Christian Parenti

Why Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming

Despite the triple meltdown at Fukushima—which has driven tens of thousands of Japanese from their homes, cast radioactive fallout across the U.S., and will likely cost the Japanese economy ¥50 trillion, or $623 billion—many desperate Greens now embrace nukes. They include Stewart Brand and George Monbiot. What drives these men is panic—a very legitimate fear that we will trigger self-fueling runaway climate change.

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The Real Reason Obama Is Escalating In Afghanistan

The real goals of the Afghanistan escalation are domestic and electoral. Like Lyndon Johnson, who escalated in Vietnam, Obama lives in mortal fear of being called a wimp by Republicans.

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Afghan Poppies Bloom

The rotund landlord, Mr. Attock, sits on the carpeted floor of his little office and living quarters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. From this one room he publishes a slight and sporadic weekly or sometimes monthly newspaper, but like most people around here, his real business is farming opium poppy. Mr. Attock's land lies about an hour and a half away in the countryside of Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, not too far from Tora Bora.

"My dear, everyone grows poppy. Even me," says Mr. Attock in slightly awkward English as he leans over to grab my leg, again. Mr. Attock is a bundle of physical and intellectual energy, not all of it well focused. "My dear, you see. Listen. My dear, wheat is worthless. Everyone grows poppy. We will go to my village and you will see."

The next day we tour the village where Mr. Attock owns or manages a farm (it's not entirely clear who actually owns the establishment, but he is in charge). Nangarhar is one of Afghanistan's top three drug-producing provinces. The surrounding fields rotate between corn and poppies. Mr. Attock says he has almost 100 people living and working here as tenant farmers and laborers.

For the past three years, growing poppy in Afghanistan, as Mr. Attock and his tenants do, has been a relatively risk-free and open business. The Taliban had imposed a ruthlessly successful ban on poppy cultivation in 2000; more than 90 percent of cultivation stopped. But since the U.S. invasion in 2001, eradication efforts have been minimal and ineffective and production has again soared.

Globally, Afghanistan's opium business is estimated to be worth more than $30 billion a year, with the vast majority of that cash being captured by players in other countries. One Western counternarcotics official estimated that poppy production increased by 64 percent in 2004. Afghanistan now produces an estimated 87 percent of the world's opium, most of which becomes heroin and morphine. Income from poppy and its associated processing and trafficking are said to contribute $2.8 billion annually to the Afghan economy, a sum equal to 60 percent of the country's legitimate GDP. About a quarter of this money ends up in the hands of common farmers; the rest goes to traffickers.

UN researchers believe that 2.3 million of Afghanistan's 20-25 million people are directly involved in poppy cultivation, with many more working in processing, trafficking, moneylending, laundering and other associated activities. The warlords who run this country tax both farmers and traffickers alike.

The British, who are part of the international coalition now occupying Afghanistan, have been in charge of establishing a Counter Narcotics Directorate in Kabul. Its efforts have not been aggressive, and until recently the Americans have openly avoided the issue of poppy cultivation, preferring to focus instead on hunting down the Taliban and al Qaeda and training the new Afghan National Army.

But after three years of ignoring poppy cultivation and heroin production, the United States has suddenly changed course. In mid-November Washington pledged $780 million toward Afghanistan's war on drugs. If a rigorous campaign against poppy actually materializes, it could radically destabilize the relative calm that now obtains in much of Afghanistan.

Already there is trouble brewing in Nangarhar, where next year's crop is just starting to sprout. Farmers report low-flying planes spraying poison on their fields. Doctors in the area say they've seen a sudden jump in respiratory illness and skin rashes, while veterinarians are seeing sickened livestock. In a harbinger of what a real war on drugs might bring, one farmer in Nangarhar whose son had been poisoned by the spraying told a local journalist, "If my son dies, I will join the Taliban, and I will kill as many Americans as I can find."

Nangarhar's provincial governor, a former mujahedeen commander named Haji Din Mohammed, has said there is "no doubt that an aerial spray has taken place." Other Afghan officials have called it illegal. The United States controls Afghan airspace but denies that it has sprayed, though it is promising a "robust" eradication campaign come spring.

Mr. Attock is reveling in his role as country squire and host. At his village we sit on cots made of rope and wood to eat a breakfast of thick clotted butter cream, honey and flat bread, washed down with lots of sweet tea. As I wait beneath a huge tree in the courtyard of Mr. Attock's kala, a fortress-like family compound, he corrals three farmers and tells them to fetch opium and opium seeds, to take seats and to explain the trade to his guest.

The three farmers, all of them lean and sinewy and looking a bit skeptical, take seats and politely start talking shop. For the most part, growing opium in Afghanistan is like growing any other crop. Though technically illicit, it's all rather undramatic: Farmers are concerned with irrigation, weather, pests, disease and prices. Their tasks are similarly prosaic, consisting mainly of weeding, watering and tending the crops.

The most talkative and inquisitive farmer is Abdul Rakmon. For every few questions from me he has one of his own. "Have you been to Fremont, California? Some people from around here live there now. Where exactly is Fremont?"

Rakmon and his less talkative mates explain that in the warm climate of Nangarhar there is one crop of poppy, though in other areas there are two seasons, the second less productive than the first. In Nangarhar the land is fertilized with manure in late October, and then the poppy seeds are sown in November. By February the flowers bloom, then the blossoms fall away to reveal a bulging seedpod. In March the farmers start harvesting the opium by cutting or scraping the seedpods with small trowels.

From the little scrape wounds oozes a sticky white sap – raw opium. The milk-colored opium turns brown with exposure to air. In Nangarhar the farmers cut the seedpods in the evening and collect the congealed sap in the morning.

"We cut the seedpod with a ghoza," says Rakmon, and he gives me a little wooden tool with a serrated metal edge. "You can have this ghoza as a present. People in New York will be impressed when they see that," he says with a grin. He's making a sage but cryptic comment on the huge physical, but even greater social, distance between heroin's site of production and its site of consumption. In front of us sits a big sickly-sweet-smelling block of opium.

Ms. Attock has become bored with the interviews and is done eating. He struts around the dusty courtyard, occasionally hoisting himself up off the ground on a tree branch. He wants my colleague, the photographer Teru Kuwayama, to take snapshots of his buildings and retinue of friends and employees from the village.

"What is his name? He looks like a Hazara," says Attock, referring to the Afghan ethnic minority known for their East Asian facial features.

"His name is Teru."

"Yes, OK. Steve!" shouts Mr. Attock, still unable to get Teru's name right. "Steve! Come. Take photos." The farmers tell me that the flowers come in red, white and purple. "Red flowers are the best," says Rakmon. In cooler climates other farmers inform me that white blossoms are superior.

Rakmon and his two friends explain that in most parts of Afghanistan a farmer can get up to seven collections from each seedpod.

Eventually the plant is tapped out and left to dry. The desiccated seedpods are harvested for next year's planting and the seeds are used to make edible oil. Mothers sometimes boil the dry pods into a tea that they use to drug their infants during long hours of work, or when the children are sick or hungry and unable to sleep.

To illustrate the financial plight that drives people here to grow poppy – which, as good Muslims, they see as a sin – the farmers explain the math of poppy versus wheat. The local unit of land measurement here, a jerib, is roughly half an acre; and this part of Afghanistan is so close to Pakistan that commerce is conducted in Pakistani rupees instead of afghanis.

"It costs 1,000 rupees to plant one jerib of poppy, and that one jerib will yield at least 15 kilograms of poppy, which is worth 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000], at least," says a farmer named Lal Mohammed. (Later in the central highlands, some farmers tell me they can get 28 kilos of opium per jerib.) "Wheat takes twice as long as poppy to grow, and we can buy almost ten times as much wheat as we could produce if we grow poppy instead," says Mohammed. "We have no choice but to grow poppy."

To top it all off, Afghanistan is in the midst of a hellacious six-year drought. Unlike wheat and vegetables or cotton, poppy is very drought-resistant. "All it really needs is a little water early on," says Mohammed.

