Saturday, April 19, 2003


Reason no. 500 for an accelerated pull out.

Gideon Rose, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, ruminates about the duties of empire in Slate. The point he makes is that the US lacks the mechanism for imperial rule in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. This is such an excellent point that it should have been in the forefront of anti-war politics. Allowing Bush to announce how the invasion of Iraq was going to be managed and how much it was going to cost in his own good time crippled the anti-warriors.

However, Rose is not an antiwarrior. He is a belligeranti deluxe. His idea, which has surely been nursed in many a defense department funded forum, is that we need to spend the money, and create the agencies, to be a real empire:

"This simply will not do. Bungling the peace in Afghanistan would be a tragedy; bungling the peace in Iraq would be a catastrophe. So unless the Bush administration changes its mind and decides to hand off responsibility to the United Nations and the rest of the international community, it will have to do much of the work of postwar nation-building itself. Interestingly, one result of going it alone might be to force the United States to finally develop the institutions required to run what is now a de facto empire (albeit one designed to be temporary and managed on behalf of the dominions rather than the metropolis)."

Notice, especially -- stare hard at -- rub eyes and stare again at - the dishonest parenthetical remark that closes this pathetic piece of special pleading. On the one hand, let's be hard nosed empire builders; on the other hand, lets do it all for our adorable child-states. Self interest, which is the glorified principle of all capitalism, is suddenly shunted into the background, as in the hush of our good intentions we 'elect' such as Smilin' Jay Garner to head our democratic middle eastern property. Meanwhile, of course, the term democratic is hollowed out even more, feeding a more and more coercive mindset back into the homecountry. When democratic becomes, by definition, what the US does - because we are democratic, natch -- it loses all connection with representative government. The solution to the peace in Iraq is simple. Iraq isn't a dominion. It should elect its own, it should govern itself, it should not be a place where American troops become guardians of the dreams of all the Roses and Wolfowitzes.

This is how you make music in D.C. ears right now:

"As Rachel Bronson of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote last fall, Washington needs to develop "a greater appreciation for the fact that intervention entails not simply war-fighting, but a continuum of force ranging from conventional warfare to local law enforcement." That means creating plenty of units in unsexy job categories such as civil affairs and military police�the sort of folk we could use to run Baghdad today. (If George Steinbrenner were in Rumsfeld's position, he might just buy or trade for the Italian Carabinieri.)

Taking interventions seriously would mean changes outside the Pentagon as well. As Andrew Bacevich of Boston University notes, "imperial governance is a politico-military function," so the State Department has to be a critical player in the game. That means the absurdly low funding of State should be increased, as should policy integration between State and Defense both at home and in the field. "The empire may need proconsuls," Bacevich says, "but it will need them to take a perspective that looks beyond military concerns." The foreign service will need to cultivate old-fashioned political officers who know their way around a country's hinterlands and people as well as its capital and elites. And the White House will have to get used to the lengthy, costly, and often thankless engagement with the world that nation-building necessarily involves."

The pseudo-scientific lingo of political science, especially in that rarified pie slice of it called foreign policy, is always a skin bracer. The white man's burden is rhetorically clouded, here, for one audience only: the American citizen. The imperial sleight of hand works only if the citizen picks up the burden, while the policy wonks and CEOs pick the bones of whatever country we happen to crush. On the day after reading of the award of a 600 million dollar contract to Bechtel, Rose's article does exude a certain smell. Empire is not, for the bumpkins out there, about asserting American power and interest. It isn't about lucrative contracts for a diverse array of hungry American firms. It isn't about oil for the oilman, and saber rattling for the saber manufacturer. No, it is about "thankless engagement." With a sigh, we continue on, never expecting thanks from those Shiites we are forced to spank. And even as we let a thousand INC paramilitaries.bloom, we have to remember that Iraqis, like Palestinians, are notoriously ungrateful for the things we do for them, and have to sometimes be sternly fired upon by soldiers, especially if they start crowding together.

Meanwhile, Chalabi's INC becomes more unbelievable every day. Is this some old CIA training film, circa Teheran, circa 1954, or what? First the paramilitary group. Then the cries of Chalabi, Chalabi -- ringing out from people who one can reasonably assume had never heard of Chalabi before being informed by some friendly US military attaches. Then the advance, in uniform, armed, on Baghdad, and the comic opera seizure of power -- a sort of Mussolini meets the Three Stooges kind of move. Then the takeover of certain of Saddam's houses, such as Uday's hunting club, in which Chalabi gave a press conference today, blessed again by American soldiers, all in the wealthiest suburbs. The overwhelming impression is of Ba'athist pageantry, usurped by a man who has learned how to use the word democratic to cover the complexion of what is, in truth, run of the mill third world fascism. Now, one should never bet too much against third world fascism, especially when it is blessed by US advisors. From Mobutu to Suharto, it has had a pretty good run. But Iraq is not Guatamala in 1956.

Chalabi knows that without the US military, his group would be in danger of meeting the fate accorded to less guarded sheiks and imams the US has parachuted into the hinterlands -- the rush of a crowd, gunfire, daggers drawn, etc. So in his first Baghdad press conference, after modestly disclaiming his own role in the interim government, he proposed that the Americans soon let Iraq rule itself. However, he coyly left out a date for the withdrawal of American troops. He is obviously counting on said troops hanging around a long, long time. He wants the troops to root out Baathists, disarm the Iraqi army, and dismantle the structure of terror. Of course, in a disarmed Iraq, only the INC paramilitaries would have arms. A nice deal, all the way around.

