“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Remora

The Times' David Sanger's article about Bush's first strike doctrine quotes the man on the reasons for changing, fundamentally, the principles of American foreign policy :


"Implicitly, Mr. Bush has agreed to engage the country in a discussion over a fundamental change in America's national security strategy: his doctrine that perilous times have forced the United States to assert a right to launch pre-emptive strikes against any state that could put weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists.

"After Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Kuwait, presidents sought Congressional approval to strike back. Mr. Bush seeks approval to strike first, because Sept. 11 taught him that any other strategy may be too costly. "We're in a new era," he said, adding: "We spend a lot of time thinking about how best to secure our homeland even further. And this is the debate the American people must hear, must understand. And the world must understand as well that its credibility is at stake."

Ah, the credibility of the world is at stake, here. As opposed, one wonders, to the other planets? Perhaps Bush is hinting that, if he doesn't get his war, like that guy from N'Sync, he's going to apply to be a cosmonaut, and leave this world in a huff. Let Dick Cheney get it back in order. Let Laura deal with the reporters.

Well, of course, Bush's nonsense will be made into solemn sense by the commentariat, which exists to preform the invaluable service of making this brain-dead lightweight seem something more than the cartoon figure he, in actuality, is.

Meanwhile, let's talk about the suddenly grave problem of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, LI has already posted a long, meandering account of Iraqi-US relations. While researching that post, we came across a reference to Bruce Jentleson's book, With Friends Like These: Reagan, Bush and Saddam, 1982-1990. The book is about an earlier phase of American Foreign Policy. In this phase, we definitely liked the idea of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. We ought to have: we sold him the parts.

Jentleson provides two lists of "dual-use" items that Iraq (using credit supplied by the ever willing Export Import bank) purchased in the Reagan years, and in the Bush years -- before Saddam became the next Hitler. Here is the list from the Reagan years:

- Precision machine tools for 'general military use"
-a hybrid digital analog computer for 'materials research,' comparable to the one then in use at White Sands missile test range
-computers and other equipment for the 'Arab Company for Detergent Chemicals', a front for the production of chemical weapons
-numerous items for the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission
-bacterial and fungus cultures for 'research purposes'
- quartz crystals and frequency synthesizers
-high speed oscilloscopes, used for missile guidance
-fuel air explosive technology.

Hmm, does this sound like the shopping list of a harmless old lady? Actually, it sounds like fattening up a man who is engaged in a war with the means of mass destruction -- which, in fact, it was.

The years roll by. Pastoral scenes, etc. The glorious Reagan years, remember how we all made money, broke the wicked unions, and defeated the Soviets? And those chemicals, which came not just from the U.S. but from all over the helpful West, and those bacterial cultures -- well, they got put to various brilliant uses. In 1988, the Kurds got a sound whacking with chemical weapons, as well as simple mass deportation and massacre. The U.S. senate voted, unanimously, to put sanctions on Iraq. An idea that was vetoed by our man Reagan, who was definitely seconded in this by his V.P., who saw economic opportunity on the horizon with Iraq.
(As in all things Cold War, there's an odd Alice in Wonderland aspect that keeps intruding into history: where once it was Reaganites who opposed sanctions, it is now Leftists who oppose them. It sometimes seems like a game of musical chairs).

Well, the Iraq-Iran war ground, like a meatgrinder all too full of flesh, to a halt.

One would think that now there's less toss the rabid dog meat chunks. But no! Remember, under Bush I the mission was originally to talk nice and make friends. So in the pre-Gulf War period, the White House was more than willing to see goods and services transferred to Iraq and, even, to the Sa'ad 16 weapons research complex. Here's the list from those years:
-- equipment for the inevitable Arab Company for Detergent Chemicals (it cleans! it makes whiter and brighter! it kills Kurds!)
-bacteria samples to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission and University of Baghdad
-nine high powered supply units for the steel industry that were diverted to the making of weapons grade uranium
-vacuum pump oil, later found by weapons inspectors to have been used to facilitate the corrosion preventing pumps used to keep uranium moving in the enrichment process
-communications and tracking equipment
-compasses, gyroscopes and accelerometers for the Iraqi air force
-helicopter guidance and fight equipment
-computers for the Iraqi navy
-command and control equipment for the Iraqi ministry of defense
Etc.

