Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
It was reported today that retired four-star General, ardent critic of Bush's national security policies, telegenic TV commentator, and recently declared Democrat Wesley Clark will enter the crowded presidential race.
Democrats believe that Clark, as a former military officer, could make the party more viable on foreign affairs than it's been since a general named George Marshall was containing Communism under the command of a president named Harry Truman. (That's the conventional wisdom, though the staggering cost of the badly bungled Iraqi occupation has diminished the Republican advantage on defense no matter who runs against Bush.)
While media commentary on Clark's prospective candidacy has been almost entirely favorable--even adulatory--it's worth looking back at a forgotten chapter in his military biography that occurred when Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and Commander In Chief for the US European Command. Call it Clark's "High Noon" showdown. It's an incident that deserves scrutiny because Clark's claim to be an experienced leader in national security matters is tied, in significant part, to his record in the Balkans.
On June 12, 1999, in the immediate aftermath of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, a small contingent of Russian troops dashed to occupy the Pristina airfield in Kosovo. Clark was so anxious to stop the Russians that he ordered an airborne assault to confront these units--an order which could have unleashed the most frightening showdown with Moscow since the end of the Cold War. Hyperbole? You can decide. But British General Michael Jackson, the three-star general and commander of K-FOR, the international force organized and commanded by NATO to enforce an agreement in Kosovo, told Clark: "Sir, I'm not starting world war three for you," when refusing to accept his order to prevent Russian forces from taking over the airport. (Jackson was rightly worried that any precipitous NATO action could risk a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia and upset the NATO-led peacekeeping plan just getting underway with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo.)
After being rebuffed by Jackson, Clark, according to various media reports at the time, then ordered Admiral James Ellis, the American in charge of NATO's southern command, to use Apache helicopters to occupy the airfield. Ellis didn't comply--replying that British General Jackson would oppose such a move. Had Clark's orders been followed, the subsequent NATO-negotiated compromise with the Russians--a positive element in the roller-coaster relationship between Moscow and Washington, which eventually incorporated Russian troops into peacekeeping operations--might well have been undermined.
In the end, Russian reinforcements were stopped when Washington persuaded Hungary, a new NATO member, to refuse to allow Russian aircraft to fly over its territory. Meanwhile, Jackson was appealing to senior British authorities, who persuaded Clinton Administration officials--some of whom had previously favored occupying the airport--to drop support for Clark's hotheaded plan. As a result, when Clark appealed to Washington, he was rebuffed at the highest levels. His virtually unprecedented showdown with a subordinate subsequently prompted hearings by the Armed Forces Services Committee, which raised sharp questions about NATO's chain of command.
As a Guardian article said at the time, "The episode triggers reminscences of the Korean War. Then, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN force, wanted to invade, even nuke, China, until he was brought to heel by President Truman." Of course, the comparison is inexact. The stakes were not as high in the Balkans, but Clark's hip-shooting willingness to engage Russian troops in a risky military showdown at the end of the war is instructive nonetheless.
Indeed, it is believed in military circles that Clark's Pristina incident was the final straw that led the Pentagon to relieve him of his duties (actually retire him earlier). Clark had also angered the Pentagon brass--and Secretary of Defense William Cohen in particular--with his numerous media appearances and repeated public requests for more weapons and for more freedom to wage the Kosovo war the way he wanted (with ground troops). At one point, according to media reports, Defense Secretary Cohen, through Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, told Clark to "get your fucking face off of TV."
In recent years, it's only fair to note, Clark has insisted in interviews and in his memoir Waging Modern War that the incident was a surprising moment for him. Clark said that his order to confront the Russian troops was refused by an emotional General Jackson, who took the matter up the British chain of command, where General Charles Guthrie, British Chief of Defence, said that he agreed with Jackson. Guthrie, according to Clark, told him that Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton also agreed with the British. This surprised Clark because he claims that the original suggestion to block the Russians came from Washington. Clark maintains that the matter was a policy problem between the US and British governments and insists that he was carrying out the suggestions of the Clinton Administration.
Despite concerns this incident raises, it remains a fact that the Clark candidacy is a tantalizing prospect. Clark says he is a liberal Democrat who favors abortion rights, affirmative action, gun control and progressive economic policies. He has also spoken eloquently about basing America's role in the world on the country's better principles: "generosity, humility, engagement..."