The farmers confirm what I've heard elsewhere: The opium boom of the past three years has delivered many farmers from onerous debts and allowed them to keep land that they would otherwise have been forced to sell off to the local mujahedeen commanders.

After all the details of poppy growing are explained, Mr. Attock takes us on a tour of his village and invites me to shoot at a tree with one of his double-barreled shotguns. "Into the leaves, my dear. Up into the leaves. Yes!" The tree survives. Then we have more tea.

Later about six of us pack into a little Toyota four-wheel drive and slowly bounce and lurch down a sandy road lined with tall reeds through a string of small villages. At one of these clusters of mud-walled compounds we stop, interview another group of farmers about local politics and opium, then have a lunch of greasy rice and lamb and smoke hash with our hosts. This is haram, forbidden, in Islam. But way out here, is Allah really counting the minor indiscretions? Apparently some farmers think not.

On the dirt road back to Jalalabad, we stop to take photos. Around the bend rolls a small convoy of menacing U.S. Special Forces, all mirrored sunglasses, beards and guns. The dreamy afternoon starts to feel creepy and not safe.

In the central highlands of Wardak province – which along with Nangarhar is one of the top opium-producing areas in Afghanistan and set to be targeted in the upcoming American-led eradication efforts – a different group of poppy farmers explains other aspects of the trade and the process of smuggling.

Teru and I are visiting friends of his who live in a series of picturesque villages strung out along a stunningly beautiful valley – lush and green at the bottom but hemmed in by huge, dry rocky mountains.

The family we're staying with is fairly prosperous, with some brothers and cousins working in Kabul, others involved in trucking and many others farming the valley's abundantly watered land. We spend most of our time drinking tea, cracking jokes and eating. There's growing political tension around here, so our hosts allow us to take only one hike. Nor do they want too many people to see them wandering around with foreigners.

I ask the farmers here about loans, because debt is said to be one of the ways big traffickers control little farmers. "No, no. The smugglers do not lend money," says a man named Nazir. "Mostly we have to borrow from merchants in the bazaar. You have to come up with your own money." Western experts had told me the smugglers make cash loans that are repaid at 100 percent interest, but in opium instead of cash. The system in Wardak seems to be less onerous, more streamlined, less formalized. And it externalizes risk for the lenders: Farmers purchase on credit from shopkeepers to survive, then repay in cash after payment from smugglers.

"Why would the smugglers want to lend us money? They know we have to grow poppy to survive," says Nazir, sounding like he wishes he could get a cash loan instead of store credit.

"The smugglers who take the opium away have the most dangerous job, you know. They get robbed. The commanders and police can attack them. It's very dangerous," says Nazir. "The worst that happens to farmers is their crops get destroyed. And this year we lost most of our poppy to disease anyway."

Nazir and his cousins say that the smaller smugglers tend to sell their loads to wholesalers, who often work with the authorities and use official vehicles and state-issued travel documents to move their consolidated loads into Iran and Pakistan. But such cover isn't always necessary.

"The border at Chaman, in Pakistan, is wide open," says one of Nazir's cousins. "I've crossed there without talking to anyone. You just drive across."

To turn opium into heroin it must be boiled down with lye to make morphine, then further refined with other chemicals. Western counternarcotics specialists and UN researchers say that Afghan opium has typically been processed into heroin by labs in Pakistan. But with the new opium boom, these labs are said to be moving into Afghanistan, making the smuggling operations more efficient and profitable. The guys in Wardak say there are some small labs in the area around their group of villages.

"Some young people smoke heroin, about 100 of them around here. That's a big problem for us," says a man named Hazrad. He speaks English, which most of his cousins can't understand too well. "They dip cigarettes in it and just smoke it. Some of them steal to get money." When I ask how the community is dealing with this he grows reticent and uncomfortable.

According to the farmers, the route into Pakistan seems to rely heavily on concealment within other commodities like wheat and rice or in fuel tankers, and the official border crossing is used. Smuggling into Iran is usually done with long, well-armed convoys of trucks or camels that try to avoid, or if necessary outgun, any Iranian border police they might meet. Violent clashes are routine, and Tehran reports that it has lost 3,100 security personnel over the past two decades in battles with well-armed and -organized smugglers on the Afghan border. Almost 200 soldiers and 800 traffickers were killed in 2003 alone.

When I ask about U.S. plans to target Wardak in the spring of 2005, Nazir and the others grow concerned. "We have many former Taliban and mujahedeen commanders here who are getting angry at America because of what is happening in Palestine and Iraq and because the economy here is no good," says Nazir. "Cutting down poppy will only make them more angry." Already violence is on the rise in Wardak. People who work with the occupying forces are starting to be targeted by unknown assassins.

If poppy eradication threatens instability in Afghanistan, why is the United States now stepping up its war on drugs? Officially, the counternarcotics wonks in Kabul give all the right ethical arguments: Poppy is an evil fueling everything from Islamic terrorism to the spread of HIV.

But the poppy revival has also been clearly linked to a decline in rural indebtedness and an improvement in the status and standard of living of many women. Because opium harvesting is both labor-intensive and lucrative, it provides economic opportunities for Afghan women, many of whom either cultivate poppy on their own land or work as relatively well-compensated wage laborers in the fields of others. The average wage for gathering opium can be as high as $7 a day. In Kabul a day laborer who works on a construction site or hauls goods can expect to make only $3 a day.

And the practice of turning a blind eye to the opium industry has functioned as a de facto development strategy in Afghanistan: It is probable that ordinary Afghans receive more income from drugs than they do from all the international aid they receive.

But across the planet in Washington, Afghanistan's poppy crop is viewed through the lens of reactionary moralism and domestic political theater rather than imperial pragmatism. And now powerful politicians want a better Afghan drug war.

The first demands came in 2003, when Republican Rep. Henry Hyde sent a high-profile letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressing his "growing concern about Afghanistan and the impact of illicit drugs on the fight against global terrorism."

This plea seemed to bear fruit. On a surprise visit to Kabul in August 2004, Rumsfeld singled out drugs as a problem "too serious to be ignored." In turn, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he expected "some broadening" of the U.S.-led coalition's military efforts against poppy.

A Western official in Kabul told me that the United States was indeed ramping up its war on drugs and building a "pretty full partnership with the UK and Afghan government." He said that economic aid of between $30 million and $40 million had already arrived and would soon be invested in antipoppy economic development, or "the alternative livelihoods program." This scheme will involve creating cold storage facilities, communications links and improved roads, all with the aim of connecting traditional crops such as apples and raisins to world markets. But even the program's proponents admit that "nothing will replace opium." This bit of carrot will then be followed by the stick: an aggressive campaign of crop eradication to begin in February.

"In 2005 eradication will be considerably more robust. At least five times as much poppy will be cut down as compared to last year," said the official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

But to destroy the flowers is to destroy the lives of poor farmers. If wide and aggressive, such an assault could lead to a new jihad. Some observers have even credited the quick fall of the Taliban to the former regime's unpopular ban on poppy cultivation, a policy that left them with very few allies once the U.S. bombs began falling.

Further complicating any real war on drugs would be the international community's open alliance with Afghanistan's mujahedeen warlords, or jangsalaran, many of whom might turn on the occupation if their sub rosa economic activities are attacked. As one U.S. soldier in Kandahar explained to the English Independent, "We start taking out drug guys, and they will start taking out our guys." The security chief in Nangarhar, Hazrat Ali, a U.S. ally, is said to be heavily involved in the drug trade. And now American officials have started to threaten him. "One day, he will wake up and find out he's out of business," Col. David Lamm, chief of staff for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said of Hazrat Ali in a recent press interview. If Hazrat Ali is targeted, it's unlikely that he'll go quietly.

