Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books), The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve) and Playing President (Akashic Books). He is author, with Christopher Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry, of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Akashic Books and Seven Stories Press.) His weekly column, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in the San Francisco Chronicle.
What's wrong with this picture?: Slobodan Milosevic will be dragged before an international war crimes tribunal while Robert McNamara tours American college campuses touting his latest book on how to achieve world peace, and Henry Kissinger advises corporations, for a fat fee, on how to do business with dictators.
Clearly, when it comes to war crimes, this nation is above the law.
The United States has supported, nay imposed, a standard of official morality on the world while blithely insisting that no American leader ever could be held accountable to that same standard.
The persistent, if implicit, argument, made since the time of the Nuremberg post-World War II trials, is that we get to judge but not be judged because we are a democratic and free people inherently accountable to the highest of standards. Dropping atomic bombs on Japanese civilians was, therefore, a peaceful gesture because it shortened the war. Wouldn't we judge such a claim as barbaric if employed by any other nation to justify using such a weapon?
As the war in Vietnam further demonstrated, we are deeply invested in the righteousness of war against civilians, but only when we are the warriors. Now we will judge Milosevic a war criminal because he did the same.
Whatever the horrors inflicted upon noncombatants during Milosevic's tenure, they pale in comparison to what McNamara did during the eight years that he presided over the Vietnam War, in which millions died because of the lies he told and policies he ordered.
Milosevic is accused of using military force to wage a campaign of terror against the civilian population of Kosovo. Yet it was McNamara who defined the largest part of the Vietnamese countryside, populated by peasants, as a free-fire zone. At no point was the population of Kosovo systematically raked with anti-personnel bombs and incinerated with napalm, as were the Vietnamese under the McNamara-directed policy.
McNamara refused to discuss his role in Vietnam for twenty-seven years after leaving his post as Secretary of Defense, yet the acts over which he concedes guilt in his 1995 memoir certainly could have formed the basis of war crimes investigations of both McNamara and Lyndon Baines Johnson, the president he served. In his book, McNamara makes clear that neither he nor Johnson believed that the United States had a moral right to carpet-bomb the Vietnamese into submission to achieve irrational US policy goals.
In a letter McNamara wrote to Johnson in 1967, the Secretary of Defense conceded that the United States was flirting with war crimes and cautioned the President that "there may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go." He added: "The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one." But LBJ and McNamara were never held accountable in a court committed to those human rights limits, and their successors, Richard Nixon and his key warrior, Kissinger, promptly escalated the war, carpet-bombing North Vietnamese peasants and destroying all normal life in neutral Cambodia. The fierce bombings that destroyed the Cambodian countryside also collapsed civil rule there, paving the way for Pol Pot, a mass murderer who killed more than a million of his own people and yet later became an ally of the United States. It was only when he was no longer useful to US policymakers that they considered him worthy of a war crimes trial. By then he was infirm.
Certainly Milosevic would seem to qualify as a war criminal, but forcing him to trial while McNamara and Kissinger enjoy acclaim as elder statesmen is to desecrate the standard of moral accountability. McNamara was forced to address the war crimes issue last week before a USC audience. He said he wished that international standards had been in place when the United States was in Vietnam. Well, there was a standard. It was established at Nuremberg, and McNamara and company clearly violated it.
As for Kissinger, his offenses are not restricted to any one continent. He recently said he was too busy to answer a subpoena ordering him to appear before a Paris judge investigating crimes by the Kissinger-backed Pinochet regime in Chile.
Milosevic may well be a war criminal, but what arrogance to condemn Yugoslavia's butcher of civilians when we have exonerated our own.
Despite early stumbles, George W. Bush has the potential to be an effective foreign policy president. But his willingness to back off from the "Star Wars" missile defense, which has been soundly rebuked by our allies, will be the test of his ability to lead.
Although poorly prepared for his world leadership role by a woeful absence of foreign policy experience or even the benefit of tourist travel, Bush is an affable and curious fellow who's capable of cramming on the essentials. On last week's trip abroad, he proved open to acknowledging that even the world's greatest power must go along to get along when it comes to dealing with other powerful nations, a number of which also possess weapons of mass destruction.
