the United States came increasingly to depend upon the construction and continual maintenance of a vast war machine, and so military supremacy and economic security became increasingly intertwined in the minds of voters. No one wanted to turn off the pump.

Between 1940 and 1996, for instance, the United States spent nearly $4.5 trillion on the development, testing, and construction of nuclear weapons alone. By 1967, the peak year of its nuclear stockpile, the United States possessed some 32,000 deliverable bombs. None of them was ever used, which illustrates perfectly Keynes's observation that, in order to create jobs, the government might as well decide to bury money in old mines and “leave them to private enterprise on the well-tried principles of laissez faire to dig them up again.” Nuclear bombs were not just America's secret weapon; they were also a secret economic weapon.

Such spending helped create economic growth that lasted until the 1973 oil crisis. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan once again brought the tools of military Keynesianism to bear, with a policy of significant tax cuts and massive deficit spending on military projects, allegedly to combat a new threat from Communism. Reagan's military expenditures accounted for 5.9 percent of the gross domestic product in 1984, which in turn fueled a 7 percent growth rate for the economy as a whole and helped reelect Reagan by a landslide.

During the Clinton years military spending fell to about 3 percent of GDP, but the economy rallied strongly in Clinton's second term due to the boom in information technologies, weakness in the previously competitive Japanese economy, and—paradoxically—serious efforts to reduce the national debt.[3] With the coming to power of George W. Bush, however, military Keynesianism returned once again. Indeed, after he began his war with Iraq, the once-erratic relationship between defense spending and economic growth became nearly parallel. A spike in defense spending in one quarter would see a spike in GDP, and a drop in defense spending would likewise see a drop in GDP.

To understand the real weight of military Keynesianism in the American economy today, however, one must approach official defense statistics with great care. The “defense” budget of the United States—that is, the reported budget of the Department of Defense—does not include: the Department of Energy's spending on nuclear weapons ($16.4 billion slated for fiscal 2006), the Department of Homeland Security's outlays for the actual “defense” of the United States ($41 billion), or the Department of Veterans Affairs' responsibilities for the lifetime care of the seriously wounded ($68 billion). Nor does it include the billions of dollars the Department of State spends each year to finance foreign arms sales and militarily related development or the Treasury Department's payments of pensions to military retirees and widows and their families (an amount not fully disclosed by official statistics). Still to be added are interest payments by the Treasury to cover past debt-financed defense outlays. The economist Robert Higgs estimates that in 2002 such interest payments amounted to $138.7 billion.

Even when all these things are included, Enron-style accounting makes it hard to obtain an accurate understanding of U.S. dependency on military spending. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress that “neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing” or “details on how the appropriated funds are being spent.” Indeed, the GAO found that, lacking a reliable method for tracking military costs, the Army had taken to simply inserting into its accounts figures that matched the available budget. Such actions seem absurd in terms of military logic. But they are perfectly logical responses to the requirements of military Keynesianism, which places its emphasis not on the demand for defense but rather on the available supply of money.

The Unitary Presidency

Military Keynesianism may be economic development by other means, but it does very often lead to real war, or, if not real war, then a significantly warlike political environment. This creates a feedback loop: American presidents know that military Keynesianism tends to concentrate power in the executive branch, and so presidents who seek greater power have a natural inducement to encourage further growth of the military-industrial complex. As the phenomena feed on each other, the usual outcome is a real war, based not on the needs of national defense but rather on the domestic political logic of military Keynesianism. As U.S. Senator Robert La Follette Sr. observed, “In times of peace, the war party insists on making preparation for war. As soon as prepared for war, it insists on making war.”

George W. Bush has taken this natural political phenomenon to an extreme never before experienced by the American electorate. Every president has sought greater authority, but Bush—whose father lost his position as forty-first president in a fair and open election—appears to believe that increasing presidential authority is both a birthright and a central component of his historical legacy. He is supported in this belief by his vice president and chief adviser, Dick Cheney.

In pursuit of more power, Bush and Cheney have unilaterally authorized preventive war against nations they designate as needing “regime change,” directed American soldiers to torture persons they have seized and imprisoned in various countries, ordered the National Security Agency to carry out illegal “data mining” surveillance of the American people, and done everything they could to prevent Congress from outlawing “cruel, inhumane, or degrading” treatment of people detained by the United States. Each of these actions has been undertaken for specific ideological, tactical, or practical rea-sons, but also as part of a general campaign of power concentration.

Cheney complained in 2002 that, since he had served as Gerald Ford's chief of staff, he had seen a significant erosion in executive power as post-Watergate presidents were forced to “cough up and compromise on important principles.” He was referring to such reforms as the War Powers Act of 1973, which requires that the president obtain congressional approval within ninety days of ordering troops into combat; the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which was designed to stop Nixon from impounding funds for programs he did not like; the Freedom of Information Act of 1966, which Congress strengthened in 1974; President Ford's Executive Order 11905 of 1976, which outlawed political assassination; and the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980, which gave more power to the House and Senate select committees on intelligence. Cheney said that these reforms were “unwise” because they “weaken the presidency and the vice presidency,” and added that he and the president felt an obligation “to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them.”

No president, however, has ever acknowledged the legitimacy of the War Powers Act, and most of these so-called limitations on presidential power had been gutted, ignored, or violated long before Cheney became vice president. Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire said, “The vice president may be the only person I know of that believes the executive has somehow lost power over the last thirty years.”

Bush and Cheney have made it a primary goal of their terms in office, nonetheless, to carve executive power into the law, and the war has been the primary vehicle for such actions. John Yoo, Bush's deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003, writes in his book War By Other Means, “We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts laws, the President enforces them, and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch.” Bush has claimed that he is “the commander” and “the decider” and that therefore he does not “owe anybody an explanation” for anything.[4]

Similarly, in a September 2006 press conference, White House spokesman Tony Snow engaged in this dialogue:

Q: Isn't it the Supreme Court that's supposed to decide whether laws are unconstitutional or not?

A: No, as a matter of fact the president has an obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. That is an obligation that presidents have enacted through signing statements going back to Jefferson. So, while the Supreme Court can be an arbiter of the Constitution, the fact is the president is the one, the only person who, by the Constitution, is given the responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend that document, so it is perfectly consistent with presidential authority under the Constitution itself.

