Ian Williams

Why Did Richard Goldstone Offer a Pseudo-Retraction of the Goldstone Report?

spoke to Richard Goldstone several times after his eponymous Report came out, and it was obvious that the personal slander and vilification from so many in his own community was wearing him down. He was certainly naive and did not expect the excreta storm that would head his way.

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Mythical Black Helicopters Return as Right-Wingers Attack UN

The UN’s mythical black helicopters are back. The triumphant, reality-challenged new Republican majority in the House of Representatives imagine that they are flying in formation up the Potomac in a bid to take over the United States.

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Obama and Israel

On January 5 John Bolton, the former unconfirmed U.S. envoy to the United Nations, advocated in The Washington Post a "three-state solution" to the Palestinian problem. This "solution" involved returning Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan because the Palestinian state has manifestly failed.

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Slaughtering Whales in the Name of Science?

Ceticide is silly, as well as not very nice.

I was addressing freshmen politics students at Paterson University about the British elections on the day that Tony Blair was first elected. "Could you tell them about Scotland and Wales?" the professor asked. A large and hitherto comatose football player in the front row suddenly raised his head from the desk and asked: "You mean, like Moby Dick?" Whales 'R Us for a whole generation.

Whales are clever and cuddly, and they sing. They even have names like Willy. Like eating dogs and horses, harpooning whales appalls the anthropomorphically inclined, a point realized by the Japanese who have responded to the recent Australian court ruling against Japanese whaling in the Antarctic by pointing out the relish with which their prosecutors eat kangaroo.

If the Japanese were to get up and say outright, "We actually like whale meat, we think it's yummy and we are going to chomp our way through it regardless of your anthropomorphic delusions," you could almost respect them. But they don't. They waffle on about scientific research while going through whales as if they were white mice in a laboratory.

As a born-again carnivore, when I chomp through a filet mignon, I don't pretend that it is byproduct of tissue sampling for "scientific research" unless gastronomy has moved recently from being an art to a science.

The Norwegians make no such pretense. These cozy Nordic social democrats and suppliers of U.N. peacekeepers, take as many whales as the Japanese and blithely admit that they are doing it for food. Of course, they are European, were on the right side in the last war and hunt in their own waters, so somehow Greenpeace leaves them alone. It may help that they take less than their own declared quota because demand for it is so low, but is cooking whale meat and eating it with knives and forks really any better than nibbling raw slivers on the end of chopsticks?

Japan sends heavily subsidized ships on long voyages to the opposite pole and then tries to flog the flensed carcasses back home to a generally indifferent public. There are freezers full of whale meat because they can't sell all the by-product of their "research" even to captive audiences like school lunch programs.

Added to the hidden subsidies are the untold millions in bribes -- sorry, aid -- that goes to small developing-world countries to join the International Whaling Commission and vote along with the ceticidal Japanese.

At one time, as I remember, it was widely alleged that the steak in British steak and kidney pies of the kind sold in fish and chip shops was in fact whale steak, so I have probably eaten some myself.

But there are differences. Many of the great whales were and still are endangered species, and we have the example of Atlantic cod to show what happens when a species falls below a threshold value. They are also remarkably intelligent and more cogently, there is no humane way to kill a Leviathan. Their dying is long and direful. That is why Tokyo got testy when the new Australian government released its official pictures of the beginning of the bloody trail to Japan's restaurant tables.

But the biggest sin of the Japanese government is hypocrisy. Real scientists use neither harpoons nor chopsticks to do biopsies and autopsies.

I eagerly await the government of Japan's announcement that it is setting up a Sashimi Research Council. Its purpose will be to kill lots of whales to investigate the possibility that whale sushi will combat global warming. After all, sashimi saves enormous amounts of carbon output because it does not involve cooking.

However, it would be every bit as blubbery an excuse as the research the Japanese whaling fleet is allegedly conducting, which is simply pandering to a small but very vocal industry than evokes atavistic national pride to keep the yen rolling in. Of course, Japan is not the only country where small lobbies have disproportionate power regardless of international opinion, but does the government really have to put so much effort into it? Can't they promise the whaling ports a bullet train line to bring whale-watching tourists instead?

Tragedy After Tragedy in Lebanon

In the Middle East, it just gets more tragic each time. The Israeli leadership seems determined to repeat every mistake it has made in the past, regardless of the cost to its own people, let alone the leaders, and let alone the rest of the world.