Back in Wardak the impending war on poppy is viewed by the Muslim farmers as hypocritical and cruel. Just before we take leave of Nazir and his cousins, he asks me: "Why does America allow people to sell alcohol but not heroin? What is the difference? At least in Islam both are haram."

Fables of Reconstruction

As we speed down the Tigris River under a brilliant sun in a fiberglass skiff, Iraq almost seems like Vacationland – but only for a moment. Soon we're dodging the half-submerged barges and ferries sunk in last year's bombing. Then two Black Hawk helicopters dash low overhead, their menacing door gunners fully visible.

Farther on, there are more bad signs. A strange column of dark smoke rises from a lush palm grove. And suddenly, huge nauseating plumes of raw sewage spill from pipes at Baghdad's southern edge.

Not far from these fetid torrents are several major water-intake stations and a handful of fishermen setting long gill nets from wooden boats. Several of the fishermen, their vessels tucked in the shade of reed patches waiting for the nets to fill, say the catch is in decline. "Sometimes the fish tastes and smells like sewage," explains one. Downriver, millions of people in cities like Basra draw their water from the Tigris.

The sorry state of this river is just one piece of Iraq's failed reconstruction. Throughout the country, vital systems, from water and power to healthcare and education, are in woeful disrepair. The World Bank estimates that bringing Iraq back to its 1991 level of development will cost $55 billion and take at least four years.

In the past seventeen months, US taxpayers have set aside a total of $24 billion to rebuild Iraq. Most of that sum has not been spent, though billions of dollars of poorly accounted for Iraqi oil revenues have been expended, or at least allocated to foreign (mostly American) contractors.

Humanitarians see reconstruction as a moral obligation: a form of reparations for two US-led wars and thirteen years of brutal sanctions. From a military standpoint, reconstruction is central to the US counterinsurgency effort. The occupation's star officers, like Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, readily acknowledge that a broken economy means more violence. But seen up close, reconstruction in Iraq looks less like a mission of mercy or a sophisticated pacification program and more like a criminal racket.

At the Rustimiyah South sewage-treatment plant, all is quiet except for a few mourning doves in the eucalyptus trees and a handful of Iraqi construction workers building a brick shed to house a new generator. This plant and its sister facility, Rustimiyah North, have been sitting dry – waiting for Bechtel, the largest US construction company and one of the lead contractors in occupied Iraq.

As soon as Baghdad fell, Bechtel was in Iraq making deals with USAID, the government agency tasked with overseeing reconstruction. In total, the firm now has more than $2.8 billion in Iraq reconstruction jobs. As the "primary" contractor on much of Iraq's water system, as well as key parts of its power grid and some of the healthcare infrastructure, Bechtel's responsibilities are quite broad. Its initial April 2003 contract stated:

The contractor will commence repairs of water infrastructure in 10 urban areas within the first month. Within the first 6 months the contractor will repair or rehabilitate critical water treatment, pumping and distribution systems in 15 urban areas. Within 12 months potable water supply will be restored in all urban centers, by the end of the program approximately 45 urban water systems will be repaired and put in good operational condition, and environmentally sound solid waste disposal will be established.

None of those deadlines has been met – but luckily Bechtel's contracts are indemnified with loophole phrases like "depending on the availability of equipment."

The Rustimiyah sewage plants are among the few facilities given explicit mention as priority projects in Bechtel's contract-related documents. Together the two plants should handle all the sewage from Baghdad's populous east side, known as Rusafa; before the war the plants were fully functional but working beyond capacity. During the invasion they were knocked out by fighting and were then further damaged by looting. The sister plants haven't processed any sewage since April 2003.

Now their daily flow of 780,000 cubic yards of human and industrial waste – a nasty cocktail of organic solids, heavy metals and poisonous chemicals from a battery factory, a soap factory, an electronics plant and other light industry – goes directly into the Diyala River, which joins the Tigris seven miles southwest of the plants. A third plant, farther north, has just started up again, but it is working at only about 20 percent capacity.

Rustimiyah South's director is Riyidh Numan, a hospitable and reflective engineer in his early 30s working for the Baghdad Sewage Authority. Since Bechtel took over a year ago, his job has mostly consisted of sitting around and waiting for the foreign contractors to execute the repairs. Numan says the first thing Bechtel did when it showed up was to start painting buildings. He demanded that they stop and switch to repairing the plant's primary functions. Since then work has been slow, and all Numan can do is complain to the Baghdad Sewage Authority, which in turn dispatches impotent letters to Bechtel.

On a tour of the wrecked plant, we stroll past the empty desiccation beds and the empty settlement and de-greasing tanks and then descend three stories below ground into the plant's guts. In a dimly lit, cavernous pit lined with massive pipes and VW-bug-sized German pumps, Numan speaks more freely.

"Bechtel got angry at me when I talked to Azzaman," he says, referring to a major Iraqi newspaper. "We were supposed to be back on line in June, then September. Now it's January. Every day we send untreated sewage into the river, thousands of people downstream become sick." He pauses. "This work is more important than schools. It's more important than hospitals. This is about preventing problems."

Will Rustimiyah South be on line by New Year's? For a moment it seems like Numan won't answer the question, then, looking in the pit below, he says, "No, this will not get done. The parts aren't even here yet." Asked about these problems, Bechtel spokesman Francis Canavan acknowledged the regrettable delays in the sewage rehab work but attributed them to the complicated nature of the task: Many old machines have to be custom rebuilt in Europe. And then there is the abysmal security. Looting and ambushes on all the main highways have held up the arrival of crucial parts.

But Iraqi engineers and engineering professors I interviewed at water-treatment plants and power stations and at Baghdad University all claim that the work could be going much faster if the "accumulated knowledge" of Iraqi engineers were put to better use.

"These systems, their repairs, they are not all on some blueprint somewhere," says Gazwan Muktar, a rather intense, highly intellectual retired electrical engineer. "You need to have the people who spent twenty years running these irrigation canals or power plants to be there. They know the tricks; they know the quirks. But the foreign contracts ignore Iraqis, and as a result they get nowhere!"

Conditions at the other end of the pipe – that is, at Baghdad's seven drinking-water-treatment plants – are also bad. At the Mishrul Magi Al Wahady plant, a crew of about a dozen engineers and technicians wage a quiet struggle to supply 15-20 percent of the city's potable water. Al Wahady first went on line in the early 1950s. Its capacity is now stretched to the limit, and a few miles upstream two sewage-discharge stations contaminate the river, making the plant's job even harder.

The plant needs lots of help. It lacks a forklift to move the huge metal canisters of chlorine gas (which comes from UNICEF, not Bechtel). It lacks emergency medical gear, basic tools and a lab to test its water for biological contamination or excess chlorine. Most treatment plants test their water three times a day, but here a mobile technician takes samples to a lab only three times a week.

The manager, Jabbar Sattar, needs a car – his was shot up by US troops a year ago and now sits on the plant's lawn as a totem to close calls and longevity. To get to the local government offices downtown or check on the plants' riverfront intake pumps, Sattar has to take cabs and use his own money. The plant even needs mundane things like lighting, a bathroom and desks.

"We had big promises from Bechtel, but I only met with them twice," says Sattar. There is one bit of good news: At the beginning of June, the US Army Corps of Engineers started supplying emergency spare parts and tools and helping to refurbish some of the plant's intake pumps down by the river.

The situation is almost identical at several other water-treatment plants I visited. Bechtel and its subcontractors are rarely around; the local managers are kept in the dark about what work is planned; the emergency support (such as supplies of chlorine gas and spare parts) comes from UNICEF, the Red Cross, the Swiss Embassy or various European NGOs and more recently from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Bechtel is never mentioned as providing help.

"Water is very important to life," says Layla Mijbil, deputy manger of the Al Wathba water-treatment plant in north central Baghdad. "And when there is no care for water there is no care for Iraqi life." Bizarrely, Bechtel waves off these complaints with reference to the limits placed on it by USAID's job orders.

