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:: Monday, July 04, 2005 ::

Published on Sunday, July 3, 2005 by the Toronto Star
Pliant American Press Behaving Like Pravda in Coverage of the U.S. President
by Linda McQuaig

If clear evidence emerged showing George W. Bush had written in his diary that he had lied to the American people to justify his invasion of Iraq, would the U.S. media even consider that a story?
I'm not sure any more. To an astonishing extent, the U.S. media have avoided scrutinizing this U.S. president, even after it became clear he'd launched a war in the name of disarming Iraq of weapons that didn't exist.
The Bush administration and the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee blamed this on "faulty intelligence," an explanation the media have largely parroted.
The Senate committee promised last summer to probe what role the White House may have played in concocting the faulty intelligence — but only after the presidential election.
Once the president was re-elected last fall, the Senate committee chairman, Republican Pat Roberts, simply canceled the promised investigation of the White House's role, insisting it would be "a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further."
Replow it further? How about plowing it once?
Roberts's decision to let the administration off the hook on Iraq was barely covered in the media.
Recently, some top-secret British government memos, leaked to the British press, have revealed that America's chief ally believed Bush's case for war was fabricated. Still, the U.S. media have barely stirred.
The British memos reveal the Bush administration had decided by April 2002 — a year before the invasion — to use military force against Saddam. This contradicts Bush's insistence that war was only a last resort.
One memo, detailing a secret meeting chaired by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in July 2002, shows the Blair government considered that Bush's case about the dangers of Saddam's weapons "was thin" and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The memo also shows the Blair government realized invading Iraq would be illegal and hoped Saddam could be provoked into doing something to justify war against him. One plan was for U.S. aircraft patrolling southern Iraq (officially to protect ethnic minorities from Saddam) to drop bombs in the hopes that Saddam would fight back.
The memo noted that "spikes of activity" by U.S. aircraft had already begun "to put pressure on the regime." British figures show that between May and August 2002, ten tons of bombs a month were dropped on Iraq. Still, Saddam failed to be lured into war.
In a televised address last week, Bush portrayed U.S. actions in Iraq as defensive, as necessary to protect America from another 9/11.
I saw no mention in the TV coverage of what the British memos reveal: that those with inside knowledge knew Saddam's arsenal posed no danger, that the intelligence was being "fixed" and that the U.S. dropped bombs to try to provoke a war — while insisting it was doing everything it could to avoid one.
Instead, the media kept their focus on what the president said in his speech. Pravda, covering a Soviet leader's speech, would have been similarly respectful.
Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator.
© 2005 Toronto Star
:: David 4:18 AM [+] ::
... Comment
:: Saturday, May 07, 2005 ::
Published on Thursday, May 5, 2005 by In These Times
How to End the War
by Naomi Klein