That much is clear from Bush's meeting with Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin, after which Bush pronounced the former KGB leader as "a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country."
It was a bold and honest recognition of the humanity and skill of an adversary, akin to Ronald Reagan's appraisal of then-Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev after their first meeting at Reykjavik. Recall that moment when Reagan came out into the hall to report to his shocked, hawkish aides that he and Gorby had just agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, aides to both men cooled their leaders' enthusiasm for that sensible project, but their wisdom launched the dismantling of the cold war and at least led to the last serious spate of nuclear arms reduction.
Today, with the continued existence of massive nuclear weapons arsenals and the deterioration of control over the spread of weapons technology and material, the world is in many ways an even more dangerous place.
Despite the end of the cold war, the US and Russia still stand poised to destroy all life on Earth. Russian control of its nuclear weapons industry is fitful at best; the risk of accidental launch is real, and the recruitment of unpaid former Soviet weapons scientists and the selling of nuclear weapons-grade material to even less stable regimes is alarming. So-called rogue nations such as North Korea and Iraq are said to be developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, and the historic tension between India and Pakistan has spurred a nuclear arms race that threatens the survival of humans as a species.
As a result, it's possible to be pessimistic about controlling and then eliminating nuclear weapons--the aim of arms control--and in desperation consider a go-it-alone effort at building a "shield" against nuclear weapons.
That such a shield will never work, however, has been well known since the failure of the nuclear pumped X-ray laser developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the 1980s, which promised what lab scientists referred to as Buck Rogers space fighting machines. Before the bad news came in that the X-ray laser was a bust, nuclear physicist Edward Teller had managed to convince President Reagan that a magical security solution was at hand. But the X-ray laser project has been abandoned, and antimissile defense is back to relying on hitting a bullet with a bullet, a game in which the offense, with its maneuverability and decoys, will always prove the winner.
Another problem with missile defense, even if it could be made to work, is that one side's defense appears as offense to others. That's why Richard Nixon, one of the most skilled of modern US foreign policy leaders, warned that the danger of building a shield is that others will view it as not just protecting the US but as a means of thwarting another's retaliation to a US first strike. Thus the end of the concept of "mutually assured destruction," which has kept the superpowers in line for four decades.
For example, China, which has abided by the terms of the test ban treaty and which has been content with a puny intercontinental ballistic missile force of primitive liquid-fueled rockets, is now threatening to expand its program in the face of Bush's commitment to an antimissile program. The nuclear forces of the US and Russia, with their nuclear warheads based on a triad of land, sea and air forces, would survive such a first strike. Not so with a country like China, which would be faced with the ghastly prospect of using or losing its nuclear missiles in the face of an attack, real or imagined.
This is not an argument lost on hawks in China, who, in the face of Bush's missile-defense talk, are pressuring for a rapid modernization of the Chinese nuclear force to make it less vulnerable to US attack.
Bush has dismissed arms control as a "relic" of the cold war, but abandoning the antiballistic missile and other treaties is the easiest way to provoke a new cold war with many players, led by China. Missiles are the true relics of the cold war; they have no operative military role in the absence of a face-off of the superpowers.
The focus on missile defense represents a denial that the real threat to the security of the American people comes from terrorists and has nothing to do with developing an antimissile system. Even if an effective system could be built to intercept nuclear-armed missiles--and there's no evidence, after twenty years and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, that it's possible--it would not make us safer from the attacks of terrorists, be they state-sponsored or freelancers.
And for terrorists, the ICBM would hardly be their weapon of choice.
Any nation responsible for firing a nuclear-armed missile at the US would be obliterated quickly as a matter of established US policy. That's why terrorists would seek to conceal the base of their operation and the sponsoring country and instead rely on far more primitive weapons and delivery systems.
The likely terrorist strategy would be to smuggle into half a dozen US cities primitive nuclear bombs, which are simpler, easier to produce and more reliable.
