George Bush, the most ideologically-driven and politically calculating president in American history, wants Americans to believe that he has suddenly discovered a moral high ground from which to make grand declarations about who he must maintain the occupation of Iraq.
After vetoing legislation Tuesday that gave him the money to continue his war but required that he accept loose limits of its ultimate duration, the president told the nation, "I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need."
Bush has made his position clear: Democrats, many of whom rightly argued four years ago that going to war in Iraq would be the huge mistake it has turned out to be, and who have since been far ahead of the White House in identifying the nature of the crisis that has since developed, are now to be dismissed as the players of political games when they advocate for a strategy that would begin bringing US troops home from the conflict on a schedule beginning October 1.
That's a remarkable line of analysis from a president whose inability to recognize the flaws in his own neo-conservative vision has rendered his wrong at every turn, and whose determination to play politics with life-and-death decisions has defined not just his approach to the Iraq war but his tenure as president.
Yet Bush is not giving up on his faith that he can frame the argument about Iraq as a fight between Congressional Democrats who are out to score political points and a presidential administration that is motivated merely by a desire to respond appropriately to practical realities on the ground in Iraq.
"Twelve weeks ago, I asked the Congress to pass an emergency war spending bill that would provide our brave men and women in uniform with the funds and flexibility they need," said Bush in framing his veto message. "Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders."
The problem with Bush's "I'm-so-above-politics" line is that he has been disregarding advice from military commanders since before the war began.
Consider the response to his veto from top military men who commanded troops in Iraq.
"The President vetoed our troops and the American people," says retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste. "His stubborn commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq is incomprehensible. He committed our great military to a failed strategy in violation of basic principles of war. His failure to mobilize the nation to defeat world wide Islamic extremism is tragic. We deserve more from our commander-in-chief and his administration."
Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton: "This administration and the previously Republican-controlled legislature have been the most caustic agents against America's Armed Forces in memory. Less than a year ago, the Republicans imposed great hardship on the Army and Marine Corps by their failure to pass a necessary funding language. This time, the President of the United States is holding our Soldiers hostage to his ego. More than ever [it is] apparent [that] only the Army and the Marine Corps are at war -- alone, without their President's support."
Retired military commanders associated with the Washington-based National Security Network have been blunt about their sense that Bush is not just wrong about Iraq but that he is failing the troops he purports to support.
Some make historical comparisons.
Says retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard: "With this veto, the president has doomed us to repeating a terrible history. President Bush's current position is hauntingly reminiscent of March 1968 in Vietnam. At that time, both the Secretary of Defense and the President had recognized that the war could not be won militarily--just as our military commanders in Iraq have acknowledged. But not wanting to be tainted with losing a war, President Johnson authorized a surge of 25,000 troops. At that point, there had been 24,000 U.S. troops killed in action. Five years later, when the withdrawal of US troops was complete, we had suffered 34,000 additional combat deaths.
Others offer a straightforward assessment of Bush's failure as the commander-in-chief. "By vetoing this bill and failing to initiate an immediate and phased withdrawal, the President has effectively gone AWOL, deserting his duty post, leaving American forces with an impossible mission, suffering wholly unnecessary casualties," argues retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom.
Add the public statements of the retired generals together with the behind-the-scenes expressions of frustration from current commanders and they form the most powerful tool that Congressional Democrats have in what will ultimately be a negotiation not with Bush but with the American people--a negotiation that, the president well understands, is about the question of which side is playing politics and which side is listening to military commanders and supporting the troops.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should take the message of these retired generals--along with the anti-war statements of thousands of current and returned Iraq soldiers --into the fight with Bush. And, to borrow a slightly impolitic phrase from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, they should "shove it down his throat."
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
David Sirota has a good post up about how the media is overlooking Fred Thompson's lucrative stint as a lobbyist. In a profile of the possible presidential candidate yesterday, the New York Times mentioned that during the eighteen year gap between working as a Congressional staffer and winning a Senate seat in 1994, Thompson "took on some lobbying clients." Who those clients were and what the work entailed, goes unmentioned. It's a mere throwaway in the larger narrative of the Reagan Republican returning to save the GOP.
In case you were curious, Thompson represented Westinghouse and General Electric in the deregulation of the savings and loan industry, which eventually led to the S&L crisis of the 1980s. After leaving the Senate in 2002, he was paid $760,000 to protect the British reinsurance company Equitas from asbestos claims. He registered to represent foreign clients such as deposed Haitian leader Jean Baptiste Aristide, Toyota and a German mining company.
