Friday, March 31, 2006

Making the World Safe for Christianity

By Congressman Ron Paul

03/30/06 "ICH" -- -- Before the US House of Representatives, March 28, 2006

Watch Ron Paul's speech on video.

The top Neo-Con of the twentieth century was Woodrow Wilson. His supposed idealism, symbolized in the slogan “Make the world safe for democracy,” resulted in untold destruction and death across the world for many decades. His deceit and manipulation of the pre-war intelligence from Europe dragged America into an unnecessary conflict that cost the world and us dearly. Without the disastrous Versailles Treaty, World War II could have been averted – and the rise to power of Communists around the world might have been halted.

We seem to never learn from our past mistakes. Today’s neo-cons are as idealistically misled and aggressive in remaking the Middle East as the Wilsonian do-gooders. Even given the horrendous costs of the Iraq War and the unintended consequences that plague us today, the neo-cons are eager to expand their regime-change policy to Iran by force.

The obvious shortcomings of our regime change and occupation of Afghanistan are now readily apparent. The Taliban was ousted from power, but they have regrouped and threaten the delicate stability that now exists in that country. Opium drug production is once again a major operation, with drugs lords controlling a huge area of the country outside Kabul. And now the real nature of the government we created has been revealed in the case of Abdul Rahman, the Muslim who faced a possible death sentence from the Karzai administration for converting to Christianity. Even now that Mr. Rahman is free due to western pressure, his life remains in danger.

Our bombs and guns haven’t changed the fact that the new puppet Afghan government still follows Sharia law. The same loyalty to Sharia exists in Iraq, where we’re trying so hard to stabilize things. And all this is done in the name of spreading democracy.

The sad fact is that even under the despicable rule of Saddam Hussein, Christians were safer in Iraq than they are today. Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister was a practicing Christian. Today thousands of Christians have fled Iraq following our occupation, to countries like Jordan and Syria. Those Christians who have remained in Iraq fear for their lives every day. That should tell us something about the shortcomings of a policy that presumes to make the world safe for democracy.

The Muslim world is not fooled by our talk about spreading democracy and values. The evidence is too overwhelming that we do not hesitate to support dictators and install puppet governments when it serves our interests. When democratic elections result in the elevation of a leader or party not to our liking, we do not hesitate for a minute to undermine that government. This hypocrisy is rarely recognized by the American people. It’s much more comfortable to believe in slogans, to believe that we’re defending our goodness and spreading true liberty. We accept this and believe strongly in the cause, strongly enough to sacrifice many of our sons and daughters, and stupendous amounts of money, to spread our ideals through force.

Pointing out the lack of success is taboo. It seems of little concern to many members of Congress that we lack both the moral right and constitutional authority to impose our will on other nations.

The toughest task is analyzing what we do from their perspective. We should try harder to place ourselves in the shoes of those who live in the Arab countries where our efforts currently are concentrated. We are outraged by a Muslim country that would even consider the death penalty for a Christian convert. But many Muslims see all that we do as a reflection of Western Christianity, which to them includes Europe and America. They see everything in terms of religion.

When our bombs and sanctions kill hundreds of thousands of their citizens, they see it as an attack on their religion by Christians. To them our actions represent a crusade to change their culture and their political systems. They do not see us as having noble intentions. Cynicism and realism tell them we’re involved in the Middle East to secure the oil we need.

Our occupation and influence in the holy lands of the Middle East will always be suspect. This includes all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Na├»vely believing otherwise will guarantee continuing hostilities in Iraq. Our meddling will remain an incitement for radicals to strike us here at home in future terrorist attacks. All the intelligence gathering in the world will serve little purpose if we don’t come to understand exactly why they hate us – despite the good intentions that many Americans hold dear.

March 30, 2006

Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.


source: Information Clearing House

Thursday, March 30, 2006

George Bush and the rise of Christian Fascism

By Rev. Rich Lang

The Imperial Presidency

The men who wrote the Constitution of the United States knew that if power accrued into the hands of an elite the experiment of democracy (power spread out into the realm of the people) would be over. So they created a system of checks and balances which blocked access to any one person, or any one special interest or elite gaining too much power over others. Thus our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government "balanced" each other. The media was yet another "check" on the accrual of too much power, as was the Bill of Rights, and to some extent the Church (or churches). The system wasn't perfect but it kept alive the possibility of true democracy. It kept alive the dream that one day "we the people" could live in a peaceful commonwealth where every person has what they need to survive and thrive.

That dream died in December 2000 when the checks and balances of our Constitution collapsed and George Bush was inserted into the Presidency of the United States. September 11, 2001 furthered the atrophying of democracy handing the country into the hands of an emerging Corporate (and I say Christian) Fascism.

Fascism meaning the collapse of diverse spheres of power into one. Since that time we have witnessed, and have been unable to prevent, the emergence of an Imperial Presidency that has the unrestricted power to declare war against any country it chooses. The Imperial Presidency has brought to end the Constitutional mandate that 'ONLY CONGRESS' has the authority to declare war. It has furthered weakened international law and undermined the potential of the United Nations to spread democracy throughout the earth.

The Imperial Presidency has also gained unrestricted potential to round up American citizens incarcerating them in military brigs or concentration camps for unlimited amounts of time. The presidency can keep the accused from ever again communicating with friends, families, and attorneys, simply on the certification that the incarcerated are "terrorists," as he has done with Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi. The Presidency may also now kill American citizens abroad solely on the basis of naming the one killed "a terrorist". Just ask the family and friends of Ahmed Hijazi, anAmerican killed with a U.S.-fired missile in Yemen. This nullifies the Constitutional right: "no person shall be denied life, liberty or property without due process of law."

Ominous signs are all around us concerning the accrual of power into the hands of the Presidency. If Mr. Bush stays in office I think our future will continue to witness shrinking political rights, financial collapse and endless war. Part of the power and seduction of this administration emerges from its diabolical manipulation of Christian rhetoric. I want to flesh out the ideology of the Christian Fascism that Mr. Bush articulates. It is a form of Christianity that is the mirror opposite of what Jesus embodied. It is, indeed, the materialization of the spirit of antichrist: a perversion of Christian faith and practice.

Christian Fascism

This country, like it or not, is overwhelmingly dominated by the ideology of the Christian story. It is not so much that our founders were all Christians. Rather, they lived in an atmosphere which was visioned through the lens of Christian thought and rhetoric. What they saw was that America had become the New Israel (the new Promised Land) of God. America was a benevolent nation seeking only the good of all. Our wealth is a blessing given to us as a sign that we are a "chosen, special people" whose larger meaning is to help the world into an era of peace, prosperity and justice. Every politician draws on this "civil religion story" of benevolence which gives authority to the politicians ambition and agenda. Another way of saying this is: every nation needs sacred legitimation. It needs the authority of transcendence: of a story larger than itself ... a story that connects past with present and future. An Empire needs an even broader story: one that connects with cosmic and/or historical redemption and new creation.

Martin Luther King understood this sacred American civil religion and was able to wed it brilliantly with the prophetic religious teachings of the Bible. He drew upon Biblical narratives which limited the power and authority of the elite while calling for economic redistribution of wealth. He drew upon teachings rooted in the personal morality of nonviolence and compassion. George Bush, on the other hand, also understands this sacred American 'civic gospel' and has brilliantly merged it with Biblical Holiness and Holy War traditions. These traditions call for the emergence of the Righteous Warrior who will cleanse the land of its impurity. These traditions are rooted in the personal morality of righteous zeal and obedience.

For example:

Mr. Bush consistently sends signals to his right wing religious base. In the 2003 State of the Union he exhorted: "there's power, wonder working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people". It's a phrase from a well known Communion hymn "there's power, wonder working power in the blood of the lamb". Bush brings together the holiness zeal of Christian evangelicalism with patriotic fundamentalism. The core belief system of this 'civic gospel' goes something like this: The United States was founded as a Christian nation with free enterprise as the only economic system truly compatible with Christian beliefs. These religious values are today under attack in America. The danger is that without faith in God America will lose its blessing. Therefore, the government needs to act to protect the nation's religious heritage.

