Monthly Archives: September 2007

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US military cash earmarked for development in these poverty-stricken districts adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and a US-funded project to pave the important Khost-Gardez Pass road adds at least $60 million. They are meant to be the fruits of better security.

After Operation Khyber, focus shifts to local governance.

In a rock-strewn valley so remote that US and Afghan forces here call their base “Wilderness,” tribal elders met under a dusty tent with Afghan politicians and American officers in a bid to turn recent military gains against insurgents into progress in local governance.

Ringed with layers of military security, the jirga, or tribal meeting, Monday marked the close of Operation Khyber, a joint US-Afghan operation of nearly three weeks that is applying a refined counterinsurgency strategy to three tough districts in southeast Afghanistan‘s Paktia Province.

But while US and Afghan commanders say they have forced out insurgents – “creating effects,” in their jargon, that they hope will last at least 60 days – getting government to the people is far from assured.

“Today it is your task to sustain the good situation in your area,” Arsala Jamal, the provincial governor of Khost, cajoled scores of turbaned elders. Praising the “achievements” of the operation, he said it was now the duty of the tribes to turn against an “enemy [that] burns your school and your clinic.” He told the crowd that the result would be “rewards” of reconstruction from the government and the US, a “golden opportunity” that may never come again.

“We want to live free; we don’t want to live in slavery,” said Mr. Jamal, who survived a fourth assassination attempt that killed three bodyguards the day Operation Khyber started, on Aug. 22. “And that can only happen when you say ‘no’ to the enemy and fight the enemy.”

US military cash earmarked for development in these poverty-stricken districts adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and a US-funded project to pave the important Khost-Gardez Pass road adds at least $60 million. They are meant to be the fruits of better security.

“This is the big plan of the government,” Maj. Gen. Abdul Khaliq, the top Afghan regional commander, told the elders. “We should provide a situation where the people and the government should connect together.”

“I believe the government did not have an opportunity to see each village individually,” said General Khaliq. “Right now we have the opportunity to meet with all the elders, all the district commissioners, and all the members of parliament … because we have good security right now.”

“Do not let terrorism come and reside in your place,” the general warned. “Do not allow your children to grow up as terrorists. We will help. We will build roads. All this is for your benefit.”

But nearly six years after the fall of the Taliban, these elders from the sizable Zadran tribe, living in an area of significant insurgent and criminal influence not far from the border with Pakistan, have heard such promises before.

Convincing them to side with the government – despite its often negligible presence in their lives – may be harder to achieve than militarily clearing the insurgents. But it is meant to be the long-term result of the US counter-insurgency strategy.

“The challenge with all these operations is the nonkinetic phase,” says Thomas Gregg of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), who has worked three years in the southeast. He says it remains unclear if the government – the police and district officials – can fill the “power vacuum” created after militants are forced out by Operation Khyber.

“So the question mark remains over whether or not the government is in a position to properly harness the potential to expand its influence,” says Mr. Gregg.

The problem presents a Catch-22 for US and Afghan forces, here and elsewhere, as they shift focus to the needs of the population.

Was Operation Khyber premature, because local government is not well rooted in these remote communities? Or was the clearing operation necessary now, to give the government the best chance of sinking such roots before winter sets in at these high altitudes?

“This is not a battle of bullets; this is a battle of ideas,” says US Army Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in southeast Afghanistan.

“The Taliban message is clearly one of threat and intimidation” that targets women, local officials, schools, and clinics, says Colonel Schweitzer. The government’s message, he says, can “beat it” by offering education and jobs, and by encouraging Afghans to “look to your government for the solution, versus the Taliban.”

But to do so, effective government must extend into rarely reached villages and offer an alternative. Until now, the writ of the weak Afghan government – widely seen as corrupt and focused on Kabul – has made only limited progress.

Still, Schweitzer says that of the 83 districts that he tracks, 58 are now in “direct support” of the government, up from 30 districts a year ago. The year before that, he says, only eight or nine were so closely aligned.

Schweitzer also says that even though US casualties are up 10 percent in Afghanistan this year, in eastern areas they are “significantly reduced” by two-thirds in his area, compared to last year. He confirms about a two-thirds drop in kinetic operations, also, with softer, nonviolent tactics that include using an anthropologist to learn more about Afghans.

But delivering on government promises, or even maintaining security, is hard in these remote mountains near the Pakistani border.

“In almost all districts … there is a desire to receive the practical benefits of reconstruction,” says Gregg of the UN. “They want a functioning government. They want functioning, impartial courts. They want [the Afghan National Police] to play their policing role.”

But that does not mean all districts support the government or that all others are in “active opposition” to it, says Gregg, who questions how US officers calculate the level of support.

“Are the people just being sufficiently coerced [by militants], where they can’t be part of the political process, because of the degree of intimidation they are under and the absence of police?” he asks.

At the jirga under the tent of broad white and blue stripes, some men – including a handful of parliament deputies brought in from Kabul – expressed gratitude for Operation Khyber, which yielded more than 30 arrests, including that of a 6-foot 4-inch Russian with a red beard and wearing a black burqa, whose truck was full of explosives.

But others were unconvinced. Nadir Khan Katawazai, a member of parliament from nearby Paktika Province, was grateful that no civilians were killed in Operation Khyber, but said there were few achievements because militants had left and would return “refreshed” after hiding in the mountains.

And, he says, extending government rule is going to be tough. “When I was first elected by the people of Paktika, I made a lot of promises, because the government made me promises,” Mr. Katawazai, told the elders, his head wrapped in a vast, gold-silk turban. “But all these promises [weren’t kept], and today … the people think that I am a liar.”

And so far, militants have an advantage: “Today the enemy are fully active [and] can easily go to each village, can go to mosques and preach to people,” says Katawazai. “By contrast, the government is weak … [and] never gets the word out to the people.”

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Former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld says in the current edition of GQ magazine that the war in Afghanistan has been "a big success," with people living in freedom and life "improved on the streets."

Former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld says in the current edition of GQ magazine that the war in Afghanistan has been “a big success,” with people living in freedom and life “improved on the streets.”

To anyone working in the country, there is only one possible, informed response: What Afghanistan is the man talking about?

In reality, Afghanistan — former Taliban stronghold, Al Qaeda haven and  warlord-cum-heroin-smuggler finishing school — feels more and more like  Sept. 10, 2001, than a victory in the U.S. war on terrorism.

The country is, plain and simple, a mess. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies  have quietly regained territory, rendering wide swaths of the country  off-limits to U.S. and Afghan forces, international aid workers and even  journalists. Violent attacks against Western interests are routine.

Even  Kabul, which the White House has held up as a postcard for what is  possible in Afghanistan, has become so dangerous that foreign embassies are in states of lockdown, diplomats do not leave their offices, and  venturing beyond security perimeters requires daylight-only travel,  armored vehicles, Kevlar and armed escorts.

Fear reigns among average Afghans in Kabul. Street crime, virtually unheard of in Afghan culture, has increased dramatically over the last  three years as angry, unemployed and often radicalized young men settle scores with members of other tribes and clans, steal and rob to feed their families and vent their frustration with a government that appears powerless to help them. Taking a chance by eating in one of Kabul’s handful of restaurants or going shopping in one of the few markets leftis  a new version of Russian roulette.

For U.S. officials and diplomats, Kabul is simply a prison. Embassies are  completely closed to vehicular and even foot traffic. Indeed, at the American Embassy, the consular section issues visas only to Afghan government officials. If an average Afghan wants a visa to the U.S., he or  she must travel to Islamabad, Pakistan, to apply. To allow Afghans to stand in line for visas at the embassy in Kabul would invite terrorist attacks or attract suicide bombers.

Consider that an American Embassy staffer going to the U.S. Agency for International Development office across the street is required to use an  underground tunnel that links the two compounds. Even though the street is closed to all traffic other than official U.S. or U.N. vehicles and is patrolled and guarded by armored personnel carriers, tanks and Kalashnikov-carrying security personnel with a safety perimeter of several blocks, the risk from snipers, mortars or grenades is ever present.

Working in Supermax Afghanistan makes the USAID’s performance all the more heroic. Since 2003, the agency has overseen the investment of more than $4 billion in Afghanistan, has built more than 500 schools and an equal number of clinics and has paved more than 1,000 miles of roads, all while suffering about 130 casualties at the hands of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

By some measures, Afghanistan should be a feel-good story by now — the Taliban is, officially at least, out of power, Al Qaeda has been chased to the wilds of the Afghan-Pakistani border and U.S. forces are on hand to consolidate and solidify a peaceful new order.

But the truth is very different. By any measure, this remains a “hot” war with a well-armed, motivated and organized enemy. Village by village, tribe by tribe and province by province, Al Qaeda is coming back, enforcing a form of Islamic life and faith rooted in the 12th century, intimidating reformers, exacting revenge and funding itself with dollars from massive poppy cultivation and heroin smuggling. As Al Qaeda reestablishes itself, Osama bin Laden remains free to send video messages and serve as an ideological beacon to jihadis worldwide. The country’s president, Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, is in effect little more than the mayor of Kabul.

The war in Afghanistan is a political and military one-step-forward-two-steps-back exercise. The work there isn’t just unfinished, it is more dangerous and less certain than policymakers in Washington and talking heads in New York studios can imagine. Those suggesting otherwise are either naive or flacking a political agenda.

John Kiriakou, now in the private sector, served as a CIA counter-terrorism official from 1998 to 2004 and recently returned from Afghanistan.

Richard Klein, a former State Department official, is
managing director for the Middle East and Arabian Gulf at Kissinger McLarty Associates in Washington.

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The September 7 release of a new video statement by Osama bin Laden puts to rest, at least for now, widespread speculation that he is dead, retired or has been pushed aside by his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri [1].

The September 7 release of a new video statement by Osama bin Laden puts to rest, at least for now, widespread speculation that he is dead, retired or has been pushed aside by his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri [1].

With a newly trimmed and dyed beard, comfortable robes rather than a camouflage jacket, and a clear and patient speaking style, bin Laden achieved a major purpose of his speech before he said

a word: he clearly showed Muslims and Americans that he was still alive, that he was healthy and not at death’s door, that he spoke from secure surroundings unthreatened by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, and that he, al-Qaeda and their allies were ready to continue the war.

As usual, this message was wrapped in an as-Sahab Productions video displaying high-level production values [2]. Some of the substance of bin Laden’s speech was partially new to him specifically, but the West’s failure to analyze what he and his lieutenants have been talking about for the past few years was repeatedly displayed by such foreign policy experts as a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and New York Times journalist David Brooks, both of whom suggested that bin Laden sounded like a left-wing, 1960s Marxist blogger.

The Islamist expert Walid Phares even described him as “Trotskyite”. Speeches by bin Laden and other senior al-Qaeda leaders are intended to have an accumulating impact; that is, most of their major speeches and statements build on those that have preceded them over the past decade. Bin Laden and his associates assume, perhaps incorrectly, that their Western foes will not treat each statement, speech and interview as an isolated and unconnected event.

The commentators mentioned above and many other pundits – both right and left on the political spectrum – have described bin Laden’s speech as something new and a blatant attempt to remain relevant in the contemporary world. That is incorrect. Bin Laden has talked previously on numerous occasions about the negative factors of capitalism and the inequities and fragility of the US economy; many of his post-September 11, 2001, speeches featured his bleed-America-to-bankruptcy scheme, as did several of his interviews before September 11.

In addition, Zawahiri and Azzam al-Amriki (the US citizen Adam Gadahn) have repeatedly spoken in detail about these themes [3]. Indeed, Zawahiri’s extensive February 2005 essay, entitled “The Freeing of Humanity and Homelands Under the Banner of the Koran”, marked the start of al-Qaeda’s now well-developed campaign of trying to support and deepen already existing anti-Americanism among non-Muslim groups – such as anti-globalists, environmentalists, nuclear disarmament activists, anti-US Europeans and other “oppressed people”.

These two men also have focused on the imperfect state of black-white race relations in the United States and championed the Islamic ideas of Malcolm X. And bin Laden – possibly for the first time – hit on this theme in his September 7 statement. “It is more severe than what the slaves used to suffer at your hands centuries ago,” bin Laden said regarding conditions for white and especially black US soldiers in Iraq. “And it is as if some of them have gone from one slavery to another more severe and harmful, even if it be in the fancy dress of the Defense Department’s financial enticements” [4].

Western officials and journalists have also concluded that there is no “overt threat” in bin Laden’s new message. Unless these experts truly believe that at some point in time bin Laden is going to explicitly state the time and location of an attack, it is hard to understand how they came to that conclusion. If Americans do not convert to Islam, said bin Laden – and he probably is not expecting many takers – our duty “is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you”.