Thompson's all-but-announced campaign has downplayed this history. "It being so far back, that's an awful undue pressure, burden for the senator to have to go dragging back through records," spokesman Mark Corallo (who recently worked for Karl Rove) told the Politico when asked to provide more information on Thompson's lobbying days. It may behoove his campaign to dust off those records. In 1994, Thompson's Democratic opponent, Congressman Jim Cooper, called him "a Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving, Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire Washington special interest lobbyist." It's not hard to imagine a Republican rival saying nearly the same thing.
Not content with its conservative media empire, Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is making an ambitious bid to buy the Dow Jones Company and its prized product, the Wall Street Journal. NewsCorp is offering to buy at $60 a share, all cash, 65 percent above Dow Jones' closing price yesterday (which shot up $18.42 as news of the bid broke). Owning the WSJ, along with Barron's and Dow Jones Newswires would be a fantastic coup for NewsCorp, which is launching its rah-rah business channel later this year.
The deal has highly troubling implications. Murdoch is known for pushing his publications, such as the once-liberal New York Post, to the right. Under Murdoch's purview, would the news pages of the Wall Street Journal become more like its conservative editorial section?
Other potential bidders include the Washington Post Co, New York Times Co and Bloomberg LP. All three represent an improvement over the brains behind Fox News.
It had taken much thought and planning that wartime May Day four years ago when George W. Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, had "embedded" himself on that aircraft carrier days before the President landed. Along with Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and lighting specialist, and Greg Jenkins, a former Fox News television producer, he had planned out every detail of the President's arrival -- as Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times put it then -- "even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the ‘Mission Accomplished' banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call ‘magic hour light,' which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush."
Before the President could descend jauntily from that plane into the perfect light of a late spring afternoon, and onto what was essentially a movie set, the Abraham Lincoln, which had only recently hit Iraq with 1.6 million pounds of ordnance, had to be stopped just miles short of its home base in San Diego. No one wanted George W. Bush simply to clamber aboard.
Who could forget his Tom-Cruise-style "Top Gun swagger" across that deck -- so much commented on in the media in the following days -- to the carefully positioned podium where he gave his speech? It was to be the exclamation point on his invasion of choice and provide the first fabulous photos for his presidential campaign to come. Only two things about that moment, that speech, are remembered today -- that White House-produced "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him and his announcement, with a flourish, that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
If his landing and speech are today remembered as a woeful moment, an embarrassment, if those fabulous photos never made it into campaign 2004, that was, in part, because of another event -- a minor headline -- that very same May day: Halfway around the world, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, occupying an elementary school in Fallujah, fired on a crowd of angry Iraqi demonstrators. Perhaps 15 Iraqis died and more were wounded. Two days later, in a second clash, two more Iraqis would die.
On CNN's website the day after the President's landing, the main headline read: "Bush calls end to ‘major combat.'" But there was that smaller, secondary headline as well: "U.S. Central Command: Seven hurt in Fallujah grenade attack." Two grenades had been tossed into a U.S. military compound, leaving seven American soldiers slightly injured.
In the months to follow, those two headlines would jostle for dominance, a struggle now long over. Before May 1, 2004 ever rolled around, "mission accomplished" would be a scarlet phrase of shame, useful only to critics of the administration. By that one-year anniversary, Fallujah had morphed into a resistant city that had withstood an assault by the Marines. In November 2004, it would be largely destroyed by American firepower without ever being subdued. Now, the already failed American method of turning largely destroyed Fallujah into a giant "gated" prison camp for its residents is being applied to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where huge walls are slated to rise around 10 or more recalcitrant neighborhoods as part of the President's Baghdad Security Plan, or "surge."
Four years later, casualty figures are so terrible in Iraq that the government, locked inside the Green Zone in the capital, has, for the first time, refused to reveal the monthly figures to the United Nations, though figures do show a continuing epidemic of assassinations of Iraqi academics and of torture of prisoners, a steep rise in deaths among policemen, and a rise in "honor killings" of women by their own families. Four years later, those few "slightly injured" men of the 82nd Airborne Division have morphed into last week's 9 dead and 20 wounded from a double-truck-bomb suicide attack on one of that division's outposts in Diyala Province; over 100 Americans were killed in the month of April alone; 3,350 Americans in all (not including hundreds of "private security contractors").