Snow was referring to the president's habit of signing bills into law accompanied by “statements” that, according to the American Bar Association, “assert President Bush's authority to disregard or decline to enforce laws adopted by Congress.” All forty-two previous U.S. presidents combined have signed statements exempting themselves from the provisions of 568 new laws, whereas Bush has, to date, exempted himself from more than 1,000.

Failed Checks on Executive Ambition

The current administration's perspective on political power is far from unique. Few, if any, presidents have refused the increased executive authority that is the natural byproduct of military Keynesianism. Moreover, the division of power between the president, the Congress, and the judiciary—often described as the bedrock of American democracy—has eroded significantly in recent years. The people, the press, and the military, too, seem anxious to cede power to a “wartime” president, leaving Bush, or those who follow him, almost entirely unobstructed in pursuing the imperial project.

Congress: Corrupt and indifferent, Congress, which the Founders believed would be the leading branch of government, has already entirely forfeited the power to declare war. More recently, it gave the president the legal right to detain anyone, even American citizens, without warrant, and to detain non-citizens without recourse to habeas corpus, as well as to use a variety of interrogation methods that he could define, at his sole discretion, to be or not be torture.

The Courts: The judicial branch is hardly more effective in restraining presidential ambition. The Supreme Court was active in the installation of the current president, and the lower courts increasingly are packed with judges who believe they should defer to his wishes. In 2006, for instance, U.S. District Judge David Trager dismissed a suit by a thirty-five-year-old Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who in 2002 was seized by U.S. government agents at John F. Kennedy Airport and delivered to Syria, where he was tortured for ten months before being released. No charges were filed against Arar, and his torturers eventually admitted he had no links to any crime. In explaining his dismissal, Trager noted with approval an earlier Supreme Court finding that such judgment would “threaten ‘our customary policy of deference to the President in matters of foreign affairs.’”

The Military: It is possible that the U.S. military could take over the government and declare a dictatorship.[5] That is how the Roman republic ended. For the military voluntarily to move toward direct rule, however, its leaders would have to ignore their ties to civilian society, where the symbolic importance of constitutional legitimacy remains potent. Rebellious officers may well worry about how the American people would react to such a move. Moreover, prosecutions of low-level military torturers from Abu Ghraib prison and killers of civilians in Iraq have demonstrated to enlisted ranks that obedience to illegal orders can result in their being punished, whereas officers go free. No one knows whether ordinary American soldiers would obey clearly illegal orders to oust an elected government or whether the officer corps has sufficient confidence to issue such orders. In addition, the present system already offers the military high command so much—in funds, prestige, and future employment via the military-industrial revolving door—that a perilous transition to anything resembling direct military rule would make little sense under reasonably normal conditions.

The People: Could the people themselves restore constitutional government? A grassroots movement to break the hold of the military-industrial complex and establish public financing of elections is conceivable. But, given the conglomerate control of the mass media and the difficulties of mobilizing the United States' large and diffuse population, it is unlikely. Moreover, the people themselves have enjoyed the Keynesian benefits of the U.S. imperial project and—in all but a few cases—have not yet suffered any of its consequences.[6]

Bankruptcy and Collapse

The more likely check on presidential power, and on U.S. military ambition, will be the economic failure that is the inevitable consequence of military Keynesianism. Traditional Keynesianism is a stable two-part system composed of deficit spending in bad times and debt payment in good times. Military Keynesianism is an unstable one-part system. With no political check, debt accrues until it reaches a crisis point.

In the fiscal 2006 budget, the Congressional Research Service estimates that Pentagon spending on Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom will be about $10 billion per month, or an extra $120.3 billion for the year. As of mid-2006, the overall cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since their inception stood at more than $400 billion. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize‒winning economist, and his colleague, Linda Bilmes, have tried to put together an estimate of the real costs of the Iraq war. They calculate that it will cost about $2 trillion by 2015. The conservative American Enterprise Institute suggests a figure at the opposite end of the spectrum—$1 trillion. Both figures are an order of magnitude larger than what the Bush Administration publicly acknowledges.

At the same time, the U.S. trade deficit, the largest component of the current account deficit, soared to an all-time high in 2005 of $782.7 billion, the fourth consecutive year that America's trade debts set records. The trade deficit with China alone rose to $201.5 billion, the highest imbalance ever recorded with any country. Meanwhile, since mid-2000, the country has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs. To try to cope with these imbalances, on March 16, 2006, Congress raised the national debt limit from $8.2 trillion to $9 trillion. This was the fourth time since George W. Bush took office that the limit had to be raised. Had Congress not raised it, the U.S. government would not have been able to borrow more money and would have had to default on its massive debts.

Among the creditors that finance this unprecedented sum, two of the largest are the central banks of China ($854 billion in reserves of dollars and other foreign currencies) and Japan ($850 billion), both of which are the managers of the huge trade surpluses these countries enjoy with the United States. This helps explain why the United States' debt burden has not yet triggered what standard economic theory would predict, which is a steep decline in the value of the U.S. dollar followed by a severe contraction of the American economy—the Chinese and Japanese governments continue to be willing to be paid in dollars in order to sustain American demand for their exports. For the sake of domestic employment, both countries lend huge amounts to the American treasury, but there is no guarantee how long they will want or be able to do so.


It is difficult to predict the course of a democracy, and perhaps even more so when that democracy is as corrupt as that of the United States. With a new opposition party in the majority in the House, the country could begin a difficult withdrawal from military Keynesianism. Like the British after World War II, the United States could choose to keep its democracy by giving up its empire. The British did not do a particularly brilliant job of liquidating their empire, and there were several clear cases in which British imperialists defied their nation's commitment to democracy in order to keep their foreign privileges—Kenya in the 1950s is a particularly savage example—but the people of the British Isles did choose democracy over imperialism, and that nation continues to thrive as a nation, if not as an empire.

It appears for the moment, however, that the people of the United States prefer the Roman approach and so will abet their government in maintaining a facade of constitutional democracy until the nation drifts into bankruptcy.