The other day, Clark told http://www.billmaher.tv/Bill Maher"> Bill Maher on HBO that this country was founded on "the idea that people could talk, reason, have dialogue, discuss the issues…We can't lose that in this country. We've got to get it back."
Perhaps Clark has learned that building alliances--and not risking showdowns--is more crucial than ever in these perilous times? It would be good to hear from the general himself now that he has decided to run for president.
So, Richard Perle--a man whose arrogance knows no limits, whose countless op-eds and television appearances about the imminent threat Iraq posed to the US deceived the American people---has now admitted that he and his neocon cabal underestimated the disastrous consequences of poor postwar planning.
In a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, the NeoCon Prince of Darkness acknowledges, "Our main mistake, in my opinion, is that we haven't succeeded in working closely with Iraqis before the war so that an Iraqi opposition could have been able to immediately take the matter in hand."
But wasn't it the Bush Administration's over-reliance on the claims of the self-interested exiled Iraqi opposition (and its handmaidens on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board), that was one of the main reasons for the US failure to anticipate the postwar crisis? As the costs of occupation soar--in both lives and dollars--shouldn't chickenhawks like Perle be held accountable for their failures and fabrications?
After all, wasn't Perle--along with the other faith-based warrior intellectuals at the project for the New American Century and in corporate-funded think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute--an architect of these failed policies? Isn't it time that their colossal failure meet its just response? President Bush should ask Dick Cheney and his cabal of (failed) armchair wargamers to hit the road.
(Update on "Sally Baron RIP")
The AP reports explaining that Wisconsite Baron's family had asked that memorials in her honor be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush from office caught the attention of American citizens far from the verdant scenery of Wisconsin.
The Madison Capital Times reports that already "dozens of people from around the United States have written to the [paper] saying they will make donations." (People have even printed shirts featuring a photo of Baron.) And Keith Olberman's national coverage of the Baron family's request on MSNBC recently is sure to increase this number.
Baron's story is also being hotly discussed on online bulletin boards, among both liberals and conservatives. Baron "has become a sort of poster girl for all of us who despise George Bush," wrote Nancy Tonies of Appleton, on the chat-site democraticunderground.com. "I did not know Sally at all, but I wish I had had the opportunity," wrote Linda Brown, a retired teacher in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "We would have had fun shouting back at the TV together. I suspect my language would have been worse than hers."
Memorials in Baron's honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush.
In 1898, the Anti-Imperialist League was established to oppose America's territorial expansion, especially the "liberation" of the Philippines from Spain. Long before a President talked of an "axis of evil" and "regime change," or before Trent Lott and John Ashcroft accused critics of aiding the enemy, President William McKinley and his men attacked members of the League for opposing an America that projected its ideals abroad by force.
Imperialism, League members argued, was unjust, unnecessary and harmful to America's national interests. The league had a diverse membership featuring many respected public figures like Mark Twain, historian and industrialist Charles Francis Adams, Harvard professor and writer William James, financier Andrew Carnegie, reform journalist and senator Carl Schurz and The Nation's founding editor and prominent abolitionist E.L. Godkin.
League members drew a dramatic contrast between America's proud history as the land of liberty and its brutal repression of the Filipinos' struggle for independence. Such militaristic tyranny, they argued in their national platform, would ultimately erode the country's "fundamental principles and noblest ideals."
As Charles Eliot Norton, a founding member of the League, said: "It is not that we would hold America back from playing her full part in the world's affairs, but that we believe that her part could be better accomplished by close adherence to those high principles which are ideally embodied in her institutions--by the establishment of her own democracy in such ways as to make it a symbol of noble self-government, and by exercising the influence of a great, unarmed and peaceful power on the affairs and the moral temper of the world."
Fast forward a hundred years and meet the "Committee for the Republic." The Committee, recently formed to ignite a discussion in the establishment about America's lurch toward empire, includes Republican former counsel to first President Bush C. Boyden Gray; former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman, Jr.; President of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development Stephen P. Cohen; William Nitze, son of Paul Nitze, the Reagan Administration's top arms control negotiator; and Washington businessman (and descendant of Revolutionary war patriot Patrick Henry) John B. Henry.
The Committee's draft manifesto includes language the Anti-Imperialist League would recognize: "Domestic liberty is the first casualty of adventurist foreign policy...To justify the high cost of maintaining rule over foreign territories and peoples, leaders are left with no choice but to deceive the people...America has begun to stray from its founding tradition of leading the world by example rather than by force."