"We only do work that we have a job order for," explains Bechtel's Canavan. Who generates these job orders? USAID. And how does USAID make these decisions? "We submit the job orders to them for approval," says Canavan. It still seems that Bechtel simply gets to decide on its own how much work it will, or will not, do for $2.8 billion of US taxpayers' money. Canavan doesn't like this suggestion and says I am visiting the wrong places. I should go to the Sharkh Dijlah treatment plant, formally known as the Saba Nissan plant, or Seventh of April (named for an old Baathist holiday).

"We are doing a major expansion on that facility, says Canavan. All the equipment is brand-new. It's a major investment which will really help Baghdad."

As at most job sites, getting in requires five signatures from various Iraqi bureaucracies. When I finally get to the Sharkh Dijlah, just north of Baghdad, there is indeed construction under way, but no workers around. Bechtel has just sent out a warning about guerrilla attacks, and the night before some mortars landed in a village just outside the plant.

The Sharkh Dijlah expansion will increase the plant's potable outflow from 120 million gallons a day to 170 million. But on closer examination, the work is not as impressive as it seems. First of all, Bechtel's initial completion date was this summer, but by early July the work was far from done. And a second expansion has been canceled.

This project is not solely the work of Bechtel. The extension was started several years ago by the Iraqi government and a Greek construction firm. When Bechtel arrived, the designs were complete, 75 percent of the extension's parts were already delivered and paid for, and about 20 percent of the civil engineering was done.

Bechtel spent four months studying the plans, then announced they were adequate, kicked out the Greek firm, took over the project and allowed some of the original Iraqi subcontractors to continue their work. Bechtel was, according to its own paperwork, also supposed to assist in refurbishing and supplying the already existing parts of Sharkh Dijlah. The Iraqi engineers here say they instead rely on the local water department and some aid from the UN.

Progress in rehabilitating the electrical grid is also in limbo. At the Al Daura power plant, Baghdad's main source of electricity, Bechtel's main subcontractors, Siemens and General Electric, fled after four Russian contractors were assassinated, according to sources at the plant. Nationally, output was to have reached 6,500 megawatts per day by now but is stalled at 4,500 megawatts. Schools listed as fully rebuilt are in fact flooded with sewage and lack desks, but are often freshly painted. Health clinics listed as fixed are dilapidated, low on supplies and short on water and electricity. When I interviewed the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Amer Al-Khuzaie, he claimed not to even know the name of the US firm that has the contract to supply his ministry with medicine. Everywhere one looks, the reconstruction effort is marked by chaos, corruption and incompetence.

One problem is that most of the promised American financial help hasn't materialized. Of the $24 billion in US tax money set aside to rebuild Iraq, only $5.3 billion had been allocated to specific reconstruction contracts as of late June 2004. According to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget, of the $18.4 billion reconstruction honey-pot approved last fall only $366 million had been spent by late June – that is, invested in Iraq. Instead of creating 250,000 jobs for Iraqis, as was the original goal, at most 24,000 local workers have been hired.

Most amazing of all, the OMB report showed that not a single cent of US tax money had been spent on Iraqi healthcare, water treatment or sanitation projects – though $9 million was dithered away on administrative costs of the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority. Most of the little that has been invested in healthcare, water treatment and sanitation has come from Iraqi oil revenues, managed for most of last year by the Development Fund for Iraq, a US controlled successor to the UN-run Oil for Food program. In all, the CPA spent roughly $19 billion of Iraqi oil money – on what exactly is not quite clear.

A recent audit by the accounting firm KPMG on behalf of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) – a UN project to monitor the use of Iraqi oil money – found that four major CPA-awarded contracts were granted (in violation of CPA rules) without competitive bidding. For seven other contracts, which the CPA insisted were awarded via competitive bidding, there is no evidence to back up this claim.

Six other projects were improperly approved by a skeleton crew of the CPA's Program Review Board. Contract approval required the presence of at least 70 percent of that board's voting members, but decisions were frequently made without a quorum. The only Iraqi with voting power on the PRB attended a mere two of the board's forty-three meetings.

In the face of this damning KPMG audit, a CPA spokesperson told the Financial Times that "extraordinary steps" had been taken to make sure "the funds were expended in the interests of the Iraqi people." But a new report by the CPA's inspector general reinforced KPMG's conclusions, documenting extensive corruption and waste in the handling of Iraqi oil money by US officials and private contractors, twenty-seven of whom face criminal investigations.

What does the failure of reconstruction mean for the average Iraqi? The answer is evident in places like the village of Amar Bin Yasser, not far from where the Rustimiyah's untreated sewage hits the Diyala River.

In a palm-frond-and-plywood kiosk by a road, Khalid Salman and his three young nephews sell lamb and mutton. The meat hangs in the shade, greasy and dotted with flies. Beside Salman and the boys are two peaceful sheep, oblivious to the fate awaiting them. Across the road is the river: a thick soup of sewage. Salman explains that since the war, he has been unable to use the river water even for his animals. Instead he has to buy water at ten dinars a liter (less than a penny) from tanker trucks that come down from Baghdad. The price is not high, but neither is Salman's income.

"The farmers here suffer from rashes and disease," says Salman. "To irrigate their fields they sometimes have to stand in this water up to their chests. Many children are sick with some kind of poisoning, and we all have stomach pains." He says the pollution contaminates the local wells and has brought swarms of insects, and because there is so little electricity it is hard to keep the bugs away from the children at night with electric fans. Medical care is meager at the local clinics; there are doctors but no medicine.

His tirade is cut short as a convoy of US tanks rolls by, towed on heavy-duty flatbed trucks. From the turrets, grim-looking soldiers behind .50-caliber machine guns watch the mud huts pass below them. Salman glares at the convoy with hate in his eyes. This is resistance country, and the local base gets mortared regularly. Each tank has a nickname stenciled on its cannon barrel: Fat Bastard, Controlled Rage, Crotch Rocket, Another Tank and Chubby Cowboy.

Farther downriver the situation is the same. In the village of Azhira a woman in a black abaya with blue tattoos on her chin explains how the village is dependent on the tanker trucks and cash for its water. Her husband says all the fish are dead and that the fishermen have no work. They get only three hours of electricity and then are cut off for up to five hours at a time. It is hard to keep food fresh, and the heat only makes it worse.

Outside the village I stop and talk with a squad of GIs whose armored Humvee is tucked beneath a stand of trees along a raised dirty road. Their mission is to guard a bridge over the Diyala and keep tabs on Azhira.

"Everything's pretty mellow," says one of the soldiers. His comrades read magazines in the Humvee or watch the surrounding trees and houses. "Sometimes they take potshots at us from over there." He points to the village. "But when you meet the people, they're not all bad." The GIs are unaware of the water situation or the sewage problem or the real extent of the economic crisis around them. But they are not unsympathetic. "Living near a river of shit – that would definitely suck," says one of them. "No wonder these people are pissed."

Autopsy of a Failed Occupation

Arrogance and incompetence are becoming the signature aspects of U.S. military rule in Iraq. Exhibit A is the siege of Fallujah, where more than 600 hundred have died within the past week.

Let's be perfectly clear about why we are in this bloody situation: The current uprising in both Sunni and Shia areas of Iraq was provoked by L Paul Bremer III, the American proconsul in Baghdad. First, he shut down al Hawza, the small weekly newspaper (circulation 10,000) of Moqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. Then Bremer arrested one of his top aides and announced the imminent arrest of Sadr himself as an "outlaw." When Sadr's followers gathered in protests in Firdos Square, U.S. troops opened fire on them, and then took the battle into their stronghold, the Shia slum of Thawra, or Sadr City.

At the same time, Bremer and the U.S. military vowed spectacular revenge for the brutal killing of four contractors in Fallujah. In retaliation, the Marines laid siege to the town and are now bogged down in bloody fighting on its outskirts.

The truth is that had Bremer and Pentagon's top ground commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez played it cool and not provoked the Shias or attacked Fallujah, Iraq today would probably be limping along in relative peace -- as it has been for the past year.