That seems a clear threat. Moreover, bin Laden’s prolonged discussion of his conversion offer is also clearly threatening in that it is an action demanded by the Prophet Muhammad of Muslims before they attack their enemy. As for another pre-attack requirement – multiple warnings – Zawahiri and Gadahn have fired a great number of warnings at the United States this year.

Finally, the new message’s text and bin Laden’s dyed beard seems to have persuaded some Western commentators to superimpose their fascination with celebrities and egos onto bin Laden. Since September 7, for example, Harvard’s Noah Feldman – among others – described bin Laden’s cleaned-up personal appearance and the text of his statement as an effort by the al-Qaeda chief to put himself in a position to claim that “I was responsible for the American disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan,” attributing a huge dose of egotism to bin Laden’s performance.

In reviewing the tape, such egotism is hard to find. The first person “I” is used by bin Laden as a necessary part of his offer to Americans to convert to Islam. He makes himself a central player only because he is volunteering to guide Americans to Allah. Asking Americans to “lend me your ears” to hear God’s message and then saying “I invite you to embrace Islam” constitute the role bin Laden lays out for himself in this speech.

This point is made not to argue whether or not bin Laden is egotistical, but to suggest that it would be unwise to believe that our seemingly inevitable withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan will be seen by Muslims or identified by al-Qaeda’s chief as victories for bin Laden. Instead, they will be seen by Muslims and publicized by bin Laden – as he did after the Afghans’ 1989 defeat of the Soviets – as victories for Allah and Islam; al-Qaeda will give the major portion of credit to Iraqi and Afghan mujahideen.

It is imperative, from bin Laden’s perspective, that Muslims worldwide see US disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan as Allah-granted victories for Islam and faithful Muslims. This perspective of “God’s victory” will further erode defeatism in the Muslim world and galvanize far more support for the jihad than any bin Laden claim of glory for al-Qaeda’s efforts. Indeed, such a claim would undercut much of what bin Laden has accomplished, and he knows it.

1. Osama bin Laden, “The Solution,” as-Sahab Productions, September 7, 2007. It is worth noting that bin Laden also spoke in the plain and direct manner of his pre-US presidential election speech of October 2004. The September 7 speech was without lengthy quotations from the Quran, stories from Islamic history, or quotations from the Hadith. Interestingly, at the end of the talk he drew the attention of Christians to the similar beliefs that they and Muslims share regarding Jesus and his mother Mary, and railed against what he called “the fabrications of the Jews” against Mary. Having previously railed against Christians as the “crusaders of the cross,” this passage is something of an anomaly for bin Laden.

2. When bin Laden did speak, the substance of his talk demonstrated that he is still what Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett have described as a “news junkie”, and that he is completely capable of sating his desire by following the adventures of US interest rates and mortgage defaults while likely inhabiting the terrain of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier.

3. Two of al-Qaeda’s post-September 11 electronic journals – al-Nida and al-Ansar – also published several analytical essays on these issues.

4. It seems fair to conclude that the American citizen Adam Gadahn has contributed to broadening al-Qaeda commentary vis-a-vis US economic and social affairs. Born and reared by parents who propounded the beliefs of the US “hippy generation” that came of age in the 1960s, Gadahn may well have imbibed an animus against capitalism and a taste for analyzing US history via the purported conspiracies of capitalists. These seem to have seeped into bin Laden’s rather overdone criticism of capitalism. That said, the critique of capitalism in bin Laden’s new message and other statements by Zawahiri and Gadahn have less to do with the traditional leftist-socialist description of capitalism’s evils and inevitable demise, and more to do with emphasizing the ability of Islam to rectify societal evils, promote social and economic equality and even lower taxes to a limit “totaling 2.5%”.

Michael Scheuer served as the chief of the bin Laden Unit at the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. He is now a senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation.

(This article first appeared in The Jamestown Foundation. Used with permission.)

(Copyright 2007 The Jamestown Foundation.)

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On spotting an Israeli warplane in Syrian skies, police personnel would phone their superiors and report its direction, elevation and estimated speed. Army headquarters would immediately call the nearest police station to track it further, then send Syrian warplanes to bring it down or chase it away.

DAMASCUS – During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Israel developed a regular habit of violating Syrian airspace to deter the Syrians from supporting the Egyptian army. The Syrians did not have radar at the time, so air force commander Wadih al-Muqabari developed a scheme whereby police stations around the country were linked by a 24-hour hotline to army headquarters in Damascus.

On spotting an Israeli warplane in Syrian skies, police personnel would phone their superiors and report its direction, elevation and

estimated speed. Army headquarters would immediately call the nearest police station to track it further, then send Syrian warplanes to bring it down or chase it away.

On one such occasion, five Syrian aircraft set out for an operation that included a young pilot, future president Hafez al-Assad. They were prevented from bringing down the Israeli plane, although Assad had it in shooting range, because it was flying over Turkish territory. The same plane violated Syrian airspace later in the day. Another five-plane team set out, and the Israeli jet was downed on the Lebanese border by an officer named Louis Dakar. The pilot ejected, and the co-pilot was killed. When interrogated by the Lebanese, the Israeli pilot said there was a 1% chance of his plane being downed by the Syrians. The fact that they had succeeded meant that the Syrian army was “dangerous” for Israel.

That was 51 years ago.

Last week, four Israeli warplanes invaded Syrian airspace after midnight on September 6, breaking the sound barrier, and reaching as far as the village of Tal Abyad in the vicinity of Deir al-Zour, about 160 kilometers north of the city of Raqqa. A military source in Syria was quoted saying that the Israelis violated Syrian airspace “through the southern border, coming from the Mediterranean front toward the northeastern one”.

Syrian defenses confronted the Israeli planes, forcing them to drop their fuel and ammunition so they could fly higher and faster and escape. “We warn the Israeli enemy government against this flagrant aggressive act, and retain the right to respond in an appropriate way,” the military spokesman said. Witnesses reported seeing the warplanes at about 1:30am, but thought they were US ones, not Israeli.

The news caused a stir around the world, although it was pretty much expected by observers of the Syrian-Israeli front. There has been much speculation about an outbreak of hostilities between Damascus and Jerusalem since June. Both countries had been mobilizing troops, raising the prospects of war, until Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak came out one week before the military operation saying his country was going to withdraw its troops from the Golan border. Israel captured the Golan Heights in 1967 in the Six Day War and, since then, the countries have been in bitter dispute.

War was not an option, the Israeli minister seemed to be saying. He added that mobilization raised the risk of an “accidental incident” between both armies, something that Jerusalem wanted to avoid. For their part, the Syrians have been saying that their strategic choice is peace – not war – with Israel, reminding the world on every possible occasion that they had engaged in the peace process, under US auspices, for 15 years.

If both countries want peace, as the official version implies, then what exactly happened on September 6? One theory says Israel wanted to test Syrian defenses, especially after reports that Damascus had received new ballistic missiles from Russia. The objectives of the intrusion would be to “feel the waters” before Israel actually engaged in war with the Syrians. This was seconded by Israeli counter-terrorism expert Boaz Ganor, who said his country was “collecting intelligence on long-range missiles” deployed by Syria in the north.

A second theory – less credible – claims that Israel wanted to see whether its warplanes could reach Iran without being spotted by Syrian radar. This was in preparation for an upcoming war that Jerusalem expects between the US and Iran.

A third theory claims that Israel was searching for military training bases for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. A fourth claims that the operation was nothing more than a provocation aimed at showing the Syrians that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were on alert and had “recovered” from their summer war with Hezbollah last year. The Israelis wanted to see how Syria would respond.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara, on a state visit to Rome, told the Italian daily La Repubblica, “All I can say is that the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming.”

When asked what kind of retaliation was expected from the Syrians, he replied: “I cannot reveal details.” The journalist then spoke about an appeal from Israeli President Shimon Peres to Syria, to which Shara responded: “Excuse me for smiling. The talks about peace are a disguise for blatant aggression. Israel’s responses in light of the aircraft infiltration are amazing, with [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert saying he knows nothing about it.”

Other swift responses came from Syria’s main allies, Russia, Turkey and Iran. The Turks even summoned Israel’s ambassador to Ankara and protested the Israeli aggression. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki contacted his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Mouallem, expressing his country’s willingness to stand by Damascus. The Russians said the violation was “unacceptable” and condemned it, while the Turks said they were “worried”.

The United States, surprisingly, had no comment on the entire ordeal. What makes the crisis all the more troubling is the Israeli silence. Neither cabinet ministers nor IDF sources, or even the Prime Minister’s Office, have commented on the intrusion. They have neither confirmed nor denied it, although in the past Israel trumpets when it performs such an operation, either in Syria or Lebanon. The last time its warplanes ripped through Syrian skies was in June 2006.

Before that, they had hit the Syrian village of Ain al-Saheb, near Damascus, in October 2003. According to the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, whose Syria correspondent Ibrahim al-Hamidi is a well-informed source on his country’s foreign policy, Syria believes that the operation was a “diplomatic and military experiment” to test how Syria would react. The paper adds that Syria’s warning to retaliate as it sees fit was “serious, deterring and non-escalating”.

The Syrians are aware that Olmert is in a difficult position, imposed on him by the less-than-satisfying results of the Israeli war on Lebanon in July-August 2006. In that war – unlike any other in Israel’s history since 1948 – none of the Jewish state’s objectives was met. They said they were invading Lebanon to rescue two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah. Today, more than one year later, the two soldiers remain in Hezbollah captivity. Israel said it would crush the Lebanese military group, but Hezbollah remains alive and kicking and, according both to its own reports and to those of Western observers, has managed to rearm itself, with an arsenal that is larger than the one it possessed at the start of the war in July 2006.

Olmert understands all of these difficult realities, and so does the Israeli public, which holds him and his team accountable for the ill-fated Lebanon adventure. With such a defeat on his record, the Israeli prime minister cannot possible talk peace with the Syrians – or anyone else. He needs to obtain his war medals to “right the wrongs” done to his image in Lebanon. Only after waging a war – and either winning or not losing it – can Olmert project himself as a peacemaker.

Egypt’s Anwar al-Sadat could not go to Camp David in 1978 without having waged the October war against Israel in 1973. Yitzhak Rabin could not have gone to Oslo in 1993 without having obtained plenty of war medals in every Israeli war since 1948. And

the same applies to Olmert. That is why war – rather than peace – is more likely on the prime minister’s agenda.

This war would have to be either with Syria or with Hezbollah. In his latest speech before Parliament in May, President Bashar al-Assad said defeated leaders (like Olmert) can do strange things – such as go to war rather than make peace with their neighbors. In a speech in July, Assad re-emphasized his country’s willingness for peace, saying: “The most Syria could do is send a Syrian to a neutral place to negotiate with a third party, who in turn would convey Syria’s message to the Israelis, who might be staying at another hotel. Direct talks between Syria and Israel are also out of the question at this stage.”

The basis of any Syrian cooperation would be the borderline of June 4, 1967. He also asked for guarantees, saying that from experience in the 1990s, Syria does not trust the Israelis. “We did not trust them before the 1990s and now distrust them further.” He asked for something similar to the agreement reached with the late Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, which promised to restore the Golan Heights in full to Syria.

Peace with Syria was initially vetoed by US President George W Bush in the aftermath of the occupation of Iraq in 2003, when he said “Syria has to wait” until all other pending issues are solved in the Middle East. That was seconded by both prime minister Ariel Sharon, who was not interested in talks with the Syrians, and his successor, Ehud Olmert.

This lack of interest continued until 2006. Then Israel suddenly seemed to change course with regard to Syria. Public opinion in Israel shifted. Many believe that only Syria can secure Israel’s border with Lebanon. Making peace with the Syrians, the Israelis believed, seemed all the more logical since it automatically would mean a calm front with Hezbollah.

Early this year, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz said secret talks had taken place in Europe between Israelis and a private Syrian citizen. In April, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to Damascus with a message to Assad from Olmert. The Israeli press went into a frenzy in revisiting the Syrian-Israeli peace track. The “Syria story” made headlines in the Israeli press, and quotes from Syrian newspapers began appearing in leading Israeli dailies, to monitor Syria’s readiness for peace.

One reason for the about-turn was domestic pressure on the Israeli prime minister. His Kadima-Labor cabinet seemed on the verge of collapse. The Winograd Report on the summer war nearly destroyed his career, because its findings implicated some of his top officials in wrongdoings during the Lebanon war of 2006. The premier needed to divert Israeli attention – fast – to steal the limelight from former prime minister Ehud Barak, who was making a political comeback in Israel.

In July, Olmert appeared on Al-Arabiyya TV, addressing the Syrian leader: “Bashar al-Assad, you know that I am ready for direct talks with you. I am ready to sit with you and talk about peace, not war.” He added, “I will be happy if I could make peace with Syria. I do not want to wage war against Syria.” The US did not seem to mind this change of policy, since it also needed the Syrians to cooperate on two issues: Iraq and Lebanon. Bush would also be interested in a rapprochement with the Syrians, either for dialogue with Iran, via Syria, or to learn more about the Iranians through Damascus.

