Wednesday, April 05, 2006

DAILY WAR NEWS FOR WEDNESDAY, April 5, 2006 SECURITY INCIDENTS Baghdad: Unknown gunmen in military uniforms kill two Iraqi workers in mobile phone company of Iraqna in western Baghdad and kidnap two others. Two car bombs explode in Baghdad. One woman was killed and 15 people were wounded in a blast in an area of eastern Baghdad. Thirteen people were injured in the other attack in an area in the north of the city. Explosion outside a building housing the Iraqna cell phone company in the Mansour district. It damaged the building and 14 nearby stores but no injuries were reported. Civil engineer shot to death in front of a barber shop in west Baghdad. Three civilians killed and five wounded when car bomb explodes at army checkpoint in eastern Baghdad. Kirkuk: Civilian killed and two others wounded when roadside bomb goes off near U.S. forces in Kirkuk. Policeman killed by gunmen while heading to work in Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk. Three civilians wounded when roadside bomb goes off near joint U.S.-Iraqi police patrol in Kirkuk. Diwaniya: Translator with Polish troops killed and his nephew wounded by gunmen wearing police commando uniforms in Diwaniya south of Baghdad. Basra: Two Iraqis killed in Basra. Tikrit: U.S. and Iraqi troops free three Iraqis who were kidnapped in Tikrit, and they killed one insurgent and captured nine in a raid in Youssifiyah, south of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. IRAQ NEWS Video posted Internet claims to show Iraqi insurgents dragging burning body of U.S. pilot on the ground after crash of Apache helicopter: Parts of the video were blurry, and the face of the man being dragged was not shown. His clothes were so tattered it was impossible to tell if he was wearing an American military uniform, but he appeared to be wearing military fatigues. The video was blurry but the helicopter could be seen clearly. It showed the outlines of the craft's destroyed blades and blood on various jagged pieces of wreckage spread over a field. However, it was not possible to see if the helicopter had U.S. markings. The video also clearly showed the bloodied, burning body of a man being dragged by several other men through a field. Before the body was moved, the camera zoomed in on what appeared to be his waistline, which showed a scrap of underwear with the brand name "Hanes" on it. The man also appeared to be wearing some type of camouflage fatigues. In its statement, the U.S. military said it confirmed the two pilots had died, and it had recovered "all available remains found on the scene, given the catastrophic nature of the crash." The AH-64D Apache Longbow crashed about 5:30 p.m. Saturday due to possible hostile fire west of Youssifiyah while conducting a combat air patrol, the military said. al-Jaafari refuses to abandon bid for a second term to break deadlock over new government, and more than 1,000 of his supporters rallied in the holy city of Karbala, urging an end to "U.S. interference" in Iraqi politics. Al-Jaafari told The Guardian newspaper that he was rejecting calls to give up the nomination of his Shiite bloc "to protect democracy in Iraq." "There is a decision that was reached by a democratic mechanism and I stand with it," he said. "We have to respect our Iraqi people." Al-Jaafari added that the Iraqi people "will react if they see the rules of democracy being disobeyed. Everyone should stick to democratic mechanisms no matter whether they disagree with the person." Condoleezza Rice yesterday brushes aside suggestions that the United States wants indefinite troop presence and permanent military bases in Iraq: "The presence in Iraq is for a very clear purpose, and that's to enable Iraqis to be able to govern themselves and to create security forces that can help them do that," Rice told the House Appropriations Committee's foreign operations panel. "I don't think that anybody believes that we really want to be there longer than we have to," the chief U.S. diplomat added. However, Rice did not say when all U.S. forces would return home and did not directly answer Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., when he asked, "Will the bases be permanent or not?" "I would think that people would tell you, we're not seeking permanent bases really pretty much anywhere in the world these days. We are, in fact, in the process of removing base structure from a lot of places," Rice replied. 24 Wisconsin Communities Vote for Iraq Pullout: Thousands of voters turned out in Wisconsin to offer a purely symbolic but heartfelt message: Bring the troops home from Iraq. By margins overwhelming in some places and narrow in others, voters in 24 of 32 communities approved referendums Tuesday calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In addition to Madison, those communities supporting the measures included the Milwaukee suburbs of Shorewood and Whitefish Bay, and the western city of La Crosse. Those voting down the measure included the northwestern city of Hayward and the south-central city of Watertown, where 75 percent of voters disapproved. REPORTS Iraq Sunni leader says Iran stokes sectarian war: One of Iraq’s leading Sunni Arab politicians accused Iran on Monday of stoking sectarian tensions to foment a civil war that would break up Iraq and allow Tehran to control its oil-rich Shi’ite Muslim heartlands in the south. Tarek Al Hashemi, a contender for speaker when the new parliament opens on Sunday, said Iran was fostering instability in Iraq, partly through militias loyal to Shi’ite parties, in a bid to divert US pressure over Tehran’s nuclear programme. “The main player in Iraq is Iran. It wants to create chaos for America in Iraq as part of the conflict over the nuclear issue,” Hashemi told Reuters in an interview in Jordan. “Pushing the Americans into a quagmire in Iraq at the present time serves Iran’s national interests.” All Iraqis were paying the price for a proxy war between Iran and the United States on Iraqi soil, Hashemi said. “The antagonists are