All its previous invasions of Lebanon have led to a strengthened Hezbollah, and according to a Zogby poll, last year even before the invasion, Syria was more popular in Lebanon than the United States. (Israel had zero support from any Lebanese, even the Maronites who look to the "Christian" United States to back them.)

Consider the implications of their arrogance: With the exception of Tony 'Yo' Blair, who is beleaguered by a cabinet revolt disavowing his shameful policy of disappearing up Bush's rectum on the issue, every country in the world wants an immediate ceasefire.

Israel's chutzpah in announcing world-backing for its invasion when the United States effectively vetoed everybody else in Rome, was too much even for the United States, which repudiated it quickly, but one may add quite mendaciously, since it is quite clear the Bush administration is indeed encouraging Olmert in his folly. When Qana again became the focus of IDF barbarism, even Condoleezza Rice insisted on and got a 48-hour halt to the Israeli air assault.

But the woman has no pride. Did she not notice that the so-called halt still allowed Israeli operations in support of ground offensives and retaliation against alleged Hezbollah rocket launch sites? Since that is the excuse that Israel has used for most of its bombing of civilian targets, one wonders whether Rice realized that they were making a fool of her.

And then, in New York, Sen. Charles Schumer announced that he was considering supporting the confirmation of John Bolton -- because he was a strong supporter of Israel. Excuse me, but the last I heard, Bolton's position was ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. Israel has its own vociferous representative at the United Nations. Can you imagine a legislator announcing support for a U.S. ambassador because he was a strong supporter of say, Mexico or Britain?

But of course Schumer is entirely correct in his diagnosis. Bolton, presumably with the full support of the White House, has not only sat on resolutions calling for a ceasefire, he has managed to stonewall and then attenuate a resolution condemning the bombing attack on the U.N. camp at Khiyam, which killed four U.N. observers. Whatever happened to resolution 1502, passed unanimously in the wake of the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, declaring attacks on U.N. personnel on mission to be a war crime?

At a time when most countries of the world are trying to pull together some type of peacekeeping force for the border, the message that the United States sends is that contributors can expect that their soldiers can expect no support whatsoever in the event of a murderous Israeli attack.

The Israeli leadership seems conflicted. On the one hand, it is admitting that it conceived its grand plan with false intelligence (does this sound familiar?), and have met far more opposition and paid a far higher cost than it expected.

So it is poised. Either it follows the neocon plan of digging itself deeper into the hole it has made, and continue its assault, sending in more troops, or it looks for a face-saving multinational force.

The fig leaf for the multinational force would be the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty, symbolized by the disarmament of the militias called for in resolution 1559. But if the sovereign Lebanese government does not want to disarm Hezbollah, how does the international community enhance its sovereignty by forcing it to do something that a majority of the Lebanese, according to the Zogby poll, does not want?

But apart from pulling the Israeli chestnuts out of the fire, what would a U.N. or multinational force achieve? On the current basis, little or nothing. If it robustly defended the border area against Hezbollah, which does after all have the support of most of the people living there, it will be getting the attention that has driven Israel out.

The only way it would have local credibility would be if it tried to resist Israeli incursions into Lebanon, which are in fact much frequent than those going the other way. It can count on zero backing from the United States and, at present, from the United Kingdom.

A payoff that may persuade the Lebanese and Hezbollah could be the handover of the Shaba farms area to Lebanon or to the force. The question here, certainly not helped by Damascus' reticence about Lebanese borders in general is whether the Israelis are occupying Syrian or Lebanese territory. One thing is sure, these are not Israeli territories. In fact they come, like the Golan and the Palestinian territories, under resolution 242, long outstanding, which says the Israelis should get out of them anyway. It would certainly be anomalous to have a U.N. force enforcing Israeli control of annexed territories.

But that returns us to first principles. A Middle East peace does not depend on resolution 1559, which barely scraped by, but on 242, and it is clear that involves pressure on the Israeli government, financial, logistical and diplomatic. With significant portions of the Democratic Party seeming to agree with the White House that they will give Israel unqualified support no matter what it does, no matter how unspeakable, the situation does not look very hopeful.

But at least the other members of the Security Council should be making it plain that there will be no concessions to U.S. polices on Iran, Korea or anywhere else until the United States shows signs of recognizing that international law applies to itself and Israel, as well to others. If they agree to a multinational force, then they should get cast-iron guarantees from NATO and the United States on protection for the force -- including anti-aircraft capability.