The Syrians were unimpressed by the Israeli conditions for peace, which included halting Syria’s cooperation with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. In response, the Jerusalem Post ran an article on July 11 saying war with Syria was “possible”. This coincided with mobilization of the IDF on the Golan border, and reports in Israeli dailies saying that 70% of the army’s reservists were taking part in exercises along the Golan.

Israel also declared that one of its famous units, the Golan Brigade, had just completed intensive training in war games. Guy Hazoot, the officer in charge of the 91st Division deployed along the border with Lebanon, noted: “The worst case is war, and we have to be prepared for the worst case.”

The Jerusalem Post added that if war were to break out with Syria, it would be many times worse for Israel than its confrontation with Hezbollah in 2006. While all of that was coming out of Israel, raising red alerts, there were also contradicting gestures by Israeli officials.

One came from deputy chief of staff of the IDF, Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky, who said: “I hear the voice, but to the best of our assessment, which is also my personal assessment, we do not expect a war this summer from Syria.” Israel’s mobilization on the Syrian border was in response to Syrian troop movements, he added, calling it a “defensive” measure.

United Press International, however, quoted “well-informed sources in Washington” saying that a “confrontation between Syria and Israel may happen this summer”. This was echoed by Dennis Ross, a Middle East envoy of the era of US president Bill Clinton, who was quoted in the online version of Yediot Aharonot as saying there was a serious “risk” of war between both countries, adding, “The Syrians are positioning themselves for war.”

At this stage, all options are on the table, although a political decision for war has not been reached by either country because war would be devastating to the already troubled Middle East.

Israel and the US cannot ignore the fiasco in Iraq. They are unable to predict what the Iranian response would be to an Israeli war with Syria, or how Hezbollah and Hamas would react. The rational center in the US would certainly not allow it – given their stance on troubled Iraq.

Finally, the Israelis are thinking twice about what it means to go to war with Syria. Although sometimes warfare with traditional bulky armies can be easier than with guerrilla groups like Hezbollah, the Syrian army is not an easy one to tackle. It has strong defenses, and a well-built missile system – not just Katyusha rockets – that could cause real pain within Israel.

Officials within the Israeli system say Syria will regret its actions if it goes to war against Israel. The Syrians are saying it is Israel that will suffer from war with Damascus. They seem confident that the myth of the IDF’s superiority was shattered by its poor performance against Hezbollah in 2006.

Although they may not win a war with Israel, the Syrians could certainly make Israel suffer. One thing is certain from all the talk coming out of Damascus: the Syrians do not want war.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd)

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The attacks exposed grave weaknesses in our nation’s defenses, our national institutions and ultimately our national character.

The attacks exposed grave weaknesses in our nation’s defenses, our national institutions and ultimately our national character.

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Sept. 11, 2007 | He has incessantly linked the words “al-Qaida” and “Iraq,” a Pavlovian device to make us whimper with fear at the mere idea of withdrawing. In a recent speech about Iraq, he mentioned al-Qaida 95 times. No matter that jihadists in Iraq are not the same group that attacked the U.S., or that their numbers and effectiveness have been greatly exaggerated. It’s no surprise that Gen. David Petraeus’ “anxiously awaited” evaluation of the war is to be given on the 10th and 11th of September. The not-so-subliminal message: We must do what Bush and Petraeus say or risk another 9/11.

Petraeus’ evaluation can only be “anxiously awaited” by people who are still anxiously waiting for Godot. We know what will happen next because we’ve been watching this movie for eight months. Gen. Petraeus, Bush’s mighty-me, will insist that we’re making guarded progress. Bush, whose keen grasp of military reality is reflected in his recent boast that “we’re kicking ass” in Iraq, will promise that he will reassess the situation in April. The Democrats will flail their puny arms, the zombie Republicans will keep following orders, and the troops will stay.

So let’s forget the absurd debate about “progress” and whether a bullet in the front of the head is better than one in the back, and how much we can trust our new friends from Saddam’s Fedayeen. On the anniversary of 9/11, we need to ask more basic questions — not just about why we can’t bring ourselves to pull out of Iraq, but why we invaded it in the first place. Those questions lead directly to 9/11, and the ideas and assumptions behind our response to it.

The real reason that Congress cannot bring itself to end the war in Iraq, and incredibly, may be prepared to start another one in Iran, has little to do with benchmarks or body counts. The real reason is that even after the Iraq debacle, the American establishment — meaning the government and the mainstream media — has not questioned the emotions and ideology that drove Bush’s crusade.

Sept. 11 is a totemic date for the Bush administration. It justifies everything, explains everything, ends all argument. It is the crime that must be eternally punished, the wound that can never heal, the moral high ground that can never be taken. Bush’s reaction to 9/11 was to declare a “war on terror,” of which the Iraq adventure was said to be the “front line.” The American establishment signed off on this war because of 9/11. To oppose Bush’s “war on terror” was to risk another terror attack and dishonor our dead. The establishment has now turned against the Iraq front, but it has not questioned the “war on terror” itself, or the assumptions on which it is based.

Bush’s, and America’s, response to 9/11 was fundamentally flawed for two reasons: It was atavistic and instinctive, and it was based on a distorted, ignorant and bigoted view of the Arab/Muslim world. These two founding errors are qualitatively different: The first involves emotions, the second ideas. But mixed together, they created a lethal cocktail. The grand justification of “spreading democracy in the Middle East” merely provided a palatable cover for vengeance and racism.

Bush’s America responded to 9/11 by lashing out. We chose vigilantism over justice, instinct over reason. Bush demanded that America play the role of the angry, righteous avenger, and America followed him. But we were not taking vengeance on the guy who attacked us but on somebody standing on the corner. The war was like the massacre in Haditha on a global scale.

There’s a reason why Americans responded to Bush’s demand and why Democrats have been afraid to challenge it. It’s biological hard-wiring — after you’re hit, your instinct is to hit back. For conservatives, this instinct is not only natural but necessary. Hence the endless right-wing denunciations of war critics as wimps, girly-men and appeasers.

Gender images play a significant role. The right wing embraces a cartoonlike image of masculinity because it believes that only an alpha male can protect America from its enemies. (In a recent essay in the New York Times, Susan Faludi argued that such retrograde gender images have been used to construct the American self-image from the earliest days of our presence on this continent.) This is part of the reason that Bush has put forward Gen. Petraeus as the cheerleader for the war. Petraeus is the ultimate alpha male, right down to his rigorous workout routine. In the Hobbesian world of the conservative imagination, the big club rules, and he who puts down the club will be brained by another unfettered troglodyte, be it a communist or an “Islamofascist.” Nature is red in tooth and claw, and those who dream of transcending nature or transforming it will be destroyed by it.

The fetishization of the “natural,” of which instinct is only a part, is key to conservative thought. In the early ’60s, conservatives like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan defended the right of individuals and states to practice segregation because that decision was instinctual and organic. They saw the federal government’s attempt to outlaw segregation as artificial and coercive.

Of course, instincts play a vital role in human life: They underlie virtually all of our thoughts and actions. To ignore them is to fall into a deracinated world of sterile rationality. Lashing out is sometimes an effective way to defend yourself. But instinct is atavistic and often self-defeating. Higher-level mental functions came into existence to control and refine it. Both individuals and states have learned that they should not base their reactions merely on animal instincts. That’s why law arose: to prevent every injury from turning into a destructive and endless feud. Retribution is a legitimate motive for punishment but only to a point. It is limited by the higher concept of justice. Justice not only prescribes the extent of the retribution that is morally acceptable, but insists that the context of the crime, including the criminal’s history and state of mind, must be considered before meting out punishment.

Democrats have effectively challenged the reign of nature and instinct in the domestic realm. But they cower when it comes to war. They are afraid to criticize the irrational, instinctive nature of Bush’s “war on terror” because they believe their political Achilles’ heel is the perception that they are “weak on national security.” They are afraid they’ll be seen as wimps. Beaten down by Republican propaganda that asserts that America’s only choice is between the GOP’s macho John Wayne and the Democrats’ dithering Hamlet, they pathetically don their cowboy hats and tank helmets, a tactic that actually reinforces the very image of weakness it is intended to dispel. Unchallenged by the Democrats, the right wing’s master narrative about American power and the need to carry a big stick has carried the day.

Of course America was enraged and fearful after the attacks. But reacting to the attacks as we did, like an angry drunk in a bar, was not in our national interests. It was vital that we think clearly about our response, who attacked us, why they did, and what our most effective response would be. But here the American establishment ran up against its ideological blind spot — its received ideas about the Arab/Muslim world. Combined with the hysterical emotionalism, those ideas, which amount to a kind of de facto bigotry, allowed Bush to push through one of the most bizarrely gratuitous wars in history.

We attacked Iraq because of 9/11. That is the scandalous and surreal claim that reveals our fatal emotional-ideological flaw. Anyone who knew anything about the Middle East knew that Saddam Hussein, a secular tyrant, had nothing to with 9/11 or al-Qaida. War defenders like to claim they were “misled by bad intelligence” into thinking Saddam had WMD. But there was no new evidence that Saddam posed a threat. He was the same old Saddam. He only became frightening in light of our prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Moreover, despite the appalling effectiveness of the 9/11 attacks, it was clear that al-Qaida posed no existential threat to either America or to the Middle East. As the invaluable analyst Juan Cole has pointed out, apocalyptic Salafi jihadists like al-Qaida were an isolated and weak force within the Arab-Muslim world — or at least they were until Bush invaded Iraq.

The angry bigotry that drove the war rings out loud and clear in the right-wing battle cry: “They attacked us, so we had to attack them.” The recent TV ads run by war supporters repeat this theme: “They attacked us,” a narrator says as an image of the burning World Trade Center appears. “They won’t stop in Iraq.” The key word here, of course, is “they.” Just who is “they”? For Bush’s die-hard supporters, “they” simply means “Arabs and Muslims.” Cretinous rabble-rousers like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage play to this crowd, demanding that we nuke the evil ragheads. For the establishment, “they” is not quite so explicitly racist. “They” refers not to all Arabs and Muslims, but only to the “bad” ones. The “bad” guys include al-Qaida, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the militant Palestinians. And, of course, it used to include Iraq (and may again). Anyone who makes this list is eligible for attack by the U.S.

What makes these wildly disparate entities so evil and so threatening that we’re prepared to attack them without cause? Simply that they reject the U.S.-Israeli writ in the Middle East — and that they’re Arabs or Muslims. They are clearly not on our side, but they pose no significant military or economic threat to the U.S. In realpolitik terms, they are no more beyond the pale than many other dubious countries we do business with, from Venezuela to Nigeria to Russia to Saudi Arabia. No one would dream of suggesting that if Cuba attacked the U.S., we should respond by invading Venezuela. But we play by different rules in the Middle East.

America’s anti-Arab, anti-Muslim prejudice has several causes. One of them derives from America’s powerful identification with the one state that has always been at war with the Arab-Muslim world: Israel. For the establishment, it is axiomatic that America’s and Israel’s interests are identical, and that enemies of Israel must be enemies of the U.S. America has always identified more with Israel, the plucky underdog and home to Holocaust survivors, than with the Arabs and Muslims who threaten it. Since this view is held by right and left, Democrat and Republican alike, and criticizing it leads to accusations of anti-Semitism, it is difficult to challenge it. This is the reason why there has been almost no discussion in Congress over Bush’s saber-rattling with Iran: Iran is Israel’s most dangerous enemy, and that fact trumps all other considerations.

America’s Israel-centric stance has helped determine the way we see the Arab-Muslim world, but it isn’t the only factor. The rise of radical Islam, with its cult of martyrdom and terrifying terrorist attacks, exacerbated America’s existing prejudices, flattening out the Arab-Muslim world into a monolithic entity. Our almost complete ignorance of Arabs and Islam, their history and the actual grievances that they have against the West, contributed to this flattening. Oil plays a role. But perhaps the most potent explanation of all is simply the fear of the Other: Islam is not in our cultural tradition, it stands apart, it’s mysterious and ominous, and it is all too easy to project our fears on it.

One sure sign of cultural bias is the presence of high-flown concepts. Mission civilatrice, the White Man’s burden, is inevitably accompanied by lofty rhetoric. Iraq was all about Grand Theory.

One of the neocons’ main goals in invading Iraq was to “remake the Middle East” — a weirdly grandiose, imperialist concept of the sort that doesn’t apply anywhere except with Muslims. Only in the Middle East do lofty historical generalizations about why a world culture went wrong — like those of the right-wing Arabist and White House favorite Bernard Lewis — provide the intellectual underpinnings for unprovoked wars. Yes, the Arab-Muslim world has some serious problems, and yes, only a politically correct pedant would forbid all cultural generalizations. But when you go to war on the basis of those generalizations, you cross the line into colonialist prejudice.