Iran and America and those paying the price are the Iraqi people in the near term and, yes, in the long term, there are Iranian designs on Iraqi territory.” COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS Dahr Jamail: How Massacres Become the Norm: U.S. soldiers killing innocent civilians in Iraq is not news. Just as it was not news that U.S. soldiers slaughtered countless innocent civilians in Vietnam. However, when some rare reportage of this non-news from Iraq does seep through the cracks of the corporate media, albeit briefly, the American public seems shocked. Private and public statements of denial and dismissal immediately start to fill the air. We hear, "American soldiers would never do such a thing," or "Who would make such a ridiculous claim?" It amazes me that so many people in the U.S. today somehow seriously believe that American soldiers would never kill civilians. Despite the fact that they are in a no-win guerrilla war in Iraq, which, like any other guerrilla war, always generates more civilian casualties than combatant casualties on either side. Robert J. Lifton is a prominent American psychiatrist who lobbied for the inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders after his work with U.S. veterans from Vietnam. His studies on the behavior of those who have committed war crimes led him to believe it does not require an unusual level of mental illness or of personal evil to carry out such crimes. Rather, these crimes are nearly guaranteed to occur in what Lifton refers to as "atrocity-producing situations." Several of his books, such as The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, examine how abnormal conditions work on normal minds, enabling them to commit the most horrendous crimes imaginable. Iraq today is most certainly an "atrocity-producing situation," as it has been from the very beginning of the occupation. The latest reported war crime, a U.S. military raid on the al-Mustafa Shia mosque in Baghdad on March 26, which killed at least 16 people, is only one instance of the phenomenon Lifton has spoken of. An AP video of the scene shows male bodies tangled together in a bloody mass on the floor of the imams' living quarters – all of them with shotgun wounds and other bullet holes. The tape also shows shell casings of the caliber used by the U.S. military scattered about on the floor. An official from the al-Sadr political bloc reported that American forces had surrounded the hospital where the wounded were taken for treatment after the massacre. The slaughter was followed by an instant and predictable disinformation blitz by the U.S. military. The second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, told reporters "someone went in and made the scene look different from what it was." (…) Throughout the three-year history of the U.S.-led catastrophe that is the occupation of Iraq, we have had one instance after another of brutality meted out to innocent Iraqis, by way of direct executions or bombings from the air, or both. During an attack on a wedding party in May 2004, U.S. troops killed over 40 people, mostly women and children, in a desert village on the Syrian border of Iraq. APTN footage showed fragments of musical instruments, blood stains, the headless body of a child, other dead children, and clumps of women's hair in a destroyed house that was bombed by U.S. warplanes. Other photographs showed dead women and children, and an AP reporter identified at least 10 of the bodies as those of children. Relatives who gathered at a cemetery outside of Ramadi, where all the bodies were buried, told reporters that each of the 28 fresh graves contained between one and three bodies. The few survivors of the massacre later recounted how in the middle of the night long after the wedding feast had ended, U.S. jets began raining bombs on their tents and houses. Mrs. Shihab, a 30-year-old woman who survived the massacre, told the Guardian, "We went out of the house, and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one." She added that she ran with her two little boys before they were all shot, including herself in the leg. "I left them because they were dead," she said of her two little boys, one of whom was decapitated by a shell. "I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me. I pretended to be dead so he wouldn't kill me." Thereafter, armored military vehicles entered the village, shooting at all the other houses and the people who were starting to assemble in the open. Following these, two Chinook helicopters offloaded several dozen troops, some of who set explosives in one of the homes and a building next to it. Both exploded into rubble as the helicopters lifted off. Mr. Nawaf, one of the survivors, said, "I saw something that nobody ever saw in this world. There were children's bodies cut into pieces, women cut into pieces, men cut into pieces. The Americans call these people foreign fighters. It is a lie. I just want one piece of evidence of what they are saying." Hamdi Noor al-Alusi, the manager of al-Qa'im general hospital, the nearest medical facility to the scene of the slaughter, said that of the 42 killed, 14 were children and 11 women. "I want to know why the Americans targeted this small village," he said, "These people are my patients. I know each one of them. What has caused this disaster?" As usual, the U.S. military ran a disinformation campaign saying the target was a "suspected safe-house" for foreign fighters and denied that any children were killed. The ever pliant U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters that the troops who reported back from the operation "told us they did not shoot women and children." Topping his ridiculous claim was the statement of Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division. "How many people go to the middle of the desert … to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?" Perhaps someone should have informed him that these farmers and nomads often "go to the middle of the desert" because they happen to live