EDITORS' NOTE: The following essay is adapted from remarks made at the National Teach-in on Iraq sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. The teach-in was held on March 24, the 40th anniversary of the first teach-in on the Vietnam War, which was held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The central question we need to answer is this: What were the real reasons for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq?
When we identify why we really went to war—not the cover reasons or the rebranded reasons, freedom and democracy, but the real reasons—then we can become more effective anti-war activists. The most effective and strategic way to stop this occupation and prevent future wars is to deny the people who wage these wars their spoils—to make war unprofitable. And we can’t do that unless we effectively identify the goals of war.
When I was in Iraq a year ago trying to answer that question, one of the most effective ways I found to do that was to follow the bulldozers and construction machinery. I was in Iraq to research the so-called reconstruction. And what struck me most was the absence of reconstruction machinery, of cranes and bulldozers, in downtown Baghdad. I expected to see reconstruction all over the place.
I saw bulldozers in military bases. I saw bulldozers in the Green Zone, where a huge amount of construction was going on, building up Bechtel’s headquarters and getting the new U.S. embassy ready. There was also a ton of construction going on at all of the U.S. military bases. But, on the streets of Baghdad, the former ministry buildings are absolutely untouched. They hadn’t even cleared away the rubble, let alone started the reconstruction process.
The one crane I saw in the streets of Baghdad was hoisting an advertising billboard. One of the surreal things about Baghdad is that the old city lies in ruins, yet there are these shiny new billboards advertising the glories of the global economy. And the message is: “Everything you were before isn’t worth rebuilding.” We’re going to import a brand-new country. It is the Iraq version of the “Extreme Makeover.”
It’s not a coincidence that Americans were at home watching this explosion of extreme reality television shows where people’s bodies were being surgically remade and their homes were being bulldozed and reconstituted. The message of these shows is: Everything you are now, everything you own, everything you do sucks. We’re going to completely erase it and rebuild it with a team of experts. You just go limp and let the experts take over. That is exactly what “Extreme Makover:Iraq” is.
There was no role for Iraqis in this process. It was all foreign companies modernizing the country. Iraqis with engineering Ph.D.s who built their electricity system and who built their telephone system had no place in the reconstruction process.
If we want to know what the goals of the war are, we have to look at what Paul Bremer did when he first arrived in Iraq. He laid off 500,000 people, 400,000 of whom were soldiers. And he shredded Iraq’s constitution and wrote a series of economic laws that the The Economist described as “the wish list of foreign investors.”
Basically, Iraq has been turned into a laboratory for the radical free-market policies that the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute dream about in Washington, D.C., but are only able to impose in relative slow motion here at home.
So we just have to examine the Bush administration’s policies and actions. We don’t have to wield secret documents or massive conspiracy theories. We have to look at the fact that they built enduring military bases and didn’t rebuild the country. Their very first act was to protect the oil ministry leaving the the rest of the country to burn—to which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded: “Stuff happens.” Theirs was an almost apocalyptic glee in allowing Iraq to burn. They let the country be erased, leaving a blank slate that they could rebuild in their image This was the goal of the war. The big lie
The administration says the war was about fighting for democracy. That was the big lie they resorted to when they were caught in the other lies. But it’s a different kind of a lie in the sense that it’s a useful lie. The lie that the United States invaded Iraq to bring freedom and democracy not just to Iraq but, as it turns out, to the whole world, is tremendously useful—because we can first expose it as a lie and then we can join with Iraqis to try to make it true. So it disturbs me that a lot of progressives are afraid to use the language of democracy now that George W. Bush is using it. We are somehow giving up on the most powerful emancipatory ideas ever created, of self-determination, liberation and democracy.
And it’s absolutely crucial not to let Bush get away with stealing and defaming these ideas—they are too important.
In looking at democracy in Iraq, we first need to make the distinction between elections and democracy. The reality is the Bush administration has fought democracy in Iraq at every turn.
Why? Because if genuine democracy ever came to Iraq, the real goals of the war—control over oil, support for Israel, the construction of enduring military bases, the privatization of the entire economy—would all be lost. Why? Because Iraqis don’t want them and they don’t agree with them. They have said it over and over again—first in opinion polls, which is why the Bush administration broke its original promise to have elections within months of the invasion. I believe Paul Wolfowitz genuinely thought that Iraqis would respond like the contestants on a reality TV show and say: “Oh my God. Thank you for my brand-new shiny country.” They didn’t. They protested that 500,000 people had lost their jobs. They protested the fact that they were being shut out of the reconstruction of their own country, and they made it clear they didn’t want permanent U.S. bases.
That’s when the administration broke its promise and appointed a CIA agent as the interim prime minister. In that period they locked in—basically shackled—Iraq’s future governments to an International Monetary Fund program until 2008. This will make the humanitarian crisis in Iraq much, much deeper. Here’s just one example: The IMF and the World Bank are demanding the elimination of Iraq’s food ration program, upon which 60 percent of the population depends for nutrition, as a condition for debt relief and for the new loans that have been made in deals with an unelected government.