Of course, bankruptcy will not mean the literal end of the United States any more than it did for Germany in 1923, China in 1948, or Argentina in 2001. It might, in fact, open the way for an unexpected restoration of the American system, or for military rule, revolution, or simply some new development we cannot yet imagine. Certainly, such a bankruptcy would mean a drastic lowering of the current American standard of living, a loss of control over international affairs, a process of adjusting to the rise of other powers, including China and India, and a further discrediting of the notion that the United States is somehow exceptional compared with other nations. The American people will be forced to learn what it means to be a far poorer nation and the attitudes and manners that go with it.[7]

About the Author

Chalmers Johnson is the author of Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and, most recently, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, which will be published in February by Metropolitan Books. His last article for Harper's Magazine, “The War Business: Squeezing a Profit from the Wreckage in Iraq,” appeared in the November 2003 issue.


1. The CIA's website defines a National Intelligence Estimate as “the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue prepared by the Director of Central Intelligence.” These forecasts of “future developments” and “their implications for the United States” seldom are made public, but there are exceptions. One was the NIE of September 2002, “Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” which became notorious because virtually every word in it was false. Another, an April 2006 NIE entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” was partly declassified by President Bush because its main conclusion—that “activists identifying themselves as jihadists” are “increasing in both number and geographic dispersion”—had already been leaked to the press. [Back]

2. The CIA is prohibited from writing an NIE on the United States, and so I have here attempted to do so myself, using the standard format for such estimates. I have some personal knowledge of NIEs because from 1967 to 1973 I served as an outside consultant to the CIA's Office of National Estimates. I was one of about a dozen so-called experts invited to read draft NIEs in order to provide quality control and prevent bureaucratic logrolling. [Back]

3. Military Keynesianism, it turns out, is not the only way to boost an economy. [Back]

4. In a January 2006 debate, Yoo was asked if any law could stop the president, if he “deems that he's got to torture somebody,” from, say, “crushing the testicles of the person's child.” Yoo's response: “I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that.” [Back]

5. Though they undoubtedly would find a more user-friendly name for it. [Back]

6. In 2003, when the Iraq war began, the citizens of the United States could at least claim that it was the work of an administration that had lost the popular vote. But in 2004, Bush won that vote by more than 3 million ballots, making his war ours. [Back]

7. National Intelligence Estimates seldom contain startling new data. To me they always read like magazine articles or well-researched and footnoted graduate seminar papers. When my wife once asked me what was so secret about them, I answered that perhaps it was the fact that this was the best we could do. [Back]

This is Republic or Empire, a feature, originally from January 2007, published Wednesday, February 7, 2007. It is part of Features, which is part of

America is doped up in Colombia for a bad trip in Afghanistan

February 11, 2007

Simon Jenkins

Last week Nato defence ministers met in Seville to review the coming spring offensive in Afghanistan. It was like Great War generals dining in Versailles to discuss the trenches. The new Nato commander, US General John Craddock, asked for 2,000 more troops. Just one more push and the Taliban would be defeated, the Afghan army readied to fight, the opium dealers arrested and more aid committed to reconstruction. It was as simple as that. Anyone for paella?

How does this strategy look from the other place in the world where it is being tried, Colombia? This month Washington is redeploying one of its star diplomats, William Wood, from Bogota to Kabul with the enthusiastic blessing of the Pentagon. Wood has been overseeing Plan Colombia, President Clinton’s eight-year effort to fight the cocaine cartels and left-wing insurgents and make Latin America safe for pro-Americanism.

Wood will be joining the new US Nato commander in Kabul, General Dan McNeill, and reversing the allegedly feeble policies of the outgoing British commander, General David Richards. The fourfold increase in violence over the past year is attributed by the Americans to an excess of soft hearts and minds. Wood will want to beef up poppy eradication to starve the insurgency of revenue.

Colombia is undeniably a country which, six years ago, faced disaster. Main roads were blocked by mafiosi and kidnappings and massacres were endemic. Drug lords, revolutionaries and right-wing paramilitaries fought for control of a trade that supplied 90% of America’s cocaine. The Cali and Medellin cartels offered to finance public services and pay off Colombia’s foreign debt in return for quasi-recognition by Bogota. This admirably capitalist innovation — de facto legalising supply — was too much for the Americans.

Karzai bids for peace in furore with London
Instead Washington pumped $600m a year into Colombia’s army and police, enabling the central government to reestablish a measure of command over its own country. An independent, Alvaro Uribe, was elected president in 2002 and hurled men and money at security. The murder rate fell by a third and kidnappings by two thirds. Most of Colombia is now as safe as anywhere in Latin America. Uribe was reelected last year with 62% of the vote in a fair election.

Uribe cannot stem the cocaine trade. Crop-spraying shifts production into Bolivia, Peru and the Amazon jungle, where mile upon mile of virgin forest is lost to coca each year, an ecological disaster that is a direct result of western drugs policy. As long as prohibition sustains a lucrative market for narcotics, countries such as Colombia will supply it. Traditional coca-growing nations on the Andean spine will have their politics and economics blighted by criminality. Growth will be stifled and governments left vulnerable to left-wing rebellion. The war on drugs is the stupidest war on earth.

The best that elected leaders such as Uribe can hope for is to establish a desperate equilibrium: drug suppliers kept relatively nonviolent while right-wing vigilantes are half-tolerated to counterbalance left-wing guerrillas. The only test is survival and as long as Uribe survives America smiles. On an increasingly rabid antiAmerican continent he is one sure ally.

Cut to Afghanistan. Here, too, the West is intervening in a narco-economy that is destabilising a pro-western government. Here, too, quantities of aid have been dedicated to security yet have fed corruption. Here, too, intervention has boosted drug production and stacked the cards against law and order. This year’s Afghan poppy crop is predicted to be the largest on record. European demand has boosted the price paid for Afghan poppies to nine times that of wheat. At this differential a policy of crop substitution is absurd.

Afghanistan is not Colombia. Here the West is not using a local government to implement its drugs and counter-insurgency policy. Some 40,000 Nato troops from more than 30 different countries are gathered in Kabul. Since many of them refuse to fight, the city has become a holiday camp for the world’s military elite. Outside the capital, military occupation acts as a recruiting sergeant for insurgency, leaving Nato bases constantly on the defensive. The war in Afghanistan is proving that an enemy can be held at bay but only at vast expense in money and casualties. It will not be defeated.

