One of the many maddening feats of this Administration is that in
choosing to fight the war on terror by going to war with Iraq, George W.
Bush has inspired new terrorist threats to the United States--according
to the official testimony of his own CIA--where none existed. At the
same time, he purposely starves those localities and institutions on
which the complex and expensive task of terrorist protection ultimately
The Economist compares New York City to Atlas, bearing the weight of the
world on its shoulders. Already reeling from a massive deficit,
declining income and the economic aftershocks of 9/11, the city must pay
$1 billion a year for emergency and counterterrorism costs. Bush could
care less. After attempting to stiff New York entirely, Congress has
finally agreed to kick in about $200 million, far more than Bush
proposed. My shaken city can ill afford to make up the difference. It
already has 4,000 fewer cops than it did two years ago but must assign
more than a thousand of those remaining to the terrorist beat. It may
shutter forty fire companies. Massive layoffs, tax hikes and cutbacks in
every kind of social service are in the offing. And Gotham is hardly
alone. Enhanced security measures cost the nation's cities an estimated
$2.6 billion in the fifteen months after 9/11.
But as with Vietnam, "W" is AWOL and Cheney has "other priorities." They
have not merely ignored "homeland" protection, they have sabotaged it.
Shocking, yes. But don't take my word for it. A January Brookings
Institution report explains, "President Bush vetoed several specific
(and relatively cost-effective) measures proposed by Congress that would
have addressed critical national vulnerabilities. As a result, the
country remains more vulnerable than it should be today." A Council on
Foreign Relations task force chaired by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman
concurs: "America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond
to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil," it warns.
Power plants constitute obvious terrorist targets but are frequently
operated by private or semiprivate corporations unwilling to pay to
protect them. According to Brookings, the Administration has done
nothing--repeat, nothing--to help or encourage "private-sector
firms--even ones that handle dangerous materials--toward improving their
own security." Last year, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review discovered a
frightening series of security lapses at three separate chemical plants
in Houston and Chicago, which, if attacked, could endanger 1 million
people each. The New York Daily News found one plant in East Rutherford,
New Jersey, where an attack could threaten the lives of more than 7
million people (including, um, mine). And it employed virtually no
security at all. Spencer Abraham, Bush's Energy Secretary, worried in a
March 2002 letter to OMB director Mitch Daniels that firms "are storing
vast amounts of materials that remain highly volatile and subject to
unthinkable consequences if placed in the wrong hands." However, he
added, due to insufficient funding, "the Department now is unable to
meet the next round of critical security mission requirements....
Failure to support these urgent security requirements," he concluded,
"is a risk that would be unwise." Nevertheless, The New Republic's
Jonathan Chait reports, Bush agreed to propose a mere 7 percent of what
Abraham said would be needed just to get started.
Chait has more: Bush refused to compensate healthcare workers injured or
killed by the smallpox inoculation program. His budget is squeezing the
Coast Guard, in charge of port security. He is starving "first
responders"--the very heroes of 9/11 to whom he dishonestly promised so
much. And the Customs Service got not a single penny in new funding in
the Administration's budget. With everyone losing sleep over "loose
nukes" falling into terrorist hands, Bush even tried to cut overseas
nuclear security funding by 5 percent.
How does he get away with it? Quite easily, apparently. In the Orwellian
universe of the "liberal media," Bush can inspire new terrorist threats,
ignore the ones we already face and evade responsibility for both
because he is "tough" enough to spit in the face of world opinion.
In a sensible media universe, Chait's cover story, "The 9/10 President,"
would have set off a journalistic firestorm. But the only place I've
seen it picked up is in Paul Krugman's invaluable New York Times column.
Using the Homeland Security Department's original spending figures,
Krugman took Chait one step further on April 1, arguing that Bush's plan
to spend seven times as much per capita on protection for Wyoming as for
New York--where, need I point out, a few more obvious terrorist targets
are located--"was adopted precisely because it caters to that same
constituency" that enabled Bush's "election." Krugman puts the Rove/Bush
strategy thus: "Even in a time of war--a war that seems oddly unrelated
to the terrorist threat--the Bush administration isn't serious about
protecting the homeland. Instead, it continues to subordinate U.S.
security needs to its unchanged political agenda."
This is an eerie moment in American political history. George W. Bush
was defeated in the popular vote by his more liberal opponent but rules
from the most extreme wing of his party. He campaigned as a fiscal
conservative but has pushed tax cuts that will create a deficit larger
than any in US history. As a candidate, he articulated the need for a
"humble" foreign policy but now conducts it with a degree of hubris that
makes Lyndon Johnson look like the Dalai Lama. His hypocrisy, in other
words, is so great as to be almost unfathomable, and yet he has somehow
managed to convince the media to admire him for his "moral clarity."
Thanks to Bush & Co., America is hated the world over as never
before. Deficits are exploding, unemployment remains high, the stock
market is still in the tank and interest rates are poised to take off.