In January, I spent time in Fallujah, Ramadi, Adamyia and Sadr City -- towns and neighborhoods that are now the battlegrounds in the war between the U.S. and the Iraqi resistance. I've both been embedded with the U.S. Military and interviewed cells of resistance fighters. I was with the 82nd Airborne in Fallujah, when they came under attack in the area that the Marines are now trying to occupy.

Based on these experiences, I have concluded that when it comes to Iraq, America is its own worst enemy.

Don't get me wrong, I never supported this war and I am not trying to offer a better way to colonize Iraq. My analysis is best viewed as an autopsy of a military and political strategy gone terribly awry.

Most Iraqis I met in January were war-weary and hesitant to fight. They were desperate for things like jobs, electricity and safety -- i.e., real reconstruction. The resistance was, for most of the past year, a loose network of cells mainly capable of hit-and-run attacks. While the Shia and Sunni communities eyed each other with increasing suspicion, Iraqis in general appeared to be patiently enduring the occupation; they were ambivalent toward the resistance, neither supporting nor condemning it. Many Iraqis continued to hope that maintaining the peace would allow them to regain real sovereignty.

Now all that has changed thanks to the arrogant and aggressive U.S. tactics, which are viewed as irrationally cruel by Iraqis.

In Fallujah, the various resistance cells are now engaged in a massive recruiting drive. As they fight the Marines, these insurgents are creating new alliances, reorganizing their efforts and launching a large-scale defense of their city.

As for new recruits, the resistance owes much to the U.S. Marine Corps, which is halting all refugee convoys, allowing the women, children, and elderly to proceed, while turning back all "fighting age" men! It only gives these men greater incentive to head right back into an urban battleground of alleyways, rooftops and side streets, and join the ranks of insurgents who battle to defend the city. In Baghdad, Sunni and Shia are united, praying and fighting together. Shia aid convoys are trying to smuggle food, supplies and men into Fallujah.

Even U.S.-appointed Iraqi leaders like Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, are condemning the Americans. Pachachi has called the siege of Fallujah "unacceptable and illegal." And it takes real effort to alienate the likes of Pachachi.

This new state of affairs is also a result of the absence of any meaningful reconstruction a full year after the invasion. The stalled political and economic efforts are the result of two interconnected factors: the pro-market ideological delusions of Bremer's staff and the wholesale private sector fraud these delusions foster.

To win hearts and minds, America needs to turn on the lights, provide clean water, give people jobs and impose law and order. But hardly any of this has happened because Bush administration-connected firms such as Halliburton and Bechtel have stolen the vast majority of the money allocated for such tasks.

Remember how Halliburton was caught over-billing the military for food and fuel? Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root voluntarily returned millions of dollars while the Pentagon has opened a criminal investigation into the matter. But these scandals are just the tip of the iceberg.

In sum, $11.2 billion in contracts have been awarded in non-competitive bids to U.S. firms. Yet, as journalist and former investment banker Nomi Prins found, no one agency even keeps track of this reconstruction. Instead, "a slew of separate entities" from "the State Department, Treasury Department, multiple Defense Department divisions, and international organizations like the World Bank and United Nations" are all keeping their own books, sort of. "Each is privy to receiving and responsible for disclosing only a subset of information," writes Prins.

One U.S. journalist found that many reconstruction projects that had allegedly been "rebuilt" had in reality barely been touched. One "repaired" school was overflowing with raw sewage. When I visited Ramadi and Fallujah in January, people on both towns were angry about chronic water and electricity shortages. Power plants, telephone exchanges and sewage systems all remain looted and bombed out. According to the NGO CorpWatch, only 10 percent of Halliburton's initial $2.2 billion in contracts has been spent on meeting community needs.

In counterinsurgency efforts past, lack of real reform -- that is lack of real reconstruction -- has forced the military to use increasingly greater levels of terror to ensure compliance. To separate what Mao Zedong called the "fish" of guerilla from the "sea" of the people, counterinsurgency forces use aerial bombardment, defoliation, forced relocation, torture and lots and lots of killing. This was the pattern in Vietnam, El Salvador and Guatemala and is still the case in Colombia.

This hyper-violent "plan B" that is now rearing its ugly head in Fallujah, where AC-130 gunships are being used to concentrate fire into densely packed civilian neighborhoods.

Will this kind of barbarism "work"? Will it "pacify" Iraq and if so, at what cost? For once, it is worth listening to Henry Kissinger, who said of the Vietnam War: "We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process, we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla warfare: The guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win."

Christian Parenti writes regularly for The Nation magazine. His forthcoming book, "The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq" is due out from the New Press Fall 2004.

Al Jazeera Goes to Jail

Salah Hassan looks sad and very tired. The Al Jazeera cameraman, a 33-year-old father of two, is recounting his tale of incarceration in a soft and matter-of-fact tone. Sipping tea in the lobby of the hotel that serves as Al Jazeera's Baghdad bureau, he explains how on November 3 of last year he raced to the site of a roadside bomb attack on a U.S. military convoy in Dialah, near the eastern Iraqi city of Baquba. While he was interviewing people at the scene, U.S. troops who had previously taken photographs of Hassan at other events arrested him, took him to a police station, interrogated him and repeatedly accused the cameraman of knowing in advance about the bomb attack and of lying in wait to get footage. "I told them to review my tapes, that it was clear I had arrived thirty or forty minutes after the blast. They told me I was a liar," says Hassan.

From Baquba, Hassan says he was taken to the military base at Baghdad International Airport, held in a bathroom for two days, then flown hooded and bound to Tikrit. After two more days in another bathroom, he was loaded onto a five-truck convoy of detainees and shipped south to Abu Ghraib, a Saddam-built prison that now serves as the American military's main detention center and holds about 13,000 captives.

Once inside the sprawling prison, Hassan says, he was greeted by U.S. soldiers who sang "Happy Birthday" to him through his tight plastic hood, stripped him naked and addressed him only as "Al Jazeera," "boy" or "bitch." He was forced to stand hooded, bound and naked for eleven hours in the bitter autumn night air; when he fell, soldiers kicked his legs to get him up again. In the morning, Hassan says, he was made to wear a dirty red jumpsuit that was covered with someone else's fresh vomit, and interrogated by two Americans in civilian clothes. They made the usual accusations that Hassan and Al Jazeera were in cahoots with "terrorists."

While most Abu Ghraib prisoners are held in large barracks-like tents in open-air compounds surrounded by razor wire, Hassan says he was locked in a high-security isolation unit of tiny cells. Down the tier from him was an old woman who sobbed incessantly and a mentally deranged 13-year-old girl who would scream and shriek until the American guards released her into the hall, where she would run up and down; exhausted, she would eventually return to her cell voluntarily. Hassan says that all other prisoners in the unit, mostly men, were ordered to remain silent or risk being punished with denial of food, water and light.

Elsewhere in Abu Ghraib, Hassan's colleague Suheib Badr Darwish was also in lockup. He had been arrested in Samarra on November 18 and, according to a colleague of his at Al Jazeera, Darwish was badly beaten by U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, on the outside, the network hired a top-flight lawyer named Hider Nur Al Mulha to start working Hassan's case through Iraq's largely wrecked court system. Eventually Hassan was brought before a panel of the Iraqi Governing Council's freshly minted Federal Supreme Court, which was set up alongside its war crimes tribunal for trying the likes of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen. Salah Hassan, journalist, was the subject of the Court's first hearing. He was released for lack of evidence. After three more days in Abu Ghraib, this time in one of the prison's open-air camps, Hassan, still in his vomit-stained red jumpsuit, was dumped on a street just outside Baghdad on December 18. Darwish was released more than a month later, on January 25, also for lack of evidence.

