Tuesday, May 1, 2007

What Happened To Iraq Is About To Happen To Iran

Editor's note: I am posting at the secondary blog(also see new articles below).

Older articles at the overflow blog.

George Galloway speaks about the Navy, Number 10 and Iran

Bush's Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Tomgram: Tick... Tick... Tick... in Washington and Baghdad

[Note for Tomdispatch readers: On this fourth anniversary of the President's "Mission Accomplished" moment, I urge you to consider ordering yourself a copy of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books). James Carroll, Chalmers Johnson, Katrina van den Heuvel, Howard Zinn, Juan Cole, Mike Davis, Barbara Ehrenreich, Mark Danner, and other interviewees provide the best guide possible to the years we've just lived through. It's empire-on-the-run and great reading -- and, of course, I'll be appreciative to each of you forever and ever... Tom]

…Or The Clock Ticks for Thee (in Baghdad and Washington)
By Tom Engelhardt

It had taken much thought and planning that wartime May Day four years ago when George W. Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, had "embedded" himself on that aircraft carrier days before the President landed. Along with Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and lighting specialist, and Greg Jenkins, a former Fox News television producer, he had planned out every detail of the President's arrival -- as Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times put it then -- "even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the ‘Mission Accomplished' banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call ‘magic hour light,' which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush."

Before the President could descend jauntily from that plane into the perfect light of a late spring afternoon, and onto what was essentially a movie set, the Abraham Lincoln, which had only recently hit Iraq with 1.6 million pounds of ordnance, had to be stopped just miles short of its home base in San Diego. No one wanted George W. Bush simply to clamber aboard.

Who could forget his Tom-Cruise-style "Top Gun swagger" across that deck -- so much commented on in the media in the following days -- to the carefully positioned podium where he gave his speech? It was to be the exclamation point on his invasion of choice and provide the first fabulous photos for his presidential campaign to come. Only two things about that moment, that speech, are remembered today -- that White House-produced "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him and his announcement, with a flourish, that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

If his landing and speech are today remembered as a woeful moment, an embarrassment, if those fabulous photos never made it into campaign 2004, that was, in part, because of another event -- a minor headline -- that very same May day: Halfway around the world, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, occupying an elementary school in Fallujah, fired on a crowd of angry Iraqi demonstrators. Perhaps 15 Iraqis died and more were wounded. Two days later, in a second clash, two more Iraqis would die.

On CNN's website the day after the President's landing, the main headline read: "Bush calls end to ‘major combat.'" But there was that smaller, secondary headline as well: "U.S. Central Command: Seven hurt in Fallujah grenade attack." Two grenades had been tossed into a U.S. military compound, leaving seven American soldiers slightly injured.

In the months to follow, those two headlines would jostle for dominance, a struggle now long over. Before May 1, 2004 ever rolled around, "mission accomplished" would be a scarlet phrase of shame, useful only to critics of the administration. By that one-year anniversary, Fallujah had morphed into a resistant city that had withstood an assault by the Marines. In November 2004, it would be largely destroyed by American firepower without ever being subdued. Now, the already failed American method of turning largely destroyed Fallujah into a giant "gated" prison camp for its residents is being applied to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where huge walls are slated to rise around 10 or more recalcitrant neighborhoods as part of the President's Baghdad Security Plan, or "surge."

Four years later, casualty figures are so terrible in Iraq that the government, locked inside the Green Zone in the capital, has, for the first time, refused to reveal the monthly figures to the United Nations, though figures do show a continuing epidemic of assassinations of Iraqi academics and of torture of prisoners, a steep rise in deaths among policemen, and a rise in "honor killings" of women by their own families. Four years later, those few "slightly injured" men of the 82nd Airborne Division have morphed into last week's 9 dead and 20 wounded from a double-truck-bomb suicide attack on one of that division's outposts in Diyala Province; over 100 Americans were killed in the month of April alone; 3,350 Americans in all (not including hundreds of "private security contractors").

Four years later, the American military has claimed dramatic success in reducing a wave of sectarian killings in the capital -- but only by leaving out of its count the dead from Sunni car/truck/motorcycle-bomb and other suicide-bomb attacks; with over 100 car bombings last month, and similar figures for this one, Sunni militants are outsurging the U.S. surge in Baghdad, making "a mockery of the US and Iraqi security plan," according to BBC reporter Andrew North.

Four years later, not only has the Bush administration's "reconstruction" of the country been a record of endless uncompleted or ill-completed projects and massive overpayments, not to speak of financial thievery, but even the projects once proclaimed "successes" turn out, according to inspectors from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, to be disasters "no longer operating as planned"; the biggest business boom in a country in which unemployment is sky-high may be "a run on concrete barriers" for security, which are so in demand that sometimes they "are not fully dry when military engineering units pick them up"; electricity availability and potable water supplies are worse than ever; childhood malnutrition is on the rise; no one even mentions Iraqi oil production which remains well below the worst days of Saddam Hussein and billions of dollars of which are being siphoned off onto the black market.

Four years later, U.S. prisons, one of the few reconstruction success stories in Iraq, are chock-a-block full, holding 18,000 or more Iraqis in what are essentially terrorist-producing factories; Iraq has the worst refugee problem (internal and external) on the planet with perhaps 4 million people in a population of 25 million already displaced from their homes (202 of whom were admitted to the United States in 2006); the Iraqi government inside the Green Zone does not fully control a single province of the country, while its legislators are planning to take a two-month summer "vacation"; a State Department report on terrorism just released shows a rise of 25% in terrorist attacks globally, and 45% of these attacks were in Iraq; 80% of Iraqis oppose the U.S. presence in their country; 64% of Americans now want a timetable for a 2008 withdrawal; and the President's approval rating fell to its lowest point, 28%, in the most recent Harris poll, which had the Vice President at a similarly record-setting 25%.

During this grueling, destructive downward spiral through the very gates of hell, whose end is not faintly in sight, the administration's war words and imagery have, unsurprisingly, undergone continual change as well. In the course of these last years, the "turning points," "tipping points," "milestones," and "landmarks" on the road to Iraqi democracy and freedom have turned into modest marks on surveyor's yardsticks ("benchmarks"), not one of which can be met by the woeful Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The "magic hour light" of May 2003 has disappeared, along with those glorious photos from the deck of the carrier. The sort of descriptions you see today, as in a recent David Ignatius column in the Washington Post, sound more like this: "Republicans voice the bitterness and frustration of people chained to the hull of a sinking ship." (The USS George W. Bush, undoubtedly.) Oh, and the President and what's left of his tattered administration have stopped filming on a Top Gun-style movie set and seem now to be intent on remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This White House has plunged Iraq and the world into the geopolitical equivalent of a blood-and-gore exploitation film that simply won't end. Call that "Mission Accomplished"!

The Mission Continues (2003)

Just the other day, with the fourth anniversary of the Top Gun speech looming, Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino was questioned at a press briefing yet again about that infamous banner and "major combat operations" being at an end. Here is part of the exchange:

"MS. PERINO: …I think that if you only take the one line, that the end of combat operations -- major combat operations, that's true, but the President also --

"Q: Yes, but the banner is [a] consideration, as well.

"MS. PERINO: Okay, well… And we have explained it many times. And you know what? I have a feeling I'm just on the losing end of this battle because the left has decided to believe what they want to believe, which is that the President was saying that the war was over and the troops were coming home. That's not what he said, and I just told you specifically what he said, and I encourage people to read the whole speech. And that ship… USS America [sic] Lincoln had been deployed for well over its stated period… they were coming home. And it was the ship that -- that['s] mission was accomplished. And the President never said, ‘mission accomplished' in the speech…"

Actually, Perino isn't wrong on "mission accomplished" -- and not just in the literal sense either. It's well worth taking up her suggestion, in fact, and rereading that speech, though in order to do so you have to travel a vast distance, as if through some Star-Trekian wormhole into an alternate universe.