Now, there are readers who will say, what does this past history have to do with the current situation?

There are two answers to that.
One is, what is the moral background of the current US claim against Iraq? In other words, how has the US acted in that area before? If there is a pattern of promises and betrayals, if there is collaboration with military dictators followed by hostility to these same dictators followed by collaboration with succeeding dictators --well, that is a suspicious pattern. Patterns in the past are not to be discounted as predictors for patterns in the future. If an alcoholic swears off drinking on Monday, there's every reason to suspect you will find him drunk on Friday. If the U.S. has supported arming a nation that was visibly ruled by a military tyrant with regional ambitions on Monday, there's reason to suspect that it will be doing the same thing on Friday. Saddam Hussein or our current buddy, General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, are the same story. In Hussein's case, during the Reagan years the FPE (foreign policy establishment) was wont to produce canards like this one, one of Jentleson's more delicious quotes: "it is probably not just idle chatter when Iraqi officials express a hope that the end of the war [between Iraq and Iran] will bring more democracy affirming that Saddam Hussein is 'much concerned about democracy.'" As indeed he was -- he was concerned to torture to death anyone who suggested it. However, you have merely to transpose the word Iraq for Pakistan, or Afghanistan, to get similar stuff which floats around in the newspapers today. When the reality principle kicks in -- say, that Pervez' recent usurpation of power for the foreseeable future in Pakistan, regardless of elections -- and it becomes all too obvious what is happening, there is a switch in the American mind that simply turns to off. We forget what the struggle was all about. That switch, for instance, that makes Americans extremely incurious about the government of Kuwait, on whose rescue we expended 70 billion dollars a decade ago.
It is essentially the tabloid mindset. Does anyone remember Burt Reynolds divorce troubles? Does anyone remember Paula Jones? We pick up the dolls, we toss aside the dolls.
There is another reason, however, to look at the past. Bush's policy makers were intimately involved in crafting previous policy about Iraq, and the Middle East in general.
To be fair, this is also true of his Republican critics. But we should ask about the track records of people who are suddenly sensitive like the most liberal guys about the aches and pains of the oppressed Iraqi people. Why this sudden sensitivity?
Well, even if we grant LI's case weighing the moral reasons for a 'regime change' in Iraq against the suspicion that the structure of governance will not change by way of American intervention, if we maintain that we have every reason to believe that a post-Saddam Iraq will be ruled, with American connivance, by another bloody dictator -- even if we grant this, there still might be an American interest in going to war with Iraq. American interests aren't necessarily moral. Every war is not a crusade or a jihad, although of course, in talking up war, the powers that be have to make it seem like a crusade or a jihad. We'll discuss this at another time.













Monday, September 02, 2002

Dope

LI was in a restaurant last night with two friends. Over the fajitas, we started talking about Iraq, and the coming war to ensure infinite freedom and Bush's re-election -- or should we say first election? Since the thing that got him into office was definitely something between an election and a judicial coup. In any case, this is not a good subject to spring on LI spontaneously, because we get all red in the face, and start splashing the margaritas and gesticulating wildly.

What got us red in the face this time, though, was that one of these friends said that she'd been told that Iraq was armed by the Soviets. This version of Hussein's armory would make invading Iraq a sort of delayed clean-up operation of one of the peripheral bits of the Evil Empire.