Military officials did not respond to my requests for a tour of Abu Ghraib, nor were most of my numerous calls and e-mails about the cases of Hassan and Darwish returned. The one military spokesperson who did address relations with Al Jazeera on the record was Lieut. Col. Daniel Williams of the Coalition Joint Task Force 7; his comment was, "Al Jazeera is a welcome guest and professional news organization." As one source at the civilian Coalition Provisional Authority explained, "Anything about Al Jazeera is very sensitive, so any on-the-record comment would have to come from pretty far up in the hierarchy. Only a very senior person can deal with this." But repeated calls to the CPA's senior spokesperson, Dan Senor, produced no response.

Disturbingly, these two cases fit into a larger pattern of U.S. government hostility toward Al Jazeera, provoked by the network's tough reporting on the Iraqi occupation. And this hostility is best viewed in the context of the escalating, multimillion-dollar regional media war between Al Jazeera and the U.S. government.

Donald Rumsfeld has called Al Jazeera's coverage "outrageous" and "inexcusably biased" and implied that he'd like to see the satellite channel thrown out of Iraq. So far the American military has bombed the network's offices in both Baghdad and Kabul, killing one employee; arrested and briefly jailed twenty-one of Al Jazeera's reporters; and now has imprisoned and allegedly abused and humiliated Hassan and Darwish in ways that the UN convention on such matters would consider torture.

At the same time that the U.S. military is harassing Al Jazeera reporters, other parts of the U.S. government, including the State Department, are attempting to answer Al Jazeera in its own language and format. On February 14 the United States launched a nominally independent, U.S.-funded Arabic-language satellite channel called Al Hurra, which means "the free one." The purpose of this effort is to address the lack of popular support for the U.S. occupation in Iraq, as well as the deepening crisis of American legitimacy throughout the Arab world; polls from the region indicate that more and more people hate the United States every day.

Unlike other U.S.-funded forays into Arabic-language media, Al Hurra, with an annual budget of $62 million, could be quite sophisticated and possibly effective in reshaping the beliefs of the politically important and demographically dominant Arab youth scene. The new channel has a stable of proven Arab journalists -- one senior producer is a Palestinian who was poached from Al Jazeera, while the channel's top managers are Lebanese Christians with proven journalistic track records. On the other hand, the channel is based in Virginia, includes Colin Powell on its board of directors and its first broadcast was a pre-recorded interview with George W. Bush -- neither of which bodes well for winning Arab hearts and minds.

Regardless of how well Al Hurra fares, Al Jazeera faces increasing obstacles to its reporting in Iraq as its correspondents are harassed, arrested, abused and killed by U.S. troops.

So far, Al Jazeera's management has kept rather quiet about the cases of Hassan and Darwish. When I interviewed Ceddah Abdelhak, the channel's general manager in Baghdad, he insisted that the channel had publicized the cases, and he was clearly upset about the bad treatment of his staff. But other journalists in Baghdad say that Al Jazeera is under so much pressure from the Americans that its owners in Qatar are afraid the channel could be expelled from Iraq if they push too hard on any issue that upsets the CPA.

This is not an unfounded fear. According to sources that insisted on anonymity, the coalition called the network's managers in Iraq to the Republican Palace in Baghdad for a meeting in late January, at which the CPA's head counsel threatened Al Jazeera with expulsion if the network did not stop "destabilizing the occupation" with its tough reporting and intense editorial criticism. Allegedly, the CPA attorney explained that the coalition needed no legal justification to expel Al Jazeera and implied that U.S. authorities were even pressuring the Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, to rein in Al Jazeera, which, though run independently, is owned by the government of Qatar.

Another Al Jazeera adversary is the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which recently barred the network from covering its sparsely attended meetings. The IGC was much more aggressive with the next most prominent Arabic-language network, Al Arabiya, which it threw out of Iraq for two months beginning in late December of last year. During that suspension, Al Arabiya's equipment was seized and its journalists faced $1,000 fines or possibly a year in prison if they violated the sanction. The network's offense had been "incitement to murder" by playing a taped message from Saddam Hussein, who was then in hiding.

Arabs working for other media outlets have also been harassed by U.S. troops. Mazen Dana of Reuters was shot and killed by an American soldier outside Abu Ghraib prison in August. Then, in January, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Falluja jailed and allegedly beat a three-man Arab-language crew, also from Reuters. The news agency immediately lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. military, charging that its journalists had been abused while in detention. A Reuters freelancer told me that one of the journalists was later hospitalized.

Travel the roads of the so-called Sunni Triangle looking for action, and one can get plenty of comment about Al Jazeera from U.S. troops who are lower down in the ranks. More than once I have met soldiers in the field who respond to requests for interviews or permission to enter their area of operations with, "As long as you're not Al Jazeera." One officer with the 82nd Airborne in Falluja claims that Al Jazeera filmed an attack on his unit in which one of his sergeants was impaled with debris from a bomb and then burned to death in the ensuing fire.

"We knew something was wrong when we saw people with cameras," explained the young lieutenant with a controlled bitterness. "Later my guys said they saw footage of it on Al Jazeera." When I pushed the lieutenant and his soldiers on this point, it was unclear whether the men had actually seen footage of the attack or just of the aftermath, and whether it was even on Al Jazeera.

A few events like this and the hatred for Al Jazeera builds into a slow-burning passion among the grunts. Stories of Al Jazeera's perfidy now circulate among the troops with the tenacity of urban myths. And while Al Jazeera programming includes Western-style fashion shows and mainstream business news, it also gives ample time to the views of anti-American Arab nationalists and political Islamists who hate and excoriate the occupation. Yet as several well-placed sources explained, while the fixers and reporters of Al Jazeera are connected enough and numerous enough that some of them could probably work with the resistance to film attacks as they happen, they do not, both because they fear expulsion and because of explicit orders from the network's highest echelons. Indeed, the coalition has not documented a single instance of an Al Jazeera journalist conspiring in an attack on the occupation.

The pressure on Al Jazeera may be having the desired effect. Average Iraqis increasingly dismiss its news as soft on the occupation. Al Jazeera's general manager himself says the network's coverage is now "more balanced" than it once was, because it gives increased airtime to U.S. claims of steadily increasing peace, progress and prosperity. Al Jazeera's main spokesperson, Jihad Ballout, was more circumspect in his comments on relations with the Americans in Iraq. "This war has been very hard for all of the press to cover. This is to some extent due to the security concern of the U.S., the UK and the Iraqis, but it seems that Al Jazeera has gotten more than its fair share of attention. While we understand the security concerns, we believe the media should have the space to do its mandated job."

Today Hassan is back at work, as is Darwish. Al Jazeera is still in action, and Al Hurra is the public face of America's ideological offensive in the Middle East. Viewed from outside, the media environment in Iraq looks open and fair. But the continual abuse of Arab journalists is the more accurate core sample. Reading this political sediment one sees that the American project in Iraq is made of imperial ambition, not liberty and democracy. More broadly, the intimidation and mistreatment of Al Jazeera by the world's most powerful army should be seen as a threat to press freedom everywhere.

Christian Parenti is the author, most recently, of The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America From Slavery to the War on Terror (Basic) and a fellow at City University of New York's Center for Place, Culture, and Politics.

The Progress of Disaster

BAGHDAD -- The air in Baghdad is potent stuff. Plastic-rich garbage heaps burn in empty lots. Massive diesel generators run round the clock. More than a million vehicles -- old cars, trucks and fuel-guzzling U.S. tanks -- creep through the streets belching fumes. On the horizon, beyond the looted and bombed out office blocks, looming above the low-rise residential sprawl, is a giant smokestack; its massive black plume hangs over the city constantly. Add to this haze the soot of building fires, the stench of sewage, and the ubiquitous dust from countless rubble heaps; then cap and seal the mixture with the 115-degree hostility of a desert sun.

But forget the poisonous air. The really pressing issue in Baghdad is escalating chaos. The 6 million people living here want electricity, water, telecommunications, and security. As of yet they have none of these in sufficient supply. On the ground it seems that this American adventure is spinning out of control. Most Iraqis want peace, but a terrorist war of resistance requires only a small and determined minority.