And for a ray of hope, here is another ad from Gush Shalom in the Israeli paper Haaretz:

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Still No Mission Accomplished

On May Day next week, along with the more traditional observances of spring and socialism, we should pause to contemplate the anniversary of Bush's famous triumphalist landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln under the banner "Mission Accomplished."

Even three years after his hubristic landing and over 2,300 Americans and 100 or so British 6 feet under, and almost 18,000 wounded, no one has yet produced a coherent and convincing reason for the invasion of Iraq. The leader of a previous global empire, Lord Palmerston, said that only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein problem: One of them was deceased, the other deranged, while he himself had forgotten it. When future historians come to consider the mystery of why the Iraq war happened, it is possible that George W. Bush may come up with a similar response -- albeit, one suspects, without the mordant wit.

I always regarded the blood oil hypothesis as somewhat simplistic, despite the Bush dynasty's Texan connections to the oil industry. As oil hit $75 a barrel this week, risking Republican control of Congress in the midterm elections, even after pausing to consider the recent $400 million retirement package for the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, surely no one can believe that the administration intended such a mammoth global energy balls-up.

Breaking the law to enforce it does not really ring as a slogan. Kofi Annan quite rightly pointed out that the invasion was against international law. Although Iraq was indeed in breach of international law by refusing admittance to U.N. weapons inspectors, it is worthwhile remembering that the occupiers have still not readmitted those inspectors even though the U.N. resolutions mandating cooperation with their work are still on the books. All the evidence suggests that Iraqi WMD's were an excuse, not a cause, for the invasion.

Then there is the human rights excuse. While Saddam Hussein was indeed tyrant, he had been at his blood-thirstiest while he was a favored ally of London and Washington. And any demand for historical justice should be set in the context of complete inaction over East Timor in the past, or indeed relative sloth over Darfur now.

It is certainly true that Israel itself and its U.S. lobby, AIPAC, were pushing for war on Iraq, as indeed they are now against Iran. Ironically, while pro-Israeli pundits have lambasted the authors of a recent report on the Lobby for their "anti-Semitic" chutzpah in saying this, AIPAC's own website claims corralling Saddam Hussein as one its major aims and achievements. However, while AIPAC certainly helped create a favorable climate for the invasion of Iraq, there is no way that it could have forced such costly military action simply because it was good for Israel.

One of the reasons for the success of AIPAC and some other strongly supported foreign policy lobbies, like the Cuban exiles, is that few of the players in Congress or the voting booths have a direct interest in foreign policy, and even fewer could give a tinker's cuss for the opinions of the rest of world if they are not reflected in campaign checks or votes.

In the case of Iraq, the Lobby was rowing with the current in the administration. The professional military had been ousted from the Pentagon by bellicose ideologues, and the White House was in a preemptive mode.

This leaves unanswered the question of why so many in the administration wanted a war. Even if Cheney and assorted NeoCons whispering in the presidential ear that Saddam Hussein was an Arab, and so was Bin Laden, therefore Baghdad must have been behind Sept. 11, could George W. Bush really be that stupid? Could he have been taken in by Karl Rove's handiwork in conflating the war on terror with war against Iraq?

Well, yes. But perhaps not in this case. Once again, this was an excuse, not a cause. Iraq was a preexisting obsession waiting for the World Trade Center to happen.

If we were to ask Bush the Palmerston question about the causes of the "Iraqi question," we know he is not deceased. That still leaves unanswered whether he is deranged, or has forgotten quite why we are at war.

Unlike President Reagan, he has no signs of Alzheimer's so we are left with the hypothesis that, if not exactly clinically deranged, the president is, as the phrase from the previous empire had it, not quite sixteen annas to the rupee. Sadly, it seems most likely over 2,300 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died to exorcise George W. Bush's (deeply deserved) feelings of personal inadequacy. His father left school at 18 to fight, bravely, in World War II. Bush Jr. pulled every nepotistic string he had to get into the Texas Air National Guard in order to dodge the Vietnam War -- and deserted before completing his term of service.

Since then he has worn unmerited quasi-military garb on his frequent visits to military bases and in every way behaved like the wannabe military equivalent of a cowboy on a dude ranch. And a year after Sept. 11, he told Texan Republicans about Saddam Hussein, "That man tried to kill my dad." It may not be a totally convincing explanation, but it makes more sense than some of the others. In the end, of course, like the war itself, it makes no sense at all.