You have to reach across the chasm of Bush administration disasters -- from Kabul and Baghdad to New Orleans and Walter Read Medical Center -- to another moment, another mood in the United States. If you do, perhaps the first thing you'll note about that magic-hour speech is its globally messianic and militarized nature. The President, for instance, congratulated the returning sailors and airmen in this over-the-top way: "All of you -- all in this generation of our military -- have taken up the highest calling of history." It's the sort of line that brings to mind one of the President's favorite hymns, "A Charge to Keep": "To serve the present age,/ My calling to fulfill:/ O may it all my powers engage/ To do my master's will!" It also brings to mind Bush's post-9/11 slip of the tongue when he spoke of his beloved "war" as: "this crusade, this war on terrorism."

And what exactly was that calling, the highest in history, for which they were fighting? A President, just off the plane ride of his dreams, was perfectly willing to spell it out. It was nothing less -- he announced from the deck of a ship whose planes had just pummeled Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- than "the peace of the world." And the "peace" the President had in mind wouldn't be some namby-pamby cooperative endeavor. It would be an armed demand of the rest of the world. After all, the invasion Bush had launched just weeks before, hadn't been an ordinary military operation, a simple superpower "cakewalk" over a pathetic force hollowed out by years of war and fierce economic sanctions. Operation Iraqi Freedom, as it was called, was something "the world had not seen before." Talk about awesome! "You have shown the world," the President assured the Abraham Lincoln crew, "the skill and the might of the American Armed Forces" -- the likes of which, the power of which, it was clear, had never been witnessed on the face of this planet in all of history from all the empires that ever were.

Invoking the American-manufactured image of Saddam's falling statue in Baghdad's Firdos Square, Bush waxed enthusiastic, perhaps imagining Biblical idols dropping before the one true God: "In the images of falling statues, we have witnessed the arrival of a new era." A new era! You can feel that messianic exclamation point embedded in the spirit of the claim. And it wouldn't for a second be an era in which the lion lay down with the lamb; it would be a U.S. military-enforced era of "freedom." In the American military's ability to crush enemies without harming civilians, the kind of war being fought, he swore, was nothing less than "a great moral advance."

The highest calling in history! The peace of the world! Something the world had not seen before! A new era! A great moral advance!

Given all this, Perino was absolutely on the mark. The President didn't consider his mission accomplished -- not by a long shot. That's why he never used the two words together in a speech otherwise filled to the brim with "victory," flushed with success, high on winning. Yes, "major combat" was over in Iraq, but that represented only "one victory in a war on terror." The "mission" -- and it was indeed a mission he was talking about -- was nothing as small as a world historic success against one brutal dictator. No indeed.

True, the regime of the monster in Baghdad had been felled or, as the term of tradecraft of that moment went, "decapitated"; Saddam's program of weapons of mass destruction had been thwarted ("We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated…"); and Saddam's (implied) links to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks handsomely repaid. Naturally, as well, American military personnel wanted to return home after such a successful venture, but that was not yet possible.

The planet must first be set right and the President's speech that May Day four years ago was nothing less than a trumpet call to the troops -- and a warning to planet Earth. "[A]ll can know," the President intoned, "friend and foe alike, that our nation has a mission: We will answer threats to our security, and we will defend the peace… We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide." The mission, despite that fatal banner, was not "accomplished." Not in the least. As the President said ringingly, quoting the Bible and thanking God, "Our mission continues."

Looking back across the vast expanse of disaster that is Bush policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, "the Greater Middle East" (aka the oil heartlands of the planet), and elsewhere (including our own country), his was, in fact, a particularly chilling speech -- a ringing reaffirmation that one war was so many too few; a resounding endorsement of what would later be dubbed by Centcom Commander John Abizaid, "The Long War." Our President was already imagining an Orwellian future in which military power beyond compare was to actively remake the planet, cruise missile by cruise missile, under the banner of "peace." Above all else, his speech was a reaffirmation of an American "mission" in which time, maybe even all eternity, was on our side.

As it happens, those Pax Americana pipedreams would never make it out of Iraq. That speech, suffused with George W. Bush's personal sense of pleasure, satisfaction, and all-American war play ("When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country, and I'm honored to be your Commander-in-Chief…"), would be destroyed by "all the citizens of Iraq who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation of their own country." Put more precisely, it would be done in by a ragtag minority Sunni insurgency and a ragtag Shiite government that shared hardly a shred of his particular vision. Perhaps the moral here, if there is one, might be: Beware the man who praises himself and his nation too highly.

Tick…Tick…Tick (2007)

"No man is an island, entire of itself," wrote John Donne. "...[A]ny man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Unfortunately, our President was, four years ago, already a man on an island, or the deck of an aircraft carrier doubling as a movie set, separated from the mainland of this world. He already had his military outfits to dress up in and his cowboy language ("bring ‘em on") straight from the films of his childhood to wield. Back in those days, he was already favoring appearing in specially tailored military jackets in front of military crowds that would hoo-ah him enthusiastically -- and his handlers and enablers were already making ever so sure that no challenging human ever made it onto that island of his.

When he moved globally, he did so only on his bubble-island, surrounded by specially flown-in protection and entourage. To offer but a partial list from one such trip: armored escort vehicles, the presidential car (known to insiders as "the beast"), 200 Secret Service agents, 15 sniffer dogs, a Blackhawk helicopter, 5 cooks, and 50 White House aides. From London to Manila, his arrival automatically emptied whole central cities of life.

Not surprisingly, then, when the bell first began to toll for him, when those first signs of trouble began to appear in Iraq, he and his aides, officials, and advisors simply dismissed reality. As former CIA Director George Tenet's new memoir evidently makes clear, the island looked so much more appealing. According to New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, for instance: "Mr. Tenet writes that the C.I.A.'s senior officer in Iraq was dismissed as a ‘defeatist' for warning in 2003 of the dangers of a growing Iraqi insurgency, though it was already clear then that United States political and economic strategies were failing. Although the trends were clear, he adds, those in charge of policy ‘operated within a closed loop.' In that atmosphere, he says, bad news was ignored: the agency's subsequent reporting, which would prove ‘spot-on,' was dismissed."

As a senior advisor to the President told journalist Ron Suskind back in 2002:

"[G]uys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality... That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality... We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

Four years after the President's smooth landing, it's hard even to express just how unaccomplished their non-reality-based "mission" remains. New Centcom Commander Adm. William J. Fallon is complaining about the use of "the Long War" ("unhelpful") to describe our world and even the President seems less focused on planting the stars and stripes on the heights of eternity. In fact, when it comes to Iraq, administration officials are now reportedly trying to "scale back talk of Iraq progress" -- talk that could not be scaled back much further without ceasing to exist.

No longer is there a landscape of freedom with its milestones and turning points; no longer is the timescale in generations. Now, administration officials are begging, wheedling, or bullying for months, thinking in weeks, worrying in days. They no longer demand several lifetimes' worth of time, but plead for just a little extra bit of it -- a modest suspension of disbelief until September -- to give the President's "new" plan a "chance."

Today, only one image seems to be on official lips in Washington and Baghdad and it's an ominous one: the ticking clock. It combines a complaint, a whine, a weapon against the war's critics, an explanation, a plea, and a mantra of sorts (all we are saying, is give time a chance). It is also a covert acknowledgement of the pressure reality turns out to be all-too-capable of exerting on the non-reality-based community. Time, it says, is no longer on our side; the sand in the proverbial hourglass may be running out. In its present incarnation, the image has been most vigorously championed by Gen. David Petraeus, the man chosen to lead the President's surge in Baghdad. Certainly, in recent weeks, both in Baghdad and Washington, he's been wielding a two-clocks-ticking image for all it's been worth, saying things like:

"…[T]he Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock, so we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce some progress on the ground that can perhaps give hope to those in the coalition countries, in Washington, and perhaps put a little more time on the Washington clock."

Dana Perino seconded him last week:

"Granted… this is very tough going; it is slow going. But we have to have slow, focused, persistent work, and encouraging patience on behalf of the American people. As you said, there's a -- there's this talk about an American clock versus an Iraqi clock, and sometimes the two don't tick at the same time."

As if to speed up the pace of time, she even threw in this twist:

"Q: ...What is a reasonable period of time for the American people to expect the Iraqi government to work out these critical measures of political accomplishment?

"MS. PERINO: I'm not going to start the stop watch on the Iraqi government.."

And the two of them have had plenty of company. Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fox, communications director for the Multinational Force Iraq, upped the number of ticking clocks to three: "It's clear that the Washington clock and the London clock [are] ticking faster than the Baghdad clock."