Or, why go nuclear at all when biological and chemical warfare can more reliably terrorize a civilian population? As the Oklahoma City bombing demonstrated, even a fertilizer bomb constructed by a couple of scientific illiterates and transported in a rented truck can create mayhem.
The emphasis on the ICBM threat is a knee-jerk response that equates a Soviet-style threat to that of weaker nations and the terrorists they might support. The Bush Administration has frequently cited the Commission to Assess US National Security Space Management and Organization--the so-called Rumsfeld Commission--to support the view that North Korea, Iran and Iraq could conceivably field a few unreliable and inaccurate ICBMs, and thus the need for a missile shield. Yet according to Richard L. Garwin, the commission, on which he served, stressed that those same countries "already possessed short-range cruise or ballistic missiles that, if launched from ships against coastal cities, would pose an earlier, more accurate and cheaper threat to the US population." He went on to say that a nuclear or biological weapon "could be delivered by a ship that need go no closer than the harbor to devastate a port city--without any missile at all."
That is well understood by Donald Rumsfeld, who was the commission's chair and is now secretary of Defense. But inexplicably he has supported the deployment of an antimissile program, even if we have no reason to expect it to work. Clearly, missile defense is valued as an illusion of safety rather than as an example of the real thing.
Dealing with the threat of terrorism is a complex matter involving first-rate intelligence utilizing the most sophisticated surveillance technology as well as old-fashioned on-the-ground spying. It requires extensive international cooperation to control the materials needed by such groups to create weapons of mass destruction. It would be far better to spend the hundreds of billions that will be eaten up by an antimissile program on those efforts, and yet the inescapable conclusion is that politicians don't support this approach because such measures are a less-exciting sell to the public.
It is time to cut our losses on this program.
As our most trusted allies have pointed out to Bush, antimissile defense is an expensive and dangerous distraction from the work at hand: how to stop the spread of horridly destructive weapons in the hands of terrorists that are not made the less dangerous because they are low-tech, cheap and easily deployed.
Bush seems at times to be a realist, and the notion of quietly phasing out the antimissile program while at the same time strengthening, expanding and ratifying the existing arms control treaties, should be a no-brainer.
If Bush reverses himself and takes on the feathers of the dove, he will be in a fine tradition of Republican presidents: Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and his own father.
Republicans, less vulnerable than Democrats to attacks from the weapons hawks, make good peacemakers when they come to their senses.
The good news is that Bush has finally been to Europe. One can only hope that while there he learned something from other world leaders about the importance of arms control and the folly of his antimissile defense plan.
It's difficult to get over the idea that we failed Timothy McVeigh and that his execution fails us all. How deceptive a finale it is that leaves history neatly packaged in the cemetery of our imagination, safely removed from the festering reality of life. It happened, it's over, and we can now move on when we ought not to.
By killing McVeigh, we served only the purpose of avoiding responsibility for his creation. How convenient to not have a living reminder that this callow, awkward, unformed youth was a product of mainstream American culture--varnished by the "be all you can be" Army, no less--and not some easily dismissed dropout aberration. No, he was us in our darkest moments, even as we acknowledge gratefully that he was possessed by malevolent forces that the healthy can conquer.
If he was the devil, how did he get that way, this product of a strong Catholic family that raised a son to be a patriot, a son who then suddenly took his own government to be the enemy? What did he learn from us, his neighbors, the media and the government, that left him plotting in seedy motel rooms, manufacturing a weapon of mass destruction, while singing the disturbed loony tunes of the assassin?
His execution is to be denounced because it brings to an all-too-tidy conclusion a phenomenon that cries out for more complex and sustained examination. That's true in any capital case, but all the more so that 168 innocent men, women and children died at his hands, and scores of others were injured. It hardly serves their memory that McVeigh at worst will be venerated as a martyr by generations of lunatics to come and at best be dismissed as a weirdo actor in a script that is not of our hand.