Mr. Bush's teachings on terrorism: "you are with us or against us" cements for the hearer the apocalyptic world of good versus evil. There can be no neutral ground. You have to make a decision. Patriotism is now all or nothing: it is either total agreement or a slippery slope towards treason. In the Church you come to Jesus alone for salvation. In the state you obey the God-annointed leader and are thereby secured.

Renana Brooks writes (The Nation June 24, 2003: Bush Dominates A Nation of Victims):

"Bush is a master at inducing learned helplessness in the electorate. He uses pessimistic language that creates fear and disables people from feeling they can solve their problems. In his September 20, 2001 speech to Congress on the 9/11 attacks, he chose to increase people's sense of vulnerability: 'Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. ... I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight ... Be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.' (Subsequent terror alerts .. have maintained and expanded this fear of unknown, sinister enemies.)"

The terror threat itself can only be combated with increases in military force, domestic security and curtailment of civil rights through Patriot Acts. There are no other options nor any dialogue or debate that would create an alternative way to deal with terrorism.

3.) Mr. Bush certainly sees himself as a Messiah figure. Listen to his language after 9-11: " I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people." Or, in his 2003 State of the Union speech: "I will defend the freedom and security of the American people". He has become the nation. He is its embodiment. According to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, - Bush told him: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." This is Biblical language ... it isn't political script. This is Bush's soul language. He understands himself as a man with a Divine mission. It also means that for him leadership is not "representing the people" rather leadership means transcending the will of the people. George Bush already knows the truth before the evidence is presented. He is guided by God and must blaze the trial even if the people are reluctant.

Iraq, for example, was a necessary war whether or not Saddam had nukes. Saddam, for Bush, was a bad guy who tried to kill "my dad". The war, for Bush, was holy and justified and necessary. Purging evil is necessary in the Holiness/Holy War tradition of the Bible. The righteous will purge evil but the unrighteous will be consumed by it.

Like all religions the Bible has various narratives within its pages: Jesus drew on the prophetic traditions that called upon the people to change their way of life even as it critiqued and called upon the elites to decentralize their power. Jesus role modeled a lifestyle of redemptive suffering on behalf of others. Mr. Bush, however, draws on traditions that call for purity and cleansing. It is a language of hostility towards enemies and a strident call for obedience. It calls forth a lifestyle of the RIGHTEOUS ONE who will purge evil from the world through sacred violence. This religious rhetoric, which merges Holiness Christianity with Imperial Americanism, is "in sync" with a growing new movement in theology called Christian Reconstructionism (or Dominion Theology).

Reconstructed Fascism

First and most basic is that Dominion Theology wants to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern according to a very literal and peculiar interpretation of Biblical law. The disciples of Jesus are to have "dominion" over all of creation. It is the role of the Church to rule over the wicked and bring them into the obedience of faith.

In a "reconstructed society" democracy would be heresy. The division between sacred and secular would be abolished. A new insistence on conformity to moral rules would replace the pluralism we now know. The purpose of the Federal government would be to enforce morality through military and police functions. Society would be regulated by a theocratic elite: in the words of Pat Robertson: "just as the Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also put a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."

We see this at play in the leanings of Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas. Against the common assumption that we are a secular state Mr. Scalia has said (in a FIRST THINGS: May 2002 ) "government ... derives its moral authority from God. Government is the minister of God with powers to revenge, to execute wrath, including wrath by the sword."

Scalia is drawing from Romans 13. If taken literally the implication of those verses would prohibit any resistance against the policies of a government. No more peaceful demonstrations (the government would be justified to do what it did to those recently in Miami and earlier here in Seattle). Even writings of dissent and opposition could be labeled treasonous (this is part of Ashcroft's passion for Patriot Acts and other warnings not to say too much).

Scalia (and many of the conservative judges placed in Federal Courts since Reagan) believe in interpreting the Constitution in its original intent. As Scalia has said (same article as above) "the constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead. It means today not what current society ..thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted." So, as Katherine Yurica points out in her article THE DESPOILING OF AMERICA:

.. since the death penalty was clearly permitted when the 8th Amendment (which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments) was adopted and at that time the death penalty was applied for all felonies --- including, for example, the felony of horse-thieving, "so it is clearly permitted today".

All a willing Dominionist Republican controlled congress need do to extend the death penalty to those people who practice witchcraft, adultery, homosexuality, heresy, etc. is to find those particular death penalty laws existing as of November 3, 1791 and re-instate them.

Scalia further believes that democracy fosters civil disobedience and is therefore a hindrance to the greater good of law and order. Our Federal Court system is being packed with these types of Judges ... Bush himself will try to fill Court vacancies with these type of judges.

Secondly: The good society according to Dominion Theology has men on top. Society would be reconstructed into a strong patriarchy that would provide the social pressure ensuring conformity. Women would find their true function as supportive wives, mothers and homemakers. Those outside this "patriarchal modality" would be exterminated. (Today the Gay marriage movement is a true threat to establishing a patriarchal society. This administration has no choice but to make this a MAJOR issue in the coming election.).

Thirdly: Purity becomes very important. There is only one right way to see the world. It is therefore of fundamental importance to control education in all spheres of culture. We see this in the Bush administration's approach to testing in schools; in his massive discounting of Global warming and in his repeated refusals to engage in open, diversified conversation about matters of importance: whether it be Cheney's Energy Task Force, the investigation of 9/11; or the creation of an "in house" intelligence team which created evidence for the Iraqi war after the other governmental agencies couldn't provide it. The Bush team KNEW the answers before the evidence was even accumulated.

Fourth: Dominion Theology denies history and spurns the modern. It is not a conservative (conserving) movement. Although it might appeal to a nostalgic and mythical past it is primarily focused on a radically, revolutionized future of utopia. It assumes that the end will justify the means and it is moral to work as "stealth agents" fooling the pagans. It sees the world as engaged in spiritual warfare pitting "good Christians" against everybody else. This HOLY WAR and HOLINESS rhetoric is foundational in Mr. Bush's worldview.

Now if you think that this talk is bit "hyper" on my part ... that I'm Chicken Little squawking in the wind ... what then do you make of these Texas Republican platform positions of 2002 ???

"The Republican Party of Texas reaffirms the United States of America is a Christian nation.

Government: We reclaim freedom of religious expression in public on government property, and freedom from government interference. Support government display of Ten Commandments.

... Dispel the "myth" of separation of church and state.

ECONOMY: Abolish the dollar in favor of the gold standard. Abolish the IRS. Eliminate income tax, inheritance tax, gift tax, capital gains, corporate income tax, payroll tax and property tax. Repeal minimum wage law ...Gradually phase out Social security tax for a system of private pensions.

UNITED NATIONS: We immediately rescind our membership in , as well as financial and military contributions to the United Nations ... we should evict the United Nations...

FAMILY: We believe that traditional marriage is a legal and moral commitment between a man and a woman. We recognize that the family is the foundational unit of a healthy society and consists of those related by blood, marriage or adoption. The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct and property.

EDUCATION: Since Secular Humanism is recognized by the United States Supreme Court as a religion ... Secular Humanism should be subjected to the same state and federal laws as any other recognized religion.

ENVIRONMENT: Oppose the myth of global warming. Reaffirm the belief in the fundamental right of an individual to use property without governmental interference.

This coming election will not be decided because of political policy. It will not be decided in a debate over free markets versus fair markets; tax cuts or no tax cuts, Patriot Act or no Patriot Act; military draft or no draft. None of these issues will determine the election because the candidates are all for free markets, tax cuts, domestic security and a strong global military presence. The election will be determined by the candidate who can embody the deeply felt, often unarticulated religious yearnings of the populace. Yearnings such as "who will save us, secure us, lead us??? who will connect us with a power greater than the terrors of the night?" Bush speaks this language. Democrats are stuck in political nuance. Or, in other words, Democrats cannot speak the language of Martin Luther King who understood that social transformation requires a transcendent authority. And it is a vision of transformation, not nuance, that gives people courage to risk alternative paths to violence.