Surely it is time for one of the ex-left wing hawks to write a scathing article about the ninnies in the press who are expressing doubts about Chalabi, hero of the suffering people of Iraq! We look forward to Hitchens barking up something like this in his throwaway column in the Mirror.

Friday, April 18, 2003


It's Mornin' in Baghdad

Two papers confirm the claims of Baghdad's new mayor. The NYT reports that the INC in Mosul is receiving American military help, and refers to Baghdad's new mayor as a done deal. The London Times article ledes with an (unconsciously?) ironic statement:

"BAGHDAD was given its first lesson in democracy yesterday when self-appointed leaders emerged from nowhere to fill the power vacuum left by Saddam Hussein�s regime.
Amid the confusion caused by the absence of any authority � other than the US military � Iraqi citizens discovered that they had a governor, a mayor and even a religious leader to look after affairs. Mohammad Mohsen Zubaidi, an exiled political leader, announced that he was now running Bahgdad as the city�s governor, elected by a mysterious council of �religious and community leaders."

What reader in democracy is the London Times using? Machiavelli's The Prince? What seems to be happening is that the Pentagon is boosting the legitimacy of the INC paramilitaries where it can. In Iraq's open moment, the performative is up for grabs. You remember the performative, boys and girls, don't ya? JL Austin, the Oxford philosopher, created the term to designate those speech acts for which the truth condition is their own pronunciation in the appropriate context. For instance, saying I do at a wedding ceremony, or christening a ship, means that it is true that the speaker is married, and it is true that the ship has a certain name.

The contexts in Iraq have been blown to hell or looted, or are floating around the relics market, along with cuneiform tablets and golden figurines from Ur. We'll see if Mohammad Mohnsen Zubaidi has picked up on the one context left standing -- American military might.

Apparently, American troops are better at protecting the furnishings of Saddam's palaces than such trifling landmarks as the Baghdad Museum and library. Lolling about the place, General Franks --entering Baghdad under heavy guard -- is confident, as is his commander in chief, that the War is over.

As is the press. The main question asked by Slate's Chris Suellentrop right now is when are we going to roast those Syrians. That's fairly representative of media opinion.

Well, in the face of such unanimity, and given the nature of the unanimous, we have a hard time buying the pitch.

The occupation of Iraq differs from that of Germany or Japan, and is like that of Afghanistan, in that the other side disappeared. It's evanescence was taken, in Afghanistan, as surrender -- and for all practical purposes, the US definitely achieved its goal in Afghanistan. It denied a haven to Al qaeda. It overturned Alqy's protectors.

In Iraq, the forces of Saddam are through. But the War still rumbles, in Mosul, in Baghdad, in Basra. These are weeks of shifting. We don't think the War part 2 is necessary. We think it is preventable. We think the factional struggles that racked Northern Iraq don't have to be replicated on a national scale with quite that fury. But we also think that the longer the Americans display their insensibility to their situation in Iraq, as long as they sign contracts that seemingly are premised on the assumption of months, if not years, of occupation, we creep ever closer to a pot shot war. One in which Americans casualties will be higher than the pot shot war in Afghanistan, and Iraqi casualties, as seems to be the destiny of wars waged in Iraq, will be much higher still. There's probably some calculable multiple, now, of American to Iraqi deaths.

This story from Mosul is ominous enough not to have received much attention in the American press:

"Whatever the cause, the two shootings have killed 17 Iraqis and wounded 39, according to Dr. Ayad Ramadhani, director of the city's general hospital, who said the toll from Tuesday's shooting rose overnight to 13 from 10.

American officials said they believed that seven people died in the incident on Tuesday, but they had no figures for Wednesday's deaths.

All of the shootings occurred outside the governor's office in downtown Mosul, which was occupied by American troops on Tuesday. Iraqi witnesses said that in Wednesday's incident, Iraqi policemen who had surrounded looters in a nearby bank building had fired shots in the air to disperse a crowd. The Americans, thinking they were under fire, started shooting, they said. Among the wounded were the two police officers who fired the warning shots, a 12-year-old boy and 61-year-old man.

Maj. Steve Katz, a special operations civil affairs officer, said that despite the shooting, most Iraqis were still welcoming American forces here."

The smiley face that is being painted relentlessly across this occupation is treacherous. Welcomes, after all, presage stays. Making oneself at home. Sampling the home cooking. Electing the new "mayor" of Baghdad, and following him with a couple of jeep loads of Chalabi bullyboys, armed and clothed by the Pentagon.

In the meantime, where is Smilin' Jay's prefector in Northern Iraq? Isn't General "Loose" Bruce Moore supposed to be in charge up there? Although Loose Bruce is a hard man to keep tabs on. In a recent Glaswegian spreadsheet about the Military-Industrial complex about to run Iraq from the banks of the Potomac , Loose rated merely a mention. No company ties, no nothing. But if they keep mowing down Iraqis for unprofessional displays of impolitic fervor, eventually Loose Bruce will have to say something.

Thursday, April 17, 2003


Forged in Ireland

Brigadier Gordon Kerr operated a special unit for the British in Northern Ireland, the Force Research Unit. Research means different things to different people. For some research means a library; for others, research means going through files in some archive. For others, research is a sedate and secluded career among test tubes. For the Brigadier, apparently, research meant hiring killers among the Protestant paramilitaries to track down and kill dissident Catholics.