We are told that the grieving relatives of those killed in the bombing need "closure," an unattainable state that has become the basic mantra of denial of harsh reality. It's a word now inevitably accompanied by the horrid phrase of "getting on" with the next phase of one's life, invoked even by McVeigh's lawyers before the execution to refer to their client's "future." But the so-called closure afforded by capital punishment, as some relatives of the dead have noted, cheapens the quest for real healing, which can never be an act of amnesia but rather requires the search for meaning in even the most dastardly of events.
For that we needed McVeigh alive, to be tormented every day in his own mind by the enormity of his crime, to the point where that smug self-righteousness of the killer would be pierced, and he finally would have to confront the pain of mass death as something other than a clinically ordered act of ideological game playing.
But we too, the uninvolved, needed his presence as an open wound to remind us of the pain that political madness, no matter its source, induces. In this case, the madness was, in effect, condoned when an unshaped youth was taught by his government to kill.
It should be a matter of deep national soul searching that we as a nation sent McVeigh to roam the desert on a Bradley fighting vehicle inflicting the "collateral damage" of the Gulf War. Did his military training prepare him to differentiate between what he did as his government's agent in Iraq and his own subsequent war on civilians? The absurdly celebrated mayhem of the Gulf War was the alternative to the college experience McVeigh never had. He was at least in need of a crash course on the distinction between what he called the "collateral damage" of the Oklahoma City bombing and the morality of shooting Iraqi draftees as they fled the battle.
Unfortunately, McVeigh completed his education at desultory gun shows in which patriotism often is equated with a defiance born of personal failure, and fire power is the means to dignity and freedom. That and the literature of angry white men, who believe their skin color and a musket should be all that is needed to make them meaningful players in the computerized global marketplace.
The merchants of madness will now exploit the government's execution of McVeigh as confirmation of their paranoia. Better to have had McVeigh as an aging reminder of how horrible the taste can be when the American brew is curdled.
What if First Daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush had been caught lighting up a joint? Would the respectable media play down that story the way they have the Bush children's illegal purchases of alcohol?
Hardly, because marijuana is an officially proscribed demon drug while alcohol is a mainstay of the culture, promoted incessantly as an essential ingredient of the good life.
Marijuana use, the drug war zealots insist, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, leads inevitably to the harder stuff. That's why the US Supreme Court won't risk the health of dying cancer patients with a few tokes of physician-prescribed pot. But those margaritas that the Bush girls grew up to prefer, heck that's just child's play, something all college students do and soon grow out of.
Not so their father, unless you think abusing alcohol until the age of 40 is still child's play. Had he hit someone on that night when he was arrested for DUI, it might have undermined George W.'s charmed ascension to the presidency.
Sorry, but I'm with the tabloids on this one. It is big news that the commander in chief of the drug war has not been able to control his own daughters' illegal behavior.
Obviously, Bush has not followed his own advice, offered while announcing the revving up of the drug war, that parents take more responsibility for their children's conduct.
Should the Bush children have gone to church more often to be exposed to those faith-based anti-drug and alcohol programs that the President embraced? Did the Bush parents always know where their children were? Perhaps the Bush twins were permitted to watch too many Hollywood movies.
Imagine the vituperation that would have been visited upon the Clinton family if Chelsea, like Jenna, had used the Secret Service to pick up an underage boyfriend, accused of public intoxication, from jail. But when it comes to family values, Republicans' messed-up personal lives are chuckled off as just another American-as-apple-pie growing up experience.
Did not the President's mother elicit howls of laughter from her Junior League audience when she made passing reference to her son's alcohol addiction on the very day that her granddaughters were charged with breaking the law? "He is getting back some of his own," Grandma Bush said, with more than a trace of wonderment that her son George W., the underachiever and, by his own admission, often inebriated prankster, is now the President of us all.
But alcoholism wasn't really funny for George W. or he wouldn't have had to go cold turkey and work white-knuckle hard these past fifteen years at staying sober. Alcoholism is one of the nation's leading problems and when then-Gov. Bush signed a "zero tolerance" law in 1997 on underage drinking, the reason offered was that Texas led the United States in alcohol-related fatalities.
