Here's an ironic scenario: as Israel fights a proxy war against Hezbollah, the United States is propping up an Iraqi government that helped create the Lebanese militants.
David Clark, a former foreign policy advisor to Tony Blair, laid out the details in an op-ed yesterday in The Guardian:
Some of the earliest suicide bombings commonly attributed to Hizbullah, such as the 1983 attacks on the US embassy and marine barracks in Beirut, were believed by American intelligence sources at the time to have been orchestrated by the Iraqi Dawa party. Hizbullah barely existed in 1983 and Dawa cadres are said to have been instrumental in setting it up at Tehran's behest. Dawa's current leadership includes none other than the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, feted last week in London and Washington as the great hope for the future of the Middle East. As the old saying goes, today's terrorist is tomorrow's statesman--at least when it suits us.
Meanwhile, at a memorial service for a slain Iraqi cleric yesterday, leading members of the Iraqi government joined al-Maliki in denouncing Israel's assault on Lebanese civilians. "These horrible massacres carried out by the Israeli aggression, incites in us the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity," said Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, perhaps the country's key power broker, labeled the Israeli bombing of Qana an "outrageous crime."
Even staunchly pro-American President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, "offered similar condemnations of Israel," according to the New York Times. Will Howard Dean and the rest of the Democratic leadership now denounce the entire Iraqi government as anti-Semites?
With the country increasingly spiraling out of control and its leaders growing more vocally anti-Israel and anti-American, it's fair to ask another question: what exactly are American troops still fighting and dying for in Iraq?
From the Baby Steps Department where Democratic leaders plot policy comes a letter to President Bush signed by the opposition party's Congressional leadership, as well as a number of House and Senate Democrats who have been associated with national security and intelligence issues.
The letter from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their partisan compatriots identifies the crisis of the moment: "Iraq has exploded in violence. Some 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June, and sectarian and insurgent violence continues to claim American and Iraqi lives at an alarming rate. In the face of this onslaught, one can only conclude that the Baghdad security plan you announced five weeks ago is in great jeopardy."
The letter identifies the broader crisis: "U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your Administration searches for a policy. Over 2,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and over 18,000 others have been wounded. The Iraq war has also strained our military and constrained our ability to deal with other challenges. Readiness levels for the Army are at lows not seen since Vietnam, as virtually no active Army non-deployed combat brigade is prepared to perform its wartime missions."
The letter identifies the source of the crisis: "Far from implementing a comprehensive ‘Strategy for Victory' as you promised months ago, your Administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat."
The only thing that is lacking is a proper response to the crisis.
While the letter declares the belief of its signers "that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006," it does not propose anything akin to an exit strategy.
In effect, the letter is an embrace by key House Democrats -- Pelosi; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; Ike Skelton, the ranking minority member of the House Armed Services Committee; Tom Lantos, the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee; Jane Harman, the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee; and John Murtha, the ranking minority member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee -- of the a proposal by Senators Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, that was voted down by the Republican-controlled Senate in June.
The vague Reed-Levin measure was a soft alternative to a proposal by Senators Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, to establish a timeline for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Most Senate Democrats backed Reed-Levin -- although, notably, Senator John Lieberman, who faces a stiff primary challenge next Tuesday from anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont, did not. Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee was the sole Republican backer of the proposal.
Most Senate Democrats refused to back the Feingold-Kerry proposal, [The 13 Democrats who did take a clear anti-war stance were the sponsors and Senators Dan Araka and Dan Inouye of Hawaii, Barbara Boxer of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.]
So where does this new letter leave the Democrats. Not far from where they were in June, before all hell broke loose in Baghdad. House Democratic leaders are a little more united than they were early in the summer -- with former cheerleaders for the war such as Harman and Lantos, both of whom faced California Democratic primary challenges to their Bush-friendly stances, moving in a more clearly skeptical direction regarding the administration's misguided foreign policies.
That's progress. But the Democratic Party has yet to embrace the position taken by the overwhelming majority of Americans. A July Gallup poll found that roughly 2 in 3 Americans want the U.S. to exit Iraq. [Significantly, 31 percent wanted the exodus to begin immediately.]