Here the criminal is king. Saddam emptied the prisons and the United States disbanded the police, while 60 percent of people are unemployed. As a result, carjacking, robbery, looting, and murder are rife. Marauding men in "misery gangs" kidnap and rape women and girls at will. Some of these victims are dumped back on the streets only to be executed by their "disgraced" male relatives in what are called "honor killings."

Many women and girls stay locked inside their homes for weeks at a time. And increasingly those who do venture out wear veils, as the misogynist threats and ravings of the more fundamentalist Shia and Sunni clerics have warned that women who do not wear the hijab should not be protected.

According to the city morgue, there were 470 fatal shootings in July, up from 10 the year before. Not surprisingly, most people in Baghdad are armed and edgy. Under such conditions community solidarity takes on strange forms. Irish peace activist Michael Birmingham, who works with Voices in the Wilderness, witnessed the new vigilantism first hand.

Three carjackers took a vehicle in midday. In response, the crowd on the streets started throwing stones while shopkeepers started firing AK-47s. Before long the crowd had dragged one of the carjackers out onto the street and started beating him. "They were jumping on his head and his chest. I don't think he made it," explains Birmingham in a deadpan Dublin brogue.

As for the American troops -- whom Iraqis call the kuwat al-ihtilal, or forces of occupation -- they are stretched too thin to deal effectively with such crimes. And they have little understanding of Iraqi culture or politics. They are adrift in a sea of unintelligible Arabic, where even the street names are a mystery. At crime scenes they can just as easily arrest the victims as the perpetrators. Their small convoys are under constant assault.

Officially there are, on average, 13 attacks on Coalition Forces in Baghdad every day. Since May 1, when the war "ended," more than 404 U.S. soldiers have been permanently removed from action due to wounds, while more than 60 have been killed.

I relay these numbers to a grunt in the field, a young GI with the First Armored division. He has no clear picture of how the counter-insurgency war is going other than that someone shot at the gate he is guarding a while back and missed. But he's sure of one thing. "Whatever they tell you is a lie. It is bullshit. They're camouflaging."

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Mapping Planet America

What's that shimmering in heat above the Iraqi sands? Is it that fuzzy notion called democracy? No. Is it an oasis of oil profits? Sort of. But look closer and something much greater emerges: a vision of total global supremacy, Planet America.

Indeed this war is about much more than getting at oil. Rather it's part of the ongoing project by American elites to control the entire world by direct and indirect means. More specifically, conquering Iraq is about leveraging the future economic and political directions of the EU and East Asia, particularly China, that region's new economic engine. After the U.S., these are the world's two most important and developed economic regions with massive labor forces, huge markets, high levels of investment, profitable production, advanced technology and developed infrastructures. If you were a multimillionaire rentier chances are the bulk of your loot would be invested in these core economies, not in Africa, Latin America or hinterland Russia.

During the Cold War, Europe and Asia were beholden to the U.S. for protection against Soviet power and regional communist rebellion. But that's all gone now, so how does the U.S. leverage these possible "peer competitors"? The key is oil, or rather American military control and influence over the Persian Gulf and Caspian Basin where most of the world's oil lies and, crucially, where Europe and East Asia get the majority of their petroleum.

Europe imports more than half of its oil mostly from the Middle East and the EU's dependence on foreign petroleum is expected to rise to almost 80 percent by 2020 as North Sea reserves run dry. Economies in Asia are even more dependent: Last year China got almost 60 percent of its oil from the Gulf and its energy consumption is expected to double or triple in the next two decades. Japan has only five month's worth of reserves and 88 percent of its oil is imported from the Gulf.

The American economy, on the other hand, only draws about 11 percent of its total consumption from the Middle East. The bulk of our imports come from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.

Thus, conquering Iraq isn't about putting more Arab oil into American SUVs so much as it is about positioning U.S. military might as the sole security arbiter and global energy cop upon which all advanced economies will be dependent. Controlling the Middle East and its oil gives America massively important political leverage over the EU and East Asia.

As energy gendarme, America will "dissuade" friends and foes alike from, say, imposing trade tariffs, or favoring local national firms over U.S.-based multinationals in contracting; it will help open markets to heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products; it will help line up European and Asian votes when U.S. business elites want to ditch environmental, debt relief, or arms control agreements. It will generally keep the other core economies in the role of junior partners in the Global North's domination of the Global South.

Such imperial visions are evident in the deeds and words of American political leaders dating back to at least the days of Admiral Alfred Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the last century. FDR also thought this way. But only with the death of the U.S.S.R. is the project of Planet America actually feasible. And central to this project is preventing "the rise of a great-power competitor." The two possible candidates for this are an independent EU or, down the line, China. This project of dissuading and leveraging friends is even outlined in various public documents including "Rebuilding America's Defenses," a now-infamous report from the Project for the New American Century, a think-tank with massive influence on the current administration. It is also hinted at in President Bush's published "National Security Strategy of the United States."

In the short term, American control of Iraq (with the second largest oil reserves in the world) will be a boon for U.S. firms like Haliburton, the Carlysle Group and Chevron. It could also break OPEC and drive down oil prices, which in turn could kick off a national or global recovery.

A recovery and relatively clean victory could then help launch Dubya to a second term. But underneath this more immediate level of politics exists the larger project of global supremacy. Clinton too pursued it; only his methods were more multilateral and less overtly aggressive. The Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo interventions were all part of the great game. As was the recent war in Afghanistan which produced a useful string of U.S. bases in Central Asia.

The price of victory in this mad quest is environmental degradation, mass civilian casualties, possible terrorist attacks here, and behemoth deficits to be funded by cutting federal aid to education, transportation and health care. Because this is a sick and unjust war and part of an equally twisted project of empire we must continue to protest and oppose it in all its manifestations, no matter who is president or what seemingly plausible "humanitarian" justification is given for the brutality of running occupied Iraq or launching America's next war.

Christian Parenti is the author of "Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in
the Age of Crisis." His new book, "The Soft Cage: Everyday Surveillance Past
and Present," will be published by Basic Books in Fall 2003.

Why Not Wounded Knee?

Custer may have died for your sins but the way the slaughter went down was entirely his fault. Arrogant, vain and not so bright, Col. George Armstrong Custer started his military career by scoring dead last in his class at West Point and in his ultimate engagement made almost every tactical mistake possible.

So giddy was the buckskin-clad dandy at the prospect of slaughtering a large camp of Northern Cheyenne, Hunkpapa and Ogallala Sioux families that he split his forces into three columns, left his pack train of water and ammo far to the rear and did almost no reconnaissance. As Custer rode off toward his prey a colleague shouted after him: "Don't be greedy."

Instead, the end came fast. Custer soon realized his mistake and, according to recent archeological evidence, quickly allowed his skirmish lines to collapse. The cavaliers, now on foot, bunched up in terrified clumps making even better, more compact targets for the waves of furious and vengeful Indian warriors. Mounted and on foot, Indians rushed up from the banks of the Greasy Grass River where they were camped, swept over the invaders and destroyed them.

After all, these were the men who would ruin a whole way of life; the beasts who wore the skin of dead Indian women's vaginas as hatbands. And so, the battle of Little Big Horn ended with 260 troopers of the Seventh Cavalry annihilated, their corpses strewn along a five-mile stretch of rolling ridge tops. Among the bodies was Custer's little brother Boston, who (though technically a civilian) had come out for some riding, killing, raping and fresh air. An estimated 40 Indians also fell in the fight.

History Clean

For a full account of this, the ultimate piece of payback in American history, one can read any number of books or if you're driving through South Dakota on Interstate 90 tour the extensive, well-groomed and lavishly detailed National Monument at Little Big Horn.