Justice After Milosevic

Among the few signs of human progress in the 21st century is Gen. Pinochet's prosecution in Chile, the fact that Henry Kissinger has to check with his lawyers as well as his travel agent before flying outside the United States, and that Ariel Sharon had to worry about being arrested if he went to Belgium.

Above all, the fact that Slobodan Milosevic was on trial rather than residing in the presidential residence in Belgrade is a major achievement of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and a major step forward for humanity. Even in his going, Slobodan Milosevic has proven that he has the power to polarize the public. Was he poisoned, or was he dosing himself into ill health to boost his case for a one-way trip to Moscow? One thing is certain: Most of the people who supported his prosecution feel cheated that he did not face a verdict and long imprisonment in The Hague.

The length of his trial, which killed much public interest as well as the accused, has raised questions about the efficacy of the Tribunal. Milosevic's supporters claim vindication, and even supporters of the Tribunal as a concept have questioned its bureaucratic nature, and the wisdom of the prosecutors in going for American DA-style overkill on the charges against him. The court tried, arguably to a fault, to be fair in its accommodation of the eccentricities of the accused, not least his refusal of defense lawyers.

Those who want to consider Milosevic as a martyr for his four-year trial should pause to consider how glad those 7,000 or 8,000 people slaughtered like sheep after the fall of Srebrenica would have been even for a summary Guantanamo-style hearing. As some complain about the medical treatment of Milosevic, who was able to summon friendly doctors from around the world, they may wish to recall the 260 patients from the hospital in Vukovar that Milosevic's army summarily shot.

At the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt caused ripples by referring to "banality of evil." Slobodan Milosevic was as banal as they come. Personally, he was no racist, nor even a Serb nationalist. He was an ambitious and ruthless communist party apparatchik who was not even particularly socialist in his beliefs or his practices.

However, he realized what a potent weapon Serb nationalism was in his prolonged putsch to take personal control over the ramshackle Yugoslav Federation. History teaches that there are few more dangerous forces than heavily armed groups afflicted with a sense of victimhood, no matter how irrational that sense may be.

For the best part of ten years, Milosevic brilliantly played the U.N., the Europeans and the Americans for suckers. Whenever his barbarities were on the verge of provoking action, he would go into deep negotiating mode, and immediately break whatever promises were being made (providing a model for Sudan's rulers in their procrastination over Darfur). Cynically, when they were no longer useful, he abandoned his Serb brothers in the Croatian Krajina, sold out his colleagues in the Bosnian Republika Srpska as soon they had become too much of an embarrassment, after Srebrenica.

In the end, he miscalculated over Kosovo. He had not realized that all across Europe new governments had taken office, who seemed to think that "never again" meant just that. Once Milosevic had set the game afoot, there were plenty of bad people to go round. The Hague Tribunal has Croats, Albanians and Bosnians in its cells, all charged with crimes against humanity. This is the victory of justice, not "victors' justice." In Milosevic's trial, witness after witness showed his direct command and control of the bloody events of an evil decade, even if, like Eichmann, his own hands had only ink stains, not blood stains.

With Milosevic gone, the court can no longer reach a verdict. There are retrospective arguments that the prosecution went for overkill with the charges. But the evidence that was uncovered left no doubt that overkill, in a most morbid sense, was what Milosevic practiced. If it can avoid the same mistakes of procedure and procrastination, if and when Milosevic's sidekicks, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are in the dock, then the Tribunal can regain much of the ground it has lost.

In the wake of Milosevic's death, we would do well not to discount the number of verdicts already reached against a variety of perpetrators. As with Milosevic's arrest and imprisonment, the Tribunal has decisively signaled an end to what President Mary Robinson of Ireland once called the "cycle of impunity," for war criminals.

In the future, despite the Bush administration's dogged resistance to the International Criminal Court, emulators of the Serb strongman should not have to wait so long for justice to be served. The new court is up and running, and already looking into the case of the Sudanese regime. The criminals in Khartoum, despite the soft shoe treatment from the rest of the world, stand a good chance of ending up in court and in prison for their misdeeds.

Not-So-Musical Chairs

For every U.N. diplomat, the only thing better than being a permanent representative to the Security Council is being a permanent representative for a permanent member. It does for the machismo of member states and their representatives what V*gra or C*alis (and all those other spam-filterable potions) do for individuals. This obsession with having a seat at the Big Table is now threatening to stymie desperately-needed UN reforms that are being debated now in New York, ready for adoption at the 60th Anniversary Summit of the UN this September.