The problem comes down to this: Democrats, liberals, and social progressives have simply not grasped how afraid, insecure and how deeply in despair the populace is. They keep speaking as if tinkering with the system is a vision that can win the day. What Bush and Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Pearls, Abrams and Bolton, DeLay and Rice etc, have clearly understood is that truth is perception. Image is EVERYTHING! Unfortunately, the inner person of America today is a hollowed out consumer who lacks the will power, stamina and imagination to do anything more than be overwhelmed by appearances. Therefore, a politics of crisis, a politics of fear will keep us locked into a state of conformity.

Apocalyptic Fascism

Fueling this politics of fear is yet another theological worldview of crisis and insecurity. Apocalyptic theology is booming !!! Drawing from the Holiness/Holy War traditions of the Bible it currently dominates the mass media expression of Christian faith from which Bush draws his strength. It is a theology of despair that has given up on the possibilities of redemption.

One of the most popular fiction series making the rounds these days is the LEFT BEHIND series written by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins. Multiple millions of people are reading these books which fictionalize the end of life as we know it. It used to be that the Church could control people through the fear of eternal damnation. Today it is through fear of the future. The theology is basically this: The Bible is a code book that when rightly interpreted reveals that we are living at the end of history. History is scripted and is about to come to a catastrophic conclusion. The only hope is to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior so that you can be "saved" from the future apocalypse. God will "snatch you up" (Rapture) right before a seven year series of horrible events that will see the rise of Antichrist and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. There will be world war with most of humanity dying. At that point Jesus will return to restore law and order. This theology of despair "fits" our current culture of powerlessness and fear. From SARS to weapons of mass destruction to the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to ecological collapse, the whole world seems to be on a "no exit" slide into an end times abyss. The theology of despair is very seductive and it is shaping the spirituality of millions of Christians today.

It has, at least, five political implications that affect each one of us here today. FIRST: Israel is to be exalted and defended no matter what they do to the Palestinian people. They are God's chosen people and must reside in their Biblically anointed Land for the "end time clock" to tick to its final minute. Israel has a Biblical mandate to conquer and control all of the land from the Nile River to the Euphrates. Behind the politics of oil lie the religious passion to fulfill God's will: Syria must fall.

Secondly: institutions like the United Nations are not to be trusted because they are tools of the Antichrist. The Antichrist is thought of (not as a spirituality or ideology) but as a personal embodiment of evil. The Antichrist will be a living person who will come to power at the end of history and proclaim himself to be god on earth. The theory has it that his power will be generated from within a coalition of nations. Thus ... America, as God's chosen nation, will need to go it alone so as not to be duped by Antichrist. Our destiny is to take the gospel to all the nations: a benevolent gospel of security and salvation for all.

Thirdly: since the world is passing away the environment is not of great importance. There is no need to worry about issues of sustainability because the world is in its final countdown. Part of the unconcern towards global warming and other ecological crisis is the religious belief that we aren't going to be around in 100 years. We're in the end times now ... every moment is merely preparation for eternity. Whether Bushhimself believes this or not is irrelevant. This is the religious worldview of those who exalt him and the voter-bloc to which he plays. For Bush to act for sustainability would require a major shift in his religious narrative. ... As an aside this past summer the National Park Service was instructed to approve the display of religious symbols and Bible verses, as well as the sale of creationist books at the Grand Canyon National Park. In December 2003 the Park Service was ordered to develop a "more balanced" version of an 8 minute video shown at the Lincoln Memorial Visitor Center. Conservative Christians wanted the removal of footage of gay rights, pro choice and anti-war demonstrations replacing it with footage of Christian rallies and pro-war demonstrations.

Fourth: Apocalyptic theology believes that Jesus dying for my sins is far more important than the teachings of Jesus. We see this in the recent movie PASSION OF THE CHRIST. What this creates is a spirituality that can overlook the teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is re-framed as an impossible this-worldly ethic. Teachings about nonviolence, economic redistribution, compassion toward those who are thought of as sinners and resistance to injustice are all discounted. Recently, the Governor of Alabama in a fit of religious zeal wanted to take the economic teachings of Jesus seriously: he tried to reform his state to benefit the poor. The Christian Coalition led the charge against such thinking and foiled his efforts.

Fifth: a leader who loves Jesus is to be followed as God's man for the hour. The Christian leader is God's shepherd over the American flock. When Bush, who sees himself as a messianic figure anointed by God, decided on running for the Presidency he called a group of evangelical Pastors together announcing to them "I have heard the call" and then received from them the "laying on of hands" which corresponds to divine ordination for the task ahead. On September 14, 2001 he stated: "our responsibility before history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil". He then launched the crusade Operation Infinite Freedom against Afghanistan. Yet other messianic statements from Bush:

"History has called America to action. ... The great hope of our time, and the great hope of every time, now depends on us." ....

"We must also remember our calling as a blessed nation to make the world better ... and confound the designs of evil men."

"Our nation has been chosen by God and commissioned by history, to be a model of justice before the world."

*** According to Vice-President Cheney: America "has the duty to act with force to construct a world in the image of the United States."

In return for this messianic leadership evangelical Christians have poured out an annointing of prayer. During the Afghanistan crusade thousands of "Presidential Circles of Prayer" and "Wheels of Prayer" were organized on the Internet, running 24 hours a day.

Lord hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us.

Bless them and their families for the altruistic actions they are performing

for us in our time of need. This I ask in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen
This prayer was so popular and was hit so often that the website crashed within days.

Pastor Charles Stanley distributed among Marines as they entered into combat thousands of pamphlets entitled "Duty of a Christian in Time of War". With the pamphlet went a card instructing them to sign and send directly to Mr. Bush. The card says: "I have committed to pray for you, your family and your Administration." Specific prayers for the President were included for each day.


The point I'm trying to make is that we are not dealing simply with politics when it comes to the Bush administration. The progressive left, which often pays little attention to Christianity, and the moderate middle, which thinks "these things will balance out"; will be making a huge mistake if they overlook the religious ideology at the core of Mr. Bush personally and the movement he represents. And we are talking about a "movement" (a movement of 'the people' not just the elites). We are seeing today the emergence of a "fascist movement". It is bankrolled and organized by Corporations, and articulated through the ideology of neo-conservatism. But the troops come out of the right wing church. And that church, drawing upon the Holiness/Holy War Biblical narratives of Apocalyptic-Dominionism theology, is growing in this country. This is not a battle between intellectual and institutional elites. It is far more intimate than that. It's a battle in our homes, our families, friendships, neighborhoods and within our faith communities. Let me make a rather audacious prophecy: WHOEVER CONTROLS THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE WILL CONTROL THE FUTURE OF THIS NATION. In other words it's the vision of Pat Robertson or Martin Luther King.

When Dave Korten (author of When Corporations Rule the World) says that we need a "new story"; he is talking about needing a transcendent authority in which we root our political culture. Human beings cannot live in societal form without a sacred narrative. Neither anarchy nor atheism can construct a house that will hold our future. The Republicans know this well. But the Democrats seem clueless.

What we need is a movement of spiritual justice. We need the language of those who can wed America's civil religion with Biblical prophetic narrative. We need to expand that language so that it can include the language and stories that are emerging from the antiwar, fair trade and human rights movements. Together this language can form a unique new narrative that has the power to inspire imagination and courage. A language that can call forth a new coalition powerful enough to envision a new and better world. It will be a language that articulates "we are the ones we are looking for". A language that proclaims "God with us in our diversity" not God above us threatening wrath and ruin.

Rev. Rich Lang is pastor of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington

source: The Smirking Chimp

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Israel Lobby?

By Noam Chomsky

03/28/06 "ZNet" -- -- I've received many requests to comment on the article by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (henceforth M-W), published in the London Review of Books, which has been circulating extensively on the internet and has elicited a storm of controversy. A few thoughts on the matter follow.