While the new letter to Bush was intended to suggest that Democrats are united, the fact is that the party leadership has not yet figured out how to talk about Iraq in a meaningful way. If they ever do, it will most likely be because of a push from the party's grassroots. That's why the Lieberman-Lamont contest in Connecticut is such a big deal. The rejection of Lieberman by Democratic primary voters would not merely signal grassroots anger with one war-backing senator, it would signal that Democrats want their party to start making a serious appeal to the great majority of voters who want out of Iraq.
"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people…."
Thus spoke Representative Dennis Kucinich on the House floor last week, quoting Isaiah, as he railed against a cynical attempt by Republicans to attach the first minimum wage increase in nine years (during which time Congress has received EIGHT pay raises, and is scheduled for its ninth), to an estate tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. Despite his efforts, on the eve of adjourning on July 29, House Republicans pushed through this controversial bill linking a minimum-wage increase to a package of tax cuts.
At a time when the gap between rich and poor is greater than even during the Gilded Age…at a time of unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy during the so-called war on terror…at a time of vast cuts in our social service infrastructure...at a time when a federal surplus has been transformed into a soaring deficit....the Republican leadership refused to allow a straight up or down vote on the minimum wage.
"It's political blackmail to say the only way that minimum wage workers can get a raise is to give tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans," said Senator Edward Kennedy.
"This Republican Bill reeks of cynicism," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "It's a political stunt designed to give vulnerable Republicans in tough elections the opportunity to say they voted to raise the minimum wage -- even though they know this bill is going nowhere in the Senate."
Indeed, the bill should reach the Senate floor this week, where Democrats are expected to filibuster the GOP's minimum wage/maximum estate-wealth bill.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the estate tax cut would benefit 8,200 estates with an average tax cut of $1.4 million. For the 6.6 million Americans who would directly benefit from the minimum wage hike, the increase in annual earnings would average $1,200. Of course, even many of the workers' modest gains would be off-set if Republicans pay for their Paris Hilton tax cut -- which will cost $268 billion in lost revenues over the next decade -- by slashing programs like Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and veterans programs. (Not to mention their complete lack of attention to the rising costs of energy, education, housing, healthcare, childcare and more.)
So, according to the GOP, in order for those Americans who have been doing an honest day's work for $10,700 a year – for 9 years–-- to get a raise, the richest 8,200 families must receive yet another irresponsible, unjust cut that the country cannot afford. Can the Republicans openly reveal their contempt for working people any more clearly? The just response: Vote them out of office this November.
Why is it taking the Senate intelligence committee forty times longer to examine how the Bush administration used--or misused--the prewar intelligence on Iraq and WMDs than it took for the United States military to topple Saddam Hussein? American troops reached Baghdad in three weeks (there were a few complications after that). But the intelligence committee, led by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, has dilly-dallied for two-and-a-half years when it has come to reviewing how George W. Bush and his top aides represented--or misrepresented--the WMD intelligence as they led (or misled) the nation to war. Last fall, the Senate Democrats shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the committee's lack of progress in producing the so-called Phase II report that was supposed to focus on this matter. Roberts and the Republicans promised to conclude the inquiry soon. Yet another nine months have gone by, and as The Washington Post reported on Sunday, the committee is still not yet done. The Post noted:
The Republican-led committee, which agreed in February 2004 to write the report, has yet to complete its work. Just two of five planned sections of the committee's findings are fully drafted and ready to be voted on by members, according to Democratic and Republican staffers. Committee sources involved with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they are working hard to complete it. But disputing Roberts, they said they had started almost from scratch in November after Democrats staged their protest.
And those two sections do not focus on the central subject--the administration's use of the prewar intelligence. One examines the intelligence agencies' prewar WMD estimates with what was found on the ground in Iraq. The other looks at what information provided by Iraqi exiles made it into official intelligence estimates. (It does not explore the influence of Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress on Bush administration officials before the invasion.)
I take the committee's lackadaisical approach to this issue personally, for Roberts once directly promised me that the Phase II would be a priority. This is what happened. On July 9, 2004, Roberts and his committee released a 500-plus page report on how the intelligence community screwed up the prewar intelligence. But the committee's report (over the objection of its Democratic members) ignored the touchy matter of whether Bush officials had mischaracterized the intelligence to win support for the invasion of Iraq. Not surprisingly, the committee, under Roberts direction, was avoiding this subject as the 2004 election neared. At the press conference Roberts held to mark the release of the committee's report on the WMD intelligence, I asked him about this missing part of the inquiry. Here's the exchange:
QUESTION: Given the 800 American GIs who have lost their lives so far, thousands have had serious injuries, lost limbs, all on the basis of false [WMD] claims...[and that] American taxpayers have had to kick in almost $200 billion, doesn't the American public and the relatives of people who lost their lives have a right to know before the next election whether this administration handled intelligence matters adequately and made statements that were justified -- before the election, not after the election?