there. "These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naïve," Mattis stated before being asked by a reporter to comment on the footage on Arabic television that showed a child's body being lowered into a grave. His brilliant response was: "I have not seen the pictures, but bad things happen in wars. I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men." If the U.S. were a member of the International Criminal Court, Maj. Gen. Mattis may well have been in The Hague right now being tried for aiding and abetting war crimes. How can someone holding an official position like Mattis publicly sanction atrocities? It is about unnatural responses such as these that Dr. Lifton has written extensively. In a piece he wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2004, Lifton addressed the issue of U.S. doctors being complicit in torturing Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. This article sheds much light on the situation in Iraq. If we substitute "doctors" with "soldiers," it is easy to understand why American soldiers are regularly committing the excesses that we hear of. Lifton writes, "American doctors at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have undoubtedly been aware of their medical responsibility to document injuries and raise questions about their possible source in abuse. But those doctors and other medical personnel were part of a command structure that permitted, encouraged, and sometimes orchestrated torture to a degree that it became the norm – with which they were expected to comply – in the immediate prison environment." He continues, "The doctors thus brought a medical component to what I call an 'atrocity-producing situation' – one so structured, psychologically and militarily, that ordinary people can readily engage in atrocities. Even without directly participating in the abuse, doctors may have become socialized to an environment of torture and by virtue of their medical authority helped sustain it. In studying various forms of medical abuse, I have found that the participation of doctors can confer an aura of legitimacy and can even create an illusion of therapy and healing." I have personally experienced this. Standing with U.S. soldiers at checkpoints and perimeters of operations in Iraq, I have seen them curse and kick Iraqis, heard them threatening to kill even women and children and then look at me as if they had merely said hello to them. My status of journalist did not deter them because they saw no need for checks. Having stood with soldiers anticipating that each moving car would turn into a bomb and each passerby into a suicide bomber, I have tasted the stress and fear these soldiers live with on a daily basis. When one of their fellow soldiers is killed by a roadside bomb, the need for revenge may be directed at anything. And repeated often enough, the process gets socialized. It's about this attitude brought on by the normalization of the abnormal under "atrocity-producing situations" that Dr. Lifton speaks. Unless, of course, we consider Mattis and others like him to be rare sociopaths who are able to participate in atrocities without suffering lasting emotional harm. And it is this attitude that is responsible for the incessant replication of wanton slaughter and madness in Iraq today. Back in November 2004, I wrote about 12-year-old Fatima Harouz. She lay dazed in a crowded room in Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad, feebly waving her bruised arm at flies. Her shins had been shattered by bullets from U.S. soldiers when they fired through the front door of her home in Latifiya, a small city just south of Baghdad. Small plastic drainage bags filled with red fluid sat upon her abdomen, where she took shrapnel from another bullet. Her mother, who was standing with us, said, "They attacked our home and there weren't even any resistance fighters in our area." Her brother had been shot and killed, and his wife was wounded as their home was ransacked by soldiers. "Before they left, they killed all of our chickens," she added, her eyes a mixture of fear, shock, and rage. On hearing the story, a doctor looked at me sternly and asked, "This is the freedom… in their Disney Land are there kids just like this?" Another wounded young woman in a nearby hospital bed, Rana Obeidy, had been walking home with her brother. She assumed the soldiers shot her and her brother because he was carrying a bottle of soda. This happened in Baghdad. She had a chest wound where a bullet had grazed her, unlike her little brother, whom the bullets had killed. There exist many more such cases. Amnesty International has documented scores of human rights violations committed by U.S. troops in Iraq during the first six months of the occupation. To mention but a few: U.S. troops shot dead and injured scores of Iraqi demonstrators in several incidents. For example, seven people were reportedly shot dead and dozens injured in Mosul on April 15. At least 15 people, including children, were shot dead and more than 70 injured in Fallujah on April 29. Two demonstrators were shot dead outside the Republican Palace in Baghdad on June 18. On May 14, two U.S. armed vehicles broke through the perimeter wall of the home of Sa'adi Suleiman Ibrahim al-Ubaydi in Ramadi. Soldiers beat him with rifle butts and then shot him dead as he tried to flee. U.S. forces shot 12-year-old Mohammad al-Kubaisi as they carried out search operations around his house in the Hay al-Jihad area in Baghdad on June 26. He was carrying the family bedding to the roof of his house when he was shot. Neighbors tried to rush him to the nearby hospital by car, but U.S. soldiers stopped them and ordered them to go back. By the time they returned to his home, Mohammad al-Kubaisi was dead. On Sept. 17, a 14-year-old boy was killed and six people were injured when U.S. troops opened fire at a wedding party in Fallujah. On Sept. 23, three farmers, Ali Khalaf, Sa'adi Faqri, and Salem Khalil, were killed and three others injured when U.S. troops opened a