The country is headed to hell in a handbasket from so many directions
one can barely keep track. And yet the increasingly Foxified media tell
a story only of heroism: of the US military, of the American people and
of the President of the United States, who has so far managed to avoid
service to either one.
How do we know the economy is in bad shape? Unemployed white male
hotshots are back in the news. "This man used to make $300,000 a year,"
reads the New York Times Magazine's cover. "Now he's selling khakis."
The grim black-and-white cover photo shows a resentful-looking bald man
with a clipboard and Gap tag, sporting a Silicon Alley hipster's
five-day-old beard. He's "interactive industry pioneer" Jeff Einstein,
one of three men profiled in "Commute to Nowhere" by Jonathan Mahler who
lost their high-paying jobs when the New Economy tanked and have had
trouble resigning themselves to the kinds of jobs that are left: selling
pants for Jeff; substitute teaching in the public schools for Lou
Casagrande, a former information-technology consultant (at $100,000 a
year); and volunteering as a "networking" coordinator for Tom Pyle,
who'd left the stressful life of banking ($200,000) for the calmer
waters of the nonprofit sector ($100,000), only to be laid off within
After more than a year holding out for the next big thing, their wallets
are thin, their cars are falling apart, their self-esteem is wilted and
their marriages aren't in such great shape either: jeff takes the Gap
job only because his wife finally threatens to evict him if he doesn't
start helping out with the rent. (Just between you and me, I suspect he
could have done better but took the Gap job just to spite her.) It's all
about masculinity, Mahler informs us. Women have been as likely to lose
their jobs as men in the current climate, but "for most women, survival
trumps ego; they simply adapt and find some job." I like that "simply."
No cover story there.
But wait. Those $10-an-hour jobs, the ones we're supposed to pity the
men for having lowered their masculine dignity to take, look kind of
familiar, don't they? They're the "good jobs" women on welfare are
encouraged to get, the ones that are supposed to transform them from
mooching layabouts to respectable, economically self-sufficient, upright
and orderly citizens. (Of course, both Tom and his stay-at-home wife
recoil at the possibility that she may have to get a job. I guess this
is because, unlike poor single mothers, she's a "homemaker.")
What happened to all those homilies about personal responsibility and
the dignity of a job--any job--that were trotted out to justify forcing
welfare mothers to work off their checks at subminimum wage by cleaning
toilets in public parks or scraping chewing gum off subway platforms?
Somehow, those sermons don't apply to Mahler's guys, but only to those
single mothers of small children who get up at dawn for long bus rides
to jobs as waitresses or hotel maids or fast-food workers--jobs that one
calls "menial" at the risk of being tarred as an elitist snob by
welfare-reform enthusiasts. The point is not so much work--the exchange
of labor for pay and benefits--but work experience: work as behavior
modification. For Mahler's subjects, work is about masculine identity,
so a low-status job is worse than none. Poor women apparently have no
dignity to be affronted.
Take the first job you can get and be glad you have it is the philosophy
of welfare today. If you are poor and had the bad judgment to become a
single mother, well, no education and training for you. The welfare
reauthorization bill, approved by the House and soon to be voted on by
the Senate, raises the percentage of welfare clients who must work from
50 to 70 percent and ups work requirements for single parents from
twenty to forty hours a week. This is much more even than the norm for
working mothers, which is thirty-one to thirty-five hours. A proposal by
House Democrat Ben Cardin that education and training count toward that
total was rejected along party lines. In New York City, where
unemployment is 8.6 percent, and half of welfare clients didn't graduate
high school, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed a similar set of modifications from
the City Council. (The Council overrode his veto, and he has threatened
a legal challenge.)
Is there a middle-class person in America who doesn't understand the
relation of education and skills to self-support in the twenty-first
century? You'd almost think the people who write the welfare laws don't
want poor women to earn a middle-class income--just to adopt the
imaginary middle-class sexual values embodied in abstinence classes and
marriage promotion schemes, which welfare reauthorization funds to the
tune of $50 million and $300 million a year, respectively.
Maybe I lack sufficient regard for the male ego, but I found it hard to
shed a tear for the men in Mahler's profile. They may have lost their
dreams of financial glory, but this is not exactly King Lear. By the
standards of normal life they're not doing so badly: They live in safe
suburban neighborhoods, with food on the table and good schools for the
kids. Indeed, Jeff's wife earns $80,000 a year, which puts the family in
the top third of US household incomes before he's sold a single pair of
jeans. At the end of the piece, we learn that Lou and Tom have come to
terms with reality and are planning to become public school teachers.
This is hardly a tragedy. In fact, it will likely be the first really
useful and important work either has ever done.
Zora Neale Hurston, a great writer who made quite a bit of money in her
time, ended her days as a cleaning lady. That's what I call tragic. All
over America, single mothers with nothing like the advantages or
prospects of Jeff, Lou and Tom are being told to sink or swim, and their
children along with them. That's tragic too.