ROBERTS: This is in phase two of our efforts. We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out....It is one of my top priorities....Now, we have 20 legislative days. We want to have hearings from wise men and women in regards to the [intelligence] reform effort, and we will proceed with staff on phase two of the report. It involves probably three things -- or at least three. One is the prewar intelligence on Iraq, which is what you're talking about. Secondly is the situation with the assistant secretary of defense, Douglas Feith, and his activity in regards to material that he provided with a so-called intelligence planning cell to the Department of Defense and to the CIA. And then the left one -- what is the last one? What's the third one? Help me with it....Well, that's prewar intelligence on Iraq.
There is a third one, and I don't know why I can't come up with it right now. But, anyway, it is a priority. And, hey, I have told [Senator] Jay [Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee], I have told everybody on the other side of the aisle, everybody on our side of the aisle, 'We'll proceed with phase two. It is a priority.' I made my commitment, and it will be done.
So Roberts looked straight at me and said that the Phase II report was a "priority" for him and that he had made a commitment to complete this mission. Yet he has not made good on that commitment. It causes me to wonder if he misled me--that is, if he falsely declared he was committed to such a review only to kick the can down the road past the 2004 election. Now, according to the Post, he's trying to do the same with the 2006 elections. The paper noted:
The section most Democrats have sought, however, is not yet in draft form and might not emerge until after the November election, staffers said. That section will examine the administration's deliberations over prewar intelligence and whether its public presentation of the threat reflected the evidence senior officials reviewed in private.
Were Roberts truly committed to this task, it would have been done before the 2004 election. One committee staffer once told me this sort of review could be finished within months. Yet Roberts has been playing games--and he has got away with it. The Phase II controversy boils up (into public view) every six months or so and then fades. And only once has the Democrats succeeded in embarrassing Roberts for doing nothing. So he keeps kicking that can--rather than looking inside it. It's a funny way to treat a "priority."
BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: If any of you happen to be near Cape Cod this week, I will be speaking/performing at the Payomet Theater on the evening of Wednesday, August 2. The event is billed "An Evening of Political Insight, Gossip and Outrage, Volume II," and it will combine satire, humor, analysis, self-righteous indignation, and bombast. I'll let the reviewers describe it in further detail. But as regular readers of DavidCorn.com know, I've taken a stab at stand-up during the past few years, and last summer when asked to participate in a spoken word series at the Payomet Theater in Truro (a town situated between Wellfleet and Provincetown), I let portions of that stand-up routine bleed into my usual lecture on the Current Political Situation. For some odd reason, I was invited back this summer. If you need more information, go to the home page of the Payomet Performing Arts Center.
Does it matter that The New York Times has endorsed anti-war challenger Ned Lamont over Senator Joe Lieberman in the August 8 Connecticut Democratic primary?
Of course it does.
No, newspaper endorsements do not swing all that many votes in and of themselves, especially in high-profile contests. But, especially when they go against a long-term incumbent like Lieberman, they help wavering voters make the leap into the opposition camp.
For Lamont, who is running slightly ahead in the polls, today's Times endorsement comes at precisely the right moment -- as the campaign enters its final stretch. And it comes in the Sunday edition of the paper, which is more closely read in Connecticut -- and elsewhere -- than any other.
The Times circulates widely in Connecticut, and has a long tradition of making endorsements in the state's elections, so the newspaper's choice was long awaited. If the Times had endorsed Lieberman, as the more Republican-friendly Hartford Courant did Sunday, then the senator's flagging campaign might have received the boost it failed to get when former President Bill Clinton swept into the state last Monday to try and pump some life into the incumbent's reelection bid.
The endorsement by the Times, which has backed Lieberman in most of his past races, and which is far more cautious politically than its conservative critics would have America believe, came as something of a shock to Lamont backers. Just a few weeks ago, when I interviewed a Lamont aide in Connecticut, he told me that the candidate was merely hoping for a few kind words from the paper in what was expected to be a pro-Lieberman editorial.