In these elections, Iraqis voted for the United Iraqi Alliance. In addition to demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of troops, this coalition party has promised that they would create 100 percent full employment in the public sector—i.e., a total rebuke of the neocons’ privatization agenda. But now they can’t do any of this because their democracy has been shackled. In other words, they have the vote, but no real power to govern.A pro-democracy movement
The future of the anti-war movement requires that it become a pro-democracy movement. Our marching orders have been given to us by the people of Iraq. It’s important to understand that the most powerful movement against this war and this occupation is within Iraq itself. Our anti-war movement must not just be in verbal solidarity but in active and tangible solidarity with the overwhelming majority of Iraqis fighting to end the occupation of their country. We need to take our direction from them.
Iraqis are resisting in many ways—not just with armed resistance. They are organizing independent trade unions. They are opening critical newspapers, and then having those newspapers shut down. They are fighting privatization in state factories. They are forming new political coalitions in an attempt to force an end to the occupation.
So what is our role here? We need to support the people of Iraq and their clear demands for an end to both military and corporate occupation. That means being the resistance ourselves in our country, demanding that the troops come home, that U.S. corporations come home, that Iraqis be free of Saddam’s debt and the IMF and World Bank agreements signed under occupation. It doesn’t mean blindly cheerleading for “the resistance.” Because there isn’t just one resistance in Iraq. Some elements of the armed resistance are targeting Iraqi civilians as they pray in Shia mosques—barbaric acts that serve the interests of the Bush administration by feeding the perception that the country is on the brink of civil war and therefore U.S. forces must remain in Iraq. Not everyone fighting the U.S. occupation is fighting for the freedom of all Iraqis; some are fighting for their own elite power. That’s why we need to stay focused on supporting the demands for self-determination, not cheering any setback for U.S. empire.
And we can’t cede the language, the territory of democracy. Anybody who says Iraqis don’t want democracy should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Iraqis are clamoring for democracy and had risked their lives for it long before this invasion—in the 1991 uprising against Saddam, for example, when they were left to be slaughtered. The elections in January took place only because of tremendous pressure from Iraqi Shia communities that insisted on getting the freedom they were promised.“The courage to be serious”
Many of us opposed this war because it was an imperial project. Now Iraqis are struggling for the tools that will make self-determination meaningful, not just for show elections or marketing opportunities for the Bush administration. That means it’s time, as Susan Sontag said, to have “the courage to be serious.” The reason why the 58 percent of Americans against the war has not translated into the same millions of people on the streets that we saw before the war is because we haven’t come forward with a serious policy agenda. We should not be afraid to be serious.
Part of that seriousness is to echo the policy demands made by voters and demonstrators in the streets of Baghdad and Basra and bring those demands to Washington, where the decisions are being made.
But the core fight is over respect for international law, and whether there is any respect for it at all in the United States. Unless we’re fighting a core battle against this administration’s total disdain for the very idea of international law, then the specifics really don’t matter.
We saw this very clearly in the U.S. presidential campaign, as John Kerry let Bush completely set the terms for the debate. Recall the ridicule of Kerry’s mention of a “global test,” and the charge that it was cowardly and weak to allow for any international scrutiny of U.S. actions. Why didn’t Kerry ever challenge this assumption? I blame the Kerry campaign as much as I blame the Bush administration. During the elections, he never said “Abu Ghraib.” He never said “Guantanamo Bay.” He accepted the premise that to submit to some kind of “global test” was to be weak. Once they had done that, the Democrats couldn’t expect to win a battle against Alberto Gonzales being appointed attorney general, when they had never talked about torture during the campaign.
And part of the war has to be a media war in this country. The problem is not that the anti-war voices aren’t there—it’s that the voices aren’t amplified. We need a strategy to target the media in this country, making it a site of protest itself. We must demand that the media let us hear the voices of anti-war critics, of enraged mothers who have lost their sons for a lie, of betrayed soldiers who fought in a war they didn’t believe in. And we need to keep deepening the definition of democracy—to say that these show elections are not democracy, and that we don’t have a democracy in this country either.
Sadly, the Bush administration has done a better job of using the language of responsibility than we in the anti-war movement. The message that’s getting across is that we are saying “just leave,” while they are saying, “we can’t just leave, we have to stay and fix the problem we started.”
We can have a very detailed, responsible agenda and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We should be saying, “Let’s pull the troops out but let’s leave some hope behind.” We can’t be afraid to talk about reparations, to demand freedom from debt for Iraq, a total abandonment of Bremer’s illegal economic laws, full Iraqi control over the reconstruction budget—there are many more examples of concrete policy demands that we can and must put forth. When we articulate a more genuine definition of democracy than we are hearing from the Bush administration, we will bring some hope to Iraq. And we will bring closer to us many of the 58 percent who are opposed to the war but aren’t marching with us yet because they are afraid of cutting and running.
Naomi Klein is a columnist for In These Times, the British Guardian and The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper and the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.
© 2005 In These Times
:: David 1:49 AM [+] ::
... Comment
:: Tuesday, March 15, 2005 ::
Published on Monday, March 14, 2005 by the Guardian (UK)
Brand USA is in Trouble, So Take a Lesson from Big MacInstead of changing his foreign policy, President Bush is changing the story
by Naomi Klein