Committee members say the group may create a nonprofit organization and will sponsor forums examining how imperial behavior weakened earlier republics, starting with the Roman Empire. "We want to have a great national debate about what our role in the world is," says Henry. The Committee is also considering ways to "educate Americans about the dangers of empire and the need to return to our founding traditions and values."
In my mind, these latter day anti-imperialists are charter members of the Coalition of the Rational--an embryonic idea I recently proposed to bring a broad, transpartisan group of concerned members of the establishment together to mobilize Americans in informed opposition to the Bush Administration's extremist undermining of our national security.
The Committee's creation is yet another sign of how mainstream members of the conservative establishment are waking up to George W's (mis)leading of the country into ruin. (Paleocons like Patrick Buchanan have also lined up against Bush's empire-building.) After all, imperialism is just as un-American today as it was at the turn of the century--or in 1776.
"Any Democratic candidate will be destroyed in the South," gloated Chris Caldwell in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard. Caldwell should head to Greenville, South Carolina, one of the most conservative areas in the United States, where Bush--bashing currently extends from unemployed machine operators to textile industry CEOs.
"Bush can forget about the Solid South," says Roger Chastain, president of a textile company. "There's no Solid South anymore." Chastain told the New York Times that the massive loss of jobs (2.5 million nationally) since Bush took office, and anger over the stagnant pace of economic recovery, makes the president vulnerable in a region his party has long taken for granted. Lynn Mayson, a mother of three, and unemployed for months, put it bluntly: "I'm not going to vote for Bush unless things change. The economy has got to get better." Both Chastain and Mayson are registered Republicans, part of the "solid south" that helped Bush win office in 2000.
The trade issue has become a lightning rod of discontent in these parts. Even the Republican chief executive of Spartanburg, South Carolina's Economic Development Corporation, laments that the number of new jobs is not keeping pace with those lost, putting South Carolina among the highest-ranked states in percentage of jobs lost during the Bush years (#3 behind Massachusetts and Ohio).
With all the talk about how free trade has been good for the country, textile industry leaders in the region are so fed up with job flight to Mexico, Indonesia and China that they've vowed to withhold support for Bush in 2004 if the Administration doesn't immediately narrow the trade gap. Chastain, like other South Carolina Republicans, says problems have reached such a point that he would consider voting for a Democrat like Richard Gephardt, a consistent foe of NAFTA. Mayson says she would vote for anyone with a plan to create more jobs.
One of the great surprises of Election Night 2000 were the early results that suggested Al Gore might win Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas--as well as Florida. Gore barely bothered to campaign in the South and he was anything but an ideal messenger for the Democratic Party in the region. But he did offer a dose of us-against-them populism in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention and in enough of his subsequent appearances to remain competitive in states where he was not supposed to be a player.
Indeed, Gore proved to be so competitive on Election Day that the television networks couldn't declare the winner in many southern states for hours after the polls closed. At the very least, Gore tied Florida, ended up winning forty-five percent of the vote in Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas, and secured only slightly weaker finishes in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Only in George W. Bush's homestate of Texas did Gore pull under forty percent of the vote.
The bottom line for Democrats should be clear: Fighting the next election on behalf of jobs, family farms, healthcare and education for all, a populist Democratic nominee could give George Herbert Hoover Bush a real race in a region that the GOP--and its media boosters--now take for granted.
At last Saturday's rally honoring the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Civil Rights, the Rev. Jesse Jackson recounted the narrow election losses Democrats have suffered in southern states and called for a renewed emphasis on voter registration and populist campaigning to close the gap.
"We must go South today," said Jackson. "It is the red zone where we must go to win the election." Jackson is right. If the Administration's economic policies continue to destroy the industrial base of the region, the South need not be solid for Bush in 2004. In fact, it could well provide the margin of victory for the Democrat who is willing to challenge Bush with the old cry, "It's the economy, stupid."
The Bush White House persistently manipulates scientific data to advance its ideology and the interests of its political supporters. That was the conclusion of a forty-page report issued earlier this month by the House Committee on Government Reform. It accused the Administration of compromising the scientific integrity of federal institutions that monitor food and medicine, conduct medical research, control disease and health risks and protect the environment.
Now, we learn--thanks to a report released last week by the EPA's Inspector General--that the White House also instructed agency officials to reassure New Yorkers after September 11th that the air in the vicinity of the World Trade Center was safe to breathe, even though deadly contaminants were present, and the quality of the air, was, at best, unclear. (See Matt Bivens' Daily Outrage for more.)