At least, that is the rumor about a suppressed report, today.

Among the victims of Kerr's research was one Pat Finucanne. The BBC admirably compressed report about researching Finucane starts like this:

"Loyalist paramilitaries shot Mr Finucane 14 times as he sat eating a Sunday meal at home, wounding his wife in the process. The couple's three children witnessed the 1989 attack. In its statement claiming the killing, the UFF said they had killed "Pat Finucane, the IRA officer".

While Mr Finucane had represented IRA members, the family vehemently denied the allegation - and have been supported in this by the police. But, what has made the investigation into his murder so important to many in Northern Ireland is that it lies at the heart of allegations that some members of the security forces collaborated with loyalist paramilitaries to the extent that they could have stopped the killing if they had so wished."

The last extenuating clause --"they could have stopped the killing if they had so wished" -- is apparently a sop thrown to elements of the "security forces" who consider that they did a wonderful job in Ulster. It is the language used by Stevens in the non-release of his report, today. The Guardian story begins like this:

"The murders of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in February 1989 and Protestant student Brian Lambert in November 1987 by paramilitaries "could have been prevented" if the security forces had not been involved in the plots, Sir John said.

"Sir John carried out a four-year inquiry into allegations of widespread collusion between Special Branch, army officers and Protestant terrorists. He concluded there was damning proof of the use of agents in assassinations and withholding evidence."

Another Guardian story fingers one of Kerr's researchers -- a Brian Nelson

"An FRU agent, Brian Nelson, infiltrated and effectively ran the Ulster Defence Association, a loyalist terror group. Sir John's team believes that Nelson, who died last week, was responsible for at least 30 murders, and that many of the victims he helped to identify were not involved in terrorism."

As Steven's investigation was going on, Kerr spoke up for Nelson:

"Sir John believes that he has debunked the claim by Brigadier Gordon Kerr, who ran the FRU at the time of Finucane's murder, that Nelson saved more than 200 lives while he was operating in Northern Ireland. His team has found evidence he saved two: one of them was Gerry Adams. Finucane was killed by loyalist terrorists guided to him by Nelson.

Sir John's detectives uncovered evidence that some police officers wanted Finucane killed and that the force had been warned he was a target: at least two of the loyalists involved were police informers. But nothing was done to stop the murder."

Paul Foot's column is a little more cut to the chase about the Nelson-Kerr connection. Nelson wasn't just your average researcher/killer -- he organized arms shipments to the Protestant paramilitaries, under the benign protection of his fellow Researchers, and no doubt kept his group up to snuff with recruitment drives and plans for strategic attacks. All the gentlemen involved seem to have learned a lot from the Argentine military of the 1970s. In order to uphold their honor they were forced, alas, to frame an Army officer who was appalled at the collusion in assassination and gang warfare and threatened to grass. They framed the man for murdering his best friend, and had him sent away to prison for ten years. When Nelson was finally brought in on the charge of four murders, his researching buddy, Kerr, spoke up for him in court.

This case indicates some of the features that are no doubt in crystallization as Richard Perle's friend Ahmed Chelabi forms his own paramilitary group in Iraq. Apparently, Chelabi has sent a representative to Baghdad to claim dibs on the governance of that new American territory.

The deep collusion between army units and paramilitaries, the assassination of selected targets as the army officially presents itself as a neutral party, the importation of arms, and especially the nature of the targets -- lawyers, students, any educated person who is willing to speak out -- no doubt this is what is up next for the INC. Interesting. As Angus Calder showed long ago, Ireland was the site where the prototype of British imperialism was perfected in the seventeenth century -- the ethnic cleansing of the North American indians, for instance, followed on plans made by Raleigh, originally, for the ethnic cleansing of Catholic Irish -- and this was true down to the nomenclature. Raleigh's idea was to set up protestant plantations, as he called them, in Ireland. The Elizabethan effort floundered, but many of the elements of it became standard issue imperialist tools. Even down to the nineteenth century -- the British response to famine in Ireland being repeated in India, almost laissez faire impulse for laissez faire impulse.

Reviews, reviews. We went gleefully after Remnick on the Lenin issue a couple of days ago. Now it is Paul Berman's turn. Except... surely Scialabba's review in the Nation is misinterpreting the guy. Does Berman really believe that he can decode, in Lincoln's decision to persevere in waging war against the South, the choice to "repair the Founders' mistake and render "the whole concept [of liberal society] a little sturdier." In so doing, it took on a "universal mission": "the defense of democratic self-rule...for the entire planet"? Tell me I am not reading that.

Scialabba, with the crashing understatement of Stanley meeting Livingston in the jungles of Central Africa, writes, "This is a dubious interpretation of the Civil War..." Hmm, that's for sure. When Hegel decided that the miserable king of Prussia was the end of history, or when Goethe decided Napoleon was the spirit of history on horseback, surely the one had the excuse of syncophancy, and the other the excuse of Sturm und Drang. But Berman should have lived long enough not to let such heady nonsense escape onto a published page.