So far, in the lucky absence of the still-unconfirmed John Bolton, who is on the record as advocating that the U.S. should be the only permanent member of the UN Security Council, delegates at the UN have tied themselves into a knot that makes the Bolton solution seem almost plausible in its simplicity.

As befits an organization whose Charter was mostly drafted by Americans, it reflects a compromise between the promise of principles and the reality of power. In the General Assembly, Nauru, with fewer people than a Manhattan block, has the same vote as China or India. But having made that concession to notional national equality, the big powers put the muscle in the Security Council. What Stalin said about the Pope applies; how many divisions can these smaller states throw at a new threat to world peace?

Since 1945, five countries -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the US -- have had a veto and a permanent place on the Security Council. The other 10 members are elected on non-renewable two-year terms.

Back in 1945, France and China were only added as a courtesy, and a war-bankrupted Britain was already looking a little pretentious as a permanent member. To add to the anomalies, for a quarter of a century China was represented by the defeated nationalist government on Taiwan.

For some time after Beijing took the seat, there was a pragmatic justification for the permanent five members. They were all substantial military powers, and all had nukes. It is difficult to enforce a UN decision against an uncooperative nuclear power.

But since then, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have blasted their way into the nuclear club -- and no one wanted to give an incentive to Iran to be on the Council!

According to the UN Charter, the Council is the only body that can authorize military activities by member states, although like most commandments, this one is honored more in the breach than in the observance. The Charter also says that any one of those five can veto any changes to the Charter, such as any attempt to remove their veto, or add more members to the Council.

For fairly obvious reasons, Japan and Germany were not in the running for seats back in 1945 -- indeed, clause 103 of the Charter still essentially says that it's OK for anyone else to restart the Second World War on them. Now, however, Japan pays almost as much in dues to the UN as the U.S. -- and what's more, it pays on time, and without some Tokyo version of Henry Hyde threatening to cut funding if the UN does not do what it's told. Germany also pays more than Britain, France, Russia or China -- the latter, incidentally, paying at a rate based on its economy more than a decade ago, not at current boom levels.

The problem is that the Council is already top-heavy toward the industrialized world -- and adding these two would make it even more so, unleashing a flood of me-tooism from India, Brazil and other developing nations.

To complicate matters even further, if you add more permanent members, then you have to add more elected members, and it begins to look less like an executive committee and more like a mass meeting. Current proposals take its membership up to 25. For those who step back and consider how long it took the Council, with only 15 members, to act on Sudan -- let alone Rwanda or Bosnia -- this is not a happy prospect.

Strangely, the U.S. delegation is actually talking sense for once: it says that two dozen is too many, which is true. But liberals can be reassured. The U.S. is correct like a stopped clock -- occasionally. It reached its reasonable conclusion from more traditionally-sordid premises: If the U.S. could not bully a mere 15-strong council into backing the invasion of Iraq, then how much harder would it be to twist the arms of 25 members? All the more revealing is that the U.S. made it clear that it would not support permanent seats for any country that snubbed the Bush administration in the buildup to the invasion. In fact, the U.S. would not commit to supporting anyone but Japan. Which is embarrassing, because the Chinese, and both Koreas, unite in saying "no go" to Tokyo.

The proposal to enlarge the Council has been on the agenda for more than ten years -- and the British made sure that it was enlargement, and not "reform," which might have questioned the status of their permanent seat. Earlier this year, to break the logjam, Kofi Annan originally proposed two alternatives.

"Plan A" was for six new permanent members, including two from Africa, but with no vetoes. Everybody, except those who thought they would be one of the six, agreed that adding six new vetoes into a frequently gridlocked body was hardly the way to make it efficient, even if it allowed the six lucky ones to parade their enhanced membership. This plan would also add three new temporary seats for the South.

Annan's plan "B" called for eight new "semi-permanent" seats which would be re-electable and sit for four years, and one new temporary seat.

This month, the G-4 -- Brazil, Germany, India and Japan -- put forward a version of Plan A which would call for reconsideration of the veto powers in 15 years time. The African contingent muddied the waters by putting up a counter-resolution calling for the new members to have veto powers, and added yet another temporary member to bring the Council up to 25.