White House Press Spokesman Tony Snow, on the other hand, reduced the clocks to one, but it was clearly the clock of clocks he was talking about: "The other thing the President wants to make clear is, right now what Democrats are doing is they're wasting time at a time when the clock is ticking."

Vice President Cheney, as he is wont to do, spelled the image out in extreme terms, making a single clock stand in as a symbol of surrender, not to say the ultimate victory of terrorism: "When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that's been called ‘slow bleed,' they're not supporting the troops, they're undermining them. And when members of Congress speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they're telling the enemy simply to run out the clock and wait us out."

But no one has evidently heard the clock ticking louder than the President himself. Everywhere he went, he seemed to mention it:

March 28th: "Yet Congress continues to pursue these bills, and as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field."

April 4th: "In the meantime, the clock is ticking for our military."

April 7th: "For our troops, the clock is ticking. If the Democrats continue to insist on making a political statement, they should send me their bill as soon as possible."

April 10th: "Now, the Democrats who pass these bills know that I'll veto them, and they know that this veto will be sustained. Yet they continue to pursue the legislation. And as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field."

April 16: "As Congress delays, the clock is ticking for our troops."

Who knows, of course, what a man who cannot admit to, or perhaps even conceive of, doubt or error, or imagine "significant discussion," no less "serious debate," actually makes of all this. Is anyone there who could say to him: The clock ticks for thee? I doubt it. No man is an island; but, for our boy President, the alarm going off may always be for Groundhog Day.

Whether he knows whom the clock ticks for (other than the Democrats or the troops), we, at least, know that the clock is ticking down on his second term. Unfortunately, by my count, 31,536,000 ticks will only get us to this time next year. That's an awful lot of seconds to pass, given what we know we can expect from our President, Vice President, and their supporters -- more of the same. They've always had a knack, but only for destruction.

In Baghdad, can there be a question that any ticking clocks are attached to bombs? In Washington, they seem to be attached to mouths that never stop talking.

Thought of another way, from the moment those two towers came down on September 11, 2001, our President and Vice President have themselves been ticking clocks. Before their terms are done, before the clock runs out on them, they may turn out to be the true suicide bombers of this era. Already, they have managed to leave Iraq -- a modest-sized country with an immodest pool of oil underneath it -- in a state which we have no adequate word to describe, though when coined it will undoubtedly have a "-cide" at its end.

The clock continues to tick. By January 20, 2008, who knows what destruction they will have wrought; what chaos they will have brought to our world.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

Shattered Lives

April 27, 2007

I mentioned the infinitely sad, momentous and largely ignored refugee crisis created by our monstrously criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq just the other day (and see here).

I am deeply saddened, but tragically hardly surprised, to read the following at Baghdad Burning:
I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were- we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea- leaving ones home and extended family- leaving ones country- and to what? To where?

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren't being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn't necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you're wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.
As I have noted before, even if we left Iraq within the next few months and made all those reparations that are possible, as we should and must, we must never think there will be forgiveness for what we have done.

Some acts are so terrible that they cannot be reversed, or repaired. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is such an act, indeed a long, horrifying series of such acts. We all prefer to believe in redemption, but there are times when redemption is no longer possible.

It is not possible here. We will not be forgiven, and we should not be. We have destroyed redemption for ourselves, as we have destroyed countless lives and an entire country.

Bless you and yours, River, and safe passage.


Abboud and “Toxic Bob” Waiting for the New Oil Law to Pass

By Nick Mottern, Director, ConsumersforPeace.org

While blood is flowing freely in Iraq’s streets, A. Robert Abboud, a man who helped bail George W. Bush out of his Harken Energy fiasco, is angling for a contract that will give his firm, Ivanhoe Energy Inc., access to a major oil field in north central Iraq.

Mr. Abboud, who runs his own investment company and who has been president of Occidental Petroleum (1980-84), chairman of the First National Bank of Chicago (1975-80) and chairman and CEO of First City Bancorporation of Texas (1988-91), is co-chairman at Ivanhoe Energy and appears to be acting as the firm’s diplomatic frontman in going after the Iraqi oil.

He has experience in Iraq, working in concert with the administration of Bush senior to promote trade with Iraq under Saddam Hussein, acting in the 1980s as chairman of the United States-Iraqi Business Forum. In this role he worked with Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm and major U.S. companies that were clients of the Kissinger firm, according to a fascinating statement presented to Congress in 1991 by Cong. Henry Gonzalez D-TX, who said Mr. Abboud, because of his executive experience, “was well-wired into the U.S. business community.”

With respect to trade promotion to Iraq in the 1980s, Congressman Gonzales said:

“A foreign policy (toward Iraq) based on commercial trade had the advantage of providing Iraq with high quality food and United States technology to upgrade its military capability in order to defeat Iran…

“In order for this trade based-foreign policy to work, the United States had to ignore a few Iraqi bad habits including massive human rights abuses, the imprisonment, torture and execution of political prisoners, an almost complete lack of democracy, the use of poison gas against Iraq’s own Kurds, the use of poison gas against the Iranians, state-sponsored terrorism, making refugees out of over 100,000 Kurds, the execution of a foreign journalist, continual debt service problems, rampant fraud in the CCC (U.S. loans to buy food) program, and the diversion of United States technology to improve Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capability…”


Speaking to investors and the business press in an Ivanhoe conference call on April 20, 2007, Mr. Abboud reassured his listeners that he had experience in violent situations like Iraq. He referred to what he said was the success of Occidental in entering Colombia at a time when guerrilla warfare and drug trading created dangerous conditions. He neglected to add that Occidental, according to the website World War 4, lobbied the U.S. “to expand its role in Colombia, allowing military aid to be used for pipeline protection. This year (2002) President (George W.) Bush’s administration has complied, proposing $98 million to protect the duct.”

He did not note either that, according to the U.S. General Accountability Office (www.gao.gov/new.items/d05971.pdf) , the new U.S. military aid, which as of 2005 included 10 helicopters, logistics support and U.S. Special Forces training of Colombian troops, had not fully suppressed attacks on the major Cano Limon pipeline, with “insurgents” changing their tactics to include sabotage of the electical grid for the Cano Limon oil field. The GAO report recommended that the U.S. develop “a plan for transitioning the pipeline security program to Colombia” and also that there be established “an expected completion date for U.S. involvement.”

The GAO report noted that Occidental has given money to the Colombian military “for housing, food, land and air transportation, communication equipment, gasoline, and medical equipment” as well as building barracks for soldiers on an army base. Occidental has been charged with assisting the Colombian air force in a 1998 cluster bomb attack that killed 17 civilians near Cano Limon, including 7 children, in a federal lawsuit on behalf of a man whose mother, sister and cousin died in the attack and others. The case was dismissed two years ago based on the argument of the U.S. State Department that the suit interfered with U.S.-Colombia relations. The case is being appealed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Human Rights Watch reports that in 1996 Occidental “formalized a voluntary assistance arrangement in which it has previously engaged with the Colombian military” to provide $2 million one-year inkind and cash payments to the military, with cash to be used for, among other things, a “network of informants.” The report said that guerrilla attacks had “driven the (oil) companies into the arms of the Colombian military, one of the few in the hemisphere still engaged in a pattern of gross violations of human rights.” (www.hrw.org/advocacy/corporations/colombia.Oilpat.htm)

Nor did Mr. Abboud mention that, after his tenure as Occidental’s president, the company met opposition from Colombia’s Uwa indigenous people who fought the company from 1992 to 2002 and in 1995 threatened mass suicide by jumping off a 1,400 foot cliff in the Andes if the company didn’t leave their region. In 2000, three Uwa children were killed when Occidental called on the military to clear an Uwa blockade to a drill site, reported WW4, which said Occidental eventually left the region,”citing technical and economic reasons” and denying that the protests had any effect.