Scialabba coolly disses Berman's anti-Chomsky-ism (sure to make the book a rave for the New Republic crowd):

Perhaps because Berman dislikes being reminded forcefully of the enormous factual record that demonstrates the absurdity of this claim [the record of American subversion of liberties and defense of oligarchies during the last one hundred years], Terror and Liberalism includes a lengthy attack on Noam Chomsky. Ten pages of this slender book are devoted to painting Chomsky as a prime specimen of the left-wing "simple-minded rationalist," whose inability to comprehend the "mystery, self-contradiction, murk, or madness" of totalitarian movements leads him to attribute all the evil in the world to the "greed" of "giant corporations and their intellectual and governmental servants."

"After the Indochina war, Berman writes, Chomsky had no way to explain the atrocities in Cambodia. He therefore set out, basing himself on his "customary blizzard of... obscure sources" (an ungracious remark, this, coming from the author of so lightly documented and empirically thin a book as Terror and Liberalism), to demonstrate that "in Indochina, despite everything published in the newspapers...that genocide never occurred," or if it did, was all America's fault."

However, to return to our little hobbyhorse about Lenin, Scialabba seems more than willing to play Berman's game of pulling Lenin out of historical context. While S. disputes Berman's typology of totalitarianism as a popular pathology depending on the charisma of an obviously mad leader, he gives us this explanation of Bolshevism:

"The fit with Bolshevism is far from perfect. For one thing, the proletariat was not exactly the people of God. It never dwelt in peace and simplicity; it was born with the modern world, from the chaos and upheaval of industrialization. For another thing, Lenin was not exactly the Leader Berman says he was: "a superman," "a god," "a nihilist," "a genius beyond all geniuses...the man on horseback who, in his statements and demeanor, was visibly mad, and who, in his madness, incarnated the deepest of all the anti-liberal impulses, which was the revolt against rationality." Lenin was certainly an arrogant, cold-hearted son of a bitch, and it would have been much better for the world if he had fallen off (or under) that train before it reached the Finland Station. But he was not "mad" or a "nihilist," he did not regard himself as a god, and he was annoyed when other people did (or pretended to). Most important, Bolshevism was not exactly a "pathological mass movement," which, according to Berman, is the fundamental characteristic of all totalitarianisms and precisely what liberal intellectuals consistently fail to understand about them. Bolshevism was pathological all right, but it was not a mass movement. It was an elite, skillfully and ruthlessly controlling demoralized and apathetic masses. It was, as Nicolas Werth wrote in The Black Book of Communism, "a state against its people."

'Demoralized and apathetic masses"? Somehow, in the history of the Russian Revolution, the small, hardly worth mentioning fact of the war against Germany and Austria goes out of focus fast. The masses were demoralized, but not by the Bolsheviks - they were demoralized by the war. The 'party elite' would never have been able to take over a streetcorner if they hadn't relied on a strong military contingent. The demoralized and apathetic masses belonged to the Mensheviks. The aspirations of the Russian bourgoisie were crystalized in literature rathen than politics -- which is why we are rather fond of the Russian bourgoisie. Nabokov jr is much more representative of their abilities than Nabokov sr., try as the latter did to implant a form of parliamentarianism on Russian soil.

Sweeping historical views, such as Berman's seems to be, whiCh attempt to synchronize morality and history -- modifications of the Whig version of history, in other words -- always seem to leave out wars, famines, and the rest of it. If Berman really thinks France was disarmed pre-WWII because French leftists were pacifists, he has reached the acme of silliness. Alain's pacifism was much less debilitating to the French than the unwillingness of the British to combine with France to enforce the provisions of the Versailles treaty that France, after all, had insisted on. The reason for that is that Britain didn't want to spend the money necessary to have the military might to confront Hitler. If Berman thinks Blum didn't want to support the Popular side in Spain, he definitely has lost his connection to the long, lone song of leftist libertarianism. We follow that songline faithfully. Pity that he's lost it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Paul Foot's column in the Guardian ejects some salvoes at the League of Leftist Warmongers -- presumably Nick Cohen. Foot's thesis is that Democracy only grows from below. This is pretty much our thesis, too. But our second thesis -- that time and circumstance dictate events, not iron laws abstracted from the flow of history - modifies our first one. We don't think that Northern Iraq, in which, after faction and civil discord, a civil society was beginning to peep out, is anamolous.

Foot's claim arises from two questions put to an imaginary LLW opponent:

"As I understand the LLW position, they would, in general, prefer tyrants to be overthrown by the people they oppress. At times, however, they complain the tyranny is so savage, so universally terrifying that it has to be overthrown by superior military force from elsewhere. So the only way to topple Saddam was by US military might. Two points arise. First, in Iran in 1979 the people themselves toppled the tyranny of the Shah - a tyranny every bit as terrifying as that of Saddam Hussein (and imposed and sustained, incidentally, by the US). Second, what guarantee is there that any sustainable democracy will now succeed in Iraq?"

Foot answers his questions by claiming that, 1, it was possible for Saddam to be overthrown the old fashioned way, and that 2., Iraq's hell will be giving way to further hells:

"In the event, all that has been created on the pile of corpses in this war (and most people die in such a war not by being shot or bombed directly, but from loss of limb, blood, disease or plague) is a political vacuum into which plunge a host of contractors, bounty hunters, looters and minorities terrified of another round of persecution. In this chaos, the only beneficiaries are the millionaires and their toadying politicians who caused it in the first place. Our political leaders promise elections, as though poor dismembered Iraq can be compared to East Germany or Czechoslovakia or Indonesia or Serbia after their tyrants were deposed in the 1980s and 1990s. In all those countries, elections followed close on the end of the dictatorships. But in all those countries the tyrants were toppled by movements from below. In Iraq, as in Afghanistan, the tyrants were toppled from above, by stronger military power in other countries. In Afghanistan, they are still waiting for elections and will wait a long time yet, but not as long, I expect, as in Iraq."