barrage of gunfire reportedly lasting for at least an hour in the village of al-Jisr near Fallujah. A U.S. military official stated that this happened when the troops came under attack, but this was vehemently denied by relatives of the dead. Later that day, U.S. military officials reportedly went to the farmhouse, took photographs, and apologized to the family. This last incident ended in a way similar to the one I covered in Ramadi in November 2003. On the 23rd of that month, during Ramadan, U.S. soldiers raided a home where a family was just sitting down together to break their fast. Three men of the family had their hands tied behind them with plastic ties and were laid on the ground face down while the women and children were made to stand inside a nearby storage closet. Khalil Ahmed, 30 years old, the brother of two of the victims and cousin to a third, wept when he described to me how after executing the three men the soldiers completely destroyed the home, using Humvees with machine guns, small tanks, and gunfire from the many troops on foot and helicopters. "We don't know the reason why the soldiers came here. They didn't tell us the reason. We don't know why they killed our family members." Khalil seemed to demand an answer from me. "There are no weapons in this house, there are no resistance fighters. So why did these people have to die? Why?" Khalil told me that the day after the executions took place, soldiers returned to apologize. They handed him a cake saying they were sorry that they had been given wrong information by someone that told them there were resistance fighters in their house. This is only a very small sampling. The only way to prevent any of this from being repeated ad infinitum is to remove U.S. soldiers from their "atrocity-producing situation" in Iraq. For it is clearer than ever that the longer the failed, illegal occupation persists, the larger will be the numbers of Iraqis slaughtered by the occupation forces. US anti-militia strategy another wrong Iraq move: Last week's attack by US-led Iraqi paramilitary forces on a building that Shi'ite leaders claim was a mosque may have marked the beginning of a new stage of US policy in which Iraqi forces are used to carry out military operations against Shi'ite militia forces - especially those loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. However, such a strategy risks uniting the Shi'ites against the US military occupation and leading to a showdown that makes that presence politically untenable. Just before the operation against the mosque complex, which the US military referred to as a "terrorist base", US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad hinted broadly that the United States would soon target the Shi'ite militias for the brunt of its operations. "The militias haven't been focused on decisively yet," he declared, adding that militias were now killing more Iraqis than the insurgents. Khalilzad further pinpointed the Mahdi Army and its ties to Iran as the primary and most immediate US concern. Most of those killed in the raid by US Special Forces and their Iraqi counterparts apparently worked for Muqtada al-Sadr's political-military organization, the Mahdi Army. After the raid, moreover, the State Department spokesman said the incident underlined the need to free Iraq's security forces from sectarian control. Militiamen loyal to Sadr have been implicated in many of the reprisal killings against Sunnis since the bombing of a Shi'ite mosque in Samarra in February. Sadr's forces may also be targeted, however, because he has closer links to Iran than any other Shi'ite political figure. On a visit to Tehran in January, Sadr declared, "The forces of Mahdi Army defend the interests of Iraq and Islamic countries. If neighboring Islamic countries, including Iran, become the target of attacks, we will support them." In a move evidently aimed at building popular support for a possible confrontation with the United States, ministers representing all three Shi'ite parties in the Iraqi government united in denouncing the raid as a massacre. Even more significant, however, the "Shi'ite Islamist Alliance" has demanded the restoration of control over security matters to the Iraqi government. According to Joost Hilterman of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, Shi'ite leaders are now talking about the "second betrayal" of the Shi'ite cause by the United States. The first betrayal was the US failure to intervene to support a Shi'ite uprising against the Saddam Hussein regime at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, which resulted in the killing of thousands of Shi'ite civilians. In a showdown between military forces of the two sides, the militant Shi'ites would have a considerable advantage in numbers, but the US would be able to deploy better-trained and -equipped Iraqi forces. US combat forces would be ready to intervene on their side. The move against Shi'ite militia units appears to be the result of a new fear in the White House of impending disaster in Iraq. Despite soothing talk by US commanders last month that the threat of civil war had passed, Brigadier-General Douglas Raaberg, deputy chief of operations for the US Central Command, revealed the command's pessimistic view when he told the Associated Press, "Whenever it happens, it's Iraq's problem and Iraqis have to take care of it." The White House may also have begun to doubt that the political negotiations on a new government will do much to reverse that trend. The idea of a more aggressive policy toward the Shi'ite militias appeals to the desire to do something dramatic to regain control of the situation. A strategy of trying to wrap up the Mahdi Army, however, would represent another major US miscalculation. The militant Shi'ites hold the high cards in any showdown: the ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of followers in the streets of Baghdad. The most likely result of such a campaign would be a decisive - and final - political defeat for the occupation. Is it