Last Tuesday, George Bush delivered a major address on his plan to fight terrorism with democracy in the Arab world. On the same day, McDonald's launched a massive advertising campaign urging Americans to fight obesity by eating healthily and exercising. Any similarities between McDonald's "Go Active! American Challenge" and Bush's "Go Democratic! Arabian Challenge" are purely coincidental.
Sure, there is a certain irony in being urged to get off the couch by the company that popularised the "drive-thru", helpfully allowing customers to consume a bagged heart attack without having to get out of the car and walk to the counter. And there is a similar irony to Bush urging the people of the Middle East to remove "the mask of fear" because "fear is the foundation of every dictatorial regime", when that fear is the direct result of US decisions to install and arm the regimes that have systematically terrorised for decades. But since both campaigns are exercises in rebranding, that means facts are besides the point.
The Bush administration has long been enamoured of the idea that it can solve complex policy challenges by borrowing cutting-edge communications tools from its heroes in the corporate world. The Irish rock star Bono has recently been winning unlikely fans in the White House by framing world poverty as an opportunity for US politicians to become better marketers. "Brand USA is in trouble ... it's a problem for business," Bono warned at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The solution is "to redescribe ourselves to a world that is unsure of our values".
The Bush administration wholeheartedly agrees, as evidenced by the orgy of redescription that now passes for American foreign policy. Faced with an Arab world enraged by the US occupation of Iraq and its blind support for Israel, the solution is not to change these brutal policies: it is to "change the story".
Brand USA's latest story was launched on January 30, the day of the Iraqi elections, complete with a catchy tag line ("purple power"), instantly iconic imagery (purple fingers) and, of course, a new narrative about America's role in the world, helpfully told and retold by the White House's unofficial brand manager, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. "Iraq has been reframed from a story about Iraqi 'insurgents' trying to liberate their country from American occupiers and their Iraqi 'stooges' to a story of the overwhelming Iraqi majority trying to build a democracy, with US help, against the wishes of Iraqi Ba'athist fascists and jihadists."
This new story is so contagious, we are told, that it has set off a domino effect akin to the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of communism. (Although in the "Arabian spring" the only wall in sight - Israel's apartheid wall - pointedly stays up.) As with all branding campaigns, the power is in the repetition, not in the details. Obvious non sequiturs (is Bush taking credit for Arafat's death?) and screeching hypocrisies (occupiers against occupation!) just mean it's time to tell the story again, only louder and more slowly, obnoxious-tourist style. Even so, with Bush now claiming that "Iran and other nations have an example in Iraq", it seems worth focusing on the reality of the Iraqi example.
The state of emergency was just renewed for its fifth month and Human Rights Watch reports that torture is "systematic" in Iraqi jails. The Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena's double nightmare provides a window into the pincer of terror in which average Iraqis are trapped: daily life is a navigation between the fear of being kidnapped or killed by fellow Iraqis and the fear of being gunned down at a US checkpoint.
Meanwhile, the ongoing wrangling over who will form Iraq's next government, despite the United Iraqi Alliance being the clear winner, points to an electoral system designed by Washington that is less than democratic. Terrified at the prospect of an Iraq ruled by the majority of Iraqis, the former chief US envoy, Paul Bremer, wrote election rules that gave the US-friendly Kurds 27% of the seats in the national assembly, even though they make up just 15% of the population.
Skewing matters further, the US-authored interim constitution requires that all major decisions have the support of two-thirds or, in some cases, three-quarters of the assembly - an absurdly high figure that gives the Kurds the power to block any call for foreign troop withdrawal, any attempt to roll back Bremer's economic orders, and any part of a new constitution.
Iraqi Kurds have a legitimate claim to independence, as well as very real fears of being ethnically targeted. But through its alliance with the Kurds, the Bush administration has effectively given itself a veto over Iraq's democracy - and it appears to be using it to secure a contingency plan should Iraqis demand an end to occupation.
Talks to form a government are stalled over the Kurdish demand for control over Kirkuk. If they get it, Kirkuk's huge oil fields would fall under Kurdish control. That means that if foreign troops are kicked out of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan can be broken off and Washington will still end up with a dependent, oil-rich regime - even if it's smaller than the one originally envisioned by the war's architects.
Meanwhile, Bush's freedom triumphalism glossed over the fact that, in the two years since the invasion, the power of political Islam has increased exponentially, while Iraq's deep secular traditions have been greatly eroded. In part, this has to do with the deadly decision to "embed" secularism and women's rights in the military invasion. Whenever Bremer needed a good-news hit, he had his picture taken at a newly opened women's centre, handily equating feminism with the hated occupation. (The women's centres are now mostly closed, and hundreds of Iraqis who worked with the coalition in local councils have been executed.) But the problem for secularism is not just guilt by association. It's also that the Bush definition of liberation robs democratic forces of their most potent tools.
The only idea that has ever stood up to kings, tyrants and mullahs in the Middle East is the promise of economic justice, brought about through nationalist and socialist policies of agrarian reform and state control over oil. But there is no room for such ideas in the Bush narrative, in which free people are only free to choose so-called free trade. That leaves democrats with little to offer, but empty talk of "human rights" - a weedy weapon against the powerful swords of ethnic glory and eternal salvation.
But we shouldn't be surprised that the Bush administration, despite telling stories about its commitment to freedom, continues to actively sabotage democracy in the very countries it claims to have liberated. Rumour has it McDonald's also continues to serve Big Macs.
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.
:: David 2:10 AM [+] ::
... Comment
:: Sunday, February 13, 2005 ::
Published on Friday, February 11, 2005 by The Nation
Getting the Purple Finger
by Naomi Klein