Just north of the highway, this site is "living history" but of the highly mediated, politically neutered variety. The field of battle is accessed by a walking path in the valley near the river, and a blacktop road along the ridge. The road is fitted with over 20 pullouts and viewing stations, each offering up an illustrated and text-rich placard mapping and narrating the experiences of the Seventh Cavalry on July 21, 1876.

The monument also sports a graveyard of American veterans from foreign wars, a gift shop, bathrooms, bus tours and very vigilant post-9/11 security in the parking lot. By the looks of it, this is a favored stop for plump middle-class American ramblers and RV retirees.

At the visitors' center I find a ramrod-straight former military park ranger in his 60s giving a long, meandering lecture to an entirely white audience seated in half-opened faux teepees. He paints a picture of something like a football game in which "our Native Americans" who were "camped just south of where your cars are now parked" did well. Any culpability is lost in a swamp of passive construction: "Conflict existed." "The Native American way of life was receding." And quite crucially, Custer was the underdog that day and his defeat subtextually inverts reality, casting America as victim.

The ranger's tone, like that of the viewing station texts, is not overtly offensive or backward. Custer is not portrayed as Errol Flynn, brave and valiant, putting down savagery in the service of civilization. That sort of off-the-hook bigotry would almost be refreshing, or at least entertaining. Instead, the Little Big Horn monument is imbued with a creepy and polite sterility. The language and images have all been updated for a post-‘60s, "multicultural" America, but in the most technocratic I'm-OK-you're-OK sort of way.

This is perhaps best summed up in that we are told Custer was going to attack the village but never told what he would do there. Answer: massacre sleeping and unarmed Indians just as he had done against Black Kettle's already beaten Cheyenne on the banks of the Washita in the winter of 1868. At the obelisk bearing the names of the dead troopers and marking the last stand, I unwrap a sandwich and sit on the edge of a mound marked "mass grave stay off." Fuck Custer and the PBS-style pap Americana he inspires.

But before I can take my first bite, I get definitely hostile vibes from a VFW type who, with camera bouncing on belly, strolls back to his mammoth SUV. Under his glare I feel as if I've wandered into some sort of outdoor Aryan church.

History Dirty

There are other monuments in the area and to really understand the show at Little Big Horn -- or to "complete the text" -- travel south along the semi-paved Bureau of Indian Affairs maintained Route 44. Skirt the lunar-like terrain of the Badlands and visit the Pine Ridge reservation, America's poorest county where 52 percent of people live below the federal poverty line.

There, hard-looking young men sporting prison tattoos and wide red headbands nod hospitably as you stroll past. There's a flea market on weekends, a sad supermarket, a gas station and some government housing. In many ways it feels like a town in northern Mexico.

Next, travel on to the little hamlet of Wounded Knee. Here in 1890 the same Seventh Cavalry, so thoroughly mauled at the Little Big Horn, got its revenge. But the funny thing is -- there isn't much of a memorial. Here's why: By 1890 the Sioux had been subjected to the minimum-security prison and constant humiliation of the reservation. Prohibited from leaving, they were watched over by government agents and armed guards. The buffalo, basis of the old life, were almost extinct: 30 million wiped out in two decades.

Intensely loyal, buffalo form defensive circles around any one of their numbers that are wounded. This made them extremely easy to kill for the professional hide hunters who rode and shot from flatbed rail cars. Life on the res, always hard, was made even worse by the Allotment, or Dawes, Act of 1887, which mandated that collective lands be divided into private lots. These "enclosures" facilitated further white encroachment and indigenous deracination. To force recalcitrant natives to sell, the Bureau of Indian Affairs started cutting rations of flour and dried beef. To top it all off, 1890 brought drought and crop failure; Indian children began to die of hunger; influenza, measles and whooping cough swept the reservation. And finally, some Lakota slipped into a collective madness.

Amidst the apocalypse arose a Piaute shaman named Wovoka, who preached a millenarian set of hybrid Christian and traditional nostrums. He promised the return of the old ways, the return of the buffalo and the magical disappearance of the white invaders. His followers were to live peacefully, not drink, not fight but instead pray and dance in massive circles.

As protection from the soldiers' possible aggression, Wovoka's followers wore white shirts decorated with symbols and drawings of the old life. The shirts were to make the people impervious to bullets -- and if enough people believed and danced and prayed the ghosts of the forefathers world return, led by Jesus Christ, to usher in the past. The huge and desperate gatherings were called "Ghost Dances."

The agents in charge of the reservation feared that the new cult might embolden believers into rebellion. So in December 1890, general Nielsen Miles sent out 5,000 troops, including the Seventh Cavalry. Among the Seventh's planned operations was the mass arrest of hundreds of ghost dancers who were camping and dancing near Wounded Knee.

As the band, led by Chief Big Foot, was being rounded up and searched for weapons, the soldiers opened fire with rifles and grenade-launching Hotchkiss guns. Some ghost dancers managed to fight back with the few guns they had, but most were simply slaughtered. As the killing began, a driving snowstorm enveloped the valley. Through the blizzard the Seventh hunted down the fleeing Indians, cornering and killing unarmed women, children and old people in windswept gullies as far as two miles from the main camp. When it was all over, some 250 Sioux lay dead. Twenty-five blue coats also perished, mostly from the chaotic crossfire. The regiment received 20 Congressional Medals of Honor for its actions.

Better Not To Remember

Today the village of Wounded Knee is a dense cluster of government issued two-story buildings -- a prairie housing project. Just outside the villages are three kiosks made of dead saplings alongside a metal sign, which once described the "Battle of Wounded Knee," but in a strange palimpsest now has a metal sheet reading "Massacre" bolted over the word "Battle."

"Right here, this is where the massacre was," says a laconic and weather-beaten young Lakota man named John. He and a buddy are making dream catchers to sell to the few tourists who trickle by. "You can go up there to the mass grave, just drive up that road it loops around like a big tear drop." I mean to ask questions but the journalistic impulse drains away.

At the top of the hill above the massacre site lays the mass grave: a ragged little plot with a short granite obelisk listing the names of the dead. Just off from the grave sits a new church, on the site of the same church that American Indian Movement activists occupied during a 71-day armed standoff against the FBI in 1973. AIM had been demanding a return of the Black Hills, illegally seized by means of a few irrelevant signatures, in contravention of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which states that only a two-thirds vote of the entire Sioux nation could cede any more land to the U.S.

As I stand dumbly looking at the mass grave and the few little offerings tied to the fence around it, two young Sioux women stroll over the hill and past toward the village, never glancing over.

Empire Goes Better With Myth

The massacre, the cheap federal housing, the raggedy graveyard, the quiet pride and nonchalance of the young Indians in Tupac T-shirts and Wranglers; the contrast between the terror of the past, the tenacity of people here now; and the ubiquitous silent politics of the landscape all against the mental backdrop of the lavish, heavily policed, RV-centric celebration at the Little Big Horn are almost overwhelming. Here you really see it: America as disease.

Indian people live in poverty yet sit on some of the most valuable land in the U.S. According to Native American scholar Ward Churchill, Indians -- whose reservations control 2.5 percent of the nation's land mass, but whose treaties give them right to one-third of the lower 48 -- are per-capita some of the most mineral- and land-rich people on the planet. Too much attention to Indians as victims, or to Indians as living people still here demanding their rights and property, could cause problems for the uranium, oil, coal and natural gas industries, which operate in large part on treaty land.

No wonder Wounded Knee lacks a federally funded park, with a walking path and placards illustrating the spot where Chief Big Foot bled into the snow. No wonder there have been no big archeological excavations with forensic analysis using the latest technology to match specific slugs to specific rifles and thus reconstruct the movements of individual troopers during the massacre, as has been done at Little Big Horn. No doubt the VFW types and the retired cop I chatted with at Little Big Horn might find a Wounded Knee monument harder to digest. If America were portrayed as thief and thug in the past might not schoolchildren ask awkward questions about the present?

Christian Parenti teaches at the New College of California, in San Francisco. His writing has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times and The Christian Science Monitor. He is the author of "Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis."

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