The Occidental agreements with the Colombian military and the struggle with the Uwa occurred in part during the period when Ivanhoe Energy’s other co-chair, David R. Martin, was president and CEO of Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation, Occidental Petroleum’s exploration and development subsidiary working in Colombia. Mr. Martin joined Occidental in 1962, and according to a company press release, he became president of its international oil and gas unit in 1983. In 1986, he was appointed Executive Vice President of the parent corporation and in 1993 he became president and CEO of the oil and gas unit in 1993 and was named to the board of Occidental in 1996, the same year he retired from his operational and board positions. ( An internet search did not reveal whether or to what degree Mr. Martin was involved in the issues raised above. An Ivanhoe spokesperson said she could not comment on actions taken by Occidental and that she would ask Mr. Martin if he wished to comment when he returns next week from a trip.)

Mr. Abboud, in joining Ivanhoe Energy for an annual $250,000 salary and about $1.4 million in stock and stock options, is working with Robert Friedland, Ivanhoe’s largest stockholder, nicknamed “Toxic Bob.” Mr. Friedland is reported by SourceWatch to be worth $1.2 billion, and the website says his “colorful corporate career has included wild speculations on mining futures, spectacular pollution scandals” and willingness to work with the notoriously repressive government of Myanmar (formerly Burma) in a joint venture to develop an extremely profitable copper mine.

Mr. Friedland became known as “Toxic Bob” , according to SourceWatch, after a
“spectacular” 1993 cyanide spill at his gold mine in Summitville, Colorado, reputed to be the largest such disaster in U.S. history. The New Internationalist reports that he “avoided legal responsibility by making a timely resignation.” In addition, SourceWatch reports, Mr. Friedland was CEO of Omai gold in Guyana in 1995 when a tailings pond collapsed, killing life in two rivers. Citing the New Internationalist, Source Watch says: “No reparations at all have been paid here. An ‘independent’ report on the disaster denied any damage, despite news photographs and eyewitness accounts of dead fish, pigs and crocodiles. The mine was a joint venture of the World Bank, the Guyana Government and Freidland’s South American Goldfields. Once again, a timely resignation saved him from legal responsibility.”

Ivanhoe, a relatively small oil development company with a patented process for thinning out thick oil so it can flow easily through pipelines, is facing two hurdles to tapping into Iraq oil wealth.

First, the Iraq Parliament must pass the new, pending oil law, that will open its oil fields to private firms like Ivanhoe, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron on extremely favorable terms to the oil companies. Ivanhoe “will closely monitor” the development of the new law, Mr. Abboud said on the conference call. The United States is pushing hard for the immediate passage of this law, and its passage is one of the benchmarks that will be used to determine whether the U.S. will continue to keep troops in Iraq. The oil law is opposed by Iraqi oil union workers and many others.

The second hurdle, once the oil law is passed, is the selection of Ivanhoe by Iraqi officials to develop the field. Mr. Abboud said on the conference call that, in a recent trip to the Persian Gulf, he spoke with Iraqi officials about the oil venture and that he thought that the relationships that Ivanhoe officials have developed with Iraqis would be fruitful. It’s important to remember, he said, that: “It’s their oil. They’re going to be in charge.”

Speaking on the conference call of the oil field in question, the Ivanhoe leaders would not reveal its exact location or size. Leon Daniel, of Ivanhoe, said the field has “huge quantities” of oil, but asked for more specifics, he would only acknowledge that most fields in Iraq are at least a billion barrels in size. It is a “challenging environment”, Mr. Daniel said, “where the prize is big.”

In answer to investor questions about security, he said the field is “far removed from Baghdad” and not in a troubled area; the challenge is “not like securing Baghdad.” He said there are “competent security forces” in the area, with clear lines of sight, and “we can make the work site secure.” He said that the thinned-out oil could be moved from the site in pipelines either south or north through Turkey, a path that would likely be more secure.

Ivanhoe drew attention to the project with an April 19 press release announcing that the Japanese oil and gas firm Inpex Corp. had invested $9 million in it for a 45% share in the proceeds; Ivanhoe will get 55%. The announcement resulted in a jump in the Ivanhoe stock price from a close of $2.32 on April 18 to $2.65 on the 19th. The stock has since settled to $2.21 as of April 25, 2007.

The October 9, 2002 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporting on the role of Harvard University in the bailout of Harken Energy, notes that one of the key steps in preventing the failure of Harken was a 1990 agreement by First City Bancorporation of Texas, then headed by Mr. Abboud, to take over Bank of Boston loans to Harken that were technically in default. Mr. Abboud is a graduate of Harvard College, Harvard Law and Business Schools.

“At the time,” the WSJ reports, “one of the Harvard endowment’s most influential board members (identified in the article as oil man Robert Stone Jr.) was a political supporter of then-President George H.W. Bush, the current president’s father. One result of the deal: The current president avoided damaging his credibility as a businessman.”

Leading up to this time, in 1986 Harken Energy agreed to buy failing Spectrum 7 Energy where George W. Bush was chairman. George W. became a board member of Harken, a $100,000 consultant to the company and a member of Harken’s audit board. The WSJ said that right after George W. joined the Harken board, Harvard’s endowment fund began backing Harken, buying its stock. In May, 1990, the WSJ said, Harken officials warned that the company was “about to run out of cash.” In June, 1990, according to an article by Stephen Minkin on CommonDreams.org, George W. sold 200,000 shares of Harken stock “before the price plummeted and while outside investors were unaware of the company’s desperate situation.”

The Common Dreams article goes on to say:

“Mr. Bush later blamed his lawyers and the ‘loss of documents’ by the Securities and Exchange Commission when it was discovered that he failed to disclose the $845,560 sale within the time required by law.”

In August, 1990, First City Bankcorp agreed to take over the Bank of Boston loans.

“At the time,” the WSJ reports, “First City was controlled by Robert Abboud, …(a) supporter of the senior Mr. Bush who attended a White House event 10 days before that bailout’s (First City’s) approval. In an interview, Mr. Abboud said Harvard’s backing was a key factor in First City’s decision to approve the Harken bailout and that it wasn’t influenced by his relationship with the then-president.”

The First City money was not enough to save Harken, so a Harvard partnership assumed $20 million in Harken debt, according to the WSJ, and eliminated another $16 million by transferring Harken assets to Harvard. This move, says the article was “much like the controversial investments that Enron Corp. set up before it filed for bankruptcy-court protection.” In 1991 Harken stock began to recover, and Harvard sold its shares for a profit.

Mr. Bush remained on Harken’s board until 1993 and was paid between $80,000 and $120,000 a year as a consultant from 1986 to 1993, according to thetruthaboutgeorge.com.

Feinstein Plan Would Close Guantanamo

By Chris Good

April 30, 2007

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Monday that would close the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“Guantánamo Bay has become a lightning rod for international condemnation,” Feinstein said. “Rather than make the United States safer, the image projected by this facility puts us at greater risk.”

Since January 2002, the facility, also known as “Gitmo,” has housed suspected terrorists whom the administration has described as “the worst of the worst.”

The U.N. called on the U.S. to close Guantánamo in February 2006, siding against the Bush administration’s claims that suspected terrorists were not entitled to treatment adherent to the Geneva Conventions or the habeas corpus right to challenge the legality of their detentions.

Feinstein’s bill would require the Department of Defense to close the Guantánamo Bay prison 100 days after the bill’s enactment. As to where the detainees would go, Feinstein laid out several options.

Detainees could be transferred to civilian or military prisons in the United States and charged before civilian courts or military tribunals, or they could be handed over to international tribunals authorized to try them.

Detainees cleared for release would be sent either to their home countries or, if torture looms at the hands of home governments, to third-party countries that have agreed to take them.

Feinstein said she opposes releasing any terrorists, but that the U.S. would be better served holding them elsewhere.

“Conducting trials elsewhere, either in the United States or before internationally recognized tribunals, will give these proceedings a credibility that they would not likely have it they were conducted at Guantánamo Bay,” Feinstein said.

Neocons love Obama

Obama's foreign policy speech

by Jerome a Paris

Tue May 1st, 2007 at 08:42:00 AM EDT

Barack Obama's speech on foreign policy is attracting strange supporters:

Robert Kagan: Obama the Interventionist

Andrew Sullivan: The Re-Branding of America

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Mr. Obama's Worldview - An encouraging start to talking policy

And they are quite clear as to why they love what they heard:

America must "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good." With those words, Barack Obama put an end to the idea that the alleged overexuberant idealism and America-centric hubris of the past six years is about to give way to a new realism, a more limited and modest view of American interests, capabilities and responsibilities.