The British policy of occupying small towns to win hearts and minds has been a bloody failure. It was wisely replaced last autumn with deals struck with local power brokers, the so-called Musa Qala and Helmand protocols. Up to $5m is handed over to any warlord who can claim provincial control, accepting the pragmatism of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who on January 29 even called for negotiation with the Taliban. The local British commander, Brigadier Jerry Thomas, was explicit in seeking to “empower local people to use traditional tribal structures . . . to find an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem”. In truth, there is no other conceivable way to disengage from this mess. A similar “endgame” is being pursued by the new American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, in securing safe areas policed by local militias.

Now the Americans wish to reverse British realpolitik. To them what Afghanistan needs is a taste of Colombia and Ambassador Wood.

Musa Qala must be reoccupied and poppy-spraying must commence. This defies the view of western intelligence in Kabul which has been convinced that America’s heavy-handed tactics and addiction to aerial bombardment have cost the West five years in Afghanistan. Local commanders are equally opposed to the opium eradication that obsesses the defence ministry in London and the Foreign Office’s Kim Howells. Apart from the futility of trying to spray so vast an area as Helmand, drug lords are the only counterweight to the Taliban. Poisoning Afghanistan’s staple crop and contaminating fields and water supply will push up the price of opium and further breed hatred of the occupation. It is madness.

In Colombia the Americans achieved a sort of equilibrium because local politics was left to police the narco-economy. In Afghanistan Karzai is treated as an American puppet whose authority outside Kabul depends entirely on occupying forces. There is no way that provincial Afghanistan will be pacified by Nato and left to Karzai’s army. Afghan troops (like the Iraqis) will not fight local militias. Training them to do so is pointless as they merely switch sides when the occupiers depart. Ask the few journalists brave enough to visit the battlefields of Helmand and the Pakistan border.

In Colombia the central government enjoyed sufficient democratic legitimacy for its army to drive insurgents into the jungle and induce the drug lords and paramilitaries to surrender (some of) their guns and power, albeit at a heavy cost in justice and human rights. Afghanistan has never enjoyed such central authority, except briefly under the Taliban. It will not do so under the guns of 30 occupying powers. The south of the country craves security and gets only bombs and bullets and is increasingly inclined to the iron rule of the Taliban. Since any prospective Karzai/Taliban coalition is unlikely to please the Tajiks and other tribes of the north, all western meddling will achieve is to set Afghanistan on the road back to the 1990s.

Having visited both Afghanistan and Colombia, I have no doubt that those countries’ miseries start and end in narcotics. With an almighty and bloodthirsty effort, the production of cocaine in Colombia and opium in Afghanistan might possibly be displaced, but only to other benighted countries. What would be the point? As long as rich countries consume these substances in massive quantities it is hypocritical to lay waste the poor countries producing them and thus make them poorer.

Punishing supply is not a “parallel” policy to curbing demand, as economically illiterate policy makers pretend. Demand is never curbed by limiting supply, since supply responds to price. It just will not work.

Hence pretending to victory in Colombia is no different from staving off defeat in Afghanistan. Both are cruel expiations of western narco-guilt. The difference is that in Afghanistan intervention has led us into an unwinnable war.

Simon Jenkins’s book, Thatcher & Sons, was last week named as Channel 4 political book of the year

Cheney Pushing for Iran Attack

Fasten your seatbelts - Israel is ready for war
( Several senior members of the Bush administration are pushing for the United States to attack Iran, the British Guardian newspaper said in a report over the weekend.

According to the report, the deployment of forces to the Persian Gulf would allow the opening of an Iranian front by the spring - but it was unlikely that any attack would take place before 2008, when U.S. President George W. Bush finishes his term of office.

The report said that Bush had not yet decided on whether to move forward with the attack, but that Vice-President Dick Cheney, among others, was strongly advocating such an attack in order top halt Iran's nuclear weapons development program.

US Sending Third Carrier Strike Group to Persian Gulf

Blowup? America’s Hidden War With Iran

By Michael Hirsh and Maziar Bahari


Feb. 19, 2007 issue - Jalal Sharafi was carrying a videogame, a gift for his daughter, when he found himself surrounded. On that chilly Sunday morning, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad had driven himself to the commercial district of Arasat Hindi to checkout the site for a new Iranian bank. He had ducked into a nearby electronics store with his bodyguards, and as they emerged four armored cars roared up and disgorged at least 20 gunmen wearing bulletproof vests and Iraqi National Guard uniforms. They flashed official IDs, and manhandled Sharafi into one car. Iraqi police gave chase, guns blazing. They shot up one of the other vehicles, capturing four assailants who by late last week had yet to be publicly identified. Sharafi and the others disappeared.

At the embassy, the diplomat's colleagues were furious. "This was a group directly under American supervision," said one distraught Iranian official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. Abdul Karim Inizi, a former Iraqi Security minister close to the Iranians, pointed the finger at an Iraqi black-ops unit based out at the Baghdad airport, who answer to American Special Forces officers. "It's plausible," says a senior Coalition adviser who is also not authorized to speak on the record. The unit does exist—and does specialize in snatch operations.

The Iranians have reason to feel paranoid. In recent weeks senior American officers have condemned Tehran for providing training and deadly explosives to insurgents. In a predawn raid on Dec. 21, U.S. troops barged into the compound of the most powerful political party in the country, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and grabbed two men they claimed were officers in Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Three weeks later U.S. troops stormed an Iranian diplomatic office in Irbil, arresting five more Iranians. The Americans have hinted that as part of an escalating tit-for-tat, Iranians may have had a hand in a spectacular raid in Karbala on Jan. 20, in which four American soldiers were kidnapped and later found shot, execution style, in the head. U.S. forces promised to defend themselves.

Some view the spiraling attacks as a strand in a worrisome pattern. At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. "They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. U.S. officials insist they have no intention of provoking or otherwise starting a war with Iran, and they were also quick to deny any link to Sharafi's kidnapping. But the fact remains that the longstanding war of words between Washington and Tehran is edging toward something more dangerous. A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and NEWSWEEK has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident's spiraling into a crisis are higher than they've been in years.

Sometimes it seems as if a state of conflict is natural to the U.S.-Iranian relationship—troubled since the CIA-backed coup that restored the shah to power in 1953, tortured since Ayatollah Khomeini's triumph in 1979. With the election of George W. Bush on the one hand, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the other, the two countries are now led by men who deeply mistrust the intentions and indeed doubt the sanity of the other. Tehran insists that U.S. policy is aimed at toppling the regime and subjugating Iran. The White House charges that Iran is violently sabotaging U.S. efforts to stabilize the Middle East while not so secretly developing nuclear weapons. As the raids and skirmishes in Iraq underscore, a hidden war is already unfolding.