Four years later, the American military has claimed dramatic success in reducing a wave of sectarian killings in the capital -- but only by leaving out of its count the dead from Sunni car/truck/motorcycle-bomb and other suicide-bomb attacks; with over 100 car bombings last month, and similar figures for this one, Sunni militants are outsurging the U.S. surge in Baghdad, making "a mockery of the US and Iraqi security plan," according to BBC reporter Andrew North.
Four years later, not only has the Bush administration's "reconstruction" of the country been a record of endless uncompleted or ill-completed projects and massive overpayments, not to speak of financial thievery, but even the projects once proclaimed "successes" turn out, according to inspectors from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, to be disasters "no longer operating as planned"; the biggest business boom in a country in which unemployment is sky-high may be "a run on concrete barriers" for security, which are so in demand that sometimes they "are not fully dry when military engineering units pick them up"; electricity availability and potable water supplies are worse than ever; childhood malnutrition is on the rise; no one even mentions Iraqi oil production which remains well below the worst days of Saddam Hussein and billions of dollars of which are being siphoned off onto the black market.
Four years later, U.S. prisons, one of the few reconstruction success stories in Iraq, are chock-a-block full, holding 18,000 or more Iraqis in what are essentially terrorist-producing factories; Iraq has the worst refugee problem (internal and external) on the planet with perhaps 4 million people in a population of 25 million already displaced from their homes (202 of whom were admitted to the United States in 2006); the Iraqi government inside the Green Zone does not fully control a single province of the country, while its legislators are planning to take a two-month summer "vacation"; a State Department report on terrorism just released shows a rise of 25% in terrorist attacks globally, and 45% of these attacks were in Iraq; 80% of Iraqis oppose the U.S. presence in their country; 64% of Americans now want a timetable for a 2008 withdrawal; and the President's approval rating fell to its lowest point, 28%, in the most recent Harris poll, which had the Vice President at a similarly record-setting 25%.
During this grueling, destructive downward spiral through the very gates of hell, whose end is not faintly in sight, the administration's war words and imagery have, unsurprisingly, undergone continual change as well. In the course of these last years, the "turning points," "tipping points," "milestones," and "landmarks" on the road to Iraqi democracy and freedom have turned into modest marks on surveyor's yardsticks ("benchmarks"), not one of which can be met by the woeful Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The "magic hour light" of May 2003 has disappeared, along with those glorious photos from the deck of the carrier. The sort of descriptions you see today, as in a recent David Ignatius column in the Washington Post, sound more like this: "Republicans voice the bitterness and frustration of people chained to the hull of a sinking ship." (The USS George W. Bush, undoubtedly.) Oh, and the President and what's left of his tattered administration have stopped filming on a Top Gun-style movie set and seem now to be intent on remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
This White House has plunged Iraq and the world into the geopolitical equivalent of a blood-and-gore exploitation film that simply won't end. Call that "Mission Accomplished"!
The rest of the world does not hate the United States. For the most part, other countries and their peoples are extraordinarily generous and supportive of the U.S., even if they may object to our president and his military misadventures.
Yet, if the rest of the world does not hate us, surely they must have a hard time figuring this country out.
After Hurricane Katrina struck in the late summer of 2OO5, countries around the world rushed to aid the U.S. In all, they offered more than $854 million in cash and oil supplies that were to be sold to raise money for the relief efforts.
Now, the better part of two years later, only about $4O million has been spent to aid disaster victims and their communities.
The vast majority of aid offers were turned down, even though they came with no strings attached and clearly were needed -- as the U.S. government still has not restored New Orleans and other storm-damaged communities, and still has not gotten hundreds of thousands of dislocated men, women and children home.
Worse yet, according to documents obtained by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington [CREW] watchdog group, aid that arrived went to waste.
Among to records obtained by CREW, State Department officials debated among themselves about whether to tell the Italian government that shipments of medicine and other supplies that had gotten through to the southeastern United States, were left to spoil in the elements.
Finally, one official said, "Tell them we blew it."
That's an understatement.
It is no secret that the Bush administration, with its war in Iraq, its neglect of crises in the Middle East and its rigid free-trade policies squandered enormous international good will after the September 11, 2OO1, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But there was still enough good will to attract almost $1 billion in aid offers after Hurricane Katrina struck.
Unfortunately, Bush and his cronies squandered that, too.