* * *
Once again, the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt, a German human rights
group, is providing "vacations from war" for displaced children and
teens of all Bosnian ethnicities. Through their generous donations over
the years, Nation readers have become a mainstay of this wonderful
project, which last year provided two weeks of summer camp on the
Croatian seacoast for an astonishing 1,500 children. (This year, for the
second time, the group hopes to bring a hundred Israeli and Palestinian
kids together as well.) It takes $130 to give one child respite from war
and its aftermath, but donations of any size are appreciated. Checks
made out to Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt can be mailed to me at The
Nation, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003, and I will forward
In the past 200 years, all of the earth's great territorial empires,
whether dynastic or colonial, or both, have been destroyed. The list
includes the Russian empire of the czars; the Austro-Hungarian Empire of
the Habsburgs; the German empire of the Hohenzollerns, the Ottoman
Empire, the Napoleonic Empire, the overseas empires of Holland, England,
France, Belgium, Italy and Japan, Hitler's "thousand-year Reich" and the
Soviet empire. They were brought down by a force that, to the
indignation and astonishment of the imperialists, turned out to be
irresistible: the resolve of peoples, no matter how few they were or how
poor, to govern themselves.
With its takeover of Iraq, the United States is attempting to reverse
this universal historical verdict. It is seeking to reinvent the
imperial tradition and reintroduce imperial rule--and on a global
scale--for the twenty-first century. Some elements, like the danger of
weapons of mass destruction, are new. Yet any student of imperialism
will be struck by the similarities between the old style of imperialism
and the new: the gigantic disparity between the technical and military
might of the conquerors and the conquered; the inextricable combination
of rapacious commercial interest and geopolitical ambition and design;
the distortion and erosion of domestic constitutions by the immense
military establishments, overt and covert, required for foreign
domination; the use of one colony as a stepping stone to seize others or
pressure them into compliance with the imperial agenda; the appeal to
jingoism on the home front. True, American officials state at every
opportunity that they do not intend to "occupy" Iraq. But then the
British in the nineteenth century said the same thing. Two years before
the liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone ordered the conquest of
Egypt he declared that his heart's desire was an "Egypt for the
Egyptians." The liberal imperialist Lord Palmerston said in 1842 in
defense of his gunboat diplomacy, "It is, that commerce may go freely
forth, leading civilization with one hand, and peace with the other, to
render mankind happier, wiser, better." When it came to rule, the
British preferred, wherever possible, not "direct rule" but a sort of
covert domination called "influence"or "indirect rule" or "paramountcy"
(the British were as richly inventive of euphemisms as the United States
is today). Then as now, imperialism, in the words of the great
anti-imperialist Ernest Hobson, was "floated on a sea of vague, shifty,
well-sounding phrases which are seldom tested by close contact with
It was one thing, however, for Europeans, in newfound possession of
modern tools of technical and organizational superiority, to subjugate
"backward" foreign peoples in 1700 or 1800 or 1900. But can it be done
again, in our century, in the wake of that project's universal rejection
by the peoples of the earth? So far, the outlook is unpromising. The
United States vowed to bring about "regime change" in Iraq. The phrase
has rightly been criticized as an outrageously mild euphemism--a vague,
well-sounding, shifty phrase if there ever was one--for an extremely
violent act; but now it turns out that the expression defined a deeper
problem. If I am going to change the oil in my car, I must, before I
remove the old oil in the crankcase, have new oil ready to put in.
Otherwise, my car will quickly overheat and break down on the road. This
is roughly the condition of Iraq two weeks after the destruction of its
former government. The United States, it turns out, forgot to bring a
new government with it when it set out from Kuwait to Baghdad. The
troops brought plenty of MREs (meals ready to eat) but no GRR
(government ready to rule). American forces had no intention of becoming
a police force, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told the press. Did the
Administration perhaps take its own slippery rhetoric about not
occupying Iraq too seriously? The result was a vacuum of authority soon
filled by nearly universal looting. Many Iraqis made clear their hatred
of the old regime and their joy at its disappearance; but it appears
that they had little more confidence in the invader. Finding themselves
caught between local misrule and foreign rule, did they perhaps decide
that they had a momentary opportunity to grab something for themselves
and set about sacking their own country? A journalist, upon arriving in
an Iraqi city, described it as "prelooted." Did the Iraqis, in
anticipation of foreign exploitation, "preloot" their whole country?
The United States thus achieved Regime Removal but not the promised
Regime Change. There were, we can now see, no plans even to keep order
in Iraq, much less to administer it, or organize a government there. The
famous war plan was much discussed; the peace plan, it appears, did not
This became clear when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to the
raging anarchy in Iraq as "untidy," and America's new viceroy in Iraq,
retired Gen. Jay Garner, newly arrived in the city of Nasiriyah from the
Hilton hotel in Kuwait, likened events to the American constitutional
convention of 1787, remarking rhetorically, "I don't think they had a
love-in when they had Philadelphia." Does he really think that mayhem in
Iraq, including the extinction of the better part of the country's
cultural treasures, has any resemblance to the deliberations by which
Washington, Franklin and Madison framed the Constitution of the United
States? Is such a man fit to run a country?