Yet a NEWSWEEK investigation has also found periods of marked cooperation and even tentative steps toward possible reconciliation in recent years—far more than is commonly realized. After September 11 in particular, relations grew warmer than at any time since the fall of the shah. America wanted Iran's help in Afghanistan, and Iran gave it, partly out of fear of an angry superpower and partly in order to be rid of its troublesome Taliban neighbors. In time, hard-liners on both sides were able to undo the efforts of diplomats to build on that foundation. The damage only worsened as those hawks became intoxicated with their own success. The secret history of the Bush administration's dealings with Iran is one of arrogance, mistrust and failure. But it is also a history that offers some hope.

For Iran's reformists, 9/11 was a blessing in disguise. Previous attempts to reach out to America had been stymied by conservative mullahs. But the fear that an enraged superpower would blindly lash out focused minds in Tehran. Mohammad Hossein Adeli was one of only two deputies on duty at the Foreign Ministry when the attacks took place, late on a sweltering summer afternoon. He immediately began contacting top officials, insisting that Iran respond quickly. "We wanted to truly condemn the attacks but we also wished to offer an olive branch to the United States, showing we were interested in peace," says Adeli. To his relief, Iran's top official, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, quickly agreed. "The Supreme Leader was deeply suspicious of the American government," says a Khameini aide whose position does not allow him to be named. "But [he] was repulsed by these terrorist acts and was truly sad about the loss of the civilian lives in America." For two weeks worshipers at Friday prayers even stopped chanting "Death to America."

The fear dissipated after Sept. 20, when the FBI announced that Al Qaeda was behind the attacks. But there was new reason for cooperation: for years Tehran had been backing the Afghan guerrillas fighting the Taliban, Osama bin Laden's hosts. Suddenly, having U.S. troops next door in Afghanistan didn't seem like a bad idea. American and Iranian officials met repeatedly in Geneva in the days before the Oct. 7 U.S. invasion. The Iranians were more than supportive. "In fact, they were impatient," says a U.S. official involved in the talks, who asked not to be named speaking about topics that remain sensitive. "They'd ask, 'When's the military action going to start? Let's get going!' "

Opinions differ wildly over how much help the Iranians actually were on the ground. But what is beyond doubt is how critical they were to stabilizing the country after the fall of Kabul. In late November 2001, the leaders of Afghanistan's triumphant anti-Taliban factions flew to Bonn, Germany, to map out an interim Afghan government with the help of representatives from 18 Coalition countries. It was rainy and unseasonably cold, and the penitential month of Ramadan was in full sway, but a carnival mood prevailed. The setting was a splendid hotel on the Rhine, and after sunset the German hosts laid on generous buffet meals under a big sign promising that everything was pork-free.

The Iranian team's leader, Javad Zarif, was a good-humored University of Denver alumnus with a deep, measured voice, who would later become U.N. ambassador. Jim Dobbins, Bush's first envoy to the Afghans, recalls sharing coffee with Zarif in one of the sitting rooms, poring over a draft of the agreement laying out the new Afghan government. "Zarif asked me, 'Have you looked at it?' I said, 'Yes, I read it over once'," Dobbins recalls. "Then he said, with a certain twinkle in his eye: 'I don't think there's anything in it that mentions democracy. Don't you think there could be some commitment to democratization?' This was before the Bush administration had discovered democracy as a panacea for the Middle East. I said that's a good idea."

Toward the end of the Bonn talks, Dobbins says, "we reached a pivotal moment." The various parties had decided that the suave, American-backed Hamid Karzai would lead the new Afghan government. But he was a Pashtun tribal leader from the south, and rivals from the north had actually won the capital. In the brutal world of Afghan power politics, that was a recipe for conflict. At 2 a.m. on the night before the deal was meant to be signed, the Northern Alliance delegate Yunus Qanooni was stubbornly demanding 18 out of 24 new ministries. Frantic negotiators gathered in the suite of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. A sleepy Zarif translated for Qanooni. Finally, at close to 4 a.m., he leaned over to whisper in the Afghan's ear: " 'This is the best deal you're going to get'." Qanooni said, " 'OK'."

That moment, Dobbins says now, was critical. "The Russians and the Indians had been making similar points," he says. "But it wasn't until Zarif took him aside that it was settled ... We might have had a situation like we had in Iraq, where we were never able to settle on a single leader and government." A month later Tehran backed up the political support with financial muscle: at a donor's conference in Tokyo, Iran pledged $500 million (at the time, more than double the Americans') to help rebuild Afghanistan.

In a pattern that would become familiar, however, a chill quickly followed the warming in relations. Barely a week after the Tokyo meeting, Iran was included with Iraq and North Korea in the "Axis of Evil." Michael Gerson, now a NEWSWEEK contributor, headed the White House speechwriting shop at the time. He says Iran and North Korea were inserted into Bush's controversial State of the Union address in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. At the time, Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn't ready to say so. Gerson says it was Condoleezza Rice, then national-security adviser, who told him which two countries to include along with Iraq. But the phrase also appealed to a president who felt himself thrust into a grand struggle. Senior aides say it reminded him of Ronald Reagan's ringing denunciations of the "evil empire."

Once again, Iran's reformists were knocked back on their heels. "Those who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized," says Adeli. "The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America's intentions." The Khameini aide concurs: "The Axis of Evil speech did not surprise the Supreme Leader. He never trusted the Americans."

It would be another war that nudged the two countries together again. At the beginning of 2003, as the Pentagon readied for battle against Iraq, the Americans wanted Tehran's help in case a flood of refugees headed for the border, or if U.S. pilots were downed inside Iran. After U.S. tanks thundered into Baghdad, those worries eased. "We had the strong hand at that point," recalls Colin Powell, who was secretary of State at the time. If anything, though, America's lightning campaign made the Iranians even more eager to deal. Low-level meetings between the two sides had continued even after the Axis of Evil speech. At one of them that spring, Zarif raised the question of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a rabidly anti-Iranian militant group based in Iraq. Iran had detained a number of senior Qaeda operatives after 9/11. Zarif floated the possibility of "reciprocity"—your terrorists for ours.