Dr. Stephen Levin, director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center, called the report "shocking," in an interview in New York Newsday. "It's an outrageous interference in the role of the public health agencies that were established to protect the people," Levin said of the Bush Administration's alleged influence over the EPA.
What were the "competing considerations" that pushed Bush officials to mislead New York City residents? One important factor, according to the report, was "the desire to reopen Wall Street." So, we have an administration that misleads its citizens, at the expense of their health, in order to benefit Wall Street?
Sadly, that's not too surprising. Every day brings fresh revelations of how this Administration's deceit threatens its citizens' health and welfare. New York Senator Hillary Clinton has called on the Justice Department to look into the EPA report. Rep. Jerry Nadler is demanding a formal Congressional investigation. But, what's really needed is an independent investigation into the Bush Administration's unprecedented manipulation of the scientific process.
The passionate desire for democratic regime change in 2004 extends even into the grave. Hardworking Sally Baron of Stoughton, Wisconsin--who raised six children and cared for her husband after he was crushed in a mining accident--should be an example to all Americans. Click here to read an August 21 obituary for Baron from the Madison Capital-Times to find out what her children decided was a fitting memorial in her honor.
And read native Wisconsinite and Nation Washington correspondent John Nichols's moving tribute to Baron, also published in the Cap-Times, for more on the working-class political culture of old-time Wisconsin, which shaped Baron's progressive worldview.
On August 18th, one day before the horrifying bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, President Bush revised his earlier characterization of the fighting in Iraq. The once-swaggering commander-in-chief, who strutted on the decks of the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare victory, now allows that combat operations are still underway.
It always seemed premature to speak of the period in Iraq as one of "postwar." But that didn't stop the White House from rushing to declare that the conflict was concluded. However, the steady stream of American and Iraqi casualties, the increasingly sophisticated guerrilla attacks on Iraqi infrastructure--and, now, the UN headquarters--suggest that the Iraq war continues, and that only its conventional battlefield phase is over. Even the American military commander in Iraq recently described Iraqi attacks as classic "guerrilla warfare," a term Administration officials--until just recently--have been loath to use.
What is needed now is not--as many are demanding--an escalation of US forces but, rather, an acknowledgment that the US and its small band of allies, do not have the resources, legitimacy or even competence to stabilize Iraq. Instead of entrenching a Pentagon-led occupation, the White House should use this perilous moment to seek internationalization of the rebuilding and administration of the country, which can only happen if the process is turned over to the UN.
As Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, reminds, "The US-UK war and occupation were and remain illegal." By agreeing to participate under the authority of that occupation force, the UN, unfortunately, is providing a political fig leaf for an illegal occupation. If the United Nations is to be perceived by the Iraqi people as a legitimate and stabilizing force, it will need to play a genuinely independent role and disassociate itself from the US occupation. And so as to avoid the trap of internationalization on the cheap, the UN will need real resources--and control--in the reconstruction process.
But time is running short. Listen to terrorism expert Jessica Stern: The "bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was the latest evidence that America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one," Stern wrote recently in the New York Times. "The occupation has given disparate groups from various countries a common battlefield on which to fight a common enemy...Most ominously, Al-Qaeda's influence may be growing."
We are now witnessing the tragic unfolding of consequences that The Nation--and millions opposed to war--warned against: the fueling of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world; the undermining of the global fight against terrorism and the deaths of innocent US soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
We also argued that occupation would mean more spending on war and less on homeland security and numerous unmet domestic needs. The Administration will continue to deny what it has created in Iraq. But shifting public sentiment suggests an opening: a recent PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll found that 64 percent of Americans want the UN to take the lead in rebuilding Iraq.
As long as the US is an occupying power--US v. International Jihad--the harder it will be to pull together the international resources, will and expertise required for the long-term project of stabilizing Iraq, reestablishing true self-government in that country, and combating terrorism around the world.
War is a tragedy for some and a boon for others. As American soldiers continue to die in Iraq, and the length of the war and its costs escalate, Halliburton, the company headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney before the Bush Administration took office, announced that it had converted a half billion dollar quarterly loss of a year ago into a quarterly profit of $26 million for the same period in 2003. This profit comes largely from hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi rebuilding and oil contracts awarded by the Bush Administration.