"The Iraqi people gave America the biggest 'thank you' in the best way we could have hoped for." Reading this election analysis from Betsy Hart, a columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service, I found myself thinking about my late grandmother. Half blind and a menace behind the wheel of her Chevrolet, she adamantly refused to surrender her car keys. She was convinced that everywhere she drove (flattening the house pets of Philadelphia along the way) people were waving and smiling at her. "They are so friendly!" We had to break the bad news. "They aren't waving with their whole hand, Grandma--just with their middle finger."
So it is with Betsy Hart and the other near-sighted election observers: They think the Iraqi people have finally sent America those long-awaited flowers and candies, when Iraq's voters just gave them the (purple) finger.
The election results are in: Iraqis voted overwhelmingly to throw out the US-installed government of Iyad Allawi, who refused to ask the United States to leave. A decisive majority voted for the United Iraqi Alliance; the second plank in the UIA platform calls for "a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq."
There are more single-digit messages embedded in the winning coalition's platform. Some highlights: "Adopting a social security system under which the state guarantees a job for every fit Iraqi...and offers facilities to citizens to build homes." The UIA also pledges "to write off Iraq's debts, cancel reparations and use the oil wealth for economic development projects." In short, Iraqis voted to repudiate the radical free-market policies imposed by former chief US envoy Paul Bremer and locked in by a recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
So will the people who got all choked up watching Iraqis flock to the polls support these democratically chosen demands? Please. "You don't set timetables," George W. Bush said four days after Iraqis voted for exactly that. Likewise, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the elections "magnificent" but dismissed a firm timetable out of hand. The UIA's pledges to expand the public sector, keep the oil and drop the debt will likely suffer similar fates. At least if Adel Abd al-Mahdi gets his way--he's Iraq's finance minister and the man suddenly being touted as leader of Iraq's next government.
Al-Mahdi is the Bush Administration's Trojan horse in the UIA. (You didn't think they were going to put all their money on Allawi, did you?) In October he told a gathering of the American Enterprise Institute that he planned to "restructure and privatize [Iraq's] state-owned enterprises," and in December he made another trip to Washington to unveil plans for a new oil law "very promising to the American investors." It was al-Mahdi himself who oversaw the signing of a flurry of deals with Shell, BP and ChevronTexaco in the weeks before the elections, and it is he who negotiated the recent austerity deal with the IMF. On troop withdrawal, al-Mahdi sounds nothing like his party's platform and instead appears to be channeling Dick Cheney on Fox News: "When the Americans go will depend on when our own forces are ready and on how the resistance responds after the elections." But on Sharia law, we are told, he is very close to the clerics.
Iraq's elections were delayed time and time again, while the occupation and resistance grew ever more deadly. Now it seems that two years of bloodshed, bribery and backroom arm-twisting were leading up to this: a deal in which the ayatollahs get control over the family, Texaco gets the oil, and Washington gets its enduring military bases (call it the "oil for women program"). Everyone wins except the voters, who risked their lives to cast their ballots for a very different set of policies.
But never mind that. January 30, we are told, was not about what Iraqis were voting for--it was about the fact of their voting and, more important, how their plucky courage made Americans feel about their war. Apparently, the elections' true purpose was to prove to Americans that, as George Bush put it, "the Iraqi people value their own liberty." Stunningly, this appears to come as news. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown said the vote was "the first clear sign that freedom really may mean something to the Iraqi people." On The Daily Show, CNN's Anderson Cooper described it as "the first time we've sort of had a gauge of whether or not they're willing to sort of step forward and do stuff."
This is some tough crowd. The Shiite uprising against Saddam in 1991 was clearly not enough to convince them that Iraqis were willing to "do stuff" to be free. Nor was the demonstration of 100,000 people held one year ago demanding immediate elections, or the spontaneous local elections organized by Iraqis in the early months of the occupation--both summarily shot down by Bremer. It turns out that on American TV, the entire occupation has been one long episode of Fear Factor, in which Iraqis overcome ever-more-challenging obstacles to demonstrate the depths of their desire to win their country back. Having their cities leveled, being tortured in Abu Ghraib, getting shot at checkpoints, having their journalists censored and their water and electricity cut off--all of it was just a prelude to the ultimate endurance test: dodging bombs and bullets to get to the polling station. At last, Americans were persuaded that Iraqis really, really want to be free.
So what's the prize? An end to occupation, as the voters demanded? Don't be silly--the US government won't submit to any "artificial timetable." Jobs for everyone, as the UIA promised? You can't vote for socialist nonsense like that. No, they get Geraldo Rivera's tears ("I felt like such a sap"), Laura Bush's motherly pride ("It was so moving for the President and me to watch people come out with purple fingers") and Betsy Hart's sincere apology for ever doubting them ("Wow--do I stand corrected").
And that should be enough. Because if it weren't for the invasion, Iraqis would not even have the freedom to vote for their liberation, and then to have that vote completely ignored. And that's the real prize: the freedom to be occupied. Wow--do I stand corrected.
Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (Picador).
© 2005 The Nation
:: David 12:22 AM [+] ::
... Comment
:: Tuesday, February 01, 2005 ::
Published on Sunday, January 30, 2005 by the Toronto Star
Today's Charade is Simply About Iraq's Oil