So far, the American military giant has proved to be a political pygmy.
The Shiite cleric Abdel Majid al-Khoei, who was imported into Iraq from
London by the "coalition" forces, was promptly hacked to death by local
people. The gathering of Iraqis invited by the United States to meet at
a US military base has been boycotted by the country's most important
political groups. In Mosul, American troops have fired upon an angry
mob, killing seven. "It's a show of force, but people don't understand
it," a soldier in Mosul told the Times. "They're not grateful."
Before the war began, it was often said that winning the war would be
easy and winning the peace hard. And it was surely always clear even to
the war's opponents that the United States could drive its tanks from
Kuwait to Baghdad, whereupon the regime of Saddam Hussein would
dissolve. Yet was it ever certain that what followed the conventional
engagements would be a peace? With every day that passes, "the peace"
looks more like another war.
FRED J. COOK
Ralph Nader writes: It's doubtful there has ever been a better,
more dauntless and more unsung investigative reporter than Fred J. Cook.
For Nation readers from the 1950s through the 1980s, Fred blazed wide
pathways with his exposés of New York City corruption, the abuses
and follies of the CIA and the FBI, and the waste and overreaching of
the military-industrial complex. These and other subjects were nearly
journalistic taboos before Cook's lucid muckraking and synthesis of
ideas and trunkloads of "disparate" information, supplied him by the
Nation's legendary editor, Carey McWilliams, broke them into print.
Other reporters followed him and expanded the public's right to know
about secret government and the corporate state. Publishers produced
longer book versions of Cook's reportage reaching wider audiences. Young
reporters, including myself, were inspired to open new areas of
injustice shielded from public scrutiny. Fred's last books were on the
oil industry giants, the Ku Klux Klan and his autobiography. He told me
how disappointed he was that reviewers had ignored the books. Their
sales were small. Even journalism schools showed no interest in the life
story of a small-town reporter who gave pride to his often-cowed
profession. After these unrequited efforts, Cook turned in his
typewriter and went into quiet retirement. Cook and McWilliams were
possibly the greatest reporter-editor team in post-World War II
journalism in our country. They stand as a luminous model challenging
the trivialization of the news by a press in indentured servitude to
KUDOS TO KLAWANS
Nation movie critic Stuart Klawans has been awarded a Guggenheim
Fellowship. Our congratulations.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Representative Scott McInnis announced that he has asked the
Veterans Affairs Department to stop purchasing tombstones from Imerys, a
French company that's the main supplier of headstones for national
cemeteries. "It's obviously inappropriate," McInnis said, "for a company
owned by French interests to be supplying headstones for the VA when the
French have done everything in their power to undermine the very troops
from whose sacrifice they now stand to profit."
The US military was deployed, the Bush Administration tells us, to bring
democracy to Iraq. But the military brass and the Administration have
apparently parted company on what democracy means in the United States,
as the Supreme Court arguments on April 1 in the University of Michigan
affirmative action cases made clear.
Solicitor General Ted Olson, arguing on behalf of the Administration,
attacked the Michigan law school admissions program as "constitutionally
objectionable" for naming racial diversity as a goal, "an end in and of
itself," in admissions. Several Justices quickly interrupted, directing
Olson's attention to the "military brief" filed in the case.
In that brief, three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two
former defense secretaries and retired heads of the military academies
endorsed affirmative action as essential to national security in a
multiracial democracy. "The military," they said, "must be permitted to
train and educate a diverse officer corps" to circumvent the morale
problems and communication bottlenecks of the Vietnam era, when a
virtually all-white officer corps commanded large numbers of black and
The military brass were clear on this: Democratic authority, and thus
military effectiveness, depends upon admissions procedures that recruit
and select a diverse group of potential leaders. Democracy as a whole,
like national security in particular, depends upon genuine,
representative leadership throughout the ranks.
The mission of public colleges and universities is also a democratic
one: to train leaders who can work with diverse groups of people, to
provide students the skills to participate in civic life, and to
encourage graduates to give back to the community, which, through taxes,
made their education possible. To perform this democratic mission,
public colleges must be able to select a racially, ethnically,
geographically and economically diverse class of students who will
enhance the educational environment while they are in school and
contribute to the public good after they graduate.
The Solicitor General and other opponents of affirmative action treat
admissions decisions to public colleges and law schools as if scarce
slots can be allocated based on individual merit unrelated to the sacred
democratic values that are at stake. And whenever race becomes an issue,
a multifaceted, democratic view of merit suddenly collapses into a
fealty to a "neutral" testing regime.
In fact, SAT and ACT scores often measure little more than the social
capital students bring to a single, timed test. The relationship of
scores to parental wealth far exceeds the relationship between test
scores and grades in college or success after graduation. Poorer
students and students of color, who on average perform less well on
these standardized tests than their richer and whiter peers, can do just
as well academically and professionally when given the chance. Evidence
from Texas shows that those admitted because they graduated in the top
10 percent of their high school class have higher grades as college
freshmen than those who are admitted based on their test scores. Even
more important, a study of Michigan's graduates found the black and
Latino lawyers were those most likely to serve underrepresented
communities and to fulfill public citizenship obligations generally.