Instead, the Times hit Lieberman where it hurts, ridiculing the senator's suggestion that his support of President Bush's misguided foreign policies makes him some kind of statesman. Suggesting that the Republican White's House's favorite Democratic senator has a "warped version of bipartisanship," the Times editorial explained that, by making himself an apologist for the Bush administration's worst excesses, Lieberman "has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party and has forfeited our support."
At the same time, the newspaper of record offered Lamont exactly what a political newcomer challenging an entrenched incumbent needs: respect from a known quantity. The editors of the Times referred to Lamont as a "smart and moderate" candidate who "showed spine in challenging the senator while other Democrats groused privately."
The Times editorial closed by giving Connecticut Democrats who might not be sure about jettisoning the man their party nominated for vice president in 2000 a compelling case for doing so. "[This] primary is not about Mr. Lieberman's legislative record. Instead it has become a referendum on his warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction," the editors explain, before concluding that, on the basis of this choice, "We endorse Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut."
How low will Republicans go to try and hang onto control of Ohio, the swing state where their machinations secured the presidency for George W. Bush in 2004?
Lower than reasonable Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, could imagine.
Gary Lankford, the Ohio Republican Party's recently hired "social conservative coordinator" this week dispatched a mass e-mail to so-called "pro-family friends" that featured his 10-point introduction to U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee for governor.
Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister who has thrown Republicans for a loop by speaking about his faith during the campaign, is running far ahead of scandal-plagued Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee who gained national fame in 2004 when he was broadly accused of manipulating election processes and vote counting to favor Bush in the presidential race.
What's the GOP strategy for getting Blackwell back into the running? Imply that Strickland is gay.
What are Republican staffers pointing to as evidence? Reports that the Democratic congressman and his wife of 20 years reside in different locations when he is in Washington.
In his email, Lankford, the GOP "social conservative coordinator," links to an Internet posting by a conservative operative that is headlined: "Article Adds Fire to Strickland Gay Rumors." The posting suggests that a mid-June Toledo Blade newspaper article implies "the Stricklands are both gay."
The article turns out to be a wide-ranging Father's Day feature on Strickland and Blackwell, in which mention was made of the fact that Strickland and his wife have no children. Blackwell was quoted as saying that it would be absurd to try and make an issue of whether the Democrat was a father or not. "Some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents," said the Republican. "Pope John Paul II was not a parent."
But Strickland, who is supported by gay and lesbian groups in the state and has criticized legislative assaults on gay rights, noted the frustration of Republicans with the Democrat's ability to match them on moral values issues and suggested that he might well be attacked. "The most effective way to campaign now is to identify your opponent's strengths and try to destroy those strengths," Strickland warned.
It looks like the Republican Party in Ohio has decided to jettison the "some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents" line in favor of an aggressive "Strickland's gay" assault on the Democrat's "moral values" appeal.
Indeed, Lankford's email, which highlighted his Republican Party role, urged recipients to: "Pass this information along."
When the "information" got passed along to the media, Ohio Republican Party political director Jason Mauk said the party repudiated the email. "We do not engage in rumor or innuendo," said Mauk, "especially rumors that are not relevant to this election."
I think it's time to start a new political party: Democrats for Demagoguery.
I'll give you three examples of why.
First there was the Dubai ports scandal. Sure, the uproar was bipartisan, but did any Democrat really believe that an Arab company couldn't run a US port as badly as an American one?
Then there was the furor over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offering so-called "amnesty" for insurgents who've killed American soldiers. It's a disgusting proposition, but bringing insurgents into the political process is a critical step towards ending the violence. Democrats who favor a speedy withdrawal from Iraq should've known that.
And finally Democrats went off the rocker this week about Maliki's denunciation of Israel's bombing of Lebanon. Howard Dean, the man who once rightly noted that the US should be more "evenhanded" in the Middle East, yesterday called Maliki an "anti-Semite." I'm sorry, but what do Democrats expect from a man whose government might get overthrown by Moqtada al-Sadr?
Our president is obtuse enough. He doesn't need an assist from the opposition.
For everyone who has been waiting for the response to Bernard Goldberg's awful 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, Nationbooks has the answer--101 People Who Are Really Screwing America by Jack Huberman of The Bush-Haters Handbook fame. In this witty book, Huberman lays out in well-researched detail the interlocking relationships within the vast rightwing agenda to undermine our democratic institutions for profit and prophesy.