The idea was brought up at a mid-May meeting between Bush and his chief advisers in the wood-paneled Situation Room in the White House basement. Riding high, Bush seemed to like the idea of a swap, says a participant who asked to remain anonymous because the meeting was classified. Some in the room argued that designating the militants as terrorists had been a mistake, others that they might prove useful against Iran someday. Powell opposed the handover for a different reason: he worried that the captives might be tortured. The vice president, silent through most of the meeting as was his wont, muttered something about "preserving all our options." (Cheney declined to comment.) The MEK's status remains unresolved.

Around this time what struck some in the U.S. government as an even more dramatic offer arrived in Washington—a faxed two-page proposal for comprehensive bilateral talks. To the NSC's Mann, among others, the Iranians seemed willing to discuss, at least, cracking down on Hizbullah and Hamas (or turning them into peaceful political organizations) and "full transparency" on Iran's nuclear program. In return, the Iranian "aims" in the document called for a "halt in U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of the status of Iran in the U.S. and abolishing sanctions," as well as pursuit of the MEK.

An Iranian diplomat admits to NEWSWEEK that he had a hand in preparing the proposal, but denies that he was its original author. Asking not to be named because the topic is politically sensitive, he says he got the rough draft from an intermediary with connections at the White House and the State Department. He suggested some relatively minor revisions in ballpoint pen and dispatched the working draft to Tehran, where it was shown to only the top ranks of the regime. "We didn't want to have an 'Irangate 2'," the diplomat says, referring to the secret negotiations to trade weapons for hostages that ended in scandal during Reagan's administration. After Iran's National Security Council approved the document (under orders from Khameini), a final copy was produced and sent to Washington, according to the diplomat.

The letter received a mixed reception. Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage were suspicious. Armitage says he thinks the letter represented creative diplomacy by the Swiss ambassador, Tim Guldimann, who was serving as a go-between. "We couldn't determine what [in the proposal] was the Iranians' and what was the Swiss ambassador's," he says. He added that his impression at the time was that the Iranians "were trying to put too much on the table." Quizzed about the letter in front of Congress last week, Rice denied ever seeing it. "I don't care if it originally came from Mars," Mann says now. "If the Iranians said it was fully vetted and cleared, then it could have been as important as the two-page document" that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger received from Beijing in 1971, indicating Mao Zedong's interest in opening China.

A few days later bombs tore through three housing complexes in Saudi Arabia and killed 29 people, including seven Americans. Furious administration hard-liners blamed Tehran. Citing telephone intercepts, they claimed the bombings had been ordered by Saif al-Adel, a senior Qaeda leader supposedly imprisoned in Iran. "There's no question but that there have been and are today senior Al Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld growled. Although there was no evidence the Iranian government knew of Adel's activities, his presence in the country was enough to undermine those who wanted to reach out.

Powell, for one, thinks Bush simply wasn't prepared to deal with a regime he thought should not be in power. As secretary of State he met fierce resistance to any diplomatic overtures to Iran and its ally Syria. "My position in the remaining year and a half was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran," he says of the end of his term. "But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that." The former secretary of State angrily rejects the administration's characterization of efforts by him and his top aides to deal with Tehran and Damascus as failures. "I don't like the administration saying, 'Powell went, Armitage went ... and [they] got nothing.' We got plenty," he says. "You can't negotiate when you tell the other side, 'Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start'."

Terrorism wasn't the only concern when it came to Iran. For decades, Washington's abiding fear has been that Iran might pick up where the shah's nuclear program (initially U.S.-backed) left off, and make the Great Satan the target of its atomic weapons. The Iranians, who were signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, insisted they had nothing to hide. They lied. In August 2002, a group affiliated with the MEK revealed the extent of nuclear activities at a facility in Isfahan, where the Iranians had been converting yellowcake to uranium gas, and in Natanz, where the infrastructure needed to enrich that material to weapons-grade uranium was being built. A year later Pakistani scientist AQ Khan's covert nuclear-technology network unraveled, bringing further embarrassments and investigations.

For months, European negotiators worked to get Tehran to formalize a temporary and tenuous deal to freeze its nuclear fuel-development program. In May 2005, they met with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, at the Iranian ambassador's opulent Geneva residence. There was some reason to be optimistic: in Washington, Rice had announced that the United States would not block Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization. Yet a sense of enormous tension filled the room, according to a diplomat who was there but asked not to be identified revealing official discussions. The Europeans told Rowhani they hadn't nailed down exactly what they could offer in return for a freeze, and the Americans still weren't fully onboard. Iran would have to wait for the details for a few more months. But in the meantime, the program had to remain suspended.

Rowhani, in full clerical robes and turban, obviously was not authorized to make any such deal. "The man was in front of us sweating," says the European diplomat. "He was trapped: he couldn't go further ... I realized very clearly that he couldn't deliver, that he was not allowed to deliver. Psychologically he was broken. Physically he was almost broken."

Part of the problem was that elections in Iran were only a few days away. They brought to power a man who satisfied the darkest stereotypes of Iran's fervid leaders. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly renounced the freeze on Iran's nuclear fuel-development program, broke the seals the International Atomic Energy Agency had placed on Iran's conversion facilities at Isfahan and pushed ahead with work at Natanz. In the span of no more than a month or two, nuclear enrichment had become a symbol of national pride for a much wider spectrum of Iranian society than the voters who elected Ahmadinejad. In a warped parallel to Bush, who found his voice after 9/11 rallying Americans to the struggle against a vast and unforgiving enemy, the Iranian president rose in stature throughout the Middle East as he railed against America. The one problem U.S. negotiators had always had with Iran was determining who in the byzantine regime to talk to, and whether they could deliver anything. Now they faced another: the Iranians had almost no incentive to talk. With the United States bogged down in Iraq, Iran now had the leverage—roles had reversed.

In its second term the Bush administration, despite Powell's sour memories, has supported European efforts to resolve the nuclear impasse diplomatically. Rice has offered to meet her Iranian counterpart "any time, anywhere." "What has blocked such contact is the refusal of Iran to meet the demands of the entire international community," says a White House official, who could not be named discussing Iran. The official expressed deep frustration with critics. He argued they were naive about Tehran's intentions, and "parroting Iranian propaganda."