Students with the highest test scores, by contrast, are less likely to
give back to the community that subsidized their education. Apparently
high scores communicate a sense of entitlement without responsibility.
The authors of a Century Foundation study, Anthony Carnevale and Stephen
Rose, call the overreliance on a single indicator such as test
performance "skinny merit." Through dependence on test scores, higher
education has become a gift the poor give to the rich. Poor people pay
taxes for rich people to attend elite public colleges and universities
where graduates gain, through networking and credentialing
opportunities, a large share of coveted posts in the public and private
Carnevale and Rose studied the family fortunes of students at the 146
most selective colleges and universities. We are, Carnevale says,
creating "an inequality machine" with a "brutally efficient sorting"
system that allows students from the upper quartile of income in the
country to fill three-fourths of the slots at these schools, while only
3 percent of students come from the bottom quartile. That ratio was
borne out in the research that produced the Texas 10 percent plan.
Historically, 75 percent of each freshman class there was filled by
students from 150 suburban and private high schools, in a state with
1,500 public high schools. At Michigan's flagship university, high
schools in the most affluent suburbs also dominate the freshman class.
Affirmative action diversifies the student body, at least around the
margins, by race and income. While whites from the highest income
quartile have cornered the admissions market at selective schools like
Michigan, black and Latino beneficiaries of affirmative action hover
around the middle of the economic indicators.
Democracy means access for all of the people, not just the elite. Yet it
is the military--rather than higher education--that is performing the
essential democratic function of breaking down rigid class and race
barriers. As Representative Charles Rangel points out, blacks and
Latinos, as well as working-class whites, are disproportionately
represented among the enlisted ranks.
Taxpayers subsidize public colleges to provide a representative group of
future leaders, to train those leaders in democratic citizenship, and to
enable them to problem-solve in a diverse society with a knowledge-based
economy. Even those who are ambivalent about the "diversity rationale"
should understand the democratic imperative for robust rather than
"skinny" merit in rationing access to higher education. "If you have an
all-black army and an all-white law school," University of Michigan law
professor William Miller told the New York Times, "something's not
right. The democracy, the risks and benefits, simply have to be better
A dynamic and democratic view of merit in higher education admissions
assures access to blacks and Latinos to selective public colleges and
law schools, trains potential leaders to serve all segments of the
society and legitimizes our democracy. The military brief cites the
chasm between the racial composition of officers and enlisted soldiers
as a "blaring wakeup call" that racial diversity is "critical" to "our
national security." The democratic stakes in the Michigan cases are just
By 9 am on April 10, the day Kirkuk fell, columns of Iraqi troops who
were supposed to be defending the city fled to the Baghdad Garage, the
main transportation terminal, and stripped off their uniforms and boots.
Barefoot, they fled south to the capital. By noon, the looting in Kirkuk
had begun. In the multiethnic Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish city, it was
primarily the Kurds who smashed the windows of the state-owned
supermarket and hurled bolts of pink fabric, carpets, cooking oil, desk
chairs and rice over the fence. The more ambitious went to the airport,
hijacked Iraqi tanks and careered around the liberated town.
"I used to drive a tank in the Iraqi Army," Nawzan Barzilini, 32,
shouted down from his new acquisition. "I came this morning to fight for
Kirkuk, but the soldiers ran away." Barzilini is one of the thousands of
Kurdish fighters, peshmerga, who unexpectedly poured into Kirkuk that
morning long before the Americans arrived. Many, like Barzilini, were
not following orders. He said he simply picked up a Kalashnikov and
followed his comrades as they rushed in. He argued that liberating the
city was his duty as a Kurd and that he was entitled to the spoils of
the Baathist regime.
In the early hours, the stunned locals didn't realize the Iraqis were
gone until truck after gun-mounted truck of peshmerga in yellow and
green bandannas rattled into the city, accompanied by a handful of
journalists. I watched the faces of dazed Kirkukis change from shock to
jubilation to frenzy as they surrounded our cars, clamoring onto the
hood. One man, Jabar, thrust his head in a car window and said in
English long out of use, "I love the USA." Children held up bunches of
yellow flowers and Kurdish flags as the adults covered their mouths with
their hands and ululated.
At first, it was easy to laud Kirkuk's liberation as a model for the
peaceful transition of power in Iraq. The city's walls are scrawled with
"Thank you Mr. Bousch." The city's frightened Arabs made their way into
the streets. One Arab man driving a truck from an oil refinery was
pulled from his car and shot in the street, but it was an isolated
incident. A Kurdish passerby stopped to cover him with a blanket. For
the most part, Kirkuk seemed to have avoided the sudden violence of
Mosul. Yet as the days passed, the presence in Kirkuk of men like
Barzilini--part fighter, part looter--threatened the calm. Kirkuk's
Arabs and Turkmen have become furious at all the looting by lawless men
claiming to be peshmerga, and they're beginning to fight back. Turkey's
anxiety over the Kurds is also rising, and the transition of control
over Kirkuk's oilfields promises additional complications.