The most lofty, abstract generalization of all is the insistence that this is a war of good vs. evil. “They” attacked us not because they had grievances or for any reasons that exist in the sublunary realm: They attacked simply because they were evil. Saddam would do the same because he, too, like Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, was evil. The “war on terror” is a crusade, a Holy War, whose essentially theological nature was summed up by the title of Richard Perle and David Frum’s book, “An End to Evil.” And once you’re dealing with “evil,” niggling distinctions — between Sunni and Shiite, or secular and religious, or whether the country you want to invade had anything to do with attacking you — can be dispensed with.

The failure of the American establishment to question such ideas, and its willingness to sign off on a war based on them, amounts to a kind of de facto bigotry: Kill one Arab, send a message to the rest of ’em. Attacking Iraq because of 9/11 made about as much sense as attacking Mozambique after the Watts riots. If we had done something that insane, we would be accused of being racists. We wouldn’t be able to shake the accusation, no matter how much gobbledygook apologists came up with about bursting a “terrorism bubble” or the “pathologies of black culture.” But when America did something equally insane and attacked Iraq in response to 9/11, no one accused it of racism. Instead, we got a lot of sophistry about “Islamofascism” and other Aquinas-like attempts to make 99 virgins dance on the head of a Baathist.

Sept. 11 was a hinge in history, a fork in the road. It presented us with a choice. We could find out who attacked us, surgically defeat them, address the underlying problems in the Middle East, and make use of the outpouring of global sympathy to pull the rest of the world closer to us. Or we could lash out blindly and self-righteously, insist that the only problems in the Middle East were created by “extremists,” demonize an entire culture and make millions of new enemies.

Like a vibration that causes a bridge to collapse, the 9/11 attacks exposed grave weaknesses in our nation’s defenses, our national institutions and ultimately our national character. Many more Americans have now died in a needless war in Iraq than were killed in the terror attacks, and tens of thousands more grievously wounded. Billions of dollars have been wasted. America’s moral authority, more precious than gold, has been tarnished by torture and lies and the erosion of our liberties. The world despises us to an unprecedented degree. An entire country has been wrecked. The Middle East is ready to explode. And the threat of terrorism, which the war was intended to remove, is much greater than it was.

All of this flowed from our response to 9/11. And so, six years later, we need to do more than mourn the dead. We need to acknowledge the blindness and bigotry that drove our response. Until we do, not only will the stalemate over Iraq persist, but our entire Middle Eastern policy will continue down the road to ruin.

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US President George W Bush has said he will not leave office (in January 2009) with Iran retaining the capability to develop nuclear weapons. Unless Iran agrees to give up all hope of a nuclear-weapons program, as Libya and North Korea have done, a US military strike against Iran will probably occur at some point between now and the US presidential elections in November 2008. A short, victorious war with Iran, leaving its nuclear facilities in ruins, will, it is hoped, assure the Republican candidate of victory in that election.


Publication time: 12 September 2007, 20:46

For several years tensions between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program have waxed and waned. War between the two sides has been confidently predicted, with even the date of the US attack given by Internet pundits. Nothing happened. With so many past false alarms it is hard to take seriously the renewed rumors of war between the two sides. However, this time things may be different.

US President George W Bush has said he will not leave office (in January 2009) with Iran retaining the capability to develop nuclear weapons. Unless Iran agrees to give up all hope of a nuclear-weapons program, as Libya and North Korea have done, a US military strike against Iran will probably occur at some point between now and the US presidential elections in November 2008. A short, victorious war with Iran, leaving its nuclear facilities in ruins, will, it is hoped, assure the Republican candidate of victory in that election.

With a time frame of only a little over a year, the Bush administration is anxious to arrange a showdown with Iran as soon as possible. The United Nations route, with sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council, is proving too slow and uncertain. The International Atomic Energy Authority’s attempt to broker a deal with Iran over its nuclear plans will undoubtedly be disregarded by the Americans in the same way every plan to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was ignored in the run-up to the attack on Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Even those Americans actively seeking to provoke a war with Iran have had little success in finding or provoking a suitable incident that can be presented to the American people as a good reason to launch an attack on Iran. Despite the seizure of Iranian personnel in Iraq, at Irbil in January and more recently in Baghdad, the Iranians have refrained from any reckless response, although only their people seized in Baghdad have been returned. The capture of British sailors in March by Iranian Revolutionary Guards might have been a suitable flash point. However, Tehran soon released the sailors after squeezing every propaganda advantage from their capture, and Britain specifically asked the United States not to exacerbate the situation.

Since the beginning of the year there have been constant US claims of Iranian interference in Iraq and of the Iranians supplying arms to militias and insurgents in that country. However, no clear link has ever been established between the Iranians and any particular attack on US forces. Even if the United States chose to respond to these alleged Iranian hostile acts with “hot pursuit” Special Forces raids into Iran or the bombing of alleged “terrorist” training camps in that country, this would not precipitate the sort of crisis needed to justify a wholesale assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities and its armed forces in the near future.

Any idea that a US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be merely a scaled-up surgical strike like Israel’s bombing of Saddam’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 must be put aside. The attack on Iran would encompass not only its nuclear sites, but all its air defenses and all its means of military retaliation, in fact all sections of its armed forces, as well as government command and control facilities. It has been suggested that this would be accomplished by the destruction of 1,200 Iranian targets in three days of massive aerial assaults, the sort of “shock and awe” attacks that were promised in Iraq in 2003 but had less impact than expected.

With time running out and convincing pretexts for war hard to find, the Bush administration may well decide to launch an attack on Iran anyway. Iran is already diplomatically isolated, but if the United States undertakes unprovoked aggression against a sovereign state, it may well find itself equally isolated. No doubt the British would find a few planes and warships to provide a token force to show solidarity with their US ally, but wider support would be hard to find. Since one of the declared aims of any attack on Iran is, in the words of Bush, “to prevent a second Holocaust”, some Israeli participation is likely. A few Israeli planes might join the US aerial assault on Iran, but Israel’s most likely role would be to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon, and perhaps the Syrians, should they decide to support the Iranians.

In the US scenario, when the dust settles after the aerial onslaught, the chastened ayatollahs will crawl out of the ruins and give in to all of Bush’s demands. But what if they do not? US plans for the attack on Iran rule out a land war because the United States lacks sufficient troops, but why should the victim tailor his response to suit the aggressor’s preconceptions? The vital question in the unfolding US-Iran crisis is not whether the Americans plan to attack Iran, since they are clearly prepared to do so, but whether the Iranians, after enduring the initial onslaught, have the will and resources to fight back.

With Iran’s regular armed forces largely destroyed, the Iranian government would have to fall back on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to organize further resistance and retaliation. According to its new commander, the IRGC is ready and able to undertake extensive operations in asymmetrical warfare with a superior military opponent. Mining and suicide attacks by boats and planes might well disrupt tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, leading to a rapid increase in world oil prices. No doubt the United States would organize tanker convoys with full air and sea protection, but the mosquito forces of the IRGC might still pierce such defenses. If the Iranians could carry out a sustained campaign against shipping in the Persian Gulf, the US might well be forced to start occupying Iranian ports to deny bases to the attackers. Once troops were ashore, they would soon be drawn into battles with guerrillas in the Iranian hinterland.

While not all Iraqi Shi’ites are as pro-Iranian as some reports suggest, there can be little doubt that many in Iraq’s majority population would fight in support of their neighbors and co-religionists. The war against the US in Iraq would be intensified, and no doubt Iranian forces would openly enter Iraq to support that struggle as well as supplying resisters with more advanced weaponry such as shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.

Indeed, given the present power vacuum in southern Iraq, the Iranians might even manage to occupy important cities such as Basra. If a major land war developed in Iraq, the United States would be compelled to expand its army there considerably. This could only be done in the short run by stripping the US and overseas garrisons such as South Korea and Okinawa of all combat troops. In the longer term, the US government might have to consider reintroducing conscription to sustain troop numbers, whatever the domestic political consequences.

As in Iraq in 2003, the US plan for a military attack on Iran presupposes that once the enemy has suffered a massive initial blow he will accept the inevitable and surrender. In Iraq, the conventional armed forces were easily broken, but the unconventional war with local insurgents and militias is still raging more than four years later. Similarly, the Iranian armed forces might be severely damaged by America’s aerial assault, but the IRGC and other less conventional forces might continue the struggle in Iraq, in Iran’s borderlands, and in the waters of the Persian Gulf for years to come. Fears of the “Shi’ite crescent” will have given birth to an arc of war stretching from Palestine to Pakistan.

Source: Asia Times Online

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Revelations from "Dead Certain," Robert Draper’s new biography of President George W. Bush, have received marquee play since the book’s publication on Sept. 4. The disclosures have ranged from the petty — Bush, a stickler for punctuality, once locked a late Colin Powell out of a meeting — to the momentous. Among the more uncomfortable for the White House: Bush’s claim that Paul Bremer, head of Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority, made the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army without Bush’s knowledge, an assertion rapidly rebutted by Bremer.


Biographer Robert Draper explains that Bush has a surprising intellect but is incapable of curiosity and owning up to mistakes.

Sept. 11, 2007 | Revelations from “Dead Certain,” Robert Draper’s new biography of President George W. Bush, have received marquee play since the book’s publication on Sept. 4. The disclosures have ranged from the petty — Bush, a stickler for punctuality, once locked a late Colin Powell out of a meeting — to the momentous. Among the more uncomfortable for the White House: Bush’s claim that Paul Bremer, head of Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority, made the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army without Bush’s knowledge, an assertion rapidly rebutted by Bremer.

What Draper, a writer for GQ, really does with great skill in “Dead Certain,” however, is debunk caricatures of George Bush, both positive and negative. Draper, who first spoke to Bush for GQ in 1998, did six additional interviews with Bush for the book and had access to the president’s inner circle. In place of the dimwitted boogeyman of the left and the resolute hero of the right, Draper introduces a three-dimensional man full of contradictions. His George Bush is charming, petulant, open and insecure, smart but allergic to inconvenient facts.

On Friday, Salon spoke with Draper about “Dead Certain,” his many encounters with George Bush, whether he likes the president personally, and how some former White House staffers have responded to the book’s ambiguous, often unflattering portrait.

Newsweek headlined its article about your book “A Biographer Off Message” and called you “Bush’s wayward biographer.” How do you feel about that characterization, or the sense that you somehow got access to the Bush White House and then burned your sources, including the president?

It’s a little bit silly, because it presupposes that I had some kind of handshake deal with the White House and have broken that. I did have a deal with the White House, and that is that I would write a fair-minded, nonjudgmental literary narrative of Bush’s presidency, and I think I’ve delivered that. I do think that the writer of that piece, Richard Wolffe, whom I know and admire, is right that the book has thrown the White House off message when Bush is trying to turn the page on a lot of things. That’s not my book’s intention. Its intention is to be a lasting book, and I told the president that when I was making my pitch to him — a book that was not just for and about the news cycle. But I have to say that I am grateful that it’s in the news cycle, and I’m glad that people are interested in it and talking about it, and that has the consequence of reporters asking the White House questions about it, too. That sort of comes with the territory.
In the book you write that Bush asked you, “What is the purpose of this book?” And you don’t record how you answered. What did you tell him was the purpose of the book?

I’d already given him the reply, and the reply is, “to write a first draft of the history of Bush administration — and to answer the question that someone might pose 50 years from now.” That question wouldn’t be, What does Robert Draper think about George W. Bush? It is, How did an un-ambitious Midland [Texas] oilman change the world, for better or for worse? That’s precisely the question that I told the president in August 2006, when I had this meeting with him, that I intended to answer. I thought that people would want to know. Who was this man who, before he became this pivotal character on an international landscape, was a virtually anonymous figure whom no one viewed as having leadership capabilities? How did he become a leader, and what did he do with it?

How did you get under the cone of silence of this very secretive administration? And how did you get the president to agree to talk to you?

While I was doing it, it didn’t seem terribly difficult. But it was, from time to time. But what would happen would be — it was Journalism 301 — I would interview one guy and it would go well. And he’d say, yeah, sure, you can come back. And I’d say, by the way, you mentioned so-and-so in the interview. Do you know how to get in touch with him? And then I’d drop the name of the person I [then] interviewed. And so I moved closer and closer inside the circle.

And in the multiple interviews they became more and more candid even as they were also giving up other names of people for me to talk to. In the course of this too, they all began to talk among themselves about what I was up to, and I think that came back to the president. It helped that [Bush media strategist] Mark McKinnon had put in a good word for me to a handful of people. And he’s a bike-riding companion of the president, and on a number of occasions mentioned to the president that I was doing a stand-up job and hoped that the president would speak to me.