By last summer Iran seemed ascendant. Hizbullah's performance in the Lebanon war had rallied support for Ahmadinejad, one of the group's loudest proponents, across the Arab world. In a series of meetings in New York in September the Iranian president was defiant, almost giddy. (A senior British official who would only speak anonymously about deliberations with the Americans describes Tehran's mood around this time as "cock-a-hoop.") He would not back down when grilled about his dismissals of the Holocaust, and scoffed at the threat of U.N. sanctions over Iran's nuclear defiance.

The West's patience was running out. In Baghdad, American troops seemed powerless to stop a wave of gruesome sectarian killings that they claimed were fueled by Iran. In Amman and Riyadh, Arab leaders warned darkly of a rising "Shia crescent." After Bush's defeat in the midterm elections, Israeli officials began wondering aloud if they would have to deal with the Iranian threat on their own. Partly in consultation with the British, U.S. officials began to map out a broader strategy to fight back. "We felt we needed to have a much more knitted-together policy, with a number of different strands working, to hit different parts of the Iranian system," says the senior British official.

Critics have questioned how much of that plan is military—whether the administration is secretly setting a course for war as it did back in 2002. Last week officials were at great pains to deny that scenario. "We are not planning offensive military operations against Iran," said Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns. The Pentagon does have contingency plans for all-out war with Iran, on which Bush was briefed last summer. The targets would include Iran's air-defense systems, its nuclear- and chemical-weapons facilities, ballistic missile sites, naval and Revolutionary Guard bases in the gulf, and intelligence headquarters. But generals are convinced that no amount of firepower could do more than delay Tehran's nuclear program. U.S. military analysts have concluded that nothing short of regime change would completely eliminate the threat—and America simply doesn't have the troops needed.

Iraq is another story. American military officials and politicians accuse the Iranian government of providing Iraqis with an new arsenal of advanced rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, heavy-duty mortars and the newest armor-piercing technology for roadside bombs—explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), said to have been developed by Hizbullah. Military security experts are especially worried by "passive infrared sensors," readily available devices that are often used for burglar alarms or automatic light switches but increasingly seen as triggers for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Unlike cell phones, remote-control systems and garage-door openers, the sensors emit no signal, making them that much tougher to spot before they detonate.

What's scant is hard evidence that the weapons are provided by the Iranian government, rather than arms dealers or rogue Revolutionary Guard elements. "Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq," says the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. But the most that can be said with certainty is that Tehran is failing to stop the traffic. The Iranians themselves admit they're not trying as hard as they could. "I can give you my word that we don't give IEDs to the Mahdi Army," says an Iranian intelligence official who asked not to be named because secrecy is his business. "But if you asked me if we could control our borders better if we wanted to, I would say: 'Yes, if we knew that the Americans would not use Iraq as a base to attack Iran'."

The real thrust of Washington's multipronged attack is political. Banking restrictions levied by the U.S. Treasury have begun to pinch the Iranian economy. Voters angry about rising prices dealt Ahmadinejad an embarrassing blow in municipal elections in December, when his supporters were trounced. That wouldn't much matter if he still retained Khameini's support. But that may no longer be the case. The Khameini aide says the Supreme Leader blames Ahmadinejad's overheated rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust for the unanimous Security Council resolution that passed in late December, demanding that Tehran suspend its nuclear program.

Every time America or Iran has gained an advantage over the other in the last five years, however, they've overplayed their hand. More pressure on Ahmadinejad could well make him popular again—the chief martyr in a martyr culture. Sunni insurgents in Iraq need only kill some Americans and plant Iranian IDs nearby to start a full-scale war. Like so many times in this complicated relationship, this is a moment of opportunity. And one of equally great danger.

With reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad and John Barry, Mark Hosenball, Richard Wolffe in Washington, Christopher Dickey in Paris, Stryker McGuire in London, and Christian Caryl, Owen Matthews, Scott Johnson, Kevin Peraino, Ron Moreau and Dan Ephron

The Method in the Madness

10 February 2007

By: Uri Avnery

WHEN A Prime Minister has just lost a war, is dogged by corruption allegations and sees his popularity ratings in free fall - what can he do?

Why, he can initiate provocations.

A provocation diverts attention, generates headlines, creates the illusion of power, radiates a sense of leadership.

But a provocation is a dangerous instrument. It can cause irreversible damage.

PROVOCATION NO. 1: The northern frontier.

Along the northern border runs a fence. But not everywhere does the fence coincide exactly with the recognized border (the so-called Blue Line). For topographical reasons, some sections of the fence run a few dozen meters south of it.

That is the theory of the situation. In the course of the years, both sides have become accustomed to regarding the fence as the actual border. On the Lebanese side, the villagers farm the fields up to the fence, fields which may well be their property.

Now Ehud Olmert has decided to exploit this situation and reveal himself as a great, invincible warrior. Some explosives recently found a few yards from the Blue Line serve as a pretext. The Israeli army claims that they were put there just days ago by Hizbullah fighters disguised as goatherds. According to Hizbullah, they are old bombs that have been there since before the recent war.

Olmert sent soldiers beyond the fence to carry out a "Hissuf" ("exposure") - one of those new Hebrew words invented by the army's "verbal laundry" to beautify ugly things. It means the wholesale uprooting of trees, in order to improve vision and facilitate shooting. The army used the trademark weapon of the State of Israel: the armored bulldozer.

The Lebanese army sent a warning that they would open fire. When this did not have any effect, they indeed fired several salvoes over the heads of the Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army responded by firing several tank shells at the Lebanese position and lo - we have our "incident".

The whole affair is very reminiscent of Ariel Sharon's methods in the 60s, when he was the chief of operations of the Northern Command. Sharon became quite an expert at provoking the Syrian army in the demilitarized zones that existed on the border between the two countries at the time. Israel claimed sovereignty over these areas, while the Syrians asserted that it was a neutral zone that did not belong to either state and in which the Arab farmers, who owned the land, were allowed to tend their fields.

According to legend, the Syrians exploited their control of heights overlooking the Israeli villages in the valley below them. Again and again the evil Syrians (the Syrians were always "evil") terrorized the helpless kibbutzim by shelling. This myth, which was believed by practically all Israelis at the time, served as a justification for the occupation of the Golan Heights and their annexation by Israel. Even now, foreign visitors are brought to an observation post on the Golan Heights and shown the defenseless Kibbutzim down below.