still worth it?: Listening to an interview with the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, this morning on the Today programme, I felt physically sick, especially when she said: "Thousands of mistakes were committed in Iraq". I couldn't listen to the rest of her sentence; was she about to echo Madeleine Albright's "but the price is worth it"? In May 1996, the 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Albright, then US ambassador to the UN: "We have heard that half a million children have died [as a result of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Albright responded: "I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it." On September 30, 1998, the BBC reported that Denis Halliday, coordinator of the programme, resigned in disgust (after 30 years as an UN employee). The sanctions, he said, were killing 4,000-5,000 children a month. Halliday said the sanctions were strengthening Saddam Hussein by damaging "the innocent people of the country". Two months later (November 26 1998) Unicef reported a 72% rise in "chronically malnourished" Iraqi children, with 960,000 Iraqi children fitting that description. Unicef official Philippe Heffinck noted: "It is clear that children are bearing the brunt of the current economic hardship." Those were the kind of "mistakes" committed under the US-UK backed sanctions. What about the "mistakes" under the Anglo-American occupation? To name but few: The lies over weapons of mass destruction originally used to justify the war; the torture of prisoners, including women and children, in Abu Ghraib and beyond Abu Ghraib; the obscenity of the Anglo-American "liberation's" morality; the daily bloodshed and mayhem; the racism of the occupiers; the humiliation of the occupied; the destruction of the infrastructure; the killing of over 100,000 civilians; the siege and bombardment of cities; the use of DU and white phosphorus; collective punishment, destroying mosques, schools and houses; arbitrary arrests; the more than 30,000 detainees in various US-UK controlled prisons and camps; the women arrested as hostages. Bearing in mind the selective, short memory of the US administration and British government, let us have a look at two "mistakes" during March alone. The first mistake took place in Abu Sifa, as reported in the Sunday Times on March 26: The villagers of Abu Sifa near the Iraqi town of Balad had become used to the sound of explosions at night as American forces searched the area for suspected insurgents. But one night two weeks ago Issa Harat Khalaf heard a different sound that chilled him to the bone. Khalaf, a 33-year-old security officer guarding oil pipelines, saw a US helicopter land near his home. American soldiers stormed out of the Chinook and advanced on a house owned by Khalaf's brother Fayez, firing as they went. Khalaf ran from his own house and hid in a nearby grove of trees. He saw the soldiers enter his brother's home and then heard the sound of women and children screaming. "Then there was a lot of machine gun fire," he said last week. After that there was the most frightening sound of all - silence, followed by explosions as the soldiers left the house. Once the troops were gone, Khalaf and his fellow villagers began a frantic search through the ruins of his brother's home. Abu Sifa was about to join a lengthening list of Iraqi communities claiming to have suffered from American atrocities. According to Iraqi police, 11 bodies were pulled from the wreckage of the house, among them four women and five children aged between six months and five years. An official police report obtained by a US reporter for Knight Ridder newspapers said: "The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people. The second mistake was related to academics: Four Iraqi academics were assassinated. One of them was Professor Kays Juma, 72. His death was reported by western media because he had an Australian passport. Associated Press reported: Australia is trying to find out who will investigate the fatal shooting of an Australian resident in Iraq by a private security guard. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the dead man was Kays Juma. Early reports are that Mr Juma is 72 and a professor at the University of Baghdad, where he taught PhD agriculture students. "(We're) obviously talking with the police and elements of the Coalition ... but we'll have to wait and see and we're still encouraging coordination and an appropriate investigation at this stage,'' he said. He said Mr Juma was an Iraqi citizen married to an Australian. He lived in both countries. "My understanding is that he was in a vehicle, I'm not sure whether he was in the vehicle alone or with other people, that endeavoured to go through a checkpoint without stopping and the security officer opened fire upon the vehicle and he was killed,'' Mr Downer said. The guard is an employee of private security contractor Unity Resources Group. Mr Downer said Australians should not travel to Iraq, and Australians already in Iraq should leave. Paul Jordan of AKE Asia Pacific, an Australian security consulting company which has had contractors in Iraq since the war began, told ABC radio he was not surprised by the incident. "I can see how it can happen ... we're only recognising it now because this person was an Australian, but this is something that happens every day in Iraq,'' he said. "The American troops and other troops over there and security companies are shooting innocent people that do get to close to convoys or who do the wrong thing in traffic or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and look suspicious,'' he said. The Hyperpower Hype and Where It Took Us : In that terrible moment when a choice might have been made between the vision of apocalypse and the reality of al-Qaeda, between a malign version of the smoke-and-mirrors Wizard of Oz and the pathetic little man behind the curtain, the Bush administration opted for the vision in a major way. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and other top officials chose to pump up al-Qaeda into a global enemy worthy of a new Cold War, a generational struggle that might comfortably be filled with smaller, regime-change-oriented, "preventive" hot wars against hopelessly outgunned enemies who -- unlike in those Cold War days -- would have no other superpower to call on for aid. That radioactive decision, not the 9/11 attacks, determined the shape of our world. Bush declared his "crusade" -- make no bones about it -- against Islam (though al Qaeda was the fringiest of "Islamic" groups) and the Middle East. It was, above all, to be a crusade to dominate the energy heartlands of the planet. In its own way, al-Qaeda was ready to accept the Bush version of itself. After all, our President had just elevated it into the major leagues of enemyhood, right up there with the big boys of history. Via various videos, including one just before the 2004 presidential elections, al-Qaeda's leaders entered into a thoroughly bizarre "conversation" with the Bush administration, which, in press conferences, answered in kind. What a compliment! Who could reject a recruiting tool of that sort, right out of someone's Hollywood fantasies. Why not be a group of Islamic Dr. No's? (If only the Bush administration had reacted as James Bond did: "World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon. Or God.") On their part, Bush and his cohorts were all-too-ready to dance with this minor set of apocalypts, in part because they were themselves into fantasies of world domination -- and considered themselves anything but mad. With visions of a "New Rome" -- and a one-party democracy at home -- dancing in their heads, they took that handy, terrifying image of the apocalypse in downtown New York and translated it into every sort of terror (including mushroom clouds threatening to go off over American cities and unmanned aerial vehicles spraying poisons along the East coast). In this way, they stampeded the American people and Congress into their crusade of choice. The story of what followed you know well. Miraculously, al-Qaeda grew and the United States shrank. For one thing, it turned out that top American officials and the various neocons who worked for them or simply cheered them on from Washington's think-tanks and editorial pages, had been taken in by their own hype about American military power. They deeply believed in their pumped-up version of our hyper-strength, our ability to do anything we pleased in a world of midgets; and with the Soviet Union gone, if you just checked out military budgets and high-tech weapons programs, it might indeed look that way. Economically, however, the U.S. was far less strong than they imagined and its military power turned out to be far more impressive when held in reserve as a threat than when put to use in Iraq, where our Army would soon be stopped dead in its half-tracks. In retrospect, the Bush administration badly misread the U.S. position in the world. Its officials, blinded by their own publicity releases on the nature of American power, were little short of self-delusional. And so, with unbearable self-confidence, the administration set out flailingly and, in just a few short years, began to create something like a landscape of ruins. Today, we stand in those ruins, whether we know it or not, though the Ground Zero of the Bush assault was obviously not here, but in Iraq. Starting with their "shock and awe," son-et-lumière air assault on downtown Baghdad (which they promoted as if it were a hot, new TV show), they turned out to want their apocalyptic-looking scenes of destruction up on screen for the world to see no less than al-Qaeda did. It took next to no time for them to turn huge swaths of Iraq into the international equivalent of the World Trade Center. And it's a reasonable guess -- these people being painfully consistent in their predilections -- that it's only going to get worse. (As Sidney Blumenthal recently put it in another context, "Like all failed presidents, Bush is a captive in an iron cage of his own making. The greater his frustration, the tighter he grips the bars.") BEYOND IRAQ There is trouble ahead for Uncle Sam in his own backyard. Big trouble. It is one of the most important and yet largely untold stories of our world in 2006. George W Bush has lost Latin America. While the Bush administration has been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, relations between the United States and the countries of Latin America have become a festering sore - the worst for years. Virtually anyone paying attention to events in Venezuela and Nicaragua in the north to Peru and Bolivia further south, plus in different ways Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, comes to the same conclusion: there is a wave of profound anti-American feeling stretching from the Texas border to the Antarctic. And almost everyone believes it will get worse. Clipped wings and a triumph for realism: Although still united in pushing for confrontation with Iran, the coalition of hawks that propelled US troops toward Baghdad three years ago appears to have finally run out of steam. Demoralized by the quagmire in Iraq, as well as President George W Bush's still falling approval and credibility ratings, the coalition of aggressive nationalists, neo-conservatives and the Christian Right that promoted the belligerent, neo-imperial trajectory in US foreign policy has lost both its coherence and its power to dominate the political agenda in Washington. As a result - and almost by default - realists under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and in the uniformed military have steadily gained control over the administration's policy. Within the increasingly fractious Republican Party, more xenophobic forces appear to be on the rise, as evidenced by recent and ongoing controversies surrounding immigration and foreign control of US ports. Evidence of a decisive shift is not hard to find, beginning with the latest edition of the "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America", released