It was, as noted, published in the London Review of Books, which is far more open to discussion on these issues than US journals -- a matter of relevance (to which I'll return) to the alleged influence of what M-W call "the Lobby." An article in the Jewish journal Forward quotes M as saying that the article was commissioned by a US journal, but rejected, and that "the pro-Israel lobby is so powerful that he and co-author Stephen Walt would never have been able to place their report in a American-based scientific publication." But despite the fact that it appeared in England, the M-W article aroused the anticipated hysterical reaction from the usual supporters of state violence here, from the Wall St Journal to Alan Dershowitz, sometimes in ways that would instantly expose the authors to ridicule if they were not lining up (as usual) with power.

M-W deserve credit for taking a position that is sure to elicit tantrums and fanatical lies and denunciations, but it's worth noting that there is nothing unusual about that. Take any topic that has risen to the level of Holy Writ among "the herd of independent minds" (to borrow Harold Rosenberg's famous description of intellectuals): for example, anything having to do with the Balkan wars, which played a huge role in the extraordinary campaigns of self-adulation that disfigured intellectual discourse towards the end of the millennium, going well beyond even historical precedents, which are ugly enough. Naturally, it is of extraordinary importance to the herd to protect that self-image, much of it based on deceit and fabrication. Therefore, any attempt even to bring up plain (undisputed, surely relevant) facts is either ignored (M-W can't be ignored), or sets off most impressive tantrums, slanders, fabrications and deceit, and the other standard reactions. Very easy to demonstrate, and by no means limited to these cases. Those without experience in critical analysis of conventional doctrine can be very seriously misled by the particular case of the Middle East(ME).

But recognizing that M-W took a courageous stand, which merits praise, we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion. I've reviewed elsewhere what the record (historical and documentary) seems to me to show about the main sources of US ME policy, in books and articles for the past 40 years, and can't try to repeat here. M-W make as good a case as one can, I suppose, for the power of the Lobby, but I don't think it provides any reason to modify what has always seemed to me a more plausible interpretation. Notice incidentally that what is at stake is a rather subtle matter: weighing the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby.

The M-W thesis is that (B) overwhelmingly predominates. To evaluate the thesis, we have to distinguish between two quite different matters, which they tend to conflate: (1) the alleged failures of US ME policy; (2) the role of The Lobby in bringing about these consequences. Insofar as the stands of the Lobby conform to (A), the two factors are very difficult to disentagle. And there is plenty of conformity.

Let's look at (1), and ask the obvious question: for whom has policy been a failure for the past 60 years? The energy corporations? Hardly. They have made "profits beyond the dreams of avarice" (quoting John Blair, who directed the most important government inquiries into the industry, in the '70s), and still do, and the ME is their leading cash cow. Has it been a failure for US grand strategy based on control of what the State Department described 60 years ago as the "stupendous source of strategic power" of ME oil and the immense wealth from this unparalleled "material prize"? Hardly. The US has substantially maintained control -- and the significant reverses, such as the overthrow of the Shah, were not the result of the initiatives of the Lobby. And as noted, the energy corporations prospered. Furthermore, those extraordinary successes had to overcome plenty of barriers: primarily, as elsewhere in the world, what internal documents call "radical nationalism," meaning independent nationalism. As elsewhere in the world, it's been convenient to phrase these concerns in terms of "defense against the USSR," but the pretext usually collapses quickly on inquiry, in the ME as elsewhere. And in fact the claim was conceded to be false, officially, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Bush's National Security Strategy (1990) called for maintaining the forces aimed at the ME, where the serious "threats to our interests... could not be laid at the Kremlin's door" -- now lost as a pretext for pursuing about the same policies as before. And the same was true pretty much throughout the world.

That at once raises another question about the M-W thesis. What were "the Lobbies" that led to pursuing very similar policies throughout the world? Consider the year 1958, a very critical year in world affairs. In 1958, the Eisenhower administration identified the three leading challenges to the US as the ME, North Africa, and Indonesia -- all oil producers, all Islamic. North Africa was taken care of by Algerian (formal) independence. Indonesia and the were taken care of by Suharto's murderous slaughter (1965) and Israel's destruction of Arab secular nationalism (Nasser, 1967). In the ME, that established the close US-Israeli alliance and confirmed the judgment of US intelligence in 1958 that a "logical corollary" of opposition to "radical nationalism" (meaning, secular independent nationalism) is "support for Israel" as the one reliable US base in the region (along with Turkey, which entered into close relations with Israel in the same year). Suharto's coup aroused virtual euphoria, and he remained "our kind of guy" (as the Clinton administration called him) until he could no longer keep control in 1998, through a hideous record that compares well with Saddam Hussein -- who was also "our kind of guy" until he disobeyed orders in 1990. What was the Indonesia Lobby? The Saddam Lobby? And the question generalizes around the world. Unless these questions are faced, the issue (1) cannot be seriously addressed.

When we do investigate (1), we find that US policies in the ME are quite similar to those pursued elsewhere in the world, and have been a remarkable success, in the face of many difficulties: 60 years is a long time for planning success. It's true that Bush II has weakened the US position, not only in the ME, but that's an entirely separate matter.

That leads to (2). As noted, the US-Israeli alliance was firmed up precisely when Israel performed a huge service to the US-Saudis-Energy corporations by smashing secular Arab nationalism, which threatened to divert resources to domestic needs. That's also when the Lobby takes off (apart from the Christian evangelical component, by far the most numerous and arguably the most influential part, but that's mostly the 90s). And it's also when the intellectual-political class began their love affair with Israel, previously of little interest to them. They are a very influential part of the Lobby because of their role in media, scholarship, etc. From that point on it's hard to distinguish "national interest" (in the usual perverse sense of the phrase) from the effects of the Lobby. I've run through the record of Israeli services to the US, to the present, elsewhere, and won't review it again here.

M-W focus on AIPAC and the evangelicals, but they recognize that the Lobby includes most of the political-intellectual class -- at which point the thesis loses much of its content. They also have a highly selective use of evidence (and much of the evidence is assertion). Take, as one example, arms sales to China, which they bring up as undercutting US interests. But they fail to mention that when the US objected, Israel was compelled to back down: under Clinton in 2000, and again in 2005, in this case with the Washington neocon regime going out of its way to humiliate Israel. Without a peep from The Lobby, in either case, though it was a serious blow to Israel. There's a lot more like that. Take the worst crime in Israel's history, its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 with the goal of destroying the secular nationalist PLO and ending its embarrassing calls for political settlement, and imposing a client Maronite regime. The Reagan administration strongly supported the invasion through its worst atrocities, but a few months later (August), when the atrocities were becoming so severe that even NYT Beirut correspondent Thomas Friedman was complaining about them, and they were beginning to harm the US "national interest," Reagan ordered Israel to call off the invasion, then entered to complete the removal of the PLO from Lebanon, an outcome very welcome to both Israel and the US (and consistent with general US opposition to independent nationalism). The outcome was not entirely what the US-Israel wanted, but the relevant observation here is that the Reaganites supported the aggression and atrocities when that stand was conducive to the "national interest," and terminated them when it no longer was (then entering to finish the main job). That's pretty normal.

Another problem that M-W do not address is the role of the energy corporations. They are hardly marginal in US political life -- transparently in the Bush administration, but in fact always. How can they be so impotent in the face of the Lobby? As ME scholar Stephen Zunes has rightly pointed out, "there are far more powerful interests that have a stake in what happens in the Persian Gulf region than does AIPAC [or the Lobby generally], such as the oil companies, the arms industry and other special interests whose lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races."

Do the energy corporations fail to understand their interests, or are they part of the Lobby too? By now, what's the distinction between (1) and (2), apart from the margins?

Also to be explained, again, is why US ME policy is so similar to its policies elsewhere -- to which, incidentally, Israel has made important contributions, e.g., in helping the executive branch to evade congressional barriers to carrying out massive terror in Central America, to evade embargoes against South Africa and Rhodesia, and much else. All of which again makes it even more difficult to separate (2) from (1) -- the latter, pretty much uniform, in essentials, throughout the world.