Where Foot finds a political vacuum, we find an open moment. We are more comfortable with the term civil society than democracy because democracy has come to mean elections. Elections are fine, but they aren't sufficient to create real liberty. In fact, they can impede real liberty, especially when they are used as excuses to strip a political system of the various subsystems that countervail established power.

Among those subsystems is a sense of humor. One of the things we have liked about the last week is that, even through the fog of war reporting, there seems to be a lot of Iraqi humor directed at the momentous events that dim the lights in every household every night. It seems grotesque to speak of humor when, as Foot puts it, the corpses are heaped everywhere. But how else to explain this article by NYT reporter Ian Fisher:

"The Americans are the ones who have been looting and taking things out of the stores and giving them to families," said Amer Karim, 30, who was himself selling two industrial ceiling fans and a new telephone in a street market in the Kadhimiya section of Baghdad. "So anyone who is selling these things didn't really loot it."

Or the rumor that Saddam Hussein has taken refuge in the USA?

Surely Iraqis who are getting used to being accosted by arrogant newsmen looking for pathos and gratitude have got Fisher's number. And surely that is a sign of the times.


Our friend D. says he hates it when we get all maudlin over our own poverty and misery, so we have avoided talking about all that tasteless stuff. But recently our poverty and misery are getting out of hand. In the past month, we have received a total of 225 dollars from those who we have contracted to write for -- out of a total of 1000 dollars owed. On this amount, a man with our daily calory intake ... not to mention our need for alcohol ... cannot exist.

So anybody who has a tip about jobs in the Austin area -- preferably ones that don't involve a tremendous loss of vital fluids -- should write us at

The BBC news, doing its best to subvert the brightest and best that has been thought or spun -- at least if we confine this kind of thing, which can get out of hand, to the set of responsible Pentagon apparatchiks that operate in the circle around Wolfowitz -- featured a story on the Shi'ite protest of the Founding Convention at An Nasiriyah, under Smilin' Jay Garner, as always Iraq's number one choice for el jefe supremo. Jay, in an exclusive with the Scotsman, confided that he was reminded of the Philadelphia convention of 1787 himself:

"But General Jay Garner insisted that United States-style democracy could sprout on the shards of Saddam Hussein�s government.

"I don�t think they had a love-in when they had Philadelphia in 1787," he said before he left. "Anytime you start the process it�s fraught with dialogue, tensions, coercion, and should be."

Iraq, he suggested, could be the richest country in the Middle East within a few years."

That Jay, always with the history of Iraq at his fingertips -- and, of course, due to some thousands-weight of smart bombs and the cluster kind, Philadelphia in 1787 is, practically, Iraq's history now.

The Christian Science Monitor features this quote on the Philadelphia like meeting:

"Tuesday's meeting of Iraqis and Iraqi exiles in the shadow of the ancient ziggurat of Ur was simply the beginning of what is likely to be a lengthy process. Its ultimate aim, according to US officials: build a government in which all Iraqis, be they Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd, feel they have a representative voice."There are some very dangerous cleavages there," says Rashid Khalidi, a historian of the Middle East at the University of Chicago. "If exploited by outside forces they could cause problems."

Outside forces! Yikes! Like, say, a large superpower about 8,000 miles away, pulling all the strings?

Sorry about that. We've canned the pipsqueak that stole in and wrote that line. A cheap shot at our brave attempts to forge an Iraq fit for the vision of Iraq's corps of eager beaver proconsuls in D.C. An Iraq in which every corporation could participate in the sweet, sweet air of freedom sweeping that great Middle Eastern piece of real estate; in which, privatized, the natural resources of that great country can flow as the invisible hand intended them to; in which, angry at the wickedness of their neighbors, the government might even support staging surgical improvements, via the latest weaponry, in Damascus and Teheran, if this is so suggested by a close ally.

In other events celebrating the dawn of democracy, the NYT reported that "similar demonstrations [to those staged by the Shi'ites] were under way in Baghdad. In Mosul, an angry crowd stoned an Iraqi opposition leader praising the arrival of United States marines. A gun battle ensued in which 10 Iraqis were reported killed and 16 were wounded.

"The senior Shiite cleric in the holy city of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sestani, sent a message through his son today saying he was in hiding until the religious strife that has included murders and demonstrations there subsided."

A gun battle? No doubt instigated by Rashid Kalidi's "outside forces." Although according to the WP, the NYT story reports that US Marines were the gunners. Here's another story, from Australia, about these confusing, although unimportant, events:

"US forces accused of shooting on an angry crowd in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul overnight said they had come under fire from at least two gunmen and fired back, but did not aim at the crowd.

The shots came as the newly-appointed governor of the city was making a speech from the building housing his offices which was deemed too pro-US by his listeners, witnesses said."There were protesters outside, 100 to 150, there was fire, we returned fire," a US military spokesman said."

Although the returned fire was trained on a roof, apparently ten to twelve people in the crowd died. But the reporting on this incident reminds us -- do we hear an echo here -- of the way Palestinian deaths somehow involve rockthrowing crowds, totally innocent gunplay by soldiers, and the miraculous, and unimportant, deaths of ten here, three there.