Turkey's refusal to let the United States use it as a staging area for
the war produced some unintended consequences. The slow arrival of US
forces in Kirkuk gave the Iraqi Army there time to watch events unfold
in the south and to surrender without much bloodshed. But it also left
the United States dependent on a Kurdish fighting force. The day the
city fell, the Americans were nowhere to be seen. Protecting the
oilfields fell to a force of 700 Kurdish fighters, who could do little
as Northern Oil, an Iraqi-owned company, was looted and the smoke from a
series of fires lit the horizon. Only at nightfall did the 173rd
Airborne arrive. "It was like the Los Angeles riots," said one American
soldier as he patrolled the burning fields the next morning.
For now, Kirkuk's oil is in US hands. Though Turkish observers have yet
to arrive, the peshmerga have begun pulling out of the city without
incident. After their unscheduled invasion, even the Kurdish fighters
are trying to sound diplomatic.
"We are happy to let America control the oil," says Brigadier Rostum, a
senior commander of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's military force.
"Even if they keep most of it and we benefit only a little bit, it will
be the first time that Kurds receive anything from oil. Besides, this is
not about oil, it's about freedom." But this is still the first week,
and, even so, ripples are beginning to disturb Kirkuk's surface.
As the peshmerga claim to pull out, the Arabs are calling for blood.
They feel that they were victims of Saddam, too, so why, they ask,
should they now be victims of Kurdish looting? In Mosul, angry vigilante
groups have set stones in the road to check cars against incoming Kurds.
It is not yet clear whether street fighting here will be next. Soon,
120,000 Kurdish families, displaced since 1991, will start to return
home, and political assertions by Turkmen groups, supported by Turkey,
will begin to emerge--and what good will gratitude be then? Rebuilding
Kirkuk in this brittle political climate will show whether a coalition
between hostile ethnic groups is at all possible in Iraq.
The battle for Kirkuk raises questions about Syria as well. While the
city fell easily, there were some fierce pockets of resistance by
fedayeen loyalists and foreign mercenaries. As Kurds in the north of the
city spent the afternoon tugging down statues of Saddam, near the former
secret police headquarters a cluster of fighters refused to surrender.
Finally, after a gun battle lasting several hours, the peshmerga
advanced to find several dead bodies of the fedayeen. One was still
alive, though badly beaten, his black tunic covered in blood. As he sat
on the curb, several peshmerga discussed whether to kill him. The man
held his head in his hands as this conversation went on, saying only
that he had come from Syria fifteen days earlier to fight for Saddam.
The Bush Administration's claims about the presence of chemical weapons
in Syria smack of propaganda, but the presence of these Syrian fighters
in Kirkuk may be spun by Washington as evidence of a relationship
between Syria and Saddam.
In the short term, Kirkuk has descended into a stunned sense of order,
but these quiet days are likely to give way to explosions of older,
deep-seated resentments. Already Arabs are accusing the incoming Kurds
of brutality reminiscent of fascism. The United States in its limited
role as policeman can maintain order for now, and helped set up a
governing committee of six Kurds, six Arabs and six Turkmen that will
soon begin to meet, offering at least a fig leaf of transethnic
cooperation. But whether, in the long term, any occupying force can
mediate the longstanding ethnic divisions is an open question. The
challenge before Washington is whether it has the will and the way to
establish the presence necessary to truly rebuild the city and not just
keep an uneasy peace.
The Bush Administration and its cheerleaders in the media are claiming
that the "remarkable success" of the US war in Iraq proves its opponents
were "spectacularly wrong"--even, some charge, unpatriotic. Intimidated
by these allegations and the demonstration of overwhelming American
military power, many critics of the war are falling silent. Indeed, the
chairman of the Democratic National Committee, no doubt speaking for
several of the party's presidential candidates, has rushed to urge that
"the war...not be on the ballot in 2004."
But critics of the war have no reason to regret their views. No sensible
opponent doubted that the world's most powerful military could easily
crush such a lesser foe. The real issue was and remains very different:
Will the Iraq war increase America's national security, as the Bush
Administration has always promised and now insists is already the case,
or will it undermine and diminish our national security, as thoughtful
In the weeks, months and years ahead, we will learn the answer to that
fateful question by judging developments by seven essential criteria:
(1) Will the war discourage or encourage other regional "preemptive"
military strikes, particularly by nuclear-armed states such as, but not
only, Pakistan and India?
(2) Indeed, will the Iraq war stop the proliferation of states that
possess nuclear weapons or instead incite more governments to acquire
them as a deterrent against another US "regime change"?
(3) Will the war, and the long US occupation that seems likely to ensue,
reduce the recruitment of young Arabs by terrorist movements or will it
inspire many new recruits?