Obama talks about "rogue nations," "hostile dictators," "muscular alliances" and maintaining "a strong nuclear deterrent." He talks about how we need to "seize" the "American moment." We must "begin the world anew." This is realism? This is a left-liberal foreign policy?

Kagan is literally gleeful. More military, more interventionism, more "values", more preemptive attacks. Sullivan is not far behind:

Obama's speech (...) is emphatically not against the use of military force when necessary; it is emphatically pro-military in its call for many more troops. On the critical issue of Iraq, Obama has taken a stand - a clear one for withdrawal, with the possibility of a strike-force over the horizon. This is a very difficult call, and the timing and execution of withdrawal will be dispositive. But one core strength of Obama's candidacy is that he got this war right when many of us got it wrong. He deserves more of a listening than many of us do.

Ditto with the Washington Post:

As an opening statement of Mr. Obama's philosophy, there is much that we found significant -- and encouraging -- in the Chicago speech. Acknowledging that "many Americans may find it tempting to turn inward" after the failures in Iraq and elsewhere, the senator quoted Franklin Roosevelt in saying the United States nevertheless must continue to "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good." Mr. Obama called for a sizable increase in the size of the Army and for the reinforcement of NATO forces in Afghanistan. He said that "no president should ever hesitate to use force -- unilaterally if necessary -- to protect ourselves and our vital interests when we are attacked or imminently threatened."

To be fair, the WaPo does see him as a bit weak, or at least uncommitted, on the War on Terror:

Still, Mr. Obama ought to explain more directly how he views jihadism. Is it an ideological challenge comparable to communism and fascism, as Mr. Bush contends, or merely an esoteric dogma held by bands of criminals, like the anarchism of the early 20th century? Is terrorism the central threat of the early 21st century, or, as some Democratic strategists argue, merely one of a panoply of challenges that include global warming, pandemics and the rise of China?

And when you read the speech, it's hard not to note the multiple references to the military, how it must be supported, increased in size, and used, preemptively if necessary (as quoted above). Even his bits about diplomacy focus on military alliances (NATO is lenghthily mentioned, but not the EU), and his examples of how the US should conduct "hearts and minds" operations in various countries are, again, run by the military.

The WaPo's note that he does not explicit his position on the "war on terra" is strange, considering that most of the places mentioned in his speech are in the Muslim world, and most of the threats seem to come from there. The only non-Muslim threat he also focuses on is loose Russian storage of nuclear material, but that's also part of the 'war on terra' - indeed, it is its signature threat, the one that has been used to justify most of the excesses of the past few years, and the attacks at home on civil rights - let us protect you from the mushroom cloud.

Basically, his proposal is to accept the goals of the George Bush administration, use the same tools, but run the policy competently and less boneheadedly. To his credit, he is not proposing that for Iraq itself, which he explicitly states the US must leave (well, except for a "few troops"), but in the wider picture, it's still about bringing democracy to others, and in particular to the Muslim world, and about having the biggest, most ass-kicking military force in the world.

:: ::

Now, in the interest of fairness, I'll add this second quote from Andrew Sullivan:

The simple existence of Obama as a new president in a new century would in itself enhance America's soft power immeasurably, just as a clear decision to leave Iraq would provide much greater leverage for diplomacy and military force in a whole variety of new ways. Obama would mean the rebranding of America, after a disastrous eight years. His international heritage, his racial journey, his middle name: these are assets for this country, not liabilities.

This is the hope that with a decent, competent president, things will go back to normal, the idea of the USA will shine brightly again, and it will be able once again to fulfill its international policy objectives by leading instead of by bullying.

Barck Obama says it thus:

But if the next President can restore the American people’s trust – if they know that he or she is acting with their best interests at heart, with prudence and wisdom and some measure of humility – then I believe the American people will be ready to see America lead again.

They will be ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. That we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.

That is not who we are.

The problem is that yes, this is precisely who America is today in the eyes of most of the world - whether the genuinely aghast or the hypocritically gleeful to have a kettle to hide their pot.

Finally stopping the most atrocious behaviour will not eliminate the fact that it took place, that it took place for a long time, and that it was supported by a surprisingly high proportion of the population - and an higher, and even more terrifying, proportion of the punditry, which should have known better than fall for the nasty propaganda and fearmongering of the Bush administration. These were policies of a big chunk of the elite in Washington, as kossacks all know (and despair about).

But I am also struck about Obama's description of the world as a source only of threats for America - most related to terrorism one way or another, with a nod to global warming. Opportunity is only what America can bring to the world, not the other way around. In a word, just like with the current administration, the world has only headaches to bring to the USA. Thus the need for a big army to wage two wars at the same time. Thus the need to be everywhere to engage would-be terrorists before they actually turn into ones. Thus the need to lead alliances. The methods will be different: the relevant countries will need to be convinced rather than coerced, but the only goal is still to get them aligned behind US objectives.

And yet America will not be in a position to lead until it has atoned. You don't eliminate such a stain, such a loud precedent (which many others will be all too happy to use as an excuse for their own abuses for a long time) just by not doing it anymore. The credibility to talk about values, about democracy, about cooperation, about peace - just isn't there. And talking about a stronger military, more interventionism in other countries (even of the humanitarian or modest kind), and bringing the American model back to the world is not going to work, because it is yet more meddling.

Oh, sure, the weak and weasely leaders of Europe will be all too happy to be seduced rather than bludgeoned into submission, and the 'international community' will be all too happy to pretend that adults are in charge again, and that we can all go back to normal. Cooperation between secret services. Joint military/humanitarian missions (like the failing Afghanistan occupation, maybe?). More police coordination - with more uncontrolled data swapping between governments? After all, there are still evil terrrists out there. We cannot let the guard down too much. But at least we are all defenders of human rights and democracy again, for real this time.

Nah. As the quote from Obama's speech above suggests, this is a discourse for Americans, not for the rest of the world. They don't get to elect their overlords.

:: ::

Maybe it is too much to expect anything different, and, without the Bush/Iraq precedent, the speech would be mostly uncontroversial. After all, anything less intervention-prone would be shot down as "weak", "defeatist", etc... the whole gamut of Republican smears. The fact is that political discourse is still dominated by the need to appear 'strong' and to support the military without any restriction, and by the conviction that it is America's absolutely legitimate right to intervene in any other country's affairs because it is a model for the world and if only everybody else were in its image, all would be well.

Peddling to these deep strands in America's psyche may be smart politics, but it is not going to change policy - and current policy is creating more threats by the minute, via the preference for 'might is right' logic, the refusal to contemplate any leadership by example where it matters (energy consumption and carbon emissions - Obama only talks about demanding "equal efforts" from the USA and much poorer China or India), and the bizarre need to turn a small band of nasty gangsters with grievances into an apocalyptic threat.

So yeah, I understand why the neocons love Obama. He's not really challenging the reckless policy logic they have successfully instilled in your govenrment. Getting out of Iraq is not a proof of sanity, it's just an absence of proof that you are insane or deluded or both. That this is seen as progress only goes to show how low the standards have be brought down by this administration.

Be sure to see the comments section!

Senators Question Halliburton Executive About Dealings in Iran

May 1, 2007


WASHINGTON, April 30 — A Halliburton executive, facing withering criticism from Democratic lawmakers during a Senate hearing on Monday about the company’s business dealings in Iran, insisted that the firm had not broken any laws.

The official, Sherry Williams, a Halliburton vice president and corporate secretary, said the company had consulted several law firms in 1995 after sanctions were imposed on Iran. Officials of the company, which recently announced it was moving its chief executive from Houston to Dubai and establishing a corporate headquarters there, determined that it was legal for independent foreign subsidiaries of United States companies to do business there, she said.


Happy "Mission Accomplished" Day!

Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.

--Remarks by President Bush announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq Thursday evening, May 1, 2003, from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.