by Linda McQuaig

In the weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote approvingly of "the breath-taking audacity" of the Bush administration's plans for Iraq.

Friedman noted that the invasion would lead to "a long-term U.S. occupation" and that "Iraq will be controlled by the iron fist of the U.S. Army." Apparently he didn't regard any of this as a problem — just part of the job of remaking Iraq to fit the fantasies of U.S. policymakers.

Friedman's casual acceptance of Washington's right to redesign other countries — an attitude rampant among media commentators as well as U.S. officials — sheds light on why the occupation of Iraq has been such a disaster, and why there's little reason to believe Iraq is on the path to democracy.

No matter how inspired the rhetoric, the U.S. project in Iraq has never been about democracy. It's been about getting control of Iraq's vast, virtually untouched oil reserves, and extending Washington's military reach over the region. "Think of Iraq as a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath; you can't ask for better than that," Wall Street oil analyst Fadel Gheit told me in an interview.

Bush officials never wanted to run Iraq themselves, but rather to have a loyal local do it for them. Before the invasion, their plan was simply to install the wealthy, CIA-groomed exile Ahmed Chalabi. They also drew up sweeping plans to privatize the entire Iraqi economy, including the oil sector — before the Iraqi people got to cast a single vote.

But the "iron fist of the U.S. army" has not been popular in Iraq, fuelling a resistance that has turned key parts of the country into a free-fire zone.

Among other things, this makes meaningful elections impossible. If large numbers of people are too terrified to vote, the results won't reflect the popular will — yet they'll give an aura of legitimacy to a government that may represent a tiny minority.

But while useless in advancing real democracy, the election is highly useful to George W. Bush, who will point to a "democratic" transfer of power.

Questioned last week, Bush said the U.S. would withdraw if asked by the new government. Really?

Earlier in the week, the Pentagon acknowledged plans and budgets to keep 120,000 troops there for at least two more years.

It sure looks like Washington plans to go on calling the shots in Iraq, but now there will be a plausible government to show off to the world. If Iraq's oil industry is put on the chopping block and ends up in the hands of U.S. oil companies, Washington will be off the hook; the decision will have been made by the "elected" Iraqi government.