How appropriate, this May Day, that Human Rights Watch has just released "Discounting Human Rights: Wal-Mart's Violation of US Workers' Right to Freedom of Association," a detailed account of how Wal-Mart systematically violates its workers' right to organize. The right to freedom of association is, as the group notes, "well established under international human rights law," and the United States should be enforcing it. Our government has not been fulfilling this basic task, and as a result, our nation's largest private employer has also become a rogue union buster, whose practices are starkly at odds with any notion of workplace democracy.
Between 2004 and early 2007, Human Rights interviewed forty-one current and former Wal-Mart workers and managers (some of whom supported unionization, some were opposed and some ambivalent). The group also interviewed labor lawyers and union organizers, and analyzed the cases against Wal-Mart charging the company with violating US labor laws. Even adjusted for its size, the human rights group found, Wal-Mart stood out for the number of such violations. Between January 2000 and July 2005, fifteen National Labor Relations Board rulings against Wal-Mart are still standing and have not been overruled -- that is three times as many such rulings as Albertson's, Costco, Kmart, Kroger, Home Depot, Sears and Target combined. Put together, those companies have a workforce 26 percent bigger than Wal-Mart's.
The rights group found that the company begins to indoctrinate and intimidate workers with an anti-union message almost from the moment they are hired. In violation of international standards -- but not in violation of US law -- workers are encouraged to attend "captive audience" meetings in which they hear all the bad news about unions -- with little or no opportunity for union supporters and organizers to respond. In violation even of weak US laws, Wal-Mart spies on union supporters extensively, has fired workers for union organizing, and has told workers they would lose benefits if they supported a union.
The Human Rights Watch report correctly points out that the problems at Wal-Mart neither begin nor end with Wal-Mart. The retailer is, the authors explain, "a case study in what is wrong with US labor laws." Our laws don't meet international standards, and Wal-Mart doesn't even follow our pathetically minimal laws. US penalties are so light they provide no deterrent even for chronic violators. Human Rights Watch suggests some solid policy solutions. The report's authors don't suggest that Lee Scott and the rest of Wal-Mart's management spend some time breaking rocks on a Southern chain gang. That's what I'd call a proper deterrent! But they do, quite sensibly, rather than simply decrying the bad practices and calling on Wal-Mart to change its ways, suggest that Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would increase penalties for breaking labor laws and restore some democracy to the union election process by requiring employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers sign union cards. That bill passed the House in March, and is now under consideration in the Senate.
The Winograd Commission, established by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to investigate Israel's notably unsuccessful performance in last summer's war against Lebanon, today issued a first "Partial Report" in Jerusalem. The report covered only the period leading up to the war and the first six days of what turned out to be a 33-day war. It attributed "primary responsibility" for what it described as "very serious failings" in Israeli decisionmaking in this period to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the defense minister Amir Peretz, and the then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.
Paragraph 10 of the report's Executive Summary detailed the main strategic failings thus:
b. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action -- so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which derives the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture.
c. The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it. The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized to commence a military campaign without considering how to exit it.
d. Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action.
e. The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand - as was necessary under its own plans - early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required.
f. Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly stated that fighting will continue till they are achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.
The report detailed four specific ways in which Olmert had failed and concluded that, "All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence." Of Peretz, it said, "the Minister of Defense failed in fulfilling his functions. Therefore, his serving as Minister of Defense during the war impaired Israel's ability to respond well to its challenges." And of Halutz it concluded, "the Chief of Staff failed in his duties as commander in chief of the army and as a critical part of the political-military leadership, and exhibited flaws in professionalism, responsibility and judgment."
Of these three men who stood at the top of Israel's national command and decisionmaking apparatus during the war, only Halutz has so far resigned.
This evening, as widely predicted beforehand, Olmert once again vowed to hang on in office. In a brief televised statement he said, "It would not be correct to resign... and I have no intention of resigning." In a very non-committal way he admitted that "mistakes were made" and promised to start work this week on implementing some of the Commission's procedural recommendations.
The harsh judgments made by this will add significantly to the pressures that have been building up on Olmert. A police inquiry into the terms on which he transacted a profitable property deal some years ago intermittently threatens to bring him to the brink of resignation. But prior to running in last year's national elections Olmert (and his political mentor Ariel Sharon) had cleverly re-configured Israeli politics by establishing a new centrist party that split Labor down the middle. Now, the strongest opposition to him comes from his right-wing--former comrades in the Likud Party and their allies even further to the right.