So it goes as Philadelphia like feelings permeate the junketeers of freedom over there, and all of us over here. God bless and good night.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003


Smilin' Jay

Smilin' Jay made his debut as the embodiment of the Iraqi Geist at a meeting of all allowable Iraqi political groups today. At this meeting he spoke for all of when he pledged, as head of the US led Iraqi government, never to install a US led government in Iraq. Lately, the Bush administration has been lessening the gap between the claim and its contradiction. It took three weeks between the time they pledged to use Iraqi oil revenues to pay for the invasion and the moment in which they disclaimed ever intending to use Iraqi oil revenues to pay for the invasion. Since the Bush administration is run by business types, they know that in today's competitive marketplace, it's an "I want it yesterday" kind of atmosphere. They are simply transferring those principles of free enterprise to their own dealing in mendacity. A credibility gap is only as big as the time it takes to contradict one falsehood with another.

As for the meeting, like unto the sacred Philadelphia convention that whelped our own republic -- if, that is, that convention had been led by a French marquis, and backed up with two hundred thousand french troops -- the NYT has the grafs:

"Many of those who did not attend said they opposed United States plans to install the retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner to run an interim administration in Iraq.

General Garner, wearing an Iraqi flag pin on his blue shirt, opened the conference by saying, ``A free and democratic Iraq will begin today.''

He added, ``What better place than the birthplace of civilization could you have for the beginning of a free Iraq?''

This is particularly rich considering the US decision to stand by while the Baghdad museum was looted. This Chicago Sun-Times article details the damage. The last three grafs are a fair indication of the Bush-ite attitude towards the birthplace of civilization:

"U.S. forces are making a belated attempt to protect the National Museum, calling on Iraqi policemen to turn up for duty. There is no pay, but 80 have volunteered.

"The Americans were supposed to protect the museum," Amin said. "If they had just one tank and two soldiers, nothing like this would have happened. I hold the American troops responsible.

"The Americans knew that the museum was at risk and could have protected it, said Patty Gerstenblith, a professor at DePaul School of Law in Chicago who helped circulate a petition before the war, urging that care be taken to protect Iraqi antiquities. ''It was completely inexcusable and avoidable,'' she said."

Well, you just can't pay police to hang around a palace of dusty junk. You get Dyncorps to do it! and pay them out of future oil revenues. An especially brilliant plan, this one, of guarding a looted museum. Those future retarded looters are gonna get it.

Let�s overturn some silver plated pieties, shall we?

David Remnick�s review of Annie Applebaum�s history of the Gulag is so riddled with disingenuous passages and distortions that it could have been written for a particularly dim Tory publication in 1930.

If there is one atrocity against the human race that we ought to know more about, it is the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn�s history weighs on that history like a nightmare �and it should. It is a great work of art. I am almost tempted to say, alas. The standard histories of the holocaust, like Raul Hilberg, are not works of art. So that any account of the Gulag, in the west, has to wrest it from Solzhenitsyn. There are, of course, histories about aspects of the Stalinist terror, from Robert Conquest to Zhores Medvedev; however, I believe Annie Applebaum has written the first popular history of it.

I�m not going to comb through this review. That seems pointless. When Remnick gets to the meat of the Gulag � the meat of the meatgrinder � you don�t have to put a bodyguard on him. It is only when he is revving up, getting into his anti-Bolshie mode, that he starts throwing spitballs.

The intro serves up a familiar Remnick motif: the anxiety to blame Lenin. Lenin, in Remnick�s view, is the father of the Gulag. To do this, however, he has to deal with the fact that, under Lenin, atrocities were mainly embedded in the Civil War. If one compares the number of prisoners in camps under Lenin to, say, the number in France�s penal colonies, there isn�t much of a difference. Lenin, of course, died in 1924. Remnick starts out with Dmitri Likhachev, a man who was imprisoned at the Solovki Islands in 1928. Here�s how Remnick puts it:

�He was living proof that the Gulag had been the invention not of Stalin but, rather, of Lenin, the Bolshevik founder, because, he said wearily, �I was a prisoner at Lenin�s first concentration camp.�

As almost always, when Remnick gets on this topic, you can bet that the omission of the fact that Lenin died four years before Likhachev was sent to Solovki is malignant. But if the confusion of dates is leading the witness, Remnick�s riff on the origin of the term concentration camp is leading the witness to drink, and heavily, and all from the waters of oblivion.

�The concentration camp, as both a term and a concept, has complicated beginnings. It was first used to refer to a form of incarceration, when the Spanish military during the Cuban insurrection, Americans in the Philippines, and the British during the Boer War established what were called �concentration camps.� These camps were harsh places, where many prisoners died, but they did not begin to suggest the horror that �concentration camp� would soon convey.�

As a moral tergiversator, Remnick is operating on a grand scale. The reason that so many became communists in the 1930s was exactly this kind of distortion of the evidence made one believe that anticommunists were inherently incapable of telling the truth. Concentration camps in British and American hands, we are given to believe by the bland Remnick, were mild things. �Many prisoners died there�� Hmm. According to Niall Ferguson�s handy Empire, 27,927 Boers died in the camps, or 14 percent of the entire Boer population. Since this happened in 1900, and Lenin was alive, perhaps he was, in some mysterious way, responsible. 14,000 of the black prisoners died, too, by the way, 81 percent children. These deaths were not the fault of commisars, but of good old British upper class politicians. The imprisoned, by the way, consisted mostly of women and children. Why? Because the Boers were, by this time, fighting a guerilla war against the British army. So the British took their families prisoner in order to subdue them. Like the empire itself, the concentration camp system happened in a fit of absent mindedness � for instance, the absence of mind that would provide little provision, and no medical care, for those prisoners.