For example, there is Regnery Publishing, whose authors include Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Phyllis Schlafly, Wayne LaPierre, G. Gordon Liddy, and whose founder William Regnery (#71) has started a match-making service for "heterosexual whites of Christian cultural heritage." And don't forget the Reverend Sun Myung Moon (#54), who published The Washington Times and started lobbying Republican politicians heavily after his organization ran afoul of the IRS. Since then he hasn't had as many legal problems. Of course, you would expect Halliburton and its CEO, David Lesar, (#72) to make the list, but did you know that Dick Cheney's old company was helping the Iranians develop their natural gas fields in 2005--two years after the Axis of Evil speech?
It is these and so many other details in Huberman's book that remind us who we are fighting and why.
The sectarian violence that's taking place in the Baghdad area...is probably the gravest threat to stability that there is in the country right now.
-- General John Abizaid, chief of US Central Command
July 25, 2006
It is a new challenge. This isn't about insurgency, this isn't about terror, this is about sectarian violence. And it's a new challenge for the government. And they recognize that.
--Stephen Hadley, national security adviser
July 25, 2006
The greatest threat Iraq's people face is terror; terror inflicted by extremists.
--Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister
July 26, 2006
Why is the United States in Iraq?
That is question that is increasingly difficult for the White House to answer coherently--and honestly. This past week, George W. Bush, appearing at a press conference with Maliki, noted that the horrific and intensifying violence in Iraq of recent weeks is "terrible" and that more US troops will be deployed to Baghdad. But who--and what--is the enemy? And what can US troops do about disorder and violence there?
Sectarian violence, according to Abizaid and Hadley, is now the main problem in Iraq (which was predicted by some experts before the invasion). Maliki, for obvious reasons, does not concede that. He wants US troops to remain in Iraq. Consequently, when he spoke to the US Congress on July 27, he depicted the fight in Iraq as a struggle pitting lovers of democracy (his government and the United States) against "terrorists" connected to those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. ("I will not allow Iraq to become a launch pad for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations," he declared, in a line rather reminiscent of the previous work of White House speechwriters.) In a fact sheet, the White House noted that when Maliki met with Bush, the Iraqi leader "made clear that he does not want American troops to leave his country until his government can protect the Iraqi people."
Mission creep is under way. The cause--despite Maliki's Bush-like rhetoric--is no longer combating jihadists (which replaced weapons of mass destruction as the reason for the war). It's making Iraq safe from Iraqi religious extremists. Maliki's government cannot protect Iraqis from their own neighbors, so he is looking to Bush to be his nation's cop-on-the-beat. But can the US military be an effective police force in a society increasingly plagued by sectarian violence that has little, if anything, to do with the fight against al Qaeda and Islamic jihadism? Maliki's own government is even part of the problem. Death squads connected to the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry have been lead players in the current killing spree. If Maliki cannot control these elements, how can the US military? (In his speech to the US Congress, Maliki didn't address the knotty matter of the government-linked death squads. He briefly referred to "armed militias" but claimed that the rule of law and human rights are "flourishing" in Iraq.)
Sunni leaders--who once called for US forces to quit Iraq right away--now fear the ascendancy of Shiite killing squads so much that they have quieted their demands for a US withdrawal, fearing such a move would leave the Shiite militias even more unfettered. But should the United States remain in Iraq in response to such concerns? If so, US troops would be risking and sacrificing their lives to assist a government that is tied to death squads in order to prevent (Sunni) opponents of the leading (Shiite) bloc of that government from being killed by (Shiite) supporters of that leading bloc. Yes, politics in the Middle East have always been notoriously complicated and Byzantine. How many books--or intelligence reports--has Bush read about the intricacies of Arabic culture, history and politics?
Bush, all too obviously, has no good ideas how to navigate these shoals--which may not be navigable. After saying that more troops would be deployed to Baghdad, Bush was asked by an Iraqi reporter what could be done to improve the security situation in Baghdad. "There needs to be more forces inside Baghdad who are willing to hold people to account," he replied. "In other words if you find somebody who's kidnapping and murdering, the murderer ought to be held to account. And it ought to be clear in society that that kind of behavior is not tolerated....We ought to be saying that, if you murder, you're responsible for your actions. And I think the Iraqi people appreciate that type of attitude."