I won't run through the other arguments, but I don't feel that they have much force, on examination.

The thesis M-W propose does however have plenty of appeal. The reason, I think, is that it leaves the US government untouched on its high pinnacle of nobility, "Wilsonian idealism," etc., merely in the grip of an all-powerful force that it cannot escape. It's rather like attributing the crimes of the past 60 years to "exaggerated Cold War illusions," etc. Convenient, but not too convincing. In either case.

source: Information Clearing House

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"A Model Democracy Is not Emerging in Iraq"

Francis Fukuyama was a life-long neo-conservative prior to the election of the Bush Administration. The Iraq war led him to change his mind. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to Fukuyama about the US handling of Iraq, the moral superiority of America and Europe's dangerous addiction to anti-Americanism.

03/25/06 "SPIEGEL ONLINE" -- -- SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your new book, "America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy," is a rejection of the political views you have held throughout your academic career. What happened?

Fukuyama: Iraq happened. The process of distancing myself from neo-conservatism happened four years ago really. I had decided the war wasn't a good idea some time in 2002 as we were approaching the invasion of Iraq.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why? After all, one of the neo-conservative pillars is a profound belief in democracy and the spread of democracy.

Fukuyama: I was partly unsure whether the United States could handle the transition to a democratic government in Iraq. But the biggest problem I had was that the people pushing for the intervention lacked self-knowledge about the US. When I look back over the 20th century history of American interventions, particularly those in the Caribbean and Latin America, the consistent problem we've had is being unable to stick it out. Before the Iraq war, it was clear that if we were going to do Iraq properly, we would need a minimum commitment of five to 10 years. It was evident from the beginning that the Bush administration wasn't preparing the American people for that kind of a mission. In fact, it was obvious the Bush people were trying to do Iraq on the cheap. They thought they could get in and out in less than a year.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where did this belief come from? Was it naivete, hubris or just plain ignorance?

Fukuyama: A lot of the neo-conservatives drew the wrong lessons from the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism. They generalized from that event that all totalitarian regimes are basically hollow at the core and if you give them a little push from the outside, they're going to collapse. Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, most people thought that communism would be around for a long time. In fact, it disappeared within seven or eight months in 1989. That skewed the thinking about the nature of dictatorships and neo-conservatives made a wrong analogy between Eastern Europe and what would happen in the Middle East.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So it was an invasion based on misinformation and misinterpretation?

Fukuyama: Yes.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There were, of course, a number of justifications offered by the Bush administration for invading Iraq. Spreading democracy was one element, but so were fear of weapons of mass destruction and fear of terrorism. How much neo-conservatism went into the final decision to invade?

Fukuyama: The invasion of Iraq was not based primarily on the desire to democratize Iraq. The US was sincerely worried about weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration also asserted a terrorist link -- though I think that was much less honest than the belief in WMDs. The political constitution of the Middle East was the third of three motivations for undertaking the war.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Now, of course, the original list of justifications for the war has been cut down to one.

Fukuyama: The Bush Administration pulled a bit of a bait and switch because the other rationales -- WMDs and terrorism -- have disappeared. By the time of Bush's second inaugural, the democracy justification was the only one left.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And that justification isn't selling very well in the United States.

Fukuyama: The polling data indicate that, especially among Republican voters, the democracy project doesn't have much resonance. Obviously, if Bush had gone to the country prior to the war and said we're going to spend however many trillion dollars and thousands of casualties for the sake of democracy in Iraq, he would have been laughed out of the White House.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: A look at the Iraq of today makes that skepticism seem justified.

Fukuyama: Iraq has become a breeding ground for terror. The upside to the war is not very high. We could get a government in Iraq, but it will be relatively weak. There will be a continuing level of violence and continued instability in that area. A model democracy is not going to emerge and set off a further wave of democratization.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The results of recent democratic or quasi-democratic elections in the region have not been promising. We now have Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, expanded influence for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and pro-Iran Shiites more or less calling the shots in Iraq. How can anyone argue that democracy is good for security in the region?

Fukuyama: That's a complicated issue. I agree with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she says it is not possible to hold back the forces of social change by supporting authoritarian regimes. Right now, unfortunately, a lot of the leading voices of social change in the region are Islamist groups. In the long run, their voices are going to be heard no matter what you do. The task is trying to get them to enter a democratic form of political discourse. There is a real danger with Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, for example. But on the other hand, you can't build a lasting peace based on a highly corrupt Fatah group either.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, the radicalization we are seeing is the first step in a debate?

Fukuyama: It's the first step in a very, very long process. But I do not agree with the Bush administration that this is a necessary phase to win the war on terrorism. If that's the case, we're still going to be fighting this thing 30 odd years down the road. But it is part of a broader pattern of political change that is going to take place in the Middle East and I don't think you can stop it in the end.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have written that modernization itself is one of the main factors fuelling worldwide terror. Can the war on terrorism really be won?

Fukuyama: The metaphor "war" is the wrong metaphor. We are engaged basically in a battle for the hearts and minds of people -- a struggle over ideas. It's the struggle between the ideas of a pluralistic, democratic modern society versus theocracy. In the end there's no question which one of these is preferable to live in for Muslims as well as for non-Muslims.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How is the United States doing in the battle for hearts and minds?

Fukuyama: Not well. The Iraq war was a big setback. The original theory was that if you undercut Saddam Hussein and transition to a very appealing democracy, there would be a big positive effect. But it didn't happen, and instead Iraq has become a recruiting cry for the other side -- it has stimulated a lot of people to join the resistance and to commit themselves to jihad.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You can't fight for hearts and minds using guns and bombs?

Fukuyama: The metaphor I use for the theory the Bush administration was operating under is that of a broken television set. The picture was flickering on and off. The hope was, if you take a big baseball bat and whack the TV as hard as you can, this would jar something loose and make the television set work. It wasn't more sophisticated than that. The idea was that the shock of overthrowing an Arab dictator and replacing him would stir things up. In certain ways it has. But it's a very, very blunt instrument and the television is as bad as ever.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: During his first term, Bush presented his first strike doctrine that allowed the US to engage in pre-emptive strikes should the need arise. Why did the US think that the world would accept this doctrine?

Fukuyama: We believed we could do this because of our notion that US motives are better than other people's and that we can be trusted with this sort of power. Neo-conservatives argued in 2000 for exactly this form of benevolent hegemony. The question posed was: 'Are other people and countries going to resist and resent this assertion of American power?' Their answer was no. America, they thought, was more moral than other countries and other people would recognize that our hegemony is much more benevolent than other empires of the past. That is something they were wrong about.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It sounds like you're saying neo-conservatism is a nice theory, but it doesn't work if you put it into practice.

Fukuyama: Even with a more skillful diplomacy, there still would have been big problems. Part of that is a structural problem in the world right now where America is so powerful that it creates a huge amount of resentment. There's a very high background level of anti-Americanism no matter what. The Bush people made it worse by the way they proceeded, but it would have been difficult even in the absence of that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: With the result that neo-conservatism, whether it was a direct factor in the pre-war thinking or not, has been discredited.

Fukuyama: I would think so at this point. Right.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US, too, seems to have been discredited, at least in the eyes of the world. Does the US really not care about global opinion?

Fukuyama: It was almost as though the Bush Administration went out of its way to annoy the rest of the world. The Kyoto Protocol was a good example. The Clinton Administration signed the Kyoto Protocol but Clinton understood that the treaty would never get through the Senate. He just let it sit there instead of trying to get it ratified. Bush could have done the same thing but instead, he went out of his way to pull out of the protocol and he didn't come up with an alternative. Instead of working on a solution, he stuck his thumb in the face of people who really believe that there is a problem.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And then the Iraq war kicked off a wave of anti-Americanism in Europe. Is that maybe the biggest damage done by the Iraq war?