The U.S.’ War on Democracy

Interview with John Pilger

Monday, Apr 30, 2007

By: Pablo Navarrete – Venezuelanalysis.com

John Pilger is an award-winning journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, who began his career in 1958 in his homeland, Australia, before moving to London in the 1960s. He has been a foreign correspondent and a front-line war reporter, beginning with the Vietnam War in 1967. He is an impassioned critic of foreign military and economic adventures by Western governments.
"It is too easy," Pilger says, "for Western journalists to see humanity in terms of its usefulness to 'our' interests and to follow government agendas that ordain good and bad tyrants, worthy and unworthy victims and present 'our' policies as always benign when the opposite is usually true. It's the journalist's job, first of all, to look in the mirror of his own society."

Pilger also believes a journalist ought to be a guardian of the public memory and often quotes Milan Kundera: "The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

In a career that has produced more than 55 television documentaries, Pilger's first major film for the cinema, The War on Democracy, will be released in the United Kingdom on May 11, 2007. Pilger spent several weeks filming in Venezuela and The War on Democracy contains an exclusive interview with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

PN: Could you begin by telling us what your new film ‘The War on Democracy’ is about?

JP: I happened to watch George Bush’s second inauguration address in which he pledged to “bring democracy to the world.” He mentioned the words “democracy” and “liberty” twenty one times. It was a very important speech because, unlike the purple prose of previous presidents (Ronald Reagan excluded), he left no doubt that he was stripping noble concepts like “democracy” and “liberty” of their true meaning – government, for, by and of the people.

I wanted to make a film that illuminated this disguised truth -- that the United States has long waged a war on democracy behind a facade of propaganda designed to contort the intellect and morality of Americans and the rest of us. For many of your readers, this is known. However, for others in the West, the propaganda that has masked Washington’s ambitions has been entrenched, with its roots in the incessant celebration of World War Two, the “good war”, then “victory” in the cold war. For these people, the “goodness” of US power represents “us”. Thanks to Bush and his cabal, and to Blair, the scales have fallen from millions of eyes. I would like “The War on Democracy” to contribute something to this awakening.

The film is about the power of empire and of people. It was shot in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, and the United States and is set also in Guatemala and Nicaragua. It tells the story of “America’s backyard,” the dismissive term given to all of Latin America. It traces the struggle of indigenous people first against the Spanish, then against European immigrants who reinforced the old elite. Our filming was concentrated in the barrios where the continent’s “invisible people” live in hillside shanties that defy gravity. It tells, above all, a very positive story: that of the rise of popular social movements that have brought to power governments promising to stand up to those who control national wealth and to the imperial master. Venezuela has taken the lead, and a highlight of the film is a rare face-to-face interview with President Hugo Chavez whose own developing political consciousness, and sense of history (and good humour), are evident. The film investigates the 2002 coup d’etat against Chavez and casts it in a contemporary context. It also describes the differences between Venezuela and Cuba, and the shift in economic and political power since Chavez was first elected. In Bolivia, the recent, tumultuous past is told through quite remarkable testimony from ordinary people, including those who fought against the piracy of their resources. In Chile, the film looks behind the mask of this apparently modern, prosperous “model” democracy and finds powerful, active ghosts. In the United States, the testimony of those who ran the “backyard” echo those who run that other backyard, Iraq; sometimes they are the same people. Chris Martin (my fellow director) and I believe “The War on Democracy” is well timed. We hope people will see it as another way of seeing the world: as a metaphor for understanding a wider war on democracy and the universal struggle of ordinary people, from Venezuela to Vietnam, Palestine to Guatemala.

As you say, Latin America has often been described as the U.S.’ backyard. How important is Latin America for the U.S. in the global context?

Latin America’s strategic importance is often dismissed. That’s because it is so important. Read Greg Grandin’s recent, excellent history (I interview him in the film) in which he makes the case that Latin America has been Washington’s “workshop” for developing and honing and rewarding its imperial impulses elsewhere. For example, when the US “retreated” from Southeast Asia, where did its “democracy builders” go to reclaim their “vision”? Latin America. The result was the murderous assaults on Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, and the darkness of “Operation Condor” in the southern cone. This was Ronald Reagan’s “war on terror”, which of course was a war of terror that provided basic training for those now running the Bush/Cheney “long war” in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Noam Chomsky recently said that after five centuries of European conquests, Latin America was reasserting its independence. Do you agree with this?

Yes, I agree. It’s humbling for someone coming from prosperous Europe to witness the poorest taking charge of their lives, with people rarely asking, as we in the West often ask, “What can I do?” They know what to do. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, the population barricaded their city until they began to take control of their water. In El Alto, perhaps the poorest city on the continent, people stood against a repressive regime until it fell. This is not to suggest that complete independence has been won. Venezuela’s economy, for example, is still very much a “neo-liberal” economy that continues to reward those with capital. The changes made under Chavez are extraordinary – in grassroots democracy, health care, education and the sheer uplifting of people’s lives – but true equity and social justice and freedom from corruption remain distant goals. Venezuela’s well-off complain endlessly that their economic power has been diminished; it hasn’t; economic growth has never been higher, business has never been better. What the rich no longer own is the government. And when the majority own the economy, true independence will be in sight. That’s true everywhere.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, recently called Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez “a threat to democracy” in Latin America. What are you views on this?

This is Orwellian, like “war is peace.” Negroponte, whose record of overseeing Washington’s terrorism in Central America is infamous, is right about Hugo Chavez in one respect. Chavez is a “threat” – he’s the threat of an example to others that independence from Washington is actually possible.

President Chavez talks about building "socialism of the 21st Century" in Venezuela. To what extent do you think this project is different to the socialist experiences in the twentieth century?

In the time I spent with Chavez, what struck me was how unselfconsciously he demonstrated his own developing political awareness. I was intrigued to watch a man who is as much an educator as a leader. He will arrive at a school or a water project where local people are gathered and under his arm will be half a dozen books – Orwell, Chomsky, Dickens, Victor Hugo. He’ll proceed to quote from them and relate them to the condition of his audience. What he’s clearly doing is building ordinary people’s confidence in themselves. At the same, he’s building his own political confidence and his understanding of the exercise of power. I doubt that he began as a socialist when he won power in 1998 – which makes his political journey all the more interesting. Clearly, he was always a reformer who paid respect to his impoverished roots. Certainly, the Venezuelan economy today is not socialist; perhaps it’s on the way to becoming something like the social economy of Britain under the reforming Attlee Labour government. He is probably what Europeans used to be proud to call themselves: a social democrat. Look, this game of labels is pretty pointless; he is an original and he inspires; so let’s see where the Bolivarian project goes. True power for enduring change can only be sustained at the grassroots, and Chavez’s strength is that he has inspired ordinary people to believe in alternatives to the old venal order. We have nothing like this spirit in Britain, where more and more people can’t be bothered to vote any more. It’s a lesson of hope, at the very least.


'The War on Democracy' is to be released in UK cinemas on Friday 15th June. There will be a special preview in London on Friday 11th May. The film is released in Australia in September 2007. For more info visit: www.johnpilger.com or www.warondemocracy.net

This is Zionism

April 30, 2007

Zionism at the separation barrier

Very soon this elderly Palestinian won’t be alone in passing through a passage at the separation barrier, as Israel plans to seize 57 acres of Palestinian farmland in the occupied West Bank to continue building the separation barrier.

While the EU slams the Zionist regime, the Zionists can predict the unbridled support of the US. Aid to the Israeli occupation government must cease and Israel must be forced to stop limiting immigration rights to Jews only, which deprives Palestinian people (Christians and Muslims) the right to return to their homeland. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all relevant countries to stop aiding Israel until it ends its occupation of the Arab territories. We must defend the Palestinian causes, denounce the Israeli/Zionist crimes and criticise the disastrous Israeli policy of expansion and oppression in Palestine.

In order to pre-empt the expected comments of any Zionist supporters that may wish to respond to the above, please note that the Holocaust DOES NOT justify the occupation or genocide of Palestine.

House oversight panel may look past Rice, Tenet in inquiry into uranium

By Helen Fessenden and Jackie Kucinich

May 01, 2007

Following a subpoena to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a letter to former CIA Director George Tenet last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may cast an even wider net in its probe into why the administration made false pre-war claims that Iraq was seeking to acquire uranium from Niger.

The panel’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), said last Thursday that the panel had not yet made a decision on how many more individuals it would contact, but indicated that he may consider it.