What complicates things even more is that there is no consensus on who would occupy the African seats. In the earlier versions, there would only have been one, and it was the Arab League's representative on Annan's reform panel, who happens to be the former foreign minister of Egypt, who fought for two seats.

If there were only one African permanent seat, Egypt would have a snowflake's chance in the Sahara of getting it. If there were two, then a promise of Arab and Muslim support for the African proposal could land a place for Egypt, leaving Nigeria and South Africa to fight it out for the second spot.

There is a problem here, of course. The Europeans and others can accept a grandfathered China, but may not accept a dubiously-elected Hosni Mubarak in a permanent seat, let alone with a veto.

Then there are the regional rivals. Argentina and Mexico are not sure how a permanent Brazil would represent Latin America; Spain and Italy look askance at Germany; and Pakistan and Indonesia fail to see how a permanent India represents them.

Although the U.S. and China, the two states on the Council who most often wield their veto power, have indicated their opposition to all the proposals and candidates, the would-be permaments hoped that by getting a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly they would shame Washington and Beijing into not using their vetoes. This almost proves that they are diplomatically unfit to be on the Council, since the shamelessness of China and the U.S. is pretty much written into the standing orders of the body. And these aspiring states should know this, since several of them have been fairly shameless themselves in courting the Bush administration's favor in hopes of changing its mind.

Then there are the principled states like the Canadians, who have always supported the United Nations and want to see it work. They are more concerned about what the Council does than who does it, and agree with the Americans that current proposals make the Council too large and unwieldy. The Canadians also make the entirely reasonable point that permanent membership is itself an unfair anomaly, and even if we can't do anything about it, then extending it to six more states is still unfair to the other 180 or so lesser members. Canada is supporting the uniting-for-consensus proposal in a tactical way, although they think it would still make the Council far too big.

The real tragedy is that the obsession with Security Council seats is taking attention away from much more important UN reforms that Annan has proposed, such as a hard-hitting Human Rights Council, a clear definition of terrorism, clear guidelines for humanitarian intervention, and of course, addressing the whole range of development issues, from AIDS to poverty. The millions dying with AIDS in Africa will not raise their eyes to heaven in exultation just because a couple of African diplomats in New York do not have to seek re-election.

One of the problems with the existing Council is that elections for the temporary seats occur very rarely anyway. Many of the regions, such as Africa, have a long-term rota system, which puts up members who could be weak, pliable, law-breakers and recidivist human rights violators. Morocco, for example, on the Council in 1992-3, still occupies the Western Sahara despite decades of resolutions, while Rwanda held a seat during the genocide there. The current African proposal promises more of the same.

If you think a monarchy is regressive, you do not solve the problem by doubling the size of the Royal Family. We are stuck with the five permanent members, but that is no excuse for adding another six.

It would be better for the G-4 to use their prestige to revive the General Assembly and make it a more relevant body. For example, at the height of the Korean War, the U.S. secured a "Uniting for Peace" procedure that allowed the General Assembly to bypass the Security Council when a veto led to deadlock. At the time, the Russians were the biggest obstacle on the Council, but these days it is the US, and occasionally the Chinese, who dish out the vetoes. Most members are, frankly, too chicken to reaffirm a bypass procedure.

The idea of renewable four-year terms is a good one, because to justify re-election, the G-4 and other new members would have to report back to the General Assembly on their past behavior in the Council.

In fact, even paying careful attention to which countries join the Council as it stands now would do far more to reform that body than any of the discordant musical chairs moves now being plotted. After all, it was not France, Russia and China that blocked approval of Iraq. If the Bush administration had had the diplomatic sense to pledge that the other Big Players could keep their oil contracts, it would have had far fewer problems.

Rather, it was the smaller, more principled states, such as Ireland, Jamaica, Mexico, and Chile, that stood up for principle under heavy pressure on Iraq. None of them is under consideration for a new permanent seat, but members like these would make formal reforms much less necessary.

The Day After

It's Wednesday morning and liberals around the nation are contemplating the awful implications of another four years in Bush country. Some New Yorkers have already applied for Canadian immigration papers in fear of a Bush win.

The electoral map, however, offers another option – one that may be more sensible and more durable than leaving the country. How about a new Confederacy that combines the West Coast North Eastern states and Canada, all joined together in a new Union of Provinces and States based on rational and democratic principles? This would leave the cowboy heartland and the South to the creationist fate they deserve � not to mention the series of hurricanes that either the global warming they don�t believe in – or the God they do – is sending as a message to them.