Fukuyama: The Iraq war, of course, has done a lot of damage in a lot of different areas. It's going to take at least the next generation to restore America to the kind of position it had prior to this in terms of respect and being a model. Now, when we talk about democracy, people think about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Much of the international criticism against the US has been justified. But has Europe been too content to sit back and criticize the US while doing little to deal with the hotspots around the world?

Fukuyama: There has been a kind of self-indulgent anti-Americanism on the part of a lot of Europeans. More than most other Americans, I appreciate many of the criticisms that Europeans have made and I think some of them -- especially those of the Bush Administration -- are quite justified. But there is also this revelry in what I think is irrational anti-Americanism -- this idea that America is the source of all the injustice in the world. Americans are responsible for a lot of good outcomes; just look at the Balkans in the 1990s. Europeans should be careful. It feels good to indulge in a lot of this casual anti-Americanism but it's not healthy and it's not just. In the long run it's going to lead to Americans saying, "to hell with Europe."

Interview conducted by Charles Hawley

source: Information Clearing House

Friday, March 24, 2006

Israel Lobby Dictates U.S. Policy, Study Charges

by Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON - "This situation has no equal in American political history," says the 83-page study, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy".

"Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?" ask authors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The answer, according to the paper, which is already stirring debate in academic circles and fury among pro-Israel groups, is the influence of the pro-Israel lobby.

These groups include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, and more recently, Christian Zionist organizations.

A shorter version of the study was published in the London Review of Books on Mar. 10. The authors say their research is so strong that they doubt that any U.S. mainstream publication would dare publish it.

Based on sources that include Israeli scholars and journalists, international human rights organizations, and testimony from the lobby itself and politicians that support it, the study examines how the pro-Israel lobby built up its influence in Washington and says its intimidation of the press, think tanks and academia has led to a deceptive picture of Israel.

Since World War II, the United States has channeled 140 billion dollars in support to Israel, notes the study, which also challenges the notion that Israel is a "crucial ally in the war on terror, because its enemies are America's enemies".

"Saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around," the authors argue.

"In short, treating Israel as America's most important ally in the campaign against terrorism and assorted Middle East dictatorships both exaggerates Israel's ability to help on these issues and ignores the ways that Israel's policies make U.S. efforts more difficult," they say.

According to the study, pro-Israel lobby groups have exploited the sensitivities of major media outlets and of U.S. politicians to campaign contributions to maintain their sympathy for Israel regardless of what it does in the region.

During AIPAC's annual conference earlier this month, which attracted top U.S. officials and Congressional leaders, the new Republican majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, vowed never to allow anti-Israel legislation come to the floor.

"As the new House majority leader, I can assure you that under my leadership, legislation that is in any way perceived as anti-Israel will not be considered in the House of Representatives," said Boehner.

The study also points to Washington's staunch support of Israel at the United Nations. Since 1982, it says, the United States has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel -- a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. And it has blocked Arab states' efforts to put Israel's nuclear arsenal on the agenda of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

At home, the lobby has worked hard to suppress its critics, something the authors say has not been good for democracy, especially one that now claims to be promoting freedom in the Arab world.

"Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and boycotts -- or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites -- violates the principle of open debate upon which democracy depends," they say.

The study was immediately attacked by a number of pro-Israel organizations. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, for example, said in a statement that it had many errors, and that, "A student who submitted such a paper would flunk."

Newspapers like the New York Sun, known for its pro-Israel stance, published supportive reactions to the study from a prominent white supremacist and from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as evidence that the authors catered to extreme tastes.

Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman from New York who is Jewish, said that the paper "really deserves the contempt of the American people," and described it as "the same old anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel".

"We fully recognized that the lobby would retaliate against us," Prof. Mearsheimer told IPS. "We expected the story we told in the piece would apply to us after it was published. We are not surprised that we've come under attack by the lobby."

The paper notes that the pro-Israel lobby has also been bolstered by the support of prominent, and some would say extremist, Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as congressmen Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda.

Neo-conservative "gentiles" such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the former U.N. ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also committed supporters of the Israel lobby.

While the pro-Israel lobby has managed a number of successes for Israel, the cost for the United States is mounting, the study says.

"This situation is deeply worrisome, because the Lobby's influence causes trouble on several fronts," says the study. These include possible increases in the military danger that all states face -- including Washington's European allies.

By preventing U.S. leaders from pressuring Israel to make peace, the lobby has also made it impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which gives extremists a potent recruiting tool and enlarges the pool of potential militants, the authors say. And new attempts by the lobby to "change regimes" in Iran and Syria could lead the United States to attack those countries, with potentially disastrous effects.

"We do not need another Iraq. At a minimum, the Lobby's hostility toward these countries makes it especially difficult for Washington to enlist them against al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency, where their help is badly needed," it says.

The authors counted a number of other negative effects on both the United Sates and Israel. These include how the U.S. is now supporting Israel's expansionist policies in the West Bank, making Washington appear complicit in human rights abuses.

U.S. backing has emboldened extremists to reject a number of opportunities for peace deals with Arab countries like Syria, with the Palestinians and the implementation of the Oslo Accords, the study says.

Mearsheimer said he and co-author Walt were prompted to write the piece after many years of studying U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

"It was clear to us that many people understood the problem that we describe in the piece but were afraid to talk about it... because the lobby would retaliate," he told IPS.

John Mearsheimer is the Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at Chicago, and the author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

Stephen Walt is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. His most recent book is Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy.

Copyright © 2006 IPS - Inter Press Service


source: Common Dreams

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The farcical end of the American dream

The US press is supposed to be challenging the lies of this war

By Robert Fisk

"The Independent" -- -- It is a bright winter morning and I am sipping my first coffee of the day in Los Angeles. My eye moves like a radar beam over the front page of the Los Angeles Times for the word that dominates the minds of all Middle East correspondents: Iraq. In post-invasion, post-Judith Miller mode, the American press is supposed to be challenging the lies of this war. So the story beneath the headline "In a Battle of Wits, Iraq's Insurgency Mastermind Stays a Step Ahead of US" deserves to be read. Or does it?

Datelined Washington - an odd city in which to learn about Iraq, you might think - its opening paragraph reads: "Despite the recent arrest of one of his would-be suicide bombers in Jordan and some top aides in Iraq, insurgency mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has eluded capture, US authorities say, because his network has a much better intelligence-gathering operation than they do."

Now quite apart from the fact that many Iraqis - along, I have to admit, with myself - have grave doubts about whether Zarqawi exists, and that al-Qai'da's Zarqawi, if he does exist, does not merit the title of "insurgency mastermind", the words that caught my eye were "US authorities say". And as I read through the report, I note how the Los Angeles Times sources this extraordinary tale. I thought American reporters no longer trusted the US administration, not after the mythical weapons of mass destruction and the equally mythical connections between Saddam and the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. Of course, I was wrong.

Here are the sources - on pages one and 10 for the yarn spun by reporters Josh Meyer and Mark Mazzetti: "US officials said", "said one US Justice Department counter-terrorism official", "Officials ... said", "those officials said", "the officials confirmed", "American officials complained", "the US officials stressed", "US authorities believe", "said one senior US intelligence official", "US officials said", "Jordanian officials ... said" - here, at least is some light relief - "several US officials said", "the US officials said", "American officials said", "officials say", "say US officials", "US officials said", "one US counter-terrorism official said".

I do truly treasure this story. It proves my point that the Los Angeles Times - along with the big east coast dailies - should all be called US OFFICIALS SAY. But it's not just this fawning on political power that makes me despair. Let's move to a more recent example of what I can only call institutionalised racism in American reporting of Iraq. I have to thank reader Andrew Gorman for this gem, a January Associated Press report about the killing of an Iraqi prisoner under interrogation by US Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jnr.

Mr Welshofer, it transpired in court, had stuffed the Iraqi General Abed Hamed Mowhoush head-first into a sleeping bag and sat on his chest, an action which - not surprisingly - caused the general to expire. The military jury ordered - reader, hold your breath - a reprimand for Mr Welshofer, the forfeiting of $6,000 of his salary and confinement to barracks for 60 days. But what caught my eye was the sympathetic detail. Welshofer's wife's Barbara, the AP told us, "testified that she was worried about providing for their three children if her husband was sentenced to prison. 'I love him more for fighting this,' she said, tears welling up in her eyes. 'He's always said that you need to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do'".