“We’ll take this one step at a time, and we’ll see,” he said. “I still think Rice will come in the end, but so far we’ve just gotten stonewalled.”

Regarding other names, a Democratic committee aide said “nothing is ruled out,” but added that “we’re just very early in the process.”

Rice has so far refused to meet with the committee on the matter and said on Sunday she would not comply with the subpoena. Through an aide, she has sent several letters to the panel, but Waxman has called those responses insufficient and vague. He has been sending letters to Rice regarding the uranium claim since spring 2003.

Some of the other names that have surfaced in this story include Alan Foley of the CIA and Robert Joseph of the National Security Council, who negotiated the language in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa. There is also Rocco Martino, the Italian free-lance operative who peddled the forged documents that were the genesis of this claim, which ultimately found its way into the State of the Union speech even though Tenet had previously intervened to take out similar language in an earlier speech.

Several members expressed strong interest in hearing from these individuals, and the panel’s ranking Republican, Tom Davis (R-Va.) said it would be “entirely appropriate to bring in others” even though he opposed the subpoena for Rice.
On their part, Democrats expressed strong interest in broadening the probe.

“I’d love to talk to Martino in particular,” said panel member Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

“It’s important to bring in whoever can shed light on this,” agreed Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

Davis and other Republicans argue that bringing in Rice would be a time-consuming distraction from her duties as secretary of state, and that two U.S. probes—under the Senate Intelligence Committee and the independent Silberman-Robb commission—have already looked into the question of faulty pre-war intelligence.

Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) said Thursday that this debate “is like the Clinton impeachment. I voted against it because there was no purpose. In this case, I understand why the Democrats want to kick Bush, but what would it achieve?”

Democrats counter that those two inquiries were Republican-run and avoided the question of why top officials used that intelligence to make their pre-war claims. The Senate Intelligence Committee is still working on the second part of its inquiry, which looks at the politicization of intelligence, but has not completed its work yet.

While the panel ponders its next move, Waxman has indicated that, at least for now, he is not yet ready to consider the more drastic option of invoking contempt to bring Rice before the panel.

“We’re not there yet,” said Waxman.

As of yesterday, a spokeswoman for Waxman said little has changed despite Rice’s remarks Sunday.

But the standoff could take an interesting twist if the two sides fail to reach an agreement.

If Waxman ultimately chooses to cite Rice for failure to respond to the subpoena, and a resolution to hold her in contempt passes the House floor, her case could land at the foot of embattled colleague Attorney General Albert Gonzales, according to House rules.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, if an individual refuses to comply with a House-issued subpoena, a committee could hold the individual in contempt of Congress, an offense punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. To enforce the contempt of Congress, the House must pass the resolution with a simple majority.

If the House approves, the resolution would be sent to the Office of the U.S. Attorney for prosecution.

According to congressional analyst Ilona Nickels, the U.S. attorney could then choose to call in a grand jury to decide whether to indict and prosecute.

Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said that it would be unfortunate that the oversight of a White House official could fall under the responsibility of another White House official.

“This is an unfortunate wrinkle in the separation of powers,” Lilly said. “I think the House would have the standing to get a court order for her to appear in civil court.”

Lilly added, “It makes the nature of this issue a little more dramatic, considering the problems of the attorney general.”

According to Nickels, Anne Gorsuch, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was the last administration official to be held in contempt. In 1982, the House voted to cite Gorsuch after she refused to provide requested documents concerning the Superfund to the Energy and Commerce Committee, then chaired by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

But her case was never prosecuted because the Reagan White House eventually arranged an agreement to give the chairman access to the requested papers, Nickels wrote.

Just War, Jeremiah, and Jeremiah Weed

April 19, 2007

You’ve probably never heard of the hard-edged brand of low-priced bourbon called Jeremiah Weed, and for darn good reason: It is almost unavailable, except on Air Force bases. But U.S. fighter pilots go through the stuff like airplane fuel, and some concede it tastes pretty much the same. As one airman wrote online of the drink: “Weed is one of those things you wonder why anyone would consume! However, after you choke down the first one you try another. After three to four, it becomes strangely pleasant and smooth…. It’s one of those creepy drinks that sneaks up on you long after you thought you had it licked, and inexplicably erases all memory of the evening.”

Jeremiah Weed has been adopted as the almost-official liquor of America’s fighter pilots, who drink it on special occasions out of spent cannon shells—though none can explain exactly why. The closest thing to a trustworthy account appears in C. R. Anderegg’s memoir Sierra Hotel, where he writes of pilots who came to a desert saloon after checking out the site where one of them had crashed a plane. At a nearby bar, they convinced the bearded bartender to join them in a drinking game called “Afterburners”, which involves slamming back shots of whiskey set on fire…. And you don’t want to hear the rest. It involves singed flesh, a blazing beard, and penitent pilots purchasing a case of cheap bourbon from a bartender who was headed for the burn ward. And thus began a tradition. Our pilots have been choking down the stuff ever since.

By inscrutable Providence or happy accident, this bourbon shares a name with one of the Old Testament’s greatest prophets, whose message warned of fire and war (though he didn’t mention crashing F-16s, at least in the Douay-Rheims Catholic translation). Jeremiah taught in the seventh century B.C., at a time when the Jewish nation occupied a unique position: It stood like a deer in the headlights in the middle of the road.

Once a major power in the region under kings David and Solomon, the Jewish kingdom had torn itself apart in civil wars and lapsed from strict religious practice—despite a series of increasingly irritable prophets. To make things worse, the remaining land of Judah lay smack dab between two aggressive empires.

The prophets whom God sent to His people carried a two-fold message, which can be boiled down to this: “Go to Temple—and don’t provoke the goyim!” Again and again, the prophets of Israel countered the claims of ambitious kings and zealous nationalists (think of them as the first neocons), whose plans for national greatness entailed risky and needless wars. In fact, the Hebrew prophets were the precursors of the Christian critique of conquest. While the Church has never advocated outright pacifism, beginning with St. Augustine it has developed increasingly strict criteria by which to judge the causes and conduct of war. The Just War tradition specified that Christians should only take part in a war if it is

• In a good cause, i.e., to repel aggression or protect the innocent. (No, “revenge,” “a presidential sex scandal” or “an upcoming election” don’t count.)
• Waged by legitimate authorities.
• Reasonably likely to succeed.
• Unlikely, proportionately, to cause more harm than good.
• The last resort after attempted negotiations.
• Waged with the minimum force necessary, making every attempt to protect civilians.

These criteria take all the fun out of war—banning naked land-grabs, empire building, torture, mass-rape, fire-bombing cities, and the use of America’s 10,000 or so nukes for pretty much anything at all. Since the Just War tradition is such a buzz-kill, Christians of a certain kind often argue it away as cleverly as a canon lawyer wangling an annulment for a Kennedy.

Sadly, the kings and people of Israel did something similar. They disdained their peacenik prophets, and instead marched off to disaster in places we now call Lebanon and Iraq. This suggests to us that certain current politicians eager to remake the Middle East are indeed reading their Bible. They just don’t understand it.

By Jeremiah’s time, the rump Jewish kingdom called Judah was a subject ally of the rising empire of Babylon. Judah had to pay tribute, but its people could live untroubled, and Jerusalem’s Temple was left untouched. Jeremiah’s message mirrored that of previous prophets: He urged the Israelites to leave well enough alone. Instead of allying with one pagan kingdom—and provoking the others—or “arming for peace,” the Jews should concentrate on pleasing God. He alone had given them their kingdom in the first place, and only He could save it. But Judah’s ruling class were not keen to listen; it didn’t help that Jeremiah’s idea of tact included phrases like “You have polluted the land with your whoring and wickedness.” (Jeremiah, 3:2) Eager to throw off the yoke of Babylon, Judah’s king cut off the tribute and allied with the bumbling king of Egypt who promised to bail the Israelites out. “Fat chance,” said Jeremiah. (My own, contemporary translation.)

Jeremiah wandered the countryside, often two steps ahead of a lynch mob, warning the people and king that their policies would bring on disaster: “I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth,” to be specific. (Jeremiah 34:20)

For his candor, Jeremiah was locked in chains, chased from town to town, and condemned as a traitor who did not support the troops. When the Babylonians did indeed invade, destroy Jerusalem, level the Temple, and lead almost all the Jews off to slavery in exile, those who were left behind dragged Jeremiah off to Egypt—where they would finally pay him back for his prescience by stoning him to death.