I have to say: People have been trying to demystify how I got this access. Being a Texan I’m sure helped, but there’s a lot of Texas reporters. Being Mark McKinnon’s friend helped, but he has a lot of buds in the media. I don’t have any particular gifts as a reporter. I don’t have an interviewing technique that spellbinds people. Which is a long-winded way of saying I really don’t know how. I just kind of plodded along. I think it meant a lot to this president — it’s the sort of thing that does mean a lot to him — that I never asked it to be handed to me on a silver platter. I went about my business with the supposition he wasn’t going to talk to me.

It helps to exhibit a true interest in the topic and the people you’re talking to. I really was interested in [Office of Management and Budget Director and later White House Chief of Staff] Josh Bolten’s relationship with the president, and Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagen’s take on things. I did find all of this stuff interesting; there was no artifice to that. And I am the kind of person whose interest can be palpable. So perhaps I pleased a lot of these people.

And I’ll add one final thing: These guys are tight-lipped and they don’t do much talking. But people like to talk. They like to talk about what they are doing. So maybe that was some of it: Once I got in a little bit, all these people were sort of relieved to have the opportunity to share their insights and recollections.

Your book has gotten a lot of attention for revelations like Bush’s claim that he didn’t know Paul Bremer was going to disband the Iraqi army. Is there anything in the book that you feel is very important that hasn’t yet been spotlighted in the media?

I think there’s a lot of it. Speaking generally, I think that the Katrina chapter is interesting, and that the president the day before landfall went on this bike ride and was pretty worn out by it. And then they had this SVTC [secure video teleconference] in which he was pretty nonresponsive. In the wake of Katrina, he sort of pushed back on his aides who said he should take more responsibility. And saying, People not getting bottles of water, do they expect me to be the one doing that? There was sort of this petulance.

To me, one point that hasn’t been discussed much that I think is central to the president’s flaws is that his optimism — which I think is basic to him and is genuine — is offset by an unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes made. That is a point that has been made in the past. But I think what the book shows pretty vividly in the cases of Katrina and Iraq is the president has to be led very grudgingly to statements acknowledging mistakes made and accepting responsibility. And that [counselor to the president] Dan Bartlett and Josh Bolten and others had to plan very elaborately how the president would do this.

As I describe it in the book, it was the slow ratcheting down of triumphalism and the slow ratcheting up of humility … A lot of Americans and people all over the world are taught to just say, “I’m sorry I screwed up. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I will try to do better.” For all of the other aspects of this president that I think are very emotionally honest that I witnessed, that was one aspect that is not — his difficulty to own up to his mistakes. I think in a way he’s like a baseball umpire who feels like if you call a ball a strike, you’ve got to stick to that. Otherwise people will question you. They will think that your equivocation is a sign of a lack of certainty.

Does Bush have clarity of purpose, or is he just stubborn?

I think he veers toward the one and toward the other, and at times is both. I think that the president’s chief attribute is his clarity — they say people know where he stands. His certitude can come off as steadfastness, as on Sept. 20, 2001, with his great speech. And can — as in his speeches at the end of 2005, where he said, not only can we win in Iraq, but we are winning, when evidence pointed to the contrary — come across as having a stubborn refusal to acknowledge realities. It is the lot of this presidency that they’ve chosen — and when I say “they,” I mean that the president is not the only one who buys in to that notion — to believe that if you make a call, you stick with it. There are always two camps in this White House. One that believed the way the president did. And it consisted of the president and Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. And then the other camp that believed that it was important to own up to mistakes, and that was largely people in the communications shop as well as the chiefs of staff.

Your book reveals a great deal of disagreement within the administration. What effect do you think that internal conflict has had on this presidency?

I think conflict is inevitable in all White Houses and to some degree is healthy. And disagreement is healthy. I think that historians will be exploring less the conflict in the administration and whether the people in the West Wing disagreed with each other [than] whether the president was willing to surround himself with people who disagreed with him. I think that’s a matter that historians will spend a lot of time on.

I do think that the White House was paralyzed by dysfunctionality [early in 2006], exemplified by the quote I have of [counselor to the president] Ed Gillespie during the [Samuel] Alito hearings telling a Republican, “I feel like a shuttle diplomat going from office to office. No one’s talking to each other over here, and I’m literally having to go from one to the next conveying messages from people whose offices are 20 feet away from each other.”

In addition, the notorious division between State and Defense was exacerbated by the internecine warfare between Rumsfeld and Powell … Obviously this has notable consequences. The lack of collegiality between Powell and Rumsfeld meant that, among other things, when Deputy Secretary of State Armitage went to Iraq after the toppling of the [Saddam Hussein] statue and began to see clear evidence that we didn’t have enough troops there and that the power vacuum was being filled by insurgents, he went and told this to Powell. And Powell said, “It’s not our place to tell Rumsfeld. If his people aren’t telling him, then it’s just too bad, let’s stay out of it.” It might have made a difference if Powell had said that to Rumsfeld. Then again, maybe not, because Rumsfeld wouldn’t have listened. But that cold war between them did have consequences.

In the book you portray Bush as a voracious reader of history. Does he draw on the lessons of history — as Santayana put it, that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it?

I think that part of the problem is that it is in the eye of the beholder. What are the lessons of history? The president can make a convincing case that right now [in] Iraq the fundamental question that must be asked is, What are the consequences of failure and of desertion? Since he has been preoccupied by this question he has been handed books by Rove and by Henry Kissinger on the Algerian revolution and the Khmer Rouge. If you read those history texts, you can conclude that people will be slaughtered.

Of course you can also ask the question, So what was the solution? Should the French still be in Algeria? Bush has long said on the matter of Vietnam that the lesson to be learned is that it was a politicians’ war and waged by politicians rather than generals, and that the generals were hamstrung, and that was why we lost Vietnam. That’s the lesson he learned from Vietnam. And one can certainly make the argument that that was not the lesson to be learned, and that even if it was, that it was misapplied to Iraq. And that his deferential nature toward Rumsfeld had very injurious consequences.

You said in an interview on NPR that you didn’t believe Bush when he insisted to you that it was Rumsfeld who decided on the timing of his resignation as secretary of defense. Are there other things he said that you didn’t believe?

Yeah. On the matter of that meeting in April of 2006 in the residence of the White House, where there was a show of hands about whether or not Rumsfeld should go, the president told me he just didn’t remember the meeting. I don’t think he was lying to me, per se. But I do think he has this way of being dismissive about things. And in dismissing, he will say, “I don’t remember that.”

My sessions with the president were interesting because he would sometimes start lapsing into his talking points and go into a train of thought that I’d heard before. And he’d stop himself and say, “But you already knew that.” He seemed pretty determined to make these sessions productive from the very beginning. He became more expansive and looser as the sessions went on. But from the outset, I really appreciated the fact that Bush didn’t want to waste his time any more than mine by just speaking pabulum and not telling the truth.

I think that he was toeing a company line with the Rumsfeld matter. And after he gave it to me, I had dinner with Dan Bartlett, told Bartlett that I didn’t believe it and didn’t intend to publish it. And Bartlett said to me, “Message received.” And that led to my next interview with the president where he was a little more forthcoming.

Bush emerged as a more human figure for me after reading this book.

I saw that George Bush in 1998. And I remember describing it to people back then, and they didn’t really believe me. And even those who believed [me] in 1998 came to believe otherwise in 2001, when he started passing tax cuts and had already selected Cheney as his running mate and in all other ways was acting like a fairly retro conservative rather than a compassionate conservative. I think that his adversaries have caricatured Bush at their peril, not at his. Bush has made a living off of being, as he puts it, “misunderestimated.” And it ill serves his opponents not to concede his strong points. Not for nothing is this guy president of the United States.

And it’s amazing to me that people refuse to acknowledge that he has any gifts at all. But those who are in a room can feel it. And among them is that Bush has a very pungent personality. He has these scruffy charms about him. He doesn’t really put on airs. The guy you see is the guy he is, pretty much. Sure, he has a variety of shortcomings, and they’ve hamstrung his presidency in a variety of ways. But one thing that became meaningful to me in doing that book is that I interviewed people who have been working for Bush over the years — they love this guy. I don’t just mean that they admire him. I don’t just mean they are in awe of him. I mean they really love him and would take a bullet for him. I’ve spent a lot of time now with a lot of elected officials and the people who work for them, and you can’t always say that about them.

But beyond the fact that Bush is charming and there’s this incredible loyalty that is cultivated between him and his subordinates, he has a surprising intellect. A guy who reads Cormac McCarthy isn’t a dummy. And a guy who can listen to an economist talk about a tax scheme and just eviscerate the guy because he doesn’t seem to really understand what he is talking about and there’s a loose thread in his argument cannot be intellectually lazy. I think that what’s difficult to reconcile is this man’s brightness with his capacity for incuriosity. I think where the rubber meets the road there is that Bush, for all of his talk about him being so comfortable in his own skin, possesses insecurities like the rest of us. And Bush, due to his insecurities, really doesn’t like to be challenged.

It says a lot that this man, at the age of 61, stills feels the need to differentiate himself from his father, and there are examples of that throughout the book. And that this man, at the age of 61, having received the best education that money can buy from Yale and Harvard, still feels the need to run down the elite Ivy Leaguers. That this man, after being a very successful governor, felt like he had to select as his No. 2 guy a man who had no interest in the No. 1 spot. Clinton, for all his shortcomings, was not in any way threatened by having as his vice president a guy with clear designs on the presidency. He still found he could get a lot out of Al Gore and trust Al Gore while dealing with Gore’s ambitions. Bush couldn’t do that.

This is a guy who really possesses a lot of insecurities, and I think that’s why he evinces this sort of incuriosity. There are only certain kinds of challenges that he can deal with. What is admirable about Bush is also part of his insecurity. I think because his insecurity drives him to want to be relevant and want to do big things, he’s willing to throw the ball long. And I think that because of that, history is not going to judge this man with indifference. They are not going to judge him as Franklin Pierce. He is either going to go down in history as a disastrous flop or a really monumental president.

Do you like him?

Yeah, I like him a lot. I think he’s a real likable kind of fellow. I think he’s full of surprises. The short answer is that I do like him.

How do you think he will feel about your book?

I think he will be disappointed, not because I betrayed him, per se, but because the president has his own point of view about what’s important and what isn’t, and I have little doubt he will disagree with what I found to be the story worth telling. For all of my insistence that I wasn’t going to impose my own belief system, whatever it might be, on his narrative, journalism is a series of judgment calls. Fundamental to them [is] not only, who do you believe? but, what’s the story to tell? I think that my emphasis on certain things and de-emphasis on others will be very much at variance with his own [view].

I don’t have any idea if he started to read [my book] or intends to read it. He made a point of telling me that he hasn’t read any of the other books that have been written about him. I suspect that when the dust settles, some of those around him will say: You know, Mr. President, it really is a pretty fair and for the most part accurate rendering of who you are. And that may lead him to it.

I think that what may disappoint him … is the overall content. And that has now proved disruptive to his presidency. And I can understand and appreciate that. But as he knew all along, the book was going to be published in September of 2007. I made no secret of that. And in fact, on many occasions the president would ask me, “Now when is this book going to be published again?” before he would answer a particular question, so he was cognizant of it.

Have you heard from anybody in the Bush administration since the book has been published?

Not in the administration. I have heard from people who have left the administration in the last year — three or four or five of them — and they’ve been effusive. They all pretty much said: You nailed it. So that’s been gratifying. But inside the White House I haven’t. I expect to see some of them in the next week or two, and I’ll be curious to see what they have to say.

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Former US president Jimmy Carter joined the ranks of movie stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney at the world premiere of "Man from Plains," the biopic about his life, which premiered Monday at the Toronto film festival.

First Published 2007-09-11, Last Updated 2007-09-11 11:58:11

Carter: ‘America has let the Palestinians down’

Under Hollywood spotlight, Carter slams Bush’s Mideast policy

Former US president says current administration should encourage peace, not war.

By Michel Comte – TORONTO

Former US president Jimmy Carter joined the ranks of movie stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney at the world premiere of “Man from Plains,” the biopic about his life, which premiered Monday at the Toronto film festival.

The documentary by Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”) follows Carter on a promotional tour eight months ago for his controversial book “Palestine Peace, not Apartheid.”

It also touches on his life since his one-term presidency (1977-1981).

While thousands of Clooney and Pitt fans crushed barricades around their hotel, a smaller, but duly awestruck group gathered outside a local cinema hoping for the 39th US president and Nobel peace prize winner’s autograph.

Taking part in the film festival’s first geo-political talk, taped for television, Carter called for Washington to hold “direct talks” with Iran, laid out his vision for Mideast peace and lamented the “unwarranted and unprecedented” religious fundamentalism that has crept into US politics.