Now, let�s see how that compares to Lenin�s real concentration camp totals. Solovki was started a year before Lenin�s death. There were, according to Annie Applebaum�s introduction, eighty one camps started under Lenin, after 1921. However, even she doesn�t claim these camps were killing on the Boer camp level. They weren�t even, by her account, on the Czarist level:

�Still, in the nineteenth century, katorga [political exile] remained a relatively rare form of punishment. In 1906, only about 6,000 katorga convicts were serving sentences; in 1916, on the eve of the Revolution, there were only 28,600. Of far greater economic importance was another category of prisoner: the forced settlers, who were sentenced to live in exile, but not in prison, in underpopulated regions of the country, chosen for their economic potential. Between 1824 and 1889 alone, some 720,000 forced settlers were sent to Siberia. Many were accompanied by their families. They, not the convicts laboring in chains, gradually populated Russia's empty, mineral-rich wastelands.�

To really talk about the Gulag is to talk about Prison. Since America is the world incarceration leader, it is difficult to do in the American context. The americans contend that putting a man in prison because he is a Trotskyist is the height of unreason, while putting him in prison because he injects opiates in his veins is common sense. Americans conted that leaving a man to almost freeze to death in the snow on a work detail is torture, while immersing him in 23 hours of solitary darkness per diem, as is the fate of many of NY's worst criminals, is a refreshing response to liberal leniety. We consider that there is no topic like prison to bring out all the disgusting sophistries in a society. But certain things are clear:

- Lenin early on adapted all the techniques that were employed by the �bourgeois� powers, including executing deserters, terrorizing prisoners, and throwing into prison dissenters.
- Stalin�s name is connected by an indissoluble link to the Gulag because he took the prison camp and made it the central characteristic of his rule. That simply isn�t true of Lenin.
- The rhetoric of atrocity is diseased from the very beginning if the standards by which one condemns it are jiggered in favor of societies one favors. One of the many admirable things about Ferguson�s book is that, though he is a Conservative, he doesn�t do a lot of jiggering. One of the awful things about all of Remnick�s Russian writings is he does nothing but.

Monday, April 14, 2003


Dyncorps to the rescue!

Corp watch continues its excellent coverage of the looting in Iraq -- that is, the looting by major corporations in cahoots with the Bush-ites. Apparently Dyncorps, a corporation that is one of the growing number of private military organizations that have taken the paramilitary out of the primitive era of random torture and put it on a paying basis is heading for Iraq, to guard the streets and prisons of Smilin' Jay Garner's fair democracy.

Dyncorps has established a solid record in Columbia (where they spray herbicide for the US Gov, and have had a suit, brought against them by Ecuadorian peasants for the collateral damage to livestock, crops, and human babies (not important ones -- just Ecuadorians), blocked by the US Gov; and in Bosnia, where Corp Watch culled these interesting tidbits:

"...Kathryn Bolkovac, a U.N. International Police Force monitor filed a lawsuit in Britain in 2001 against DynCorp for firing her after she reported that Dyncorp police trainers in Bosnia were paying for prostitutes and participating in sex trafficking. Many of the Dyncorp employees were forced to resign under suspicion of illegal activity. But none were prosecuted, since they enjoy immunity from prosecution in Bosnia.

Earlier that year Ben Johnston, a DynCorp aircraft mechanic for Apache and Blackhawk helicopters in Kosovo, filed a lawsuit against his employer. The suit alleged that that in the latter part of 1999 Johnson "learned that employees and supervisors from DynCorp were engaging in perverse, illegal and inhumane behavior [and] were purchasing illegal weapons, women, forged passports and [participating in] other immoral acts."

Shucks, if this isn't just the kind of company in whose company Dick Cheney has always shown himself to be a grateful guest! Dick's company, after all, has had a bit of a tohu-bohu about its own private army's doin's in Angola.

Insight also features a story about the Dyncorps contract. It is very interesting:

Insight has learned that the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has issued a $22 million contract to DynCorp Aerospace Operations (UK) Ltd., a subsidiary of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), to "re-establish police, justice and prison functions in postconflict Iraq." "The contract," according to one congressional aide who asked not to be identified, "was sole-sourced for one year. But this contract could come to $500 million before it's through."

"There are some strange things about how this contract was issued," the aide continues, "because why would CSC use an offshore subsidiary. Is it so they won't have to pay taxes on this money? Also, why wasn't this contract put up for bid? Why was DynCorp the chosen recipient?"

Indeed, DynCorp has many federal contracts. But sole-sourcing of this contract has raised eyebrows for some at the State Department and in Congress where aides want answers about this deal and others coming down the pike."

On to the eternal battle: winning hearts and minds for at least the two more weeks that the US press will pay attention to the effort! Although one does wonder if any noise will be made at all about the US doing business with an obvious tax shelter. Last year, there were even some virtuous noises made about such things. But that was soooooooo l'an dernier!