The truth, which has been exposed since then, was a bit different: Sharon used to instruct the Kibbutzniks to go to their shelters, and then send an armored tractor into the demilitarized zone. Predictably, the Syrians shot at it. The Israeli artillery, just waiting for its cue, then opened up a massive bombardment of the Syrian positions. There were dozens of such "incidents".

Now the same method is being practiced by Sharon's successor. Soldiers and bulldozers enter the area, the Lebanese shoot, the Israeli tanks shell them.

Does this provocation make any political sense? The Lebanese army answers to Fuad Siniora, the darling of the United States and the opponent of Hizbullah. In the wake of the Second Lebanon War, this army was deployed along the border, at the express demand of the Israeli government, and this was proclaimed by Olmert as a huge Israeli achievement. (Until then, the Israeli army commanders had adamantly opposed the idea of stationing Lebanese or international troops in this area, on the grounds that this would hamper their freedom of action.)

So what is the aim of this provocation? The same as with all Olmert's recent actions: gaining popularity to survive in power, in this case by creating tension.

PROVOCATION NO. 2: The Temple Mount.

Islam has three holy cities: Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. In Mecca this week, the chiefs of Fatah and Hamas assembled in order to put an end to the mutual killing and set up a unity government. While the attention of the concerned Palestinian public was riveted there, Olmert struck in Jerusalem.

As pretext served the "Mugrabi Gate", an entrance to the Haram-al-Sharif ("the Noble Sanctuary"), the wide plaza where the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located. Since this gate is higher than the Western Wall area below it, one can approach it only over a rising bridge or ramp.

The old bridge collapsed some time ago, and was replaced with a temporary structure. Now the "Israel Antiquities Authority" is destroying the temporary bridge and putting in its place - so it says - a permanent one. But the work looks much more extensive.

As could have been expected, riots broke out at once. In 1967, Israel formally annexed this area and claimed sovereignty over the entire Temple Mount. The Arabs (and the whole world) have never recognized the annexation. In practice, the Temple Mount is governed by the Islamic Waqf (religious endowment).

The Israeli government argues that the bridge is separate from the Temple Mount. The Muslims insist that the bridge is a part of it. Behind this tussle, there is a lurking Arab suspicion that the installation of the new bridge is just a cover for something else happening below the surface.

At the 2000 Camp David conference, the Israeli side made a weird-sounding proposal: to leave the area itself to the Muslims, but with Israeli sovereignty over everything beneath the surface. That reinforced the Muslim belief that the Israelis intended to dig beneath the Mount, in order to discover traces of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed by the Romans 1936 years ago. Some believed that the real intention was to cause the Islamic shrines to collapse, so a new Temple could be built in their place.

These suspicions are nurtured by the fact that most Israeli archaeologists have always been the loyal foot-soldiers of the official propaganda. Since the emergence of modern Zionism, they have been engaged in a desperate endeavor to "find" archaeological evidence for the historical truth of the stories of the Old Testament. Until now, they have gone empty-handed: there exists no archaeological proof for the exodus from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan and the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon. But in their eagerness to prove the unprovable (because in the opinion of the vast majority of archaeologists and historians outside Israel - and also some in Israel - the Old Testament stories are but sacred myths), the archaeologists have destroyed many strata of other periods.

But that is not the most important side of the present affair. One can argue to the end of days about the responsibility for the Mugrabi walkway or what it might be that the archaeologists are looking for. But it is impossible to doubt that this is a provocation: it was carried out like a surprise military operation, without consultation with the other side.

Nobody knew better what to expect than Olmert, who, as mayor of Jerusalem, was responsible for the killing of 85 human beings - 69 Palestinians and 16 Israelis - in a similar provocation, when he "opened" a tunnel near the Temple Mount. And everybody remembers, of course, that the Second Intifada started with the provocative "visit" to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon.

This is a provocation against 1.3 billion Muslims, and especially against the Arab world. It is a knife in the back of the "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Olmert pretends to be ready to have a "dialogue" - and this at exactly the moment Abbas reached an historical agreement with Hamas for the formation of a national unity government. It is also a knife in the back of the king of Jordan, Israel's ally, who sees himself as the traditional protector of the Temple Mount.

What for? To prove that Olmert is a strong leader, the hero of the Temple Mount, the defender of the national values, who doesn't give a damn for world public opinion.

PROVOCATION NO. 3: After Haim Ramon was convicted of indecent conduct, the post of the Minister of Justice fell vacant. In a surprise blow, after laying down a smoke screen by dangling the names of acceptable candidates, Olmert appointed to the post a professor who is the open and vocal enemy of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General.

The Supreme Court is almost the only governmental institution in Israel which still enjoys the confidence of the great majority. The last President of the Court, Aharon Barak, once told me: "We have no troops. Our power is based solely on the confidence of the public." Now Olmert has appointed a Minister of Justice who has been engaged for a long time and with a lot of noise in destroying this confidence. Indeed, it seems that this is his main interest in life, ever since he failed to get a close friend, a female professor, elevated to the Supreme Court.

One can see in this an effort by Olmert, a politician who is dragging behind him a long train of corruption affairs (several of which are at present under police and State Comptroller investigation), to undermine the investigators, the Attorney General and the courts. It serves also as revenge against the court that dared to convict Ramon, his friend and ally. He did not, of course, consult with anyone in the judicial system: not with the Attorney General (whose official title is "Legal Adviser of the Government") nor with the President of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinish, whom he cannot stand.

I am not an unreserved admirer of the Supreme Court. It is a wheel in the machinery of the occupation. It cannot be relied on in matters like the targeted assassinations, the Separation Wall, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the hundred and one other cases over which the false banner of "security" is waving. But it is the last bastion of human rights inside Israel proper.

The appointment of the new minister is an assault on Israeli democracy, and therefore no less dangerous than the other two provocations.

WHAT DO the three have in common? First of all: their unilateral character. Forty years of occupation have created an occupation mentality that destroys all desire and all ability to solve problems by mutual understanding, dialogue and compromise.

Both in foreign and domestic relations, Mafia methods reign: violence, sudden blows, targeted eliminations.

When these methods are applied by a politician haunted by corruption affairs, an uninhibited war-monger who is fighting for survival by all means available - this is indeed a very dangerous situation.

* An Israeli author and activist. He is the head of the Israeli peace movement, "Gush Shalom".