In a stinging attack on US President George W. Bush and his Christian supporters, he said: “I worship Christ who was the prince of peace, not pre-emptive war.”

“A superpower like the United States should use all of its resources … to promote peace,” he said.

Talking about his book, Carter said: “I hope it will precipitate attempting to find peace in the Holy Land.”

“It’s one of the most important political issues in the world, because a lot of the animosity (in the world) is centered around what’s happening to bring peace or not bring peace in (Israel-Palestine).”

“There hasn’t been one single day of peace talks in the last seven years,” he complained.

“I became very frustrated to see the stagnation there and the animosity building up around the world against my own nation just because we had not tried to bring peace to Israel and its (surrounding) states,” he said, explaining his inspiration for the book.

Carter noted that he and his wife Rosalynn had visited the Palestinian territories on three occasions in recent years.

“I was amazed and almost nauseated to see the encroachment by Israel on Palestinian land and the persecution of the Palestinians,” he said, citing 205 fortified Jewish settlements in “choice places” in the West Bank.

Rosalynn commented that the wall built by Israel to separate the two sides, but condemned internationally, was “shocking.”

“I would like to see good faith talks begin between the Israelis and Palestinians to bring peace and justice (for both),” said Carter, who spearheaded the first Mideast peace talks at Camp David in 1978.

From September 5 to 17, 1978, Egyptian president Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel, met with Carter at Camp David and agreed on a framework for peace in the Middle East.

They invited other parties to the Arab-Israel conflict to adhere to it. But peace remains elusive.

Why has that early success never been repeated?

“In the first place, Washington (lately) hasn’t tried,” said Carter. “And the entire world now feels that America has let the Palestinians down.”

Former US President Bill Clinton tried in the dying days of his presidency in 2000, but failed to secure a peace pact. Most blamed Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat for holding out for a better deal.

President Bush has planned talks in November, but 42 percent of Palestinians who support Hamas will not be represented, Carter said.

Still, “I think there’s a good prospect of finding peace in the future,” he said optimistically.

The key to breaking the deadlock is “swapping land for peace,” based on the 2003 Geneva Accord, he said.

[‘Palestine: Peace not Apartheid’ can be ordered at]

Middle East Online 


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"On a less encouraging note, none of us earlier this year appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq, something about which we and Iraq’s leaders all now have greater concern. . . . It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of this Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into [a] Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq."


“On a less encouraging note, none of us earlier this year appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq, something about which we and Iraq’s leaders all now have greater concern. . . . It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of this Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into [a] Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.”

Gen. David H. Petraeus

* * *

The White House did not anticipate Iran as a rival in Iraq. Indeed, the ouster of Saddam Hussein was initially seen as a potential spur for change in Iran, too. Today, however, even critics of U.S. policy agree with the assessments of Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker that Washington and Tehran are vying for influence in Iraq and the wider region.

“On Iran’s activities, they are probably right. If anything, we may be seeing only the tip of the iceberg and the problem,” said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA, National Security Council and Pentagon official who opposed the war and the troop buildup.

“What is striking about what they said today, comparing U.S.-Iran talks with five years ago on Afghanistan, is that we’re dealing with an Iranian government that feels the wind is behind it and America’s moment in the Middle East is receding — and Iran wants to give us a firm push from behind as we depart so we will never, ever think about intervening on the ground in the Gulf again, and certainly not into Iran,” Riedel said.

The Bush administration’s decision to hold the first formal bilateral talks with Iran in almost three decades has not helped. In contrast with Iran’s cooperation on the transition after the Taliban‘s ouster in 2001, the three sessions held in Baghdad between Crocker and his Iranian counterpart have been a flop. Iran’s arms shipments and meddling have only increased, say Arab and European sources.

Yet Petraeus’s description is too simplistic, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s not the Iranians who want to fight against the Iraqi state. They’re probably happy with the Shia domination of the Iraqi state,” he said. “These [Iraqi Shiite] groups are also not looking to be Iranian proxies. . . . It’s much more a give-and-take.”

— Robin Wright

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The release of a new Osama bin Laden videotape generated breathless analysis of everything from the color of his beard to his crackpot commentary on U.S. politics, global warming and the troubled housing market.

The release of a new Osama bin Laden videotape generated breathless analysis of everything from the color of his beard to his crackpot commentary on U.S. politics, global warming and the troubled housing market.

The true importance of the tape, however, is as a reminder of unfinished business in the war against bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror group. As the nation prepares to mark on Tuesday the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaeda has mounted a dismaying rebound from its post-9/11 setbacks.


 released Saturday, his%(Photo — He’s back: A video of Osama bin Laden is first in three years. / IntelCenter via AP)

Bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, remain at large and in touch with current events. Al-Qaeda has reconstituted its central leadership and found a new sanctuary in Pakistan to replace the one it lost in Afghanistan. It remains committed to hitting the United States again.

To this continuing threat, the Bush administration responds with oddly mixed messages. On Friday, the CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, said analysts have “high confidence that al-Qaeda’s central leadership is planning high-impact plots against the U.S. homeland.” Two days later, White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend downplayed the danger, telling Fox News Sunday that bin Laden is “virtually impotent” and “a man on the run.”

To be sure, the struggle against Islamic extremism isn’t about killing one man, just as the war in Iraq wasn’t about capturing and executing Saddam Hussein. If it were, Iraq would be at peace. Even so, capturing or killing bin Laden, or his equally menacing partner Zawahri, would serve the cause of justice and remove the men who built al-Qaeda. The hunt deserves renewed focus.

To the extent that there is encouraging news about the war on terror, it’s that six years have passed without a follow-on attack in the USA. “We haven’t just been lucky, and it isn’t as if the terrorists have been lazy,” Hayden said Friday. True enough. Security and public awareness are unquestionably better than before 9/11. And American Muslims appear less vulnerable to radicalization than their counterparts overseas. But it’s also true that longer periods have passed between major al-Qaeda attacks.

In the interim, the United States has been losing the vital battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world. The war in Iraq has proved to be a propaganda windfall for bin Laden, drawing recruits, inspiring suicide bombers and convincing some Muslims — however wrongly — that the United States wants to attack and occupy Muslim lands. At home, it has sapped the post-9/11 sense of national unity and purpose. Major holes remain in homeland security, from ports to chemical plants to airplane cargo, and the nation seems to have lost its once razor-sharp focus on who the enemy is.

Revived or not, that enemy has weaknesses. Al-Qaeda is limited in number, plagued with dissension, prone to overreaching. It has no positive message. Yet its has proved it can kill thousands of Americans. Bin Laden makes no secret of his desire to acquire a nuclear weapon and kill millions more. That is why al-Qaeda’s reconstitution in the tribal areas of Pakistan is of such urgent concern. No matter how distracted with Iraq, the United States cannot tolerate a sheltered al-Qaeda indefinitely and hope to escape further attack, any more than it could afford to ignore a man with a beard in far-off Afghanistan before that horrific day six years ago.




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Since the war in Iraq began, more than a million Iraqis have become refugees in their own country, and some2 million have dispersed abroad. This massive exodus has already become a huge humanitarian disaster, and the worst may be yet to come. The crisis is engulfing Iraq’s neighbors, and it could easily fuel greater instability in an area already notoriously unstable.

 Sept. 10, 2007 issue – Since the war in Iraq began, more than  a million Iraqis have become refugees in their own country, and some2 million have dispersed abroad. This massive exodus has already become a huge humanitarian disaster, and the worst may be yet to come. The crisis is engulfing Iraq‘s neighbors, and it could easily fuel greater instability in an area already notoriously unstable.

The United States precipitated the chaos by invading Iraq in the first place. Yet Washington has not met its moral responsibility to aid the refugees. That said, the problem far exceeds Washington‘s abilities. Indeed, the crisis has further internationalized the Iraq dilemma; almost every country in the Middle East shelters fleeing Iraqis, with Syria and Jordan bearing the heaviest load. No one nation can deal with the problem on its own.

Because addressing the cause of the refugee crisis—the unraveling of Iraq—will be an intensely political job, it will take a world-class political figure to lead it: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Only Ban, with the United Nations’ backing, has a chance of bringing together the many nations caught up in the problem and providing a comprehensive solution.

The basic elements of the crisis are plain to see. One in seven Iraqis has been displaced since the war began, and sectarian strife is generating 2,000 more refugees daily. As a result, once heterogeneous Iraqi towns and neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed, and the country has lost much of its intellectual elite and professional work force. Outside Iraq, the torrent is straining the services and treasuries of neighboring governments, testing the good will of their citizens, and in certain places—especially Jordan and Lebanon—threatening to sow political instability. No one knows how long it will be before the refugees can safely return home. And some countries are starting to slam the door in their faces.

The U.S. response has been woefully inadequate. Washington long delayed even acknowledging the refugee problem, and since it has, the U.S. government has granted only a pitiful number of asylum visas—less than 800 total since 2003. Financial assistance to host countries has been minimal.

Even if the United States made more of an effort (and it  should), however, it couldn’t do much alone. Yet no other country is prepared to take the lead. Reducing the refugee outflow will require progress on the prickliest issue facing Iraq: reducing its violent sectarian divisions. That means winning the cooperation of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders—an immense accomplishment beyond the United States‘ capabilities.

Help from Iraq‘s neighbors is essential. Every one of them has a stake in preventing Iraq‘s deterioration. Reversing the refugee outflow would benefit all of Iraq‘s neighbors, and could help even the most hostile among them, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, find common ground.

Of course, Middle Eastern states will also never manage to address the problem on their own. That’s where the United Nations and Ban must come in. Only they gather a broad coalition of international support—from Russia, China, and Europe, among others—and spearhead a response to the entirety of the problem: the short-term needs of the refugees; those of Iraq‘s beleaguered neighbors, and the violence in Iraq that is creating new refugees every day. The ultimate goal must be to return home most of the refugees, which is vital to keeping Iraq alive.

How should Ban go about it? He should begin by constructively engaging Iraqi community leaders, the numerous concerned governments and relief agencies in developing a systemic political and humanitarian plan to address the refugee exodus. Inevitably, this will involve intensive regional diplomacy, the convening of Iraqi parties, and major international conferences.

Tackling the refugee crisis would allow Ban not just to alleviate a humanitarian disaster but also to assist in the calming of Iraq and the reduction of tensions throughout the Middle East. The moment is ripe for him to put an authoritative personal stamp on his high office, and to thrust the United Nations once more into the forefront of resolving profound international problems. It is a daunting task, no doubt, and prospects for success are hardly great. But if Ban does not try, Iraq‘s refugee crisis is likely to metastasize—and the United Nations will have missed an opportunity to demonstrate its critical importance.

Abramowitz is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a board member of the International Rescue Committee. Kolieb is a research associate at the Century Foundation.

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Many people n the antiwar movement try to reassure themselves: Bush cannot possibly attack Iran. He does not have the means to do so, or, perhaps, even he is not foolish enough to engage in such an enterprise.

All the ideological signposts are in place

Many people n the antiwar movement try to reassure themselves: Bush cannot possibly attack Iran. He does not have the means to do so, or, perhaps, even he is not foolish enough to engage in such an enterprise.

Various particular reasons are put forward, such as: If he attacks, the Shiites in Iraq will cut the US supply lines. If he attacks, the Iranians will block the Straits of Hormuz. Russia won’t allow such an attack. China won’t allow it — they will dump the dollar. The Arab world will explode.

All this is doubtful. The Shiites in Iraq are not simply obedient to Iran. If they don’t rise against the United States when their own country is occupied (or if don’t rise very systematically), they are not likely to rise against the US if a neighboring country is attacked. As for blocking the Straits, this will just be another justification for more bombing of Iran. After all, a main casus belli against Iran is, incredibly, that it supposedly helps the resistance against US troops in Iraq, as if those troops were at home there. If that can work as an argument for bombing Iran, then any counter-measure that Iran might take will simply “justify” more bombing, possibly nuclear. Iran is strong in the sense that it cannot be invaded, but there is little it can do against long range bombing, accompanied by nuclear threats.

China is solely concerned with its own development and won’t drop the dollar for non-economic reasons. Most Arab governments, if not their populations, will look favorably on seeing the Iranian Shiite leadership humiliated. Those governments have sufficient police forces to control any popular opposition-after all, that is what they managed to do after the attack on Iraq.

With the replacement of Chirac by Sarkozy, and the near-complete elimination of what was left of the Gaullists (basically through lawsuits on rather trivial matters), France has been changed from the most independent European country to the most poodlish (this was in fact the main issue in the recent presidential election, but it was never even mentioned during the campaign.)