But a large proportion of Israel's political elite has been in a funk since the unexpected defeat of last summer's war. Neither Olmert's Kadima Party nor any of the smaller parties in the present ruling coalition wants to risk forcing the country into a fresh general election by leaving the coalition.
Last July's decision to escalate very harshly indeed in response to Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers was taken by Olmert and Halutz according to the concept that Israel's use of massively destructive and lethal force against Lebanon would rapidly force Hizbullah to cry "uncle" and agree to the dismantling of its very experienced militia force. (For more details, see here.) That concept built on the alleged effectiveness of stand-off-- primarily airborne-- firepower, which some hawkish strategic thinkers had seen demonstrated by US military operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But in none of those three other theaters did the "decisive" early records of the US war effort led to stable, and stably pro-western outcomes. And in Lebanon, the massive application of stand-off firepower for 33 days did not even succeed in its first-stage goal of either decapitating Hizbullah or forcing the organization to bow to Israel's demands.
For the advocates of stand-off firepower, the "promise" of this approach had always lain in the idea that using hi-tech gadgetry from high altitudes could enable the military to cut down, in particular, on the enormous burden that maintaining a ready ground-combat capability imposes on the manpower of a country. (This is the case even with a heavily reserves-reliant force, as Israel's is, since the reserves do have to be trained and retrained every year or so.)
Now, Jewish Israelis as a group are faced with the momentous choice of whether they want to continue to live as an embattled, isolated outpost within a predominantly Arab part of the world, and an outpost that is prepared to pay the heavy costs--particularly in terms of the conscription burden for young people-- associated with that... Or, are they prepared to look to other, more creative and potentially long-lasting ways to assure their security, primarily through building relationships of peace and cooperation with their neighbors in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon?
The peace initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002, and recently re-committed to by all the Arab states and parties, including the Palestinians, provides one very worthwhile route to explore. But with Washington's Arab-Israeli policy still firmly controlled by unreconstructed neocon Elliot Abrams it is very unlikely that the Bush administration-- which does, after all, also have quite a few woes of its own-- will do anything to help Israelis to decide to "Make love not war."
(Cross-posted to Just World News.)
I hesitate to get into an inter-magazine pissing match, but I just couldn't let this post by The New Republic's James Kirchick go unanswered. Kirchick takes aim at the Nation's latest issue, which contains a symposium on Cuba, its future and the problems with US policy towards it. Kirchick's critique is two-fold. First, he finds the entire choice of topic and presentation musty, boring and predictable. "Leave it to the Nation," he writes, "that stalwart fount of 'unconventional wisdom since 1865,' to offer a platform to a dictatorship's toady." Well, let's remember that this comes on the website of a magazine that did everything in its power to push the US into a war that its own former editor now describes as a "disaster" and "tragic," and which has resulted in the deaths of tens, most likely hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians. So Mr. Kirchick may want to check himself before calling out The Nation, a magazine that got the single most pressing foreign policy question of our times right. (And, it should be noted, has published numerous articles critical of the Castro regime in the fast few years alone, including in the very issue that Kirchick criticizes.)
As for his substantive critique, it is this: Because Cuba is ruled by a dictator, any representative of the government is by definition a "toady," spouting "disreputable opinions." His complaints, therefore, cannot have merit, and must be necessarily ignored by anyone who shares Mr. Kirchick's impeccable moral judgement. If this kind of logic seems familiar, it's because it is. It's the same logic that led the New Republic and the establishment to support a sanctions regime against Iraq that almost certainly killed more than a hundred thousand Iraqi children. You see, because Saddam was evil, his government's contention that the the sanctions were killing its civilians had to be wrong. And because Saddam was evil, his government's claim that it had, in fact, been disarmed, could not have been true, even after the UN weapons inspectors confirmed it.
F Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that the "the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time." The Nation published an issue that contained both the voice of the Castro regime and those critical of it. It can be the case that the Cuban regime is a bad regime, and that it has entirely legitimate complaints to offer towards the US. But this is precisely what Kirchick finds so odious. His moral cosmology is that of the Bush administration which says that there are good guys and bad guys in this world, and we just don't talk with or listen to the bad guys until they stop being bad.
Or, to put it more bluntly, it is the moral cosmology of a child.
Doesn't it feel like a new cold war out there?
Condi Rice has taken off those dominatrix black boots and slipped into dark cold war terminology: "The idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten the Soviet strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous, and everybody knows it," she said speaking in Oslo last week at a gathering of diplomats from NATO countries.