At last — mission accomplished.

Copyright 2005 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

:: David 7:49 PM [+] ::
... Comment
:: Saturday, November 27, 2004 ::
Published on Friday, November 26, 2004 by The Nation

Kerry and the Gift of Impunity

by Naomi Klein

Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20-year-old Marine from Appalachia who has been christened "the face of Falluja" by prowar pundits and "The Marlboro Man" by pretty much everyone else. Reprinted in more than a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller "after more than twelve hours of nearly nonstop deadly combat" in Falluja, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

Gazing lovingly at Miller, Dan Rather confessed that, "for me, this is personal.... This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it, study it, absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I." A few days later, the LA Times declared that its photo had "moved into the realm of the iconic." In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: It's a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro Man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood (John Wayne) who was himself channeling America's most powerful founding myth (the cowboy on the rugged frontier). It's like a song you feel like you've heard a thousand times before--because you have.

But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro Man as its President, Miller is an icon, and as if to prove it he has ignited his very own controversy. "Lots of children, particularly boys, play 'army' and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle. Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of the Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of nonsmoking soldiers in Iraq?" A reader of the New York Post suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a Marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water, would have a more positive impact on your readers."

Yes, that's right: Letter-writers from across the nation are united in their outrage--not that the steely-eyed smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool. It reminds me of the joke about the Hasidic rabbi who says all sexual positions are acceptable except for one: standing up, "because that could lead to dancing."

On second thought, perhaps Miller does deserve to be elevated to the status of icon--not of the war in Iraq but of the new era of supercharged American impunity. Because outside US borders, it is, of course, a different Marine who has been awarded the prize as "the face of Falluja": the soldier captured on tape executing a wounded, unarmed prisoner in a mosque. Runners-up are a photograph of 2-year-old Fallujan in a hospital bed with one of his tiny legs blown off; a dead child lying in the street, clutching the headless body of an adult; and an emergency health clinic blasted to rubble. Inside the United States, these snapshots of a lawless occupation appeared only briefly, if at all. Yet Miller's icon status has endured, kept alive with human interest stories about fans sending cartons of Marlboros to Falluja, interviews with the Marine's proud mother and earnest discussions about whether smoking might reduce Miller's effectiveness as a fighting machine.

Impunity--the perception of being outside the law--has long been the hallmark of the Bush regime. What is alarming is that it appears to have deepened since the election, ushering in what can best be described as an orgy of impunity. In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are assaulting civilian targets and openly attacking doctors, clerics and journalists who have dared to count the bodies. At home, impunity has been made official policy with Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales--the man who personally advised the President in his infamous "torture memo" that the Geneva Conventions are "obsolete"--as Attorney General.

This kind of defiance cannot simply be explained by Bush's win. There has to be something in how he won, in how the election was fought, that gave this Administration the distinct impression that it had been handed a "get out of the Geneva Conventions free" card. That's because the Administration was handed precisely such a gift--by John Kerry.

In the name of "electability," the Kerry campaign gave Bush five months on the campaign trail without ever facing serious questions about violations of international law. Fearing he would be seen as soft on terror and disloyal to US troops, Kerry stayed scandalously silent about Abu Ghraib and Guant?amo Bay. When it became clear that fury would rain down on Falluja as soon as the polls closed, Kerry never spoke out against the plan, or against the illegal bombings of civilian areas that took place throughout the campaign. Even after The Lancet published its landmark study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion and occupation, Kerry repeated his outrageous (and frankly racist) claim that Americans "have borne 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq." His unmistakable message: Iraqi deaths don't count. By buying the highly questionable logic that Americans are incapable of caring about anyone's lives but their own, the Kerry campaign and its supporters became complicit in the dehumanization of Iraqis, reinforcing the idea that some lives are insufficiently important to risk losing votes over. And it is this morally bankrupt logic, more than the election of any single candidate, that allows these crimes to continue unchecked.

The real-world result of all the "strategic" thinking is the worst of both worlds: It didn't get Kerry elected and it sent a clear message to the people who were elected that they will pay no political price for committing war crimes. And this is Kerry's true gift to Bush: not just the presidency, but impunity. You can see it perhaps best of all in the Marlboro Man in Falluja, and the surreal debates that swirl around him. Genuine impunity breeds a kind of delusional decadence, and this is its face: a nation bickering about smoking while Iraq burns.