The result of the American election reveals a country deeply split, geographically and ideologically � or rather theologically . It reveals a Bush constituency so deeply conflicted internally that they ended up casting their ballots for a president who supports a number of policies that they actually disagree with.

This disconnect can be seen in the victory of the referendum in Florida to raise the minimum wage – a centerpiece of the Kerry campaign. Bush has resolutely opposed an increase in Washington, but was totally evasive on the issue during the campaign. Over 72 percent of Floridians voted for the raise, which means that at least 60 percent of Bush voters supported a measure that is socially and economically the antithesis of what their candidate stands for.

There even seems to be some evidence that even some black religious voters, long a traditional vote-bank for the Democrats may have succumbed on the �gay marriage/evangelical� issues and voted for a party that in some localities is the direct descendant of the Dixiecrats and the Klan. It was a triumph of the Bush campaign to secure a chunk of the black vote while still successfully evoking the coded racism that has worked so well for the GOP across the country.

Recent polls from the University of Maryland showed that the Bush campaign had concealed much of its real political and economic agenda from its supporters – who are out to the left of Kerry on many issues. But the key issue for Bush voters was security and terrorism. Many still believe in he Iraq War and the "war on terror" with a conviction that is as faith based as so much of their voting. As that poll showed, over 70 percent of Bush supporters believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found, and that Saddam Hussein was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

So what are the consequences for the nation, apart from renewed scrutiny of the Constitution�s creakily democratic processes? Slightly more likely than the union with Canada is that the Republican Party, under the renewed control of the deeply conservative ideologues marches down the dead-end charted by the British Conservative Party. In other words, it will ultimately reduce itself to an unelectable rump by shedding the saner and more tolerant Republicans, like George Pataki in New York and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California whose politics are not as right wing as the Bible Belt would wish.

On the brighter side still – despite the appalling levels of voter ignorance in the most expensive election in history – the election marked unprecedented levels of popular participation. Set rolling by Howard Dean�s grassroots campaign, volunteers went to work on the Democratic campaign on a scale not seen in decades past. In safer states like New York and Massachusetts, thousands took weeks off work to get out the vote in swing states like Pennsylvania, where, incidentally, a core of British Labor and Union volunteers defied Tony Blair to canvass for Kerry.

The flood of volunteers, voter registrations, and, by American standards, high turnout led to great Democratic optimism. However, Democrats failed to notice that the evangelical voters too were turning out in large numbers. They were motivated, in part, by state referenda seeking to ban gay marriages, and by the abortion issue – one of those peculiarly American touchstone issues that trumps all rational considerations of war and peace, prosperity and social justice.

However, while most Kerry supporters were clear what they were voting against, the Kerry campaign was much less clear in showing voters what they would be voting for. The Bush campaign was able to successfully attack Kerry on positions that he then failed to articulate convincingly. But it must be recognized that any such effort to define himself was indeed an uphill struggle against the constant intellectual erosion of overtly partisan news and talk shows.

The final piece of good news: the unprecedented mobilization on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket may help the Democratic Party escape from being a bran-tub of special interests and minorities. It may lay the groundwork for broader agenda that will bring the various factions together. At present, so many blue collar workers whose wages are frozen, who face export of their jobs abroad, and whose unemployment benefits are about to disappear, continue to abhor the Democrats as the party of abortion and gay marriage. If the Democrats cannot frame a platform that appeals to those voters, then there is little hope for the Democratic Party – or for the United States for that matter.

As for the rest of the world, they'll just have to work out a way to carry on together without the constructive input of the world�s strongest military power.

Kerry Fires Back

One of Sherlock Holmes' cases was "The Dog That Didn't Bark." Now that John Kerry has come out fighting, one can't help thinking that maybe it was because no one was listening.

Beginning at midnight last Thursday in Ohio, within an hour of Bush's combination of a Nuremburg rally and Ringling Brothers Circus in Madison Square Garden, Kerry went on the offensive in a way that made it relevant and avoided being trapped down in the Mekong, thousands of miles away and thirty years ago.

In a controlled but angry speech, he laid into Vice President Dick Cheney by name and Bush by implication: "I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have, and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq. The Vice President called me unfit for office last night. Well, I'll leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty."