(4) With or without more recruits, will the war decrease or increase the
number of terrorist plots against the United States, whether at home or
(5) Will the war help safeguard the vast quantities of nuclear and other
materials of mass destruction that exist in the world today, and the
expertise needed to operationalize them, or make them more accessible to
(6) In that connection, will Russia--which has more ill-secured devices
of mass destruction than any other country and which strongly opposed
and still resents the US war--now be more, or less, inclined to
collaborate with Washington in safeguarding and reducing those weapons
(7) Finally, considering the rampant anti-Americanism it has provoked,
will the war result in more or fewer governments willing to cooperate
with--individually or in multinational organizations like the United
Nations--George W. Bush's stated top priority, the war against global
It is by these crucial (and measurable) criteria that the American
people, and any politician who wants to lead them, must judge the
Administration's war in Iraq and President Bush's own leadership. Those
of us who were against the war and continue to oppose the assumptions on
which it was based fear that future events will answer these questions
to the grave detriment of American and international security. As
patriots, we can only hope we are wrong.
Even before US forces could establish order in the cities of Iraq and
bring humanitarian relief to its people, the Bush Administration
unleashed a barrage of threats against Syria, accusing it of aiding
Islamic fighters in Iraq and possessing chemical weapons. Administration
officials suggest they are sending an appropriate warning to Iraq's
neighbor that certain behavior will not be tolerated. To millions of
Arabs watching the events unfolding in Iraq, however, these actions are
confirmation that the United States has a larger agenda in the Middle
East that has little to do with the security and well-being of the Iraqi
Instead of rushing on to threaten its next potential target of
pre-emptive war, the US should focus its energy on the reconstruction of
Iraq, since it will be judged for years to come by how well it handles
that task. Judging by the first weeks, there are reasons to worry that
the Administration has failed to understand the nature of that
challenge. If it wishes to legitimize US military action, it will have
to draw on international support to bring order to the Iraqi people and
to make good on its claim that it will bring them democracy. Yet Richard
Perle revealed the arrant indifference of Administration hawks when he
said recently, "What we have won on the battlefield is the right to
establish consistent policies that are for the benefit of the people of
Iraq." Uncle knows best.
After the regime's authority collapsed, seething ethnic and religious
rivalries and festering hatreds boiled over. In a cultural atrocity
unparalleled in our age, looters vandalized the priceless antiquities in
Baghdad's National Museum and burned the National Library, where reposed
the records of the world's most ancient civilization. The US government
had been repeatedly urged by museum directors, archeologists and
cultural leaders to protect Iraq's archeological treasures as required
by international law. Yet the commanders who had immediately posted
guards at the Iraqi oil ministry somehow were unable to find soldiers to
stop vandals from plundering the irreplaceable heritage of humankind.
(Nor were they able to protect hospitals from pillagers of desperately
needed medical supplies.) The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon
had expected before the war that Saddam's fall "would usher in a period
of chaos and lawlessness," yet it chose to go with a light, fast-moving
invasion force unequipped to deal with civil disorders. Order is slowly
being restored, but the explosion of destructive anarchy and lack of
coherent US policies has stirred up distrust among the Iraqis, whose
support will be needed to restore services and build a stable
Although the US military rapidly secured Iraq's oilfields before
Saddam's troops could burn them, its technical specialists were unable
to locate any weapons of mass destruction during more than three weeks
of war, when they could have menaced US soldiers; nor was any evidence
uncovered of Iraqi links to Al Qaeda. Thus the claimed basis for the
invasion has yet to be established. Of course, WMDs may well be
unearthed, but the question remains: If Saddam didn't (or couldn't) use
them in self-
defense, how can it be said he would have pre-emptively launched them
against America or Israel?
If such weapons are found, under the Chemical Weapons Convention they
should be verified and destroyed by international inspectors. Inspectors
from the International Atomic Energy Agency should also be allowed to
return to Iraq and continue their work in accordance with the
Those who opposed the war must refuse to be browbeaten or silenced by
the gloating "I told you so" chorus on the right (and center) and must
continue to hammer at the false premises that underpinned the war. The
reality is Bush deceived the American people when he said the war was
necessary to national security, and in so doing he has abused the powers
of his office, undermined the Constitution and flouted public opinion. A
recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed that a majority of Americans
oppose Bush's pre-emption doctrine. It has no basis or justification in
international law--as Arab and world opinion, and Kofi Annan, agree. And
it sends a message to states facing US threats that they should quickly
acquire nuclear weapons in self-defense.
The only claim of legitimacy the Administration can make for the war it
misled America into is that it was a humanitarian war to liberate an
oppressed people. But to sustain such a claim to a skeptical world, the
Administration must prove that its intentions for Iraq are honorable,
and it can do that only by inviting the UN Security Council's full
involvement--political as well as humanitarian--in the reconstruction of
Beyond that, the Administration should cool its threats against Syria.