Of course, LI launched into a long monologue that hastily reviewed the history of Iraq, going back to the Iraqi launch of an offense against Iran, in 1980. Long monologues, by the way, are not rhetorically effective. By the listener, these are often called harangues, shooting off at the mouth, hogging the spotlight, or yak yak yak. Hitler, by all accounts, was a very boring dinner companion precisely because he would launch a long monologue, aka yak yak yak, at the drop of a hat. His dinner companions, however, never complained, on the principle that criticizing a murderous dictator is even worse for your health than smoking a pack of cigarrettes a day. LI hopes that, in almost all ways, we are a better person than Hitler; but we do concede, when pressed, a somehwat lesser world historical importance... Maybe this is why our friends, at this dinner table, made fun of us, called us gabby, used the zip phrase from Austin Powers, and in other ways signified a desire to change the subject. Another problem is our grasp of fact is, as is often the case in these kind of conversations, subject to our indignation -- which entails a fatal habit of fillng in, with our own imagination, those inconvenient facts and themes that aren't quite at our fingertips. It is the intellectual equivalent of an asthma attack -- we know we are right, but in the heat of the moment we gasp for the air of memory, searching for info in our brain that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.

So, as is the case with all good keepers of weblogs, we went home and looked things up manically on the web. Here, as a public service, is a cooler outline of the Iraqi arming. The BBC outline goes back to the twenties, and on this topic goes something like this:

1980 1 April - The pro-Iranian Da'wah Party claims responsibility for an attack on Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, at Mustansiriyah University, Baghdad.
1980 4 September - Iran shells Iraqi border towns (Iraq considers this as the start of the Iran/Iraq war).
1980 17 September - Iraq abrogates the 1975 treaty with Iran.
1980 22 September - Iraq attacks Iranian air bases.
1980 23 September - Iran bombs Iraqi military and economic targets.
1981 7 June - Israel attacks an Iraqi nuclear research centre at Tuwaythah near Baghdad


While LI is not going to go too far back, we should mention one of those nagging problems that seem to crop up when the American and British press report on Iraq. There seems to be the damndest problem with completeness. Omissions seem to flower of themselves. For instance, the BBC outline completely skips the first "successful" bombing campaign in world history, surely one of the high water points of civilization. It was mounted by the British against rebellious Arab groups in Iraq in the twenties. Here's a quote from the Financial TImes review of Patrick and Andrew Cockburn's excellent book, Out of the Ashes:

"The Cockburns' sketch of the past finds eerie echoes in the present. The colonial power withdrew its ground troops and tried to bomb Iraqis into submission. The British used poison gas on the fractious Kurds and then unleashed Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the architect of the air offensiveagainst Germany two decades later. The Arabs and the Kurds, Harris averred in 1924, "now know what real bombing means . . . they know that within 45 min-utes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out anda third of its inhabitants killed or injured."

Recently, however, this kind of history has been verboten. Since 9/11, it is generally accepted that the West has done only good things in the world. We are the Welcome Wagon Lady of History. If the West has made a mistake, a little thing, you know -- starving a native people, bombing third world wogs, or the like -- well, there's no use DWELLING on it. As we know, the official line now is: the only crimes committed by the West in the past 100 years were committed by the demented Nazis.

Well, that's a diversion from the main topic, right? So, let's get into it.
1. In 1980, Iraq, led by the Soviet backed Ba'athist regime, under Saddam Hussein, invades Iran. Good time to stage that particular act of aggression, given that Iran is pretty isolated. Outside of Iraq, the question of who initiated the war is, by the way, beyond dispute. What was the international community's response to this war? It was a dance that extended over several years, and did not exactly fall into place the way Cold War dualism would seemingly dictate.

First, the Soviet Union stopped arms shipments to Iraq, according to Stephen Shalom. Shalom, who is writing for the lefty mag, Z, might be a suspect source, except that he is quoting from a Hoover Institute analyst -- and let's just say the Hoover Institute has Coulterish views about the left:

"When the war first broke out, the Soviet Union turned back its arms ships en route to Iraq, and for the next year and a half, while Iraq was on the offensive, Moscow did not provide weapons to Baghdad.<30> In March 1981, the Iraqi Communist Party, repressed by Saddam Hussein, beamed broadcasts from the Soviet Union calling for an end to the war and the withdrawal of Iraqi troops."

In the first step of the dance, Iraq mis-stepped, basically.