But why should war be good for those who have been good to the Republican party? "The Bush Administration," the Baltimore Sun recently reported, "continues to use American corporations to perform work that United Nations agencies and nonprofit aid groups can do more cheaply." "Both for ideological reasons," Paul Krugman observed in the New York Times, "and, one suspects, because of the patronage involved, the people now running the country seem determined to have public services provided by private corporations, no matter what the circumstances."
Representatives Henry Waxman, John Dingell and Maxine Waters are to be commended for monitoring the war profiteers and the conflicts of interest so pervavsive in this Administration. (In March, Waters offered an amendment that would have prohibited the Administration from awarding contracts to companies which had employed senior administration officials. In April, Waxman and Dingell sent letters to the General Accounting Office demanding an investigation into how the Pentagon was handling the bidding process for lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq.)
But where's the broader outrage? Isn't the issue of war profiteering a strong one for Democratic Presidential candidates? Or even for common-sense Republicans who put their country before profit? They could lead their party against a President and Vice-President rolling in corporate cash--some of it from companies that have directly profited from war. Where is the leader with the courage to say, as Franklin Roosevelt did during World War II, '"I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster'"? Even Harry Truman, considered a model centrist by DLC types, referred to profiteering during World War II as "treason."
With all due credit to the World Policy Institute's new report ,"New Numbers: The Price of Freedom in Iraq and Power in Washington," let's call for:
*Transparency and Accountabilty: Let's demand a Senate Investigation on war profiteering comparable to the one that Truman conducted at the end of World War Two.
*Curbs on Profiteering: All contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq should be on a limited profit basis, not the open-ended deals that Halliburton and other US contractors have received thus far.
*Legislation which would require all rebuilding contracts for Iraq to be subject to an open bidding process, and a temporary "Truman Committee" to oversee all Iraqi war contracts, as The Nation proposed in an editorial last May.
*Putting the Political Money Machine on Hold: To avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest, Bush and all of his challengers should pledge that they will not accept campaign contributions from companies that have profited from the war in Iraq, or the subsequent rebuilding effort.
Muscular Congressional actions like these would go a long way toward tempering some of the most corrupt practices of this ethically-challenged and political tone-deaf Administration.
How skewed are this Administration's priorities? Consider the insanity of throwing away billions of dollars on hightech military boondoggles like Star Wars that don't work. Or doling out billions in tax giveaways to the richest Americans. If we want true security, shouldn't we be investing in our country's infrastructure--from upgrading our power grid to improving transportation, healthcare and education?
President Bush called the largest blackout in US history a "wakeup call"? (And that after his Administration lobbied against legislation that would have modernized the country's power grid.) Well, maybe Bush and his team need another wakeup call--relating to Iraq. This time last summer, many opponents of the rush to war argued that an invasion and occupation would serve as a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda, fuel existing anti-Americanism in the region and make the US less secure.
One year later, these concerns seem tragically on target. Just this past weekend, a London-based research company, issued a report saying that the war against Iraq has made America more of a target for terrorist attack. According to the World Markets Reseach Center, the US is now the fourth most likely--of 186 countries surveyed--to be the target of a major terrorist act within the next twelve months. (Colombia, Israel and Pakistan top the list as the only countries with a greater terror risk than the US.)
"Networks of militant Islamist groups," the report observes, "are less extensive in the US than they are Western Europe, but US led military action in Afghanistan and Iraq has exacerbated anti-US sentiment."
And, as the US occupiers endure almost daily casualties--and with shortages of fuel, water and, yes, electricity, precipitating riots and fueling anger among the Iraqi people--it is worth paying attention to the underreported warnings of Ghassan Salameh, a senior UN official and adviser to the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, Kofi Annan's special representative to Iraq, who was killed today in the tragic attack at UN headquarters in Baghdad.
In a recent interview with the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, Salameh, a longtime observer of the Arab world, warns that prominent Iraqis who "despised" Saddam Hussein will take up arms against US forces if life under occupation does not quickly improve. "Many influential Iraqis who initally felt liberated from a despised regime have assured me," Salameh reports," that they will take up arms if the coalition troops do not arrive at a result. Time is short."
Salameh warned that ordinary people, frustrated by the lack of basic services four months after Saddam's fall, could rally behind ideological opponents of the occupying forces. "In reality, the population is very surprised," he told the French weekly. "They don't understand how such a level of efficiency during the war could be followed by such a lack of efficiency in ‘peace.'"