From all this, I draw a message for today: When politicians propose a war, get behind it. Don’t ask if it’s just, wise, or winnable—or even which country it is against. Just put that yellow ribbon sticker on your car, hunker down, and support the president. It beats getting stoned in Egypt.

Of course, that’s cold comfort to the brave souls who’ll have to fly combat missions over Pyongyang, Pakistan, or Paris. It’s your duty at least to pray for them—and maybe send a case of Jeremiah Weed.

Posted by John Zmirak

Excerpted from The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song with the gracious permission of the author.

Coalition chair, Kadima MKs discuss move to replace Olmert with Livni

Last update - 16:07 01/05/2007

By Shahar Ilan, Yuval Azoulay and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondents

Israel's pornographic lies


Khalid Amayreh

Israeli Knesset Speaker and Acting President Dalia Itzik (President Moshe Katsav has been suspended for allegedly committing sexual crimes) on Monday urged Palestinians to "trade your Qassams for computers."

"Our advice to you is replace your Katyoushas and Qassams with computers and loving education," Itzik said during a speech marking Israel's Independence Day.

"The citizens of Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority should think twice about why they are so thirsty for battles and blood. Isn't the blood that you have already spilled enough?" she added.

Well, it is manifestly clear that Itzik's remarks are void of even an iota of truth and honesty. Their mendacity and brazen hypocrisy cry out to the seventh heaven.

Indeed, urging Palestinians to trade their Qassams, the primitive, ineffectual home-made projectiles, for computers, and appealing to them to stop bloodshed would have made sense had it come from a decent and peaceable state that respects human rights and observes the rule of international law.

But coming from Israel, the international pariah and perpetual violator of international law, Izik's homily can be compared to a veteran whore exhorting others to celebrate her chastity.

Well, who is occupying whose land? Who is murdering whose children? Who is demolishing whose homes? Who is narrowing whose horizons? Who is stealing whose land? And who is barring whom from accessing food and work?

More importantly, who has been committing a slow-motion genocide against whom? There are thousands of other questions that Itzik should have answered before indulging in this verbal fornication.

One doesn't need to be a great specialist in the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict to detect the shocking mendacity of Itzik's remarks.

According to "The Middle East Military Balance," edited by Shai Feldman and Yiftah Shapir (2004), the Israeli army is composed of a total of 631,000 soldiers, has as many as 798 combat aircrafts and more than 3930 battle tanks and thousands of armored personnel carriers.

Moreover, it is believed that Israel has as many as 250 attack helicopters, 4500 artillery pieces as well as a huge arsenal of biological and chemical weapons.

This is, of course, in addition to Israel's nuclear arsenal of 280-320 nuclear bombs and warheads and their delivery systems, which are trained toward Major Muslim cities in the Middle East.

As to the Palestinians, let us examine their "armed forces" and see if an arms reduction on their part is warranted. Their army is made up of hundreds of thousands of impoverished and miserable souls struggling to make ends meet, especially after the criminal siege imposed by Israel and her western allies following the January, 2006 elections in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In addition, the Palestinians have striking special forces made up of thousands of orphans and maimed children and youths targeted by Israeli apache helicopters and F-16 fighters since 2000.

And, of course, there are tens of thousands of starving families whose children are made to starve and go hungry because Israel is withholding their salaries to punish the Palestinian people for electing the "wrong" people.

As to the bloodshed, nothing can be further from truth.

According to the Israeli National Insurance Institute, the number of Israeli civilians killed in hostile action since Israel's creation in 1948 is 1635. (see Ha'aretz, 22 April)

Well, compare this with the tens of thousands (or more) of Palestinians and Arabs murdered mercilessly by Zionism since Israel's misbegotten birth nearly sixty years ago.

Since the beginning of the Intifada in 2000, the Israeli army and paramilitary Jewish terrorists have killed more than 5140 Palestinians, one fourth of them children and minors.

In addition, it is believed that over 35,000 Palestinians have been injured or seriously maimed by an army that views its victims as children of a lesser God whose lives are expendable and whose blood is less red than the blood of Jews.

So, once again, who is shedding whose blood? Indeed, merely 48 hours before Itzik gave her mendacious and dishonest speech, Israeli death squads murdered 9 Palestinians, not in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem, but in their own homes, streets and neighborhoods in the West Bank.

One of the victims of this latest outrage is Bushra Berjis, a 17-year-old student who was hit right in the head by a bullet fired by the indifferent hands of an Israeli soldier while sitting down in her room revising for her final school exams in her home in the Jenin refugee camp.

I don't want to make Zionist-Nazi analogies, but I do want to ask the following questions: Where are the conscientious Jews to protest this outrage? What happened to their honesty and rectitude? Has Zionism killed both their humanity and honesty?

It is indeed lamentable that instead of urging her people to walk in the path of peace and stop killing and oppressing the already thoroughly tormented Palestinians and stealing their land and narrowing their horizons, Itzik chose to indulge in wanton lies as if lies are Israel's oxygen.

It is also especially sad that Itzik's outrageous speech went unanswered and unchallenged, neither by Israeli officials, nor by the Israeli intellectual community, nor, indeed, by the Israeli media.

This shows that the Israeli society is still suffering from a collective psychosis, a serious moral morbidity that needs a long time to heal.


© 2007 Khalid Amayreh

Emerging picture of Bush's politicization of the federal government isn't pretty


Cox News Service
Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bit by bit, as odd scraps of information surface, the hidden history of George W. Bush's presidency is emerging, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together.

With complaints becoming public, the Justice Department has announced it will remove political appointees as screeners for hiring interns and young attorneys. That's the sort of bureaucratic bric-a-brac shuffling that usually goes unremarked and, if reported at all, is sensibly ignored by anyone with something better to do, which would be just about anything.

But in a nifty piece of enterprise, a Washington Post report makes it clear why this little in-house dance shouldn't be sloughed off. The tale adds importantly to the disturbing story of the Bush administration's program to politicize every nook and cranny of the federal government.

The department's well-regarded Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program have been reduced under Bush and his go-fer attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, to partisan hiring halls. The Honors Program, a creation of the Eisenhower administration, had in the past been conducted by Justice's senior career attorneys.

With Bush political appointees in charge, applicants found themselves in interviews that suggested less a professional assessment than an ideological vetting. There has been a sudden influx from doctrinally conservative law schools and from the Federalist Society, created to nurture activist conservative lawyers. (The society is a major source, as well, of Bush judicial appointees.)

Ideological influence has left the Justice Department's civil rights division basically inert and has reached high into the department's top ranks. Monica Goodling, counselor to Gonzales, has threatened to take the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination if subpoenaed to testify to Congress about the political purge of U.S. attorneys. She came to Justice's leadership from Messiah College and Regent University Law School, a Pat Robertson spin-off.

The U. S. attorneys' removal for obviously ideological and partisan reasons and Justice's politicization of traditionally professional positions make a snug fit with other Bush practices.

From its first days, this White House has outfitted federal departments with political minders, usually installed in management and policy positions that are influential but typically below public radar.

Under Edwin Foulke, a Republican Party operative, OSHA, responsible for worker safety, has shifted from enforcement to taking industries' word that they will play nice. Perhaps not coincidentally, the three largest fields regulated by OSHA — agribusiness, construction and transportation — have off-loaded $630 million into GOP coffers during Bush's run so far.

The Bushified Environmental Protection Agency ignores science — or even brazenly rewrites it — to act out the right's conviction that environmental concerns rank somewhere between mistaken and nutty. Political appointees override the agency's professionals at will, the case repeatedly in this administration.

The White House sent a political operative to General Service Administration offices to brief the administration's political appointees on the Republican Party's 2008 priority congressional and Senate races. Why, if not to suggest that big-money GSA contracts to those districts and states could bolster Republican candidates? GSA is one of the government's largest contracting agencies.

No government is ever innocent of politics, but the relentlessness and reach of Bush's drive to turn the traditionally professional departments of the government into a chain of party proprietaries are unexampled in modern times, and it is unlikely we have heard the last of these tales.


Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. He is based in Atlanta.