The Russians don't see it quite the same way. And last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended his nation's compliance with a treaty on conventional weapons in Europe that was created at the end of the cold war. The decision, fueled by the Kremlin's anger at the US's proposal to build this new missile defense system in Europe, is just another sign of how much has been squandered since the Cold War was officially declared "kaput" in Malta in 1989 at the summit between George Bush I and Mikhail Gorbachev.
But don't pay too much attention to the news stories--few give you a sense of the history of where we're at...and how we got there. For an understanding of what you're reading in the headlines--for the clearest, earliest history of how this new Cold War erupted--read Stephen F. Cohen's cover story in The Nation last summer.
And for a sense of how, once again, the US is ignoring the popular will of smaller nations--in this case, the two countries at the center of this new insanity--Poland and the Czech Republic--read my blog of earlier this month
The mind boggles at the layers of nuttiness involved in this deployment, starting with the fact that Iran--supposed source of missiles--has no nuclear bombs--and that interceptors couldn't stop them if it did.
Before you imagine that the Democrats' plan, just passed by Congress, would actually get U.S. troops out of Iraq, read the fine print.
Let's be clear about what it is -- when it comes to "withdrawal" from Iraq -- that the President will veto this Wednesday. Section 1904(b) of the supplemental appropriations bill for the Pentagon, H.R. 1591, passed by the House and Senate, mandates that the Secretary of Defense "commence the redeployment of the Armed Forces from Iraq not later than October 1, 2007, with a goal of completing such redeployment within 180 days." If you've been listening to network TV news shows or reading your local newspaper with less than an eagle eye, you might well be under the impression that -- just as the phrasing above seems to indicate -- a Democratic-controlled Congress has just passed a bill that mandates a full-scale American withdrawal from Iraq. (Reporters and commentators regularly speak of the Democrats' insistence that "American troops be withdrawn from Iraq.") But that's only until you start reading the exceptions embedded in the bill.
Here are the main ones. According to H.R. 1591, the Secretary of Defense is allowed to keep U.S. forces in Iraq for the following purposes:
1. "Protecting American diplomatic facilities and American citizens, including members of the United States Armed Forces": This doesn't sound like much, but don't be fooled. As a start, of course, there would have to be forces guarding the new American embassy in Baghdad (known to Iraqis as "George W's Palace"). When completed, it will be the largest embassy in the known universe with untold thousands of employees; then there would need to be forces to protect the heavily fortified citadel of the Green Zone (aka "the International Zone") which protects the embassy and other key U.S. facilities. Add to these troops to guard the network of gigantic, multibillion dollar U.S. bases in Iraq like Balad Air Base (with air traffic volume that rivals Chicago's O'Hare) and whatever smaller outposts might be maintained. We're talking about a sizable force here.
2. "Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces": By later this year, U.S. advisors and trainers for the Iraqi military, part of a program the Pentagon is now ramping up, should reach the 10,000-20,000 range (many of whom -- see above -- would undoubtedly need "guarding").
3. "Engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach": This is a loophole of loopholes that could add up to almost anything as, in a pinch, all sorts of Sunni oppositional forces could be labeled "al-Qaeda."
An Institute for Policy Studies analysis suggests that the "protection forces" and advisors alone could add up to 40,000-60,000 troops. None of this, of course, includes U.S. Navy or Air Force units stationed outside Iraq but engaged in actions in, or support for actions in, that country.
Another way of thinking about the Democratic withdrawal proposals (to be vetoed this week by the President) is that they represent a program to remove only U.S. "combat brigades," adding up to perhaps half of all U.S. forces, with a giant al-Qaeda loophole for their return. None of this would deal with the heavily armed and fortified U.S. permanent bases in Iraq or the air war that would almost certainly escalate if only part of the American expeditionary forces were withdrawn (and the rest potentially left more vulnerable).
No less strikingly, in an era in which the "privatizing" of state functions is the rage, the enormous mercenary forces of private "security" companies like Blackwater USA, now fighting a shadow war alongside U.S. troops in Iraq, would be untouched. On this point, Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, has much to say in a recent post at Tomdispatch.com. He writes: "Even if the President didn't veto their legislation, the Democrats' plan does almost nothing to address the second largest force in Iraq -- and it's not the British military. It's the estimated 126,000 private military ‘contractors' who will stay put there as long as Congress continues funding the war."