last month. A kinder, gentler version of its fire-breathing 2002 predecessor that laid out the doctrinal justification for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the new version puts a greater emphasis on diplomacy and development, tending alliances and other realist themes, even as it continued the administration's defense of preemptive military action with Iran squarely in mind. Rice's constant travel - as well as that of her two underlings, Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick and Under Secretary for Policy Nicholas Burns - not only demonstrates the priority the administration has placed on cultivating allies and even states more skeptical of US benevolence. It also suggests that the State Department - the bastion of foreign-policy realism - is considerably more confident of its own power within the administration. Indeed, Rice's peripatetic pace stands in striking contrast to the homebody habits of her predecessor, Colin Powell, who feared that even a two- or three-day absence from headquarters would create policy vacuums instantly filled by Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, co-leaders of the hawks' "cabal", as Powell's former chief of staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, has called them. Similarly, senior military officers have appeared less reluctant to buck the party line, making assertions about the lack of progress and looming possibility of civil war in Iraq that are far less optimistic than the two cabalists-in-chief. The return to realism has been helped immensely by the disappearance over the past year of key players from the administration, among them Wolfowitz and Feith, whose unpopularity with the military and among even Republican lawmakers made them convenient scapegoats for the growing fiasco in Iraq. John Bolton's move from a policymaking role in the State Department to the United Nations also deprived the "cabal" of a key player in a strategic post behind "enemy" lines. The loss of I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's formidable chief of staff and national security adviser, after his indictment by a federal grand jury for perjury and other charges in connection with the unauthorized leading of classified information last October was an even more decisive blow against the hawks. A national-security specialist who acted with the full authority and confidence of the most powerful vice president in US history, Libby was the hub of the hawks' network inside the administration. The network has also suffered serious losses in Congress, most particularly the resignation after his indictment by a Texas grand jury last year of the unusually powerful House majority leader, Tom DeLay, who this week said he would not stand for re-election. An outspoken champion of Israel's settler movement, "The Hammer", as he is known, imposed iron discipline on Republicans in the lower chamber on behalf of the 25-year alliance between the Christian Right and pro-Likud neo-conservatives. But aside from these losses, the coalition has been set back by internal divisions that seem only to grow deeper. With a few hardline exceptions, neo-conservatives such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol have been attacking Rumsfeld for failing to deploy many more troops to Iraq and crush all resistance virtually since US forces invaded. Neo-conservatives have also suffered internal divisions that have weakened their political potency. The most important has been their reaction to Israel's disengagement from Gaza and the Kadima Party's plans to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. Staunch Likudniks have opposed disengagement and the administration's support for it; while more moderate elements, including Kristol, have taken a more flexible position. The coalition of hawks is also increasingly threatened by growing disillusionment over the effects of the Bush administration's democracy crusade across the Middle East. Key leaders in the Christian Right, in particular, were stunned by the capital charges brought this year by a court in Afghanistan against a Christian convert, who after US and Western protests was permitted to go into exile in Italy last week. "Some [in] our community decided early on that we would support the president's policies because it might provide the shock therapy to change these dictatorships" in the Islamic world, Reverend Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told National Public Radio on Sunday. "Now, if in fact as a result of this effort ... we're not going to have that kind of freedom for people to choose [their faith], then that's a real torpedo in the belly of the president's policies." American Conservative: Mission Improbable: In Washington, there are a surprising number of analysts, even Bush supporters, who consider an Iranian bomb inevitable at some point-off the record that is. And for some it's not off the record: William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, asserts we should offer the Iranians the bomb if they want it, noting that only under the Bush administration has nonproliferation been used to foster regional destabilization. The Odom assertion underscores a salient point: an Iranian bomb or two does not constitute a great danger to the United States. Even superhawk John Bolton acknowledges that "for the United States the threat posed by Iran is not direct" but that the Iranians could "strike at our friends and allies in the region." State Department officials, with characteristic precision, emphasize this: "A nuclear armed Iran would represent a direct threat to U.S. forces and allies in the region," said Robert G. Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. The threat is not to New York or Cleveland, but to U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf or, given Ahmadinejad's rhetoric, to Tel Aviv. And obviously any Iranian nuclear action against American forces would bring forth a rapid and horrific retaliation. It is natural that Israelis would feel more comfortable as the only state in the Mideast with a nuclear arsenal, and Israeli spokesmen have honed the melodramatic soundbite that an Iranian bomb would constitute "an existential threat" to the Jewish state. Well, yes, it would. Existential threats are, it is regrettable to say, what the nuclear age is all about. For 40 years, the United States faced an existential threat from the Soviet Union, and the Sovet regime in turn faced an existential threat from the United States. Either side could end the meaningful national life of the other-but only at the cost of losing its own. In lamenting the possible emergence of an "existential threat" from Iran, Israel is not complaining about anything that other countries have not had to live with for the past two generations. In January, Jane's Intelligence Review reported that some Israeli strategists are wondering whether Israel's current strategic doctrine, which mandates that Tel Aviv maintain absolute superiority over any potential rival, is really worth the trouble it causes. According to Jane's, some Israeli defense intellectuals are arguing that that the requirement "can create enemies where previously they did not exist." The alternative is for Israel to adopt a strategy of deterrence, the same doctrine that saw the United States through the Cold War. Go See V for Vendetta: You know something is up when a film like V for Vendetta is a box office hit. Adapted from a series of graphic novelettes (i.e., comic books) written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, the plot is set in a dystopian future Britain where "the Party" rules, dissidents are rounded up, the Koran is banned, and the threat of terrorism keeps the ruling elite firmly entrenched in power. From his underground lair, "V" is a kind of futuristic Scarlet Pimpernel, who strikes out at the regime – destroying the Old Bailey in a spectacular pyrotechnic display – while reciting sonnets from Shakespeare and wooing a beautiful girl whose fate has been delivered into his gloved hands. He wears a mask – a sardonic visage reminiscent, at least in my mind, of Cyrano de Bergerac – and as the plot unfolds so does the origin of his vendetta against the Powers That Be: he was tortured and disfigured by the regime's renditioners. As he kills those responsible for his agony, one by one, the viewer is led toward the denouement: a reenactment of the Guy Fawkes legend, in which the modern-day incarnation of that early-17th-century English subversive succeeds in blowing up Parliament and sparking a revolution. The right wing hates this movie, and it isn't hard to see why: it explodes all their pretensions about being the party of "freedom," and it pretty clearly parallels the hypocritical cant of the War Party as it pretends to battle "terrorism" while engaging in a campaign of state terrorism that far surpasses anything a small band of amateurs could possibly hope to dish out. They must find particularly galling a subplot in which evidence emerges that a deadly series of biowarfare attacks attributed to "religious fanatics" (and we don't mean George W. Bush and Jerry Falwell) turn out to be the work of a sinister cabal inside the government – the perfect excuse for a crackdown. All of this – economic collapse, political turmoil, the dictatorship of "the Party" – is clearly identified in the film as the product of a series of wars, stretching from Iraq to Syria to Iran and beyond. I was particularly intrigued by references to "the former United States of America," and hints of a future history in which imperialism has drained the once mighty U.S. until it is a pitiful husk of its former self, crippled by economic dislocation and embroiled in civil war. There was an attempt to demonize this film because it supposedly "advocates terrorism," but that fell flat when it became a box office hit – did the neocons and their fellow red-state fascists really mean to be saying that the movie-going American public is pro-terrorist? Clearly, the regime depicted in the movie deserves to be overthrown, and that lesson is eventually learned by the female lead (Natalie Portman), who spends a lot of time arguing with "V" over the morality of righteous murder. As he hunts down and knocks off his torturers, leaving a single red rose on the corpses as a sign of his authorship, "V" has to listen to her whining and caviling until he subjects her to a simulated imprisonment in the regime's torture chambers (which her parents actually endured), and she – finally! – generates the requisite amount of rage to understand the meaning of justice. The two of them become a team of moral avengers, roles that evoke the origin of this script in the comic book genre. The movie version renders these characters in full, multidimensional reality while retaining the larger-than-life symbolism redolent of the graphic novel form. And the acting ain't bad, either… Go see V for Vendetta, and remember this: by supporting a work of art that embodies your political and philosophical values, you are helping to fight the cultural rot that the War Party feeds on. There is a scene in the movie when Natalie Portman is going about her job at the BTN and passes a security guard watching some ridiculous "reality" show. She asks, "How can you watch that trash?" The contempt in her voice is clearly that of the authors of this script, who are acutely aware of the political consequences of entertainment as cultural "soma." Alternately, a key moment as the anti-regime revolution gathers force is the rebellion of a BTN celebrity, who turns his show into a satire of the high chancellor (waspishly and brilliantly played by John Hurt). The catalytic revolutionary moment occurs when the public stops believing the lies of the regime – a moment V for Vendetta brings closer to realization in our own world. The value of the media as a political weapon is clearly understood by the makers of this movie, and they utilize it to make their effort a resounding success.


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