Yes, I guess torture is tough on the torturer. But try this from the same report: "Earlier in the day ... Mr Welshofer fought back tears. 'I deeply apologise if my actions tarnish the soldiers serving in Iraq,' he said."

Note how the American killer's remorse is directed not towards his helpless and dead victim but to the honour of his fellow soldiers, even though an earlier hearing had revealed that some of his colleagues watched Welshofer stuffing the general into the sleeping bag and did nothing to stop him. An earlier AP report stated that "officials" - here we go again - "believed Mowhoush had information that would 'break the back of the insurgency'." Wow. The general knew all about 40,000 Iraqi insurgents. So what a good idea to stuff him upside down inside a sleeping bag and sit on his chest.

But the real scandal about these reports is we're not told anything about the general's family. Didn't he have a wife? I imagine the tears were "welling up in her eyes" when she was told her husband had been done to death. Didn't the general have children? Or parents? Or any loved ones who "fought back tears" when told of this vile deed? Not in the AP report he didn't. General Mowhoush comes across as an object, a dehumanised creature who wouldn't let the Americans "break the back" of the insurgency after being stuffed headfirst into a sleeping bag.

Now let's praise the AP. On an equally bright summer's morning in Australia a few days ago I open the Sydney Morning Herald. It tells me, on page six, that the news agency, using the Freedom of Information Act, has forced US authorities to turn over 5,000 pages of transcripts of hearings at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. One of them records the trial of since-released British prisoner Feroz Abbasi, in which Mr Abbasi vainly pleads with his judge, a US air force colonel, to reveal the evidence against him, something he says he has a right to hear under international law.

And here is what the American colonel replied: "Mr Abbasi, your conduct is unacceptable and this is your absolute final warning. I do not care about international law. I do not want to hear the words international law. We are not concerned about international law."

Alas, these words - which symbolise the very end of the American dream - are buried down the story. The colonel, clearly a disgrace to the uniform he wears, does not appear in the bland headline ("US papers tell Guantanamo inmates' stories") of the Sydney paper, more interested in telling us that the released documents identify by name the "farmers, shopkeepers or goatherds" held in Guantanamo.

I am now in Wellington, New Zealand, watching on CNN Saddam Hussein's attack on the Baghdad court trying him. And suddenly, the ghastly Saddam disappears from my screen. The hearing will now proceed in secret, turning this drumhead court into even more of a farce. It is a disgrace. And what does CNN respectfully tell us? That the judge has "suspended media coverage"!

If only, I say to myself, CNN - along with the American press - would do the same.

source: Information Clearing House

Friday, March 17, 2006

Launch of Iranian oil trading hits wall

Oil exchange unlikely to begin till at least midyear

By John Partridge
Investment Reporter

03/15/06 "Globe & Mail" -- -- As the nuclear standoff pitting Iran against the West continues, some conspiracy theorists are more focused on another plan that the Middle Eastern nation is pursuing.

But they are jumping the gun if they still figure Iran is within days of launching a new international oil exchange that would sell its own and other Middle Eastern oil producers' black gold in euros rather than U.S. dollars -- and which, the theory goes, could ultimately torpedo the greenback and the U.S. economy.

Despite repeated reports over the past 18 months or so that the planned bourse would finally open for business on March 20, 2006 -- and go head to head with the New York Mercantile Exchange and the ICE Futures Exchange in London -- the start date has been postponed by at least several months and maybe more than a year.

"In the middle of 2006, we are able to start the bourse," Mohammad Asemipur, special adviser on the project to Iran's Oil Minister, said when reached in Tehran. The plan is to trade petrochemical products first, with a crude oil contract coming last, a rollout that likely will take three years, he said.

"Oh, crikey, it's at a much earlier stage than people would think," said British consultant Chris Cook, who claims credit for coming up with the idea for the exchange in the first place and is a member of the consortium headed by the Tehran Stock Exchange that is charged with bringing the project to life.

"You can rest assured, there will not be a crude oil contract, Gulf-based, in my opinion, within a year -- and that would be really pushing it," Mr. Cook, a former director of ICE's predecessor, the International Petroleum Exchange, said when reached in Scotland.

The electronic exchange is to be located on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, an Iranian duty- and tax-free zone.

There has been far less talk about the planned bourse in the mainstream media than on the Internet, particularly on websites aimed at gold bugs and other economic conspiracy theorists.

The theory is that all trades through the new bourse would be made in euros, not the U.S. dollar, which for decades has been the world's primary reserve currency, as well as the one in which oil and most other commodities have been priced. As a result, European nations and other countries, especially Middle East oil producers, tired of having to buy billions of now weakening greenbacks to pay for their energy purchases, would no longer have to do so.

This, the conspiracy theorists contend, would knock the stuffing out of the U.S. currency and hasten the decline and fall of the American Empire, all the while allowing Iran to stick it to the Great Satan.

But, the theory continues, Washington will pre-empt all this by using Iran's nuclear ambitions as a pretext for attacking the country.

Kamal Daneshyar, chairman of Iran's Majlis [parliamentary] Energy Commission reportedly told the Iranian Students News Agency in December that the exchange would at first operate in both dollars and euros, but gradually move to the European currency exclusively. He was also quoted as saying that this would enable Iran to get even with the U.S. for the economic damages it has inflicted on the Islamic republic.

Dr. Asemipur, meanwhile, was noncommittal on the currency question, saying market participants, not the Iranian government, would make the decision. He also denied the planned bourse could harm the U.S. economy.

Mr. Cook dismissed the idea that Iran's goal is to use the bourse to sabotage the greenback. "I have a technical term for that," he said. "Bollocks!"

As for trading oil in euros, he said the Iranians likely would find it very difficult, at least in the next several years. "Basically, there aren't enough euros in circulation, and nor are there likely to be," he said.

Mr. Cook cited a recent article on Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online by William Engdahl, who specializes in the geopolitics of oil.

"For the euro to begin to challenge the reserve role of the U.S. dollar, a virtual revolution in policy would have to take place in Euroland," Mr. Engdahl wrote. "First the European Central Bank . . . would have to surrender power to elected legislators. It would then have to turn on the printing presses and print euros like there was no tomorrow."

A full challenge to the U.S. dollar as the world central bank reserve currency, Mr. Engdahl added later, would entail a "de facto declaration of war on the 'full-spectrum dominance' of the United States today," and that is something no country or group of countries is yet willing to launch.

© Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc

source: Information Clearing House

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

FBI Documents Raise New Questions about Extent of Surveillance

by Jonathan S. Landay

WASHINGTON - An FBI counterterrorism unit monitored - and apparently infiltrated - a peace group in Pittsburgh that opposed the invasion of Iraq, according to internal agency documents released on Tuesday.

The disclosure raised new questions about the extent to which federal authorities have been conducting surveillance operations against Americans since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Previous revelations include FBI monitoring of environmental and animal rights organizations, scrutiny of anti-war organizations by a top-secret Pentagon program and eavesdropping by the National Security Agency on domestic communications without court authorization.

Federal officials insist that the efforts are legal, although the Pentagon has admitted that the top-secret TALON program mistakenly retained in its database reports on scores of anti-war protests and individuals as part of an effort to identify terrorist threats against defense facilities and personnel.

The documents released on Tuesday were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. They showed that the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI's Pittsburgh office conducted a secret investigation into the activities of the Thomas Merton Center beginning as early as Nov. 29, 2002, and continuing as late as March 2005.

William J. Crowley, a spokesman for the FBI's Pittsburgh office, said that the monitoring of the center was legal and related to an ongoing investigation. He didn't provide any details of the probe. He said that when the FBI found no link between its investigation and the center, it ended the surveillance.