:: David 9:46 PM [+] ::
... Comment
:: Wednesday, November 24, 2004 ::
Published on Friday, November 19, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Smedley Butler, Meet John Perkins
by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Remember Smedley Butler?

He was perhaps the most decorated Major General in Marine Corps history.

In the early part of this century, he fought and killed for the United States around the world.

Butler was awarded two Congressional Medals of Honor.

Then, when he returned to the United States he wrote a book titled ?War is a Racket? which opens with the memorable lines: ?War is a racket. It always has been.?

?I was a high class muscleman for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers,? Butler said. ?In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.?

In a speech in 1933, Butler said the following:

?I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.?

Smedley Butler, meet John Perkins.

Perkins has just written a book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Barrett Koehler, 2004).

It is the War is A Racket for our times.

Some of it is hard to believe.

You be the judge.

In 1968, after graduating from Boston University, Perkins joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Ecuador. There, he was recruited by the National Security Agency (NSA) and hired by an international consulting firm, Chas. T. Main in Boston.

Soon after beginning his job in Boston, ?I was contacted by a woman named Claudine who became my trainer as an economic hit man.?

Perkins assumed the woman worked for the NSA.

?She said she was sent to help me and to train me,? Perkins said. ?She is extremely beautiful, sensual, seductive, intelligent. Her job was to convince me to become an economic hit man, holding out these three drugs ?- sex, drugs and money. And then she wanted to let me know that I was getting into a dirty business. And I shouldn?t go off on my first assignment, which was going to be Indonesia, and start doing this unless I knew that I was going to continue doing it, and once I was in I was in for life.?

Perkins worked for Main from 1970 to 1980.

His job was to convince the governments of the third world countries and the banks to make deals where huge loans were given to these countries to develop infrastructure projects.

And a condition of the loan was that a large share of the money went back to the big construction companies in the USA ? the Bechtels and Halliburtons.

The loans would plunge the countries into debts that would be impossible to pay off.

?The system is set up such that the countries are so deep in debt that they can?t repay their debt,? Perkins said. ?When the U.S. government wants favors from them, like votes in the United Nations or troops in Iraq, or in many, many cases, their resources ? their oil, their canal, in the case of Panama, we go to them and say ? look, you can?t pay off your debts, therefore sell your oil at a very low price to our oil companies. Today, tremendous pressure is being put on Ecuador, for example, to sell off its Amazonian rainforest -? very precious, very fragile places, inhabited by indigenous people whose cultures are being destroyed by the oil companies.?

When a leader of a country refuses to cooperate with economic hit men like Perkins, the jackals from the CIA are called in.

Perkins said that both Omar Torrijos of Panama and Jaime Boldos of Ecuador -? both men he worked with ? refused to play the game with the U.S. and both were cut down by the CIA -? Torrijos when his airplane blew up, and Roldos when his helicopter exploded, within three months of each other in 1981.

If the CIA jackals don?t do the job, then the U.S. Marines are sent in ?- Butler?s ?racketeers for capitalism.?

Perkins also gives lurid details of how he pimped for a Saudi prince in the 1970s, in an effort to get the Saudi royal family to enter an elaborate deal in which the U.S. would protect the House of Saud. In exchange, the Saudis agreed to stabilize oil prices and use their oil money to purchase Treasury bonds, the interest on which would be used to pay U.S. construction firms like Bechtel to build Saudi cities.

For years, Perkins wanted to stop being an economic hit man and write a tell-all book.

He quit Main in 1980, only to be lured back with megabucks as a consultant. He testified in favor of the Seabrook Nuclear power plant (?my most infamous assignment?) in the 1980s, but the experience pushed him out of the business, and he started an alternative energy firm. When word got out in the 1990s that he was starting to write a tell-all book, he was approached by the president of Stone & Webster, a big engineering firm.

Over seven years, Stone & Webster paid Perkins $500,000 to do nothing.

?At that first meeting, the president of the company mentioned some of the books that I had written about indigenous people and said ?- that?s nice, that?s fine, keep doing your non-profit work,? Perkins told us. ?We approve of that, but you certainly would never write about this industry, would you? And I assured him that I wouldn?t.?

Perkins assumes the money was a bribe to get him not to write the book.

But he has written the book.

You be the judge.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of the forthcoming On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).

? 2004 Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
:: David 3:04 AM [+] ::
... Comment

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