More than 100,000 people die each year from alcohol, so controlling its use is of public importance. This guy as governor and President has responded to problems of substance abuse by acting to throw even more people into jail although that course has already given us the largest per-capita prison population in the world. Yet, when his own daughter now stands but one more arrest away from a possible six months in the slammer because of the law then-Gov. Bush signed, the President is speechless.
"The President views this as a family matter, a private matter, and he will treat it as such," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer huffed.
Not so fast.
Alcoholism is the social problem that this President best understands, and instead of slinking off into silence, he should provide a public example of what he has claimed parenting is all about.
This is the time to talk honestly to his daughters and the nation about the lessons of substance abuse, and particularly, whether the tough law and order approach is just dumb. Unless, of course, he really believes that his daughter would benefit from six months behind bars for ordering yet another margarita.
Maybe the drinking age should be dropped to 18 years old, as most of the Bush daughters' classmates seem to feel. Why make criminals of the young, most of whom are quite responsible in making their own decisions about when and what to drink? But isn't that even truer of an adult cancer patient who uses marijuana to ward off nausea?
The Bush Administration is pulling a fast one on energy, and we will all pay dearly for decades to come. By panicking the public with oil industry propaganda of an energy shortage, the Bushies are building support for the most reckless energy policy since the days before the environmentalist movement, when blackened skies and lungs represented the vision of progress.
To make things worse, to head off objections to their plans to plunder virgin lands and obliterate conservation measures, they have thrown in as a palliative the old oxymoron of "clean" nuclear power.
Of course there is nothing clean about nuclear waste, which can never be rendered safe.
The public may temporarily accept new nuclear power plants, as long as one is not built anywhere near their neighborhood and the radioactive byproduct is shipped to another part of the country.
But trust me, while these things may be better designed today, the insurance companies are no dummies for still refusing to insure nuclear power plants. It is wildly irresponsible for the Bush Administration to now insist that US taxpayers underwrite these inherently dangerous ventures.
Does anyone even remember Three Mile Island? Or, more disastrously, Chernobyl? I was the first foreign print journalist admitted to the Chernobyl plant after the explosion. Even a year after the fact, and with the benefit of the best of Western scientific advice, it was still a scene of chaos. Nuclear power is like that--unpredictable, unstable and ultimately as dangerous as it gets.
The entire Chernobyl operation is now buried in a concrete-covered grave, but the huge area under the radioactive plume emitted from the plant is a permanent cancer breeding ground, as is the sediment in the area's main rivers and throughout much of its farm land. I traveled from Moscow to Chernobyl by train in the company of top US and Soviet experts, but even they seemed to feel lost and frightened as they donned white coats and Geiger counters to tour Chernobyl. Nuclear power is just too risky a gamble to push because of a phony energy crisis.
The desperation in the White House is palpable, but it is not over an "energy crisis," which Bush's buddies and campaign contributors manipulated in the Western electricity market.
No, the fear of the Bush people, even before Jim Jeffords's defection, was that their political power would be short-lived and that they had best move as fast as possible on their pet projects, beginning with increasing the profits of GOP energy company contributors.
Why else the panic? There is no sudden energy crisis. Known world reserves of fossil fuel are greater than ever, alternative energy sources are booming, and conservation measures work. If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would do its legally required duty of capping wholesale prices to prevent gouging, there would not be an electricity crisis in California or elsewhere.
The FERC has not done its job. Clearly, as the New York Times reported last week, energy wholesalers are in cahoots with the Bush administration to use the FERC as their personal marketing tool to drive up their already obscene profits.
Finally, there is simply no reason to rape America in pursuit of something called "energy self-sufficiency." If the vast reservoirs of natural energy resources--resources that are sitting under land controlled by regimes around the world that we've propped up at enormous military cost for half a century--are not available to be sold to us at a fair price, why continue to prop up these regimes? What did President Bush's Dad, with his buddies Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, achieve in preserving Saudi Arabia and Kuwait if those degenerate monarchs they saved in the Gulf War will not now trade fairly in the one commodity of value that they hold?