It must rejoin the international community and work with it to bring
democracy, freedom and human rights to Iraq, and peace to the entire
region--starting with a vigorous push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert put it well: "War is a tragedy for some and a boon for others." (Spoils of War, April 10.) "The war against Iraq," Herbert writes, "has become one of the clearest examples ever of the influence of the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned against so eloquently in his farewell address of 1961. This iron web of relationships among powerful individuals inside and outside the government operates with very little public scrutiny and is saturated with conflicts of interest."
Thanks to the Center for Public Integrity's recent investigation we now know that at least nine of the thirty members of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board--a non-elected group that is central in the formulation of US foreign policy--are linked to companies that were awarded more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002 alone. (We're also likely to see many of the same corporations--like the Bechtel Group--that made hundreds of millions of dollars doing business with what they knew was a murderous Iraqi regime receive billons of dollars worth of contracts to now rebuild Iraq.)
There's a word for what's going on--war profiteering. Fortunately some are taking notice: Representatives Henry Waxman (D, CA) and John Dingell (D, Michigan) are to be commended for taking on the issue and the corporate conflicts of interest so pervasive in this Administration.
Listen to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld excusing the looting and turmoil which wracked Iraq over the last few days: "Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things." Am I crazy to think that if there's looting when the next blackout occurs in the US, it is unlikely that Rumsfeld will be as understanding?
Suppose rioters were wrecking an American city, looting its hospitals and destroying one of the greatest museums in the world.And imagine if, as this happened, one of the nation's most prominent liberal excused the violence by saying, "Stuff happens," and then, when pressed, put a happy face on the looting by saying, "It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes."
Would it take even 10 minutes for conservatives in Congress and the media to call for the head of the liberal official? How loudly would Rush Limbaugh condemn her irresponsibility? How many times would Sean Hannity blame her for the continued violence? Would Bill O'Reilly demand that the offending official appear to defend herself on Fox TV? Would House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, propose a congressional investigation, removal of the liberal leader, perhaps even criminal prosecution?
No one who has witnessed the faux patriotic policing of the discourse in recent weeks by America's conservative political and media elites could possibly doubt that such a response to rioting would send the yammering yahoos of the right into a frenzy of finger-pointing.
In a letter written on April 7, Baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey announced that he was canceling a Cooperstown celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the movie Bull Durham because of actor Tim Robbins's criticism of the war on Iraq. The missive, sent to Robbins, admonished him for using his celebrity to advance his politics, for putting "our troops in danger," and for criticizing the president at a time of war.
In a sharp response, sprinkled with allusions to his love of the game of baseball, Robbins more than handled Petroskey's faulty grasp of both logic and true American values, and lamented the loss of a "weekend away from politics and war." (The Nation has published Robbins' reply in its entirety along with Petroskey's letter.)
This incident is another small but troubling example of a pattern of increasing political correctness in this country, where people are penalized more regularly and more stringently for expressing dissenting political views. And in this case, Petroskey's role is particularly hypocritical, as the New York Timespointed out, when it reminded the Hall president, a former assistant press secretary in Ronald Reagan's White House, that his own boss was not the least bit shy about using his own prominence as an actor to advance a conservative political agenda.
Sy Hersh has seen it all. So, it's worth paying attention to what the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist had to say when he received the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Jornalism at Harvard University on March 11th:
"...I think it's a very tough time for us in Washington. I've been around, let's see, 35 or so years. I make the joke that I haven't been so afraid since I watched "The Wizard of Oz" with my six-year old daughter. These guys scare me. They're insulated. They're tough to get to....I've never seen my peers as frightened as they are....There is no real standard anymore of integrity and truth because the White House doesn't have any, and so we're all left on our own to sort of stagger around and try to figure out what's going on. He is the president, and he does have the power to send our children to commit murder in the name of democracy, and we respect that, we do, but a real crisis is coming, and I can tell you I wish there was better reporting out of Washington. I know how hard it is. I know how tough it is."
The "phantom antihawk" is not a new video game or Ben Affleck blockbuster. It's a nickname for George Bush, America's 41st President and father of George W. And, according to Elizabeth Bumiller, writing in the New York Times, "as the conflict has unfolded, the father has become the ghost at his son's White House war council." Interviews with dozens of Bush 41's former associates "do nothing to dispel the view of him as an internationalist worried about the influence of the go-it-alone hawks in his son's administration." In certain circles, Bush 41 "is even seen as the third member, with Mr. Powell and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain" of what some in DC are calling "the axis of virtue." I've never associated virtue with any of these men, but Papa Bush apparently has enough common sense to know that his son's hawks , now controlling America's national security, are not true conservatives but radical extremists.
This sense is clearly shared by Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser during the 1991 Gulf war. In a speech to the Norwegian Nobel Institute on April 8th, Scowcroft urged the US to let the United Nations organize the postwar administration of Iraq and warned that a quick push for democratic transformation could explode into sectarian violence or civil war. And he argued--as he did last August--that preemptive war against Iraq was an unwarranted and divisive distraction from the fight against global terrorism. Scowcroft also lamented that the UN Security Council and other "structures we've built to handle our security are under significant stress and may not survive to serve us in the future."