In France, moreover, the secular “left” is, in the main, gung-ho against Iran for the usual reasons (women, religion). There will be no large-scale demonstrations in France either before or after the bombing. And, without French support, Germany–where the war is probably very unpopular — can always be silenced with memories of the Holocaust, so that no significant opposition to the war will come from Europe (except possibly from its Muslim population, which will be one more argument to prove that they are “backward”, “extremist”, and enemies of our “democratic civilization.”)

All the ideological signposts for attacking Iran are in place. The country has been thoroughly demonized. That in itself is enough to neutralize a large part of the American “left”. The issue of course is not whether Iran is nice or not ­according to our views — but whether there is any legal reason to attack it, and there is none; but the dominant ideology of human rights has legitimized, specially in the left, the right of intervention on humanitarian grounds anywhere, at any time, and that ideology has succeeded in totally sidetracking the minor issue of international law.

Israel and its fanatical American supporters want Iran attacked for its political crimes-supporting the rights of the Palestinians, or questioning the Holocaust. Both US political parties are equally under the control of the Israel lobby, and so are the media.

The antiwar movement is far too preoccupied with the security of Israel to seriously defend Iran and it won’t attack the real architects of this coming war-the Zionists-for fear of “provoking anti-Semitism”.

Blaming Big Oil for the Iraq war was quite debatable, but, in the case of Iran, since the country is about to be bombed but not invaded, there is no reason whatsoever to think that Big Oil wants the war, as opposed to the Zionists. In fact, Big Oil is probably very much opposed to the war, but it is as unable to stop it as the rest of us.

As far as Israel is concerned, the United States is a de facto totalitarian society-no articulate opposition is acceptable. The US Congress passes one pro-Israel or anti-Iran resolution after another with “Stalinist” majorities.

The population does not seem to care. But if they did, but what could they do? Vote? The electoral system is extremely biased against the emergence of a third party and the two big parties are equally under Zionist influence.

The only thing that might stop the war would be for Americans themselves to threaten their own government with massive civil disobedience. But that is not going to happen. A large part of the academic left long ago gave up informing the general public about the real world in order to debate whether Capital is a Signifier or a Signified, or worry about their Bodies and their Selves, while preachers tell their flocks to rejoice at each new sign that ‘the end is nigh’.

Children in Iran won’t sleep at night, but the liberal American intelligentsia will lecture the ROW (rest of the world) about Human Rights. In fact, the prevalence of the “reassuring arguments” cited above proves that the antiwar movement is clinically dead. If it weren’t, it would rely on its own forces to stop war, not speculate on how others might do the job.

Meanwhile, an enormous amount of hatred will have been spewed upon the world. But in the short term, it may look like a big Western “victory”, just like the creation of Israel in 1948; just like the overthrow of Mossadegh by the CIA in 1953; just like the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine seemed to be a big German victory after the French defeat at Sedan in 1870. The Bush administration will long be gone when the disastrous consequences of that war will be felt.

PS: This text is not meant to be a prophecy, but a call to (urgent) action. I’ll be more than happy if facts prove me wrong.

Jean Bricmont teaches physics in Belgium and is a member of the Brussels Tribunal. His new book, Humanitarian Imperialism is published by Monthly Review Press.

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President Bush will address the nation next week about Iraq and U.S. efforts to get that country "well on the path" to stability by the end of his term, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten said Wednesday

Bolten, who predicted a sizable presence of U.S. troops would remain in Iraq after Bush leaves office, spoke days before the administration delivers a crucial progress report Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to testify on Monday and Tuesday.

Progress ‘not as large as we would have hoped’

In an interview with the USA TODAY editorial board, Bolten said the president plans to talk later next week about what his aides recommend and how he plans to proceed.

Bush wants to make “it possible for his successor — whichever party that successor is from — to have a sustained presence in the Middle East,” Bolten said. “And have America continue to be a respected and influential power in the Middle East.”

That will likely require some kind of U.S. presence in Iraq beyond Jan. 20, 2009, Bolten said. But no one knows how many troops and how they might be deployed, he said.

Bolten declined to say whether Bush would discuss any troop withdrawals next week. On a visit to Iraq this week, Bush said Petraeus and Crocker told him that if progress continues, the United States can maintain stability in Iraq with fewer U.S. troops.

While there have been “unexpected developments on the negative side” in Iraq over the years, Bolten said there are now “unexpected developments on the positive side.” Those include tribal resistance to al-Qaeda in western Anbar province, he said, as well as the beginnings of political reconciliation among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Looking forward, Bolten said he doesn’t think any “realistic observer” can believe that “all or even most of the American troop presence” will be out of Iraq by the end of Bush’s presidency. The questions will be what level of presence will be required, and how much danger troops will be in.

Jim Manley, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said Bush needs to change course. “Every objective assessment has shown that the president’s flawed Iraq strategy is failing to deliver what it needs to: a political solution for Iraq,” he said.

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After a brief interruption of his New Hampshire vacation to meet President Bush in the family compound at Kenebunkport, Maine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came away convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran’s secret nuclear facilities. That’s the reading as it filtered back to Europe’s foreign ministries

After a brief interruption of his New Hampshire vacation to meet President Bush in the family compound at Kenebunkport, Maine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came away convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran’s secret nuclear facilities. That’s the reading as it filtered back to Europe’s foreign ministries:

Addressing the annual meeting of France’s ambassadors to 188 countries, Mr. Sarkozy said either Iran lives up to its international obligations and relinquishes its nuclear ambitions — or it will be bombed into compliance. Mr. Sarkozy also made it clear he did not agree with the Iranian-bomb-or-bombing-of-Iran position, whichreflects the pledge of Mr. Bush to his loyalists, endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent. But Mr. Sarkozy recognized unless Iran’s theocrats stop enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), we will all be “faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic.”

A ranking Swiss official privately said, “Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests.”

Leaks about the administration’s plan to brand Iran’s 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guards a global terrorist organization is widely interpreted as a major step on the escalator to military action. Belatedly, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin for the training of 35,000 elite guards to be assigned to protect the kingdom’s widely scattered oil installations. With 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Riyadh has earmarked $5 billion to train and field as soon as possible a high-tech force. Eighteen months ago, the desert kingdom was jolted by an al Qaeda terrorist squad that managed to penetrate the first two layers of defenses at Abqaiq, the nerve center of the entire oil infrastructure.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now stated publicly his country holds the key to the conditions of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, much criticized by the United States for his lack of leadership, and who has been deserted by half his Cabinet, is much praised in Tehran, where he has gone twice in 11 months to confer with Iranian leaders. Mr. Ahmadinejad also says Iran is ready to fill the power vacuum in Iraq following a U.S. withdrawal. “The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly,” he said, “and soon we will see a huge power vacuum in the region.”

The United States is not alone in trying to prove Mr. Ahmadinejad’s geopolitical weather forecast wrong. Saudi Arabia and its five Gulf Cooperation Council allies in the Gulf, Egypt and Jordan, are terrified at the idea of Iraq falling under Iranian domination.

Hoping to head off a U.S.-Iran military confrontation, European countries are still pinning their hopes on major Iranian concessions at the International Atomic Energy Commission in Vienna. Iran is back to cooperating with IAEA — but only one comma or semicolon at a time. The three European Union countries acting as U.S. surrogates on nuclear matters with Iran, and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, detect progress where the U.S. sees only stalling. Iran is still resisting short-notice inspections of sites that are not officially declared nuclear facilities, and where secret nuclear work is believed to be taking place.

Tehran’s only objective at the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council is to head off further economic sanctions from its major EU trading partners. Thus the mantra that its only interest in nuclear matters is as an alternative source of energy in a country already awash in oil taxes credulity.

Both the Bush administration and Israel are painstakingly fashioning a casus belli with Iran. For Israel, the training and weapons support Iran furnishes Hezbollah in Lebanon (now with more rockets of all kinds than it had before the 2006 war when it fired 4,000 into Israel) and Hamas in Gaza (now equipped with Katyusha rockets and a range of 10.6 miles), coupled with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s existential threats against the Jewish state, are sufficient evidence to justify air attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities. And for the White House, there is daily evidence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards meddling in Iraq, from improved explosive devices made in Iran to behind-the-scenes dominance in the affairs of the oil-rich south.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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The chief UN nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei warned Washington on Friday to stop rattling its saber against the Islamic Republic of Iran over its peaceful nuclear program.

ElBaradei see no weaponization in Iran’s nuclear program.

The chief UN nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei warned Washington on Friday to stop rattling its saber against the Islamic Republic of Iran over its peaceful nuclear program.

He further stated that the best way to break the nuclear standoff was diplomacy and to seek any other way out of the deadlock was beyond the scope of the IAEA.

Washington has intensified its war of words with Iran over the past months.

The twisted US policies for ratcheting up pressure on Tehran were complicated when Mr. ElBaradei rejected any sign of weaponization in Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have not seen any weaponization of their program, nor have we received any information to that effect – no smoking gun or information from intelligence,” he said. “Based on the evidence, we have, we do not see … a clear and present danger that requires that you go beyond diplomacy.”

Instead of stonewalling to international call for helping end Iran’s nuclear standoff and beating the drum of war, the US should encourage the IAEA Board to exert every effort to facilitate the completion of Bushehr nuclear plant and Natanz uranium-enrichment plant because the main mission of the Agency is to encourage development and practical application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, throughout the world.

Now that the IAEA chief has verified that there is no report of weaponization in Iran’s nuclear program and that the program is purely for civilian purposes, the agency should close Iran’s nuclear dossier forever as a sign of good will.

Mr. ElBaradei clearly states that the US and its allies are seeking fiendish goals and that Washington is speculating expansionistic policies in the Middle East.

“I see war drums that are basically saying that the solution is to bomb Iran. It makes me shudder because some of the rhetoric is a reminder’ of the period before the Iraq war.”

The US attacked Iraq under the pretext that the country had weapons of mass destruction. However, Mr. Bush knew that it was a fake claim he could use to clothe his invasion in a cloak of legitimacy. On September 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. Bushed raised his eyebrows at the information and dismissed it as utterly worthless.

Surprise and horror come when one sees the American public opinion is silent to the maniac and blind policies of their government.

Iran has repeatedly stated that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and that an Islamic state will never seek to use nuclear technology to produce nuclear bombs but use it in service of mankind.

Addressing a crowd of worshippers of Friday, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who is now the chairman of Assembly of Experts said, “If any way out is left, it is negotiation. Do not repeat mistakes. The Islamic Iran is not seeking atomic weapons and will use the technology in the service of mankind.”

In August, Iran and the IAEA came up with an agreement on a work plan for Tehran to answer long-standing questions regarding its nuclear activities and to formulate a “safeguards approach” for the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility.

“For the last few years we have been told by the Security Council, by the board we have to clarify the outstanding issues in Iran because these outstanding issues are the ones that have led to the lack of confidence, the crisis,” ElBaradei said in his 28th-floor office overlooking the Austrian capital.

According to the work plan, Iran has clarified to the IAEA its undeclared experiments with plutonium separation during the 1990s, which are consistent with the agency’s findings, thereby resolving the issue.

The US and its allies suggest the Aug. 21 agreement is a positive move but insufficient. The Bush administration has repeatedly fumed over satisfactory reports about Iran. The August agreement gives inspectors greater access to Iranian atomic facilities.

In the IAEA-Iran working plan agreed in July, Iran agreed to answer questions by December on certain parts of its nuclear program. The plan gave Iran a clean bill of health on past small-scale plutonium experiments.

Considered the backbone of an IAEA report, the plan will be debated at a 35-nation board meeting of the agency slated for Monday.

Washington and its allies asked for a third round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran on July 30. Yet, the IAEA report on the “significant” progress in clearing up past questions crushed their hopes.

With ElBaradei’s new comments, Washington and its allies will surely be faced with political bankruptcy concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Indisputably, they will have to look for some other ‘disingenuous’ excuse to put their diabolical schemes into practical shape.

Washington’s warmongering policies are no closed book to anyone. That the US has started his ‘bomb-Iran-rhetoric’ as a sign of brinkmanship with a powerful country in the region or as a pernicious sign to wage another war remains unclear:


Let us not forget that wars are fought for the benefit of a few at the cost of millions.

Ismail Salami is the author of ‘Iran, Cradle of Civilization’ and dozens of articles on Middle East issues.

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Bricks as large as Osama bin Laden’s head now that he’s reared it up again, reminding us that he’s still here and possibly the most powerful world leader thanks to Bush’s blind ambition to be Dead-Certain-in-Chief when he’s been Dead-Wrong-in-Chief on everything he’s touched.

George Bush must be excretin’ bricks.

Bricks as large as Osama bin Laden’s head now that he’s reared it up again, reminding us that he’s still here and possibly the most powerful world leader thanks to Bush’s blind ambition to be Dead-Certain-in-Chief when he’s been Dead-Wrong-in-Chief on everything he’s touched.