We must make our quid pro quo clear: We will pay for a huge military to keep these sheikdoms and other energy-rich regimes in power only if they guarantee fair oil and natural gas prices for our retail consumers.
Make that deal and the energy "crisis" is history.
Remember when Hillary Clinton dared suggest that a vast right-wing conspiracy was behind the campaign to destroy her husband's presidency? Well, the troubles besetting the nomination of Theodore B. Olson as US solicitor general provide stunning evidence of what she had in mind.
Olson's confirmation hearing was abruptly suspended last week by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) after a report in the Washington Post raised questions about Olson's truthfulness under oath about his relationship to right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and the $2.3-million, anti-Clinton Arkansas Project of Scaife's American Spectator magazine. Olson served as the magazine's lawyer and on its board of directors, but when questioned by Democratic members of the committee as to his connection with the infamous Arkansas Project, Olson stated: "It has been alleged that I was somehow involved in that so-called project. I was not involved in the project in its origin or its management."
That statement was subsequently contradicted in testimony before the Judiciary Committee by David Brock, the writer responsible for the key American Spectator articles attacking the Clintons. Brock stated that he was present at "brainstorming" sessions on the Arkansas Project with Olson at the home of American Spectator Chairman R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. Brock connected Olson with the Spectator's strangest article linking Clinton to the suicide of his close friend and aide, Vincent Foster. According to the Post, Brock said Olson told him that "while he didn't place any stock in the piece, it was worth publishing because the role of the Spectator was to write Clinton scandal stories in hopes of 'shaking scandals loose."'
That is not the sort of judicious, nonpartisan stance that one would hope for from a nominee to the position of solicitor general, often called the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," who represents the US government before the Court.
Since judicial objectivity is key to the performance of this all-important job, it was irresponsible of President Bush to nominate Olson, a key leader of the right wing's nonstop attacks on Clinton. Olson not only was deeply connected with Scaife and the American Spectator but he also represented David Hale, the key witness against Clinton in the Whitewater case, and advised Paula Jones. His partisanship was amply manifested when he represented Bush before the US Supreme Court to halt the recount of Florida ballots.
But the issues now being raised against Olson's nomination go beyond partisanship and deal with the honesty of his testimony under oath before the Judiciary Committee. In addition to the testimony of ex-Spectator writer Brock, the Washington Post reported that Olson and a fellow law partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher prepared some of the anonymous anti-Clinton material that was published in the Spectator.
The Post reported last Friday that American Spectator documents show that Olson's law firm was paid more than $14,000 for work on the Arkansas Project. Part of this money was to pay for a hit piece on the Clintons that Olson purportedly wrote under a pseudonym, cataloging all the possible laws that the Clintons might have violated if the unsubstantiated charges hurled at them by their right-wing critics proved true.
After the Post ran its story last week, Hatch conceded "there are legitimate issues" justifying his decision to defer action on Olson's nomination pending further investigation. One issue concerns Olson's testimony at an April 5 hearing of the Judiciary Committee as to how he came to represent Hale, a key source for the Spectator. Olson said he couldn't remember how the contact was made and never mentioned David W. Henderson, the Arkansas Project director. But Henderson last week told the Post he was the person who introduced Hale to Olson.
Even if one assumes that Olson has a conveniently poor memory on key matters relating to his involvement with the American Spectator and its Arkansas Project, his behavior hardly suggests the stellar qualities required of the chief representative of the US people before the highest judicial body. Nor is this the first time Olson's credibility in testimony before Congress was questioned. The Post article noted that, in 1986, Independent Counsel Alexia Morrison was appointed to investigate whether Olson had provided misleading testimony to a congressional committee when he worked at the Justice Department in 1983. Morrison concluded that Olson's testimony was "disingenuous and misleading," but that his statements were "literally true" and therefore he could not be criminally prosecuted.
Pretty slippery for the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," but, sadly, given the recent shenanigans of the Court's right-wing majority, Olson should fit right in if he is ultimately confirmed.