A couple of weeks ago, LI was circulating a little op ed piece to various outlets, desperately hoping for a hit. This was before the War. The op ed began:

"For those who doubt that the Bush administration is invading Iraq to install a democracy, there were two telling stories in the last week of February. One, a small story about Post Saddam Iraq in the March 3 Business Week, contained a comparison of the cost of reconstructing and holding together Iraq and the revenues currently produced by Iraqi oil fields:

"Unless oil prices stay at current high levels, Iraq's oil income of around $15 to $20 billion per year isn't likely to be enough to pay for food and other needed imports as well as rebuilding and development costs. That tab is estimated at $20 billion a year over several years."

The other story was in the Washington Times. A congressional committee was grilling Paul Wolfowitz, the ideologue behind Bush's rush to war. Wolfowitz was stonewalling about the cost of the war and the occupation. At one point, however, the committee did break on through to the other side - getting a revealing glimpse of the thought process that is taking place at the highest levels of Bush's White House. Wolfowitz testified "it is wrong to believe that the United States will foot the bill for occupation. He said Iraq itself generates $15 billion to $20 billion annually in oil exports and has up to $20 billion in assets frozen because it invaded Kuwait in 1991."There's a lot of money there, and to assume we're going to pay for it is wrong," he said."

So the scenario we are being told will bring in democracy looks something like this. Post-Saddam Iraq will be ruled by some junta of Iraqi exiles whose first exercise of power, supervised by their American superiors, is to hand over the only source of income Iraq has, in order to pay for the war that installed them in power.

Surely, in Wolfowitz's remark, we see the specter of a lie. The question is, what lie is it? Is it a lie to the American people that the cost of this war, like the Gulf War, will be borne by others - or is it the lie that America is going to change the regime in Iraq to a democratic one? Both can't be true."

Of course, nobody took or even nibbled at my bait. However, now that the first phase of the War has been signed on the dotted line, the outlets that I sent it to are starting to publish op eds that gingerly examine exactly the difference between the Bush pronouncements about paying for the war in the magic pre-war time and after the guns have fallen silent. Happily, it looks like Wolfowitz's lie was that the Americans were going to eat up Iraqi oil to pay for the invasion. That doesn't look possible even for an administration that always jettisons finesse for rudeness, and holds as pre-eminate the satisfaction of its gross appetites.

This is not to say that, in our design of the Wolfowitz paradox, we weren't extending an almost rebarbative amount of generosity towards the good intentions of the D.C. warriors. Democracy, in D.C. speak, is still Smilin' Jay Garner. The gap between democracy as a recognizable form of government and the governance of proconsuls has still not registered in the minds of the press corps.

But onto the oil. This is from the AP:

"U.N. experts visiting Iraq in 2000 noted severe corrosion, blowouts and pollution in the oil fields and concluded some wells had been irreparably damaged. Daily capacity has been falling by 100,000 barrels a year since a 1990 peak of 3.5 million barrels a day.Even agriculture is in trouble. The United Nations estimated before the war that less than half the total cultivable area of Iraq is farmed, largely due to extreme soil salinity and waterlogging caused by poor irrigation practices.

Many people are counting on oil money to help rebuild the country. Yet Khadduri points out Iraq's oil production is worth at most $22 billion a year.Preliminary estimates on the cost of rebuilding Iraq range from $20 billion a year for the first few years to as much as $600 billion over a decade. On top of that, oil has to pay for food, education, medical care and other necessities -- plus $200 billion or more in debts owed to countries like Russia, France and China and compensation claims to Kuwait and others.``People overblow, overestimate the thing about the oil as if it's going to be manna from heaven,'' Khadduri said. ``The bonanza people are talking about, I don't see it, not in foreseeable future.'' "

Now, of course we aren't saying that Wolfowitz came out and said, hey, I was lying about how we were going to pay for this thing. We still expect the US to try to loot Iraq. The massive looting, the riot of looting, is even now being quietly set in motion by the Pentagon and the US Aid office, with their juicy contracts for "rebuilding' the country. Cameras should be stationed there. The Shi'a chest pounding is nothing compared to the War profiteering chest pounding, a sound of truly religious import, that booms out of certain Executive office divisions in D.C.

And then there is the Bush estimate for reconstructing Iraq.

Readers, Guess how much the Bush administration estimates this will cost:

1. 98.6 billion dollars

2. 15 billion dollars

3. 6 billion dollars

4. 3.6 billion dollars

5. 890 million dollars.

If you guessed no. 4, give yourself an Afghanistan knit pat on the back. Since we went into the War on fraudulent premises, it is only fitting that we are going out of the War on fraudulent forecasts.

The NYT article that fills in the preliminary figures reminds us that the main influence of Enron on the Bush-ites has still not been plumbed to its full and slimy depths. Just as Enron inflated itself through mark to market accounting, crediting as current revenue future estimates of revenue, so, too, the Bush administration's supply side optimism is a variation of the same thing. The way the Bush-ites get the 3.6 billion dollar figure is by subtracting, from future costs, estimates of future "earnings," so to speak -- that is, that Iraq, under the new regime of course, will pay back whatever money the US plows into the place.

Just as Enron was able to manipulate the yield curve to hit any profit target it wanted to, the administration simply marks the curve to show not only projected oil revenues nobody else is projecting, but some kind of market bonanza happening in Iraq.

Has the sheer idiocy at the core of optimism ever been so blatant, so easy to expose, or so oddly accepted, once so exposed, by a public that seems to have lost its sense of revulsion in its instinct for obediance? We think not.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...