2. However, the Soviets soon grew disenchanted, for obvious reasons, with Iran -- which was rapidly proving, body by body, televised confession by televised confession, not to be a soviet friendly country. Khomeini hadn't heard of liberation theology, and wasn't about to let some khafir goody goody doctrine about crossing Marx and Jesus be some stupid model for liberation Islam. So the Soviets, beginning in 1981, did supply Saddam Hussein with a great deal of weaponry, including scud missiles.

3. But who knew that detente would grow in such far flung niches? When those scud missiles started raining down on Teheran in 1988, it was due to the synergy of German tech and old fashioned Soviet rocketry. Yes, a weapons system from one Bloc got hotwired by technicians and equipment from another Bloc. Who said we couldn't all just get along?

On the principle that the enemy of my enemy is, etc., the Reagan administration tried to covertly woo the Iranians -- as we all know, or at least those of us who were intellectually alert in the eighties. Iran-Contra, remember? The cake, the bible, the package brought by eager beaver Reagan-ite Bud McFarland to the Teheran airport. The carrot, in other words. But since carrots are best tasted when some whacking big stick is poised to hit you on the crown if you don't make like Bugs Bunny, the Reaganites decided, in 1982, to play the Iraq card. This was simple: it was a matter of removing Iraq from the list of Terrorist Nations. That greased the wheels for what became a huge arming effort, propping up a regime that was seen, at least by our Middle Eastern allies (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to name the usual suspects) as an essential bulwark against chaos.

4. This is where the year by year breaks down. What do we know? Well, we still don't know the exact figures, who sold what to who, and who leveraged the deals. 43 billion dollars were fed into the arms network worldwide by S. Hussein, as crazy as a a gold-digger with her deathbed sugar daddy's credit card. This included chemicals for "fertilizer" from the U.S. Ah, ironically, the chemicals were used to make fertilizer, insofar as the corpse, in form of dead Kurds and Iranians fertilized the streets of Birjinni and the battle fields of Halapja. This was old time religion, here. The same principle that applied to Injuns in the ha ha Wild West days (as in the only good one is a dead one) applied at that time to Iranians. That's what they get for being axis of Evil. For a little article about the consequences of the Iraq's systematic use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, click here. Or check out this recent Guardian piece by Dilip Hiro. Hiro is a Middle East veteran, and writes not only for the lefty Guardian, but for the right-wing Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs too.

"As Iraq's use of poison gases in war and in peace was public knowledge, the question arises: what did the United States administration do about it then [in 1988]? Absolutely nothing. Indeed, so powerful was the grip of the pro-Baghdad lobby on the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan that it got the White House to foil the Senate's attempt to penalise Iraq for its violation of the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons to which it was a signatory. This made Saddam believe that the US was his firm ally - a deduction that paved the way for his brutal invasion and occupation of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf war, the outcomes of which have not yet fully played themselves out."

Two further grafs in the story definitely take us back to the bad old days of the eighties.

"Between October 1983 and the autumn of 1988, Baghdad deployed 100,000 munitions, containing mainly mustard gas, which produces blisters on the skin and inside the lungs, and nerve gas, which damages the nervous system, but also cyanide gas, which kills instantly. From initially using these lethal agents in extremis to repulse Iran's offensives, the Iraqis proceeded to use them as a key factor in their assaults in the spring and summer of 1988 to regain their lost territories, including the strategic Fao peninsula. That the Pentagon had first-hand knowledge of Iraq's use of chemical agents during these offensives was confirmed by the New York Times two weeks ago.

'After the Iraqi army, with American planning assistance, retook the Fao peninsula, a Defense Intelligence Agency officer, Lt Col Rick Francona, now retired, was sent to tour the battlefield with Iraqi officers,' wrote Patrick Tyler of the Times. 'Francona saw zones marked off for chemical contamination, and containers for the drug atropine scattered around, indicating that Iraqi soldiers had taken injections to protect themselves from the effects of gas that might blow back over their positions.'

Well, between knowledge of its use and collaboration in its use, there seems to be a gap. There really isn't. The arms bazaar is a nexus of state and private interests, and the interlock is pretty tight. When the US wants a country armed, you don't always have to go through Congress to get authorization -- especially if the country in question has beaucoup oil wealth, as Iraq did. So you lift restrictions on the transfer of certain chemicals. And the private sector obliges.