The ACLU contended that the documents are the first to "show conclusively" that an anti-war group was targeted for "its anti-war views."

"These documents show that Americans are not safe from secret government surveillance, even when they are handing out fliers in the town square, an activity clearly protected by the Constitution," said Marty Catherine Roper, an ACLU staff attorney.

The center, founded in 1972, describes itself as a group of people from diverse faiths who believe in "nonviolent struggle" for peace and justice. Merton, an American Roman Catholic monk, author and poet, died in 1968.

An FBI report dated Nov. 29, 2002, identified the center as "a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism."'

"The TMC holds daily leaflet distribution activities in downtown Pittsburgh and is currently focused on its opposition to the potential war in Iraq," said the report. "According to these leaflets, Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction and that, if the United States invades Iraq, Saddam Hussein will unleash bio-chemical weapons upon American soldiers."

The report also noted that the center had cooperated with an Islamic organization in staging an event to promote understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in Pittsburgh.

An FBI agent photographed center members handing out leaflets, said the report, which added that "one female leaflet distributor, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, inquired" if the picture-taker worked for the FBI.

A Feb. 26, 2003, FBI report titled "International Terrorism Matters" detailed a schedule that the center posted on its Web site of anti-war rallies in Pittsburgh, New York and elsewhere.

Four heavily redacted documents - one dated Nov. 5, 2004, another Feb. 28, 2005, and two dated March 23, 2005 - appeared to be reports from an FBI informant who had infiltrated the group.

The documents all contained the phrase: "Source, who is not in a position to testify, provided the following information." They also say that the source observed and reported on the group. The information reported was blacked out.

"The documents say they were conducting some kind of investigation," Jim Kleissler, the Thomas Merton Center director, said in a telephone interview. "That implies we were under surveillance simply because we were against the war. Our freedoms are being undermined."

The FBI agent who photographed the pamphlet distribution "was acting with all appropriate investigative authorities" and destroyed the pictures when it was determined that they were of no value to the probe, Crowley said in a statement. The Feb. 26, 2003, report was a draft document and was never made part of an official file, he said.

© 2006 KR Washington Bureau and wire service sources


source: Common Dreams

Cultural Warmongers

Picking a fight with a faith 1.3 billion strong

By Patrick J. Buchanan

03/14/06 "
American Conservative" -- -- If you wish to get along with a man, you do not insult his faith. And if you seek to persuade devout Muslims that al-Qaeda is our enemy, not Islam, you do not condone with silence insults to the faith of a billion people.

Understanding this, President Bush ceased to call the war on terror a “crusade.” Visiting a mosque, he removed his shoes. He has hosted White House gatherings for the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan. He sent Karen Hughes to the State Department to improve our dismal image in the Islamic world. He has declared more times than many of us care to recall, “Islam is a religion of peace.”

President Bush knows we are in a struggle for the hearts and minds of Islamic peoples, and if we are to win this struggle we must separate the Muslim monsters from the masses. For as that great American military mind Col. John Boyd defined it, strategy is the appending to oneself of as many centers of power as possible and isolating your enemy from as many centers of power as possible.

This is what makes the Mohammed cartoons so stupid and self-destructive. They have given Islamic extremists visible proof to show pious Muslims that the West relishes mocking what they hold most sacred: the prophet. They have united Muslim moderates with militants in common rage against us. They have added to the hatred of the West in the Islamic world as friends like King Abdullah of Jordan, Presidents Mubarak of Egypt and Karzai of Afghanistan, and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey warned us they would.

One wonders. Did the cynical Europeans learn nothing from the Salman Rushdie episode? Did they learn nothing from the firestorm that erupted in the Islamic world when Christian ministers in the United States, post-9/11, called Mohammed a “terrorist”?

Why then did they do this? Why did the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten publish cartoons it knew to be so blasphemous to Muslims? Why did Le Monde, France Soir, Die Welt, El Pais, Il Stampa republish them—on their front pages? If a European newsman was oblivious to the probable effect among Muslims of plastering a cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban on page one, he is too stupid to be an editor. But if he did know the near-certain effect of such an in-your-face provocation, why would he do it? Is this the reflexive secularist hostility of the Europress to all religious faiths on display here or something else?

And so we come to the heart of the matter. Why? What was the motive here? What is the game that is afoot? The rationale of the imams who ensured that all Muslims knew of the cartoons and their contents and called for demonstrations and assaults on Western consulates and embassies is evident. They hate us, and they wish to drive us out of the Middle East. But what propelled our own ideologues to prod U.S. editors to republish the cartoons in “solidarity” with the Europeans? Who pushed George W. Bush and Condi Rice not to condemn the cartoons but to “stand up” for the freedom to publish and defy any “intimidation” by the Islamic world?

Answer: our cultural warmongers, who seek the same goal as their cultural warmongers—to ignite a war of civilizations. Both want the “long war” of which the Pentagon speaks, the “World War IV” against “Islamofascism” that is the dream of neoconservatives and the nightmare of their countrymen.

As has been evident for some time, bin Laden and the neocons both seek the same thing: a fight to the finish, no matter how long, no matter how many invasions it takes, no matter how many lives are lost. For if peace were reached between the Islamic world and the West, even a cold peace with Iran and Syria, what would they do then?

As the provocations of Ahmadinejad are music to the ears of neocons, for they rule out dialogue and diplomacy, the escalation of the cartoon wars into an all-out culture war between Islam and the West has made their day. But it has also wiped out much of the goodwill that George W. Bush has sought to rebuild in the region.

As one explores the arguments of the provocateurs in the West for what they are doing, on inspection all appear hollow. “We believe in the First Amendment!” comes the blustery reply of journalists when asked why they published the cartoons. The First Amendment protected the right of Trent Lott to toast Strom Thurmond. But that did not save Lott from the savagery of the neocons who demanded and got his ouster as Senate majority leader. Yet which is the more egregious offense? To pay a birthday tribute to a century-old man who was once a segregationist or to insult deliberately the most revered figure in the faith of a billion people?

Daily, U.S. editors decline to publish ethnic slurs and obscene remarks and cartoons that might offend a race or religion. This is not censorship. It is editorial judgment. The motto of the New York Times, which declined to publish the offending cartoons, is “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

Conservatives contend that Islamic nations tolerate cartoons and TV shows far more viciously anti-Semitic than these cartoons were anti-Islamic. They are right. But Western newspapers never publish such cartoons, first, because they are outrageous, second, because publication would cost them advertisers, readers, and maybe their jobs. Insulting Muslims and Mohammed is a less risky and less expensive hobby than insulting Judaism or Jews. Indeed, if you insult Islam, you can make out credentials as a moral hero.

Though State initially condemned the cartoons—“Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is unacceptable”—the neocons rapidly re-seized control of the message. In hours, State was in retreat: “While we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view.” Of course we do. But do we believe freedom of the press was responsibly exercised when these idiot editors used it to incite a religious war?

And when it comes to press freedom, Europeans are world-class hypocrites. British historian David Irving has spent months in a prison in Vienna awaiting trial for two speeches he made 15 years ago. In Europe, skeptics and deniers of the Holocaust are fined and imprisoned with the enthusiastic endorsement of the press.

Unfortunately, Bush let slip an opportunity to show respect for the Islamic world and faith and, instead, let himself be intimidated into silently condoning an insult to both. Standing beside the King of Jordan, Bush denounced the violence the cartoons had ignited but declined to condemn the cartoons. Condi Rice denounced Iran and Syria for exploiting the rage over the cartoons but did not condemn the cause of that rage. If there is a double standard here, Bush is the guilty party. He rightly denounced Iran’s president for mocking the Holocaust but would not denounce the European press for mocking the prophet.

If Bush and Rice cannot muster the moral courage to condemn the insulting content of the cartoons, as well as the violence being promoted by anti-Western agitators and demagogues, our wars for democracy in the Middle East are in vain. For we can never win the friendship of these people if they believe our words of respect for their religion cover up a sneering contempt.

Copyright © 2006 The American Conservative

source: Information Clearing House