The Democrats should be pouncing, leaping, frothing at the mouth for the opportunity to shout raucous, in-Bush’s-face recriminations for letting the mastermind of the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor get away.

So far I haven’t seen one Dem be in Bush’s face about the return of bin Laden. Maybe there was and I missed it, or maybe they’ve waited for the campaign-laden weekend for a full  frontal assault on Bush, and let him have it squarely between his beady little eyes over his failure to “git bin Laden, dead or alive.”

I don’t know what the Dem wusses are up to, but they’d better “git” their Bush-let-the-big-one-get-away ducks in a row…and fast!

Bin Laden and his tape have been “breaking news” for more than 24 hours. How something can be breaking news for that long is beyond me, but there it is.

Nonetheless, Osama speaks and the whole world listens in a way that would put E.F. Hutton to shame. It wasn’t only cable news that jumped to, but we can only imagine the flurry of activity and panic that coursed through every alphabetical spy agency causing them apoplexy and hundreds of overtime hours. Now that they had something “real?” to work with.

Of course when they had something really “real” to get bin Laden, Bush blew it.

Every new, most minute nuanced aspect of the story started a renewed blizzard of “breaking news.” Every aspect of the tape from how bin Laden looks to why the tape was released now has been dissected, bisected, trisected, scrutinized and pulverized for further examination from every angle by the so-called experts.

They’re probably all wrong anyway, except for the very few who have spent a lifetime studying Arab ethos, traditions and deeply imbued religious philosophies.

Speculation on bin Laden’s newly coifed darkened beard maybe more on the mark. But, even the guess work on that swung wildly from he’s gone incognito; to he’s living in a country where beards aren’t the norm, so he shaved it off and rented a beard from a Hollywood studio costumer; to which brand of for-men-only hair dye he used; to the man behind the beard is an Osama impersonator, only the voice you hear is real.

Real Osama, or fake Osama; real beard or fake beard the effect is still the same. It’s almost 9-11 and h-e-e-e’s b-a-a-a-a-a-a-ck! Right in George W. Bush’s face.

Let’s face it. Bin Laden got more TV face time on Friday than Bush did. Bush and his surge; Bush sneaking into Iraq because it’s so safe there and conditions are so improved that the only way to break into the place was using covert, clandestine cover; Bush and his Patreaus/non-Patreaus report; Bush and his OPEC/APEC meeting; Bush and his Austrian/Australian trip; Bush and his which way is exit stage center after an APEC photo-op.

Bush and all of his incredible arrogance, conversations with god, lies and blunders couldn’t out-face the face he failed to go after.


Sandy Sand is currently frequent guest columnist whose articles appear in the Los Angeles Daily News.

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Now the President is there, breathing in the contamination. I’m sure he’ll have access to specialists which the ordinary GI could not expect. Their DU poisoning is called “Gulf War Syndrome” and given short shrift. For years the U.S. and Britain said that DU posed no health hazard for combatant or civilian, even though the United States has known otherwise since 1943

Today’s Washington Post shows President Bush shaking hands with GIs, breathing in the atmosphere of Iraq. He may even have run his hand fondly over a piece of battlefield equipment — all of which will have been contaminated with depleted uranium (DU). (1)


Consider DU for a moment.


The last four U.S. wars (the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq 1 and 2) dumped thousands of tons of aerosol DU from anti-tank shells, bullets, and bombs into the atmosphere – the equivalent I am told of 40,000 Hiroshima bombs – but with far greater impact. (2)


Radiation expert Dr. Leuren Moret says: “Depleted uranium exposure risks … may be far more toxic than nuclear weapons or nuclear power plant exposures. In July of 2005, the National Academy of Sciences reported … that there is ‘no safe level of exposure.’” (3)

She estimates that “the amount necessary to cause death to a person inhaling the material is extremely small.” “It is estimated that one millionth of a gram [of DU] accumulating in a person’s body would be fatal.”   (4)  Has President Bush contaminated himself?  

 DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, is infinitesimally tiny in aerosol form, and travels around the world in the prevailing winds. It is not simply in the Middle East; it has been carried everywhere on the planet. The “smog of war” has even been found in glaciers. (5)


If you live in Great Britain, the authorities responsible for informing you of dangerous levels of DU may not have informed you because the privatized facilities are owned by Halliburton, (6) the same firm that mines DU in Australia, (7) and is the major U.S. war contractor in Iraq as well as a major partner in a mideast oil pipeline consortium. (8) 

Halliburton was given the contract to clean up Kuwait, (9) even though DU cannot be cleaned up. Halliburton is the mother of DU from cradle to grave (irony intended).  Theirs must also be the mother of all conflicts of interest.


DU can be transferred in semen. It can be brought home on a returning soldier’s gear.  It leads to the most horrible of birth defects, permanent disabilities, and death.  (10)


No known protective gear prevents contamination. (11) There is no cure or treatment.  (12)  It kills soldiers and civilians alike, friend, foe, and neutral. Israel is showing elevated numbers of breast cancer, leukemia, and childhood diabetes cases from downwind DU contamination. (13)

Iraq, Afhganistan, and the Balkans all may well have become permanent wastelands because of DU contamination. (14) Radiation experts like (google) Drs. Leuren Moret, Rosalie Bertell, Doug Rokke, and Dai Williams predict eventual “omnicide” (15) for the planet if the United States (or Israel) drops another load of DU – as they would in a war with Iran.


Now the President is there, breathing in the contamination.  I’m sure he’ll have access to specialists which the ordinary GI could not expect.  Their DU poisoning is called “Gulf War Syndrome” and given short shrift. For years the U.S. and Britain said that DU posed no health hazard for combatant or civilian, even though the United States has known otherwise since 1943. (16)



The Bush administration fought three wars to control mideast oil. But, given the contamination of the area, anyone who went there to work the oil fields would be signing a death sentence.



If the President goes to war with Iran, he may be signing a death sentence for the planet.


Authors Website:

Authors Bio: Steve Beckow is a former Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and a former Historian at the National Museum of Man in Canada. He has previously published on cross-cultural spirituality and now publishes on 9/11 truth, depleted uranium, and impeachment.

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The internet is loaded these days with reports of the inevitability of a US, or a US-Israeli, attack on Iran. Some writers allege that the attack is imminent.

The internet is loaded these days with reports of the inevitability of a US, or a US-Israeli, attack on Iran. Some writers allege that the attack is imminent.

Others, including the writers of this article, argue only that the attack will happen sometime before January 2009, when the Bush administration leaves office. Many of these stories have by now been picked up by the mainstream media. In fact, it is probably safe to say that today a majority of the traditionally cautious and so-called respectable foreign policy experts in the US think it is at least possible that Bush will attack Iran before he leaves office.

Such is the power of recollection with respect to how Bush bulled his way into invading Iraq in 2003 that many people simply accept that he might gamble on doing it again. He has made it clear that in this “War on Terror,” victory means everything to him. He might also believe that a win in Iran could reverse current setbacks in Iraq and also bring victory closer for the US and Israel in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. And he has already shown that he is willing to accept the killings of hundreds of thousands or even a million people in the hope of going down in history as a great commander-in-chief.

The people of the United States are the only ones with a chance of stopping him, and it can only happen if a powerful majority of voters will join in a maximum effort to impeach both Bush and Cheney right now. This has to happen before the US and/or Israel undertake any expanded military efforts against Iran.

All of this will be difficult, and many will think it impossible. We citizens of the US who do not want our country to become involved in a greater war with Iran will not have most of the print and TV media with us, nor the military-industrial complex that wants more wars. The Israel lobby will desperately oppose efforts to impeach Bush and Cheney, because it will recognize instantly that the two top US leaders are the lobby’s strongest backers of war with Iran. At the same time, most of the Democratic Party leadership and all but one or two of the Democratic presidential candidates will be reluctant to support impeachment because they are competing with the Republicans in an effort to show that each party supports Israel more strongly than the other.

But the people of this country have plenty of power to defeat all these forces if they will use it to support justice, particularly in the Middle East, which is today the highest priority area where US and Israeli foreign policies play a major role, and the area where those policies are the most unjust. We believe it will be by no means impossible to persuade a majority of American voters, given their already established distaste for US failures in Iraq, to rip off the cocoon of pleasant but apathetic consumerism in which they have encased themselves, and participate more seriously in the political processes of our country than they ever have in recent years.

The impeachment itself will have more to do with the past than the future, since a legal action can only indict (impeach) and then convict a person for past actions, not for actions that may be likely in the future. So impeachment will concern Iraq and domestic policies of the Bush administration, not Iran. But at the same time, once we get their interest, people should have a heightened awareness of future planned acts as well as of past policies of the government. If we can move fast, we will have time to show how the plans to attack Iran create a greater need than ever for an impeachment effort to succeed, and to succeed now.

The first point to make in persuading people is that Iran itself claims it has no nuclear weapons now, and no intention to produce them in the future. The first part of this statement is true; the supporting evidence is overwhelming. But Iran’s claim that it will not in the future develop nuclear weapons is subject to doubt, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency has found no evidence to the contrary. The other nations in the Middle East and South Asia that have been developing nuclear weapons over the last 50 years — Israel, India, and Pakistan — all lied to the US, the UN, and other countries, claiming that they were not building nuclear weapons when in fact they were. Iran might well do the same.

More important is the sheer logic of the situation. As one nation-state in a world of nation-states, Iran knows that it has every bit as much right to develop nuclear weapons as the US, Israel, and other present nuclear powers.
Compared to Israel, Iran has both a population and a land mass that are much larger. So why is it permissible for Israel to have several hundred nuclear weapons and impermissible for Iran to have any? The answer given by Israel supporters that Israel never signed the NonProliferation Treaty of 1970 while Iran did, is spurious. The NPT is, for practical purposes, a dead letter. Under the treaty, the US and other signatory states already possessing nuclear weapons promised to begin serious negotiations to eliminate their own weapons, but they have never done so, or even tried, in the years since 1970. If Iran were in fact discovered to be developing its own weapons, Iranian officials could say, hand on heart, that they would be pleased to quit violating the treaty when the US did.

Since the US right now is embarking on a program to upgrade its nuclear weapons and delivery systems capabilities, and shows absolutely no intention to negotiate toward eliminating those capabilities, Iran would seem to have quite a strong legal case. Iran might also argue that the situation has so changed in its region of the world (with Israel, India, and Pakistan all now having their own nukes) that it must withdraw from the treaty and obtain its own deterrent force. It has not done that yet because it still claims that it does not want any nuclear weapons, but that option is always, and quite legally, open to it. By the way, any argument that Israel is a more moral and “better” country than Iran — and thus more deserving of nuclear weapons — is a bit of sanctimony worthy only of being rejected out of hand.

The key point here is that Iran’s nuclear capabilities are not now, and will not be at least for a few more years, a significant threat to the US, although over the same period they could be seen in Israel as a somewhat greater threat. Therefore, to the extent that Iran’s nuclear weapons potential is at all a real cause of present US and Israeli aggressive policies toward Iran, these aggressive policies are being carried out more to benefit Israel than the US It is actually likely that the main motive behind US and Israeli policies (as was the case in Iraq) has nothing to do with nuclear weapons but is rather to bring about regime change in Iran and strengthen the joint dominion of the US and Israel over the entire Middle East. This raises the broader question of whether such joint dominion is truly in the best interest of the United States, or whether it is favored in Washington mainly because it is being pushed by the Israel lobby.

Another point needs to be made that should also help persuade US voters to oppose a war against Iran with all their strength. Bush is fond of saying that Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Of course, when he says this, he never tells his listeners what his definition of terrorism is. In fact, we cannot recall any occasion or speech since the so-called War on Terror was launched in which Bush has spelled out what he means when he uses the word.

The best definition of terrorism is “the use of violence against civilians for a political purpose.” If one buys this definition, which is widely used, Bush’s statement that Iran is the leading state sponsor is plainly false. Using any criterion you choose that covers all civilians — killings, destruction of homes, shootings or beatings or mistreatment of the sick at checkpoints — what governments would you say were the leading purveyors of terrorism in the last five years? Hint: creating “shock and awe” is a good definition of at least one form of terrorism using aircraft, modern bombs, and missiles. Sniper shootings of children in Gaza is another. Destroying the olive trees that provide basic income for an entire family and then forcibly confiscating the land on which the olive trees stood is yet another form. But then, there are numerous others, including the use of torture on prisoners.

It is so easy, yet so reprehensible to list Iran as the number-one terrorism culprit. At a minimum, we Americans must understand that many others around the world regard us as far worse terrorists than any in Iran. For pushing “terrorism” as a justification for waging war against Iran when the US is just as guilty of even greater terrorism, Bush and Cheney must beyond question be impeached and convicted with all possible speed, so that they can never start that war.

Courtesy Counterpunch