Ah, dinner table conversation -- it is the mother of posts! I could have gone on (and on...), but the main points we should take away from this history lesson are:
1. American interest in the Middle East has not been about good and evil -- it has been about American interest.
2. That interest is defined partly by the changing perspectives and constituencies in the Foreign Policy elite. That elite isn't monolithic, but it is not motivated, ultimately, by Wilsonian ideals of a democratic New World Order. Nor is it repulsed by the most barbaric slaughters, or uses of the 'weapons of mass destruction," as long as the body counts consist of the right people.
3. There's no evidence this has changed. If the US gets its war on Iraq, one good thing -- from the standpoint of the aforesaid Wilsonian ideals of democracy -- will result -- the downfall of Saddam Hussein. But one bad thing will almost inevitably happen too -- the collapse of the Kurdish semi-states in Northern Iraq. Furthermore, the U.S has depended on military strongmen to maintain states in the Middle East, except for Israel (and Sharon looks more and more like an Assad figure than a Jeffersonian democrat). Do they have any incentive not to do that in the future? No. For evidence, one merely has to cast a glance at Pakistan to see how the Bush doctrine works. It works by shutting its eyes quite firmly to coup d'etats mounted by our guys.
4. Iraq looks like it is at an end, as a state. Totalitarian methods will provoke state split ups -- see the former U.S.S.R. To prevent this, expect the US to promote, actively, a military regime that engages in low grade repression (nothing so messy as gassing Kurds). But look for that strategy to fail. At least, LI is optimistic that it will. And look for panic to ensue among the Arab states that are our allies.





















Sunday, September 01, 2002

Remora

LI recommends this article in the Sunday Times:
A Guardian of Jobs or a "Reverse Robin Hood"? by Leslie Wayne

Since the question of bias in the press has been a hot button issue (which is one of those pundit phrases that make less and less sense as they are repeated more and more -- what, exactly, is a hot button? Rather, the issue has become a diacritical button issue -- like the period key, or the comma key, it has become a sustaining, semantic blank, functioning to convey an ideological payload hither and yon, to much yapping from the examiners of yap, aka media critics), it should be pointed out that bias, without which that title would make no sense, given its tilt towards the irresistable phrase, reverse Robin Hood, is inseparable from analysis, here.

Anyway, the analysis is on point. While much fuss and tossing of teathers went into forcing CEOs to sign off on their balance sheets, the Export-Import bank was quietly expanded. The article focuses on just what the Ex-Imlax Bank does. In the past, we dilated about another ridiculous tool of government finance: OPIC. The Ex-Lax is bigger, and more pernicious. Here's a graf:

"More fundamentally, there are questions about why the bank exists at all. Less than 1 percent of all American exports receive Export-Import financing, which comes in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees or export credit insurance. The bulk of Export-Import's benefits go to a small number of large companies that are sophisticated enough to get financing on their own: Boeing, Halliburton, General Electric, Northrop Grumman, Lucent Technologies, ChevronTexaco, Caterpillar and Dell Computer, among others."

More sickening stuff:

"Commercial banks, meanwhile, love Export-Import loan guarantees because they turn corporate loans for business in risky places into risk-free loans. If a corporate borrower halts payments on an Export-Import backed loan, the federal government must step in and pay it off. The bank claims a default rate of less than 2 percent.American exporters love it even more. With an Export-Import loan guarantee, they can borrow money from banks at lower rates and more favorable terms than usual. And if they get into a jam overseas, the Export-Import bank can be a powerful ally. "You've got the full weight of our U.S. embassy, our ambassador, the Treasury Department here and overseas, the State Department, all coming in," said Mr. Rice at the export coalition.

On the other hand, small businesses, which often need the help more than large companies, get short shrift from the bank, despite Congressional pressure to change that practice. Only 18 percent of the bank's financing last year went to small business, down from 21 percent in 1998."