In other words, just say no to killing. That's not much of a plan. And there's not much of a role for US troops in such a plan.
Bush has led the United States into a rough thicket in Iraq. It has taken him months--perhaps years--to acknowledge the troubles there. And his inadequate description--it's "terrible"--is far more upbeat than the depictions shared by reporters and others who have come back from Iraq in recent weeks bearing depressing and ugly tales of a society falling apart.
Iraq is a mess. Bush bears much of the responsibility for that. He invaded the country supposedly to defend the United States from a threat that didn't exist. He did not ensure that there were proper plans for the post-invasion challenges. He did nothing as his national security aides bungled one key strategic post-invasion decision after another. Now he has to contend with a violent sectarian conflict that his elective war unleashed. He has, to a limited degree, acknowledged the problem. He hasn't yet admitted there may be little he can do about it.
The announcement from Geneva that the "Doha Round" negotiations for another global trade agreement is in "collapse" lacked high drama since impending failure was already clear to all but the most fervent cheerleaders for the World Trade Organization. Five years of sloganeering and media pep talks and clever maneuvering failed to persuade developing nations or even inspire much enthusiasm in advanced economies. This is very good news for peoples of the world, though you won't see the story played that way in the American press.
In round-about fashion, the WTO's failure represents belated vindication for the blue-green movement that arose in Seattle six years ago and the Global Social Forum launched later from Porto Alegre, Brazil. These bottom-up political mobilizations offered an alternative vision for globalization – not dominated by the desires and dictates of multinational corporations but by ideas of popular sovereignty and common human aspirations that are shared by people in vastly different trading nations. That promising movement was eclipsed by the drama of 9/11 and war in Iraq, but it was never really sidetracked. Many individual countries have already revolted against the "Washington Consensus" and even establishment experts are beginning to acknowledge its failures. Defeat for them in Geneva is an important marker of progress for those who can imagine a different world.
That assembly includes especially the poorer nations of the world, struggling to find their way in a complex game of economic diplomacy usually controlled by the corporate big boys. This time, the impoverished countries stood their ground. They did not take the bait and swallow the empty promises, though they were coaxed and bullied by the major industrial players, led by the US. That reflects both their courage and growing maturity.
The essential deal offered the poor was, if they would accept the expanded domination of the WTO and its multinational sponsors, the rich nations would slash their lush subsidies for global agribusiness, leaving more market space for agricultural producers in developing nations. Many gullible editorial writers bought the logic, but not the poorer nations themselves. To believe that promise, you had to believe George W. Bush was going to sell out Texas cotton and Florida sugar and Midwestern grain or that Paris intended to dump the prosperous farmers of Normandy.
The larger meaning of the Doha collapse is the growing rejection of the WTO itself as a trustworthy governing institution for the global system. It was created ten years ago and it's been down hill ever since, both for rich and poor nations. The activists of Global Trade Watch, arm in arm with other groups around the world, make this case persuasively in a new briefing paper. The demise of Doha, they argue, should restart the worldwide debate on new and more fundamental terms – more promising for people and less deferential to global capital.
"Instead of pinning blame on specific countries, the focus of energy should be on how the world's governments can develop a multilateral trade system that preserves the benefits of trade growth and development, while pruning away the many anti-democratic condstraints on domestic policy making in the existing WTO rules," Global Trade Watch explains. "Much of the backlash against coroporate globalization implemented by the WTO is aimed at the damage caused by the comprehensive one-size-fits-all, non-trade rules comprising the majority of the WTO text."
In blunt summary, the new approach means the following: Scale back the powers of the WTO so that human rights, environmental, labor and other public-interest standards can be adopted "as a floor of conduct for corporations seeking the benefits of global trade rules." In other words, bring other international organizations into the process, with power to enforce standards on everything from toxics to food security to worker rights.
The system, meanwhile, must loosen its grip on individual nations and governments so they can develop their own domestic priorities on non-trade issues. "Countries must be free to prioritize other values and goals above what are sometimes countervailing demands of multinational corporations," the briefing paper asserts.
This is an immense challenge and obviously difficult for brain-dead politicians to grasp and embrace. But it's also an exciting and promising new opening. Imagine that the collapse of the old order has occurred, though not yet acknowledged by its sponsors. "Another world is possible," as the activists like to say, and it has just become a bit more possible.