He continued, "Let me tell you what I think makes someone unfit for duty. Misleading our nation into war in Iraq makes you unfit to lead this nation. Doing nothing while this nation loses millions of jobs makes you unfit to lead this nation. Letting 45 million Americans go without healthcare makes you unfit to lead this nation. Letting the Saudi royal family control our energy costs makes you unfit. Handing out billions of government contracts to Halliburton while you're still on their payroll makes you unfit."

It was good strong stuff – it counterattacked on Swift Boats and Cheney, and it brought the issues up to the present.

And it disappeared from sight.

It is easy to be paranoid, and in the morning, when I tried to find mention of what I had seen the night before, I began to suspect it was a hallucination, a wishful dream induced by four days of the Republican National Convention. There was little or no coverage of Kerry's statements.

In sober reflection, however, Kerry had waited far too long in what looked like an attempt to win the Job Prize for Patience in the face of attacks – and it was certainly not the Almighty who was doing the trying.

But what induced him to make such a key announcement in an isolated place (sorry Ohio!), at a midnight open air rally, with no preparation, with little or no hint to the media that it was going to happen, in the part of the news cycle that mostly sees reporters and editors tucked up in bed for the night? We can be sure that some of the stifling was political – but he gave lots of excuses for people not to cover it.

Just because I may be paranoid does not stop people from spiking stories, and stories about Bush's Vietnam War record have been spiked more often than a kebab if you compare their comparative dearth with the overdosing on Swift Boats. The difference is, in every case where a record exists, it contradicts the Swift Boat surrogates for Karl Rove.

In almost every case with Bush, his record seems to have disappeared. On Tuesday, the Associated Press filed a law suit demanding the release of a key set of documents that Bush's National Guard service should have generated, but which seem to have disappeared, or at least certainly have not appeared in those the White House has released.

Of course, these documents may have been among those that Lt. Col. Bill Burkett of the Texas Air National Guard claims saw being winnowed out in 1997 in Texas. But the military are great believers in duplication. It will be interesting if any of them turn up, like the famous missing pay records for Bush's year spent in Alabama. The interesting part is that their disappearance and reappearance became the story – not their contents, which proved again that in the year up to the beginning of May 1972, 1st Lt. George W. Bush did not do a single day of active duty.

However, it is not only documents that disappear. After several days of excitement, the promised CBS "60 Minutes" interview with former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes also seemed to have disappeared. Barnes was the speaker of the Texas House who arranged young, unqualified – and clearly undeserving – George W. Bush's rocket-assisted ride to the front of the 500-strong line to join the Texas Air National Guard.

His story has been told before, in an affidavit where he swore that a Bush family friend, not the family, had approached him to get the slot. And he had better be careful about changing it too much, because the people he is dealing with would have a perjury charge slapped on him before you could say "Karl Rove."

Bush has not told anything like the whole truth about his career, hence the AP's interest. But he has had an easy ride, and the tactics have often been to fob off inquiries or to get someone else to lie on his behalf.

This February 13 saw a classic case where Helen Thomas tried repeatedly at a White House press briefing to get an answer to the question of whether or not Bush had been sentenced to community service while in Alabama. White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to answer, or even promise an answer, during a long and grueling session.

The White House declares that Bush has not used narcotics since 1974, leaving the question unanswered of what happened before. Kitty Kelly's forthcoming book will quote Sharon Bush, his ex-sister-in-law as saying that the intrepid National Guard pilot was smoking dope and snorting coke, even in Camp David, and Salon quotes his old friend Jimmy Allison's widow to prove that he was packed off to Alabama so his drunken ways did not intrude on Texas politics.

Now lots of people evaded Vietnam, and lots, both dodgers and draftees, used drugs in that period, so the issue is almost marginal in itself. But experience suggests that lying about that or anything else on the record may have consequences.

The success of Karl Rove's Swift Boat ads was not really what Kerry had done or not done. It was whether he lied about it. He almost certainly didn't, but as Mark Twain says "The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a man only tells them with all his might," and the Bush family and its entourage have no problems in finding people to tell lies on their behalf.

If Barnes is prepared to risk a perjury charge and witness that the Bush family did indeed, as the circumstances certainly suggest, use its influence to get Bush Jr. in the Guard, then that would help no end.

But in the meantime, Kerry can call it for Bush. He can, we hope, make a cogent case for his current and relevant agenda, but there is a serious character issue to raise about Bush. He should be asking, "Why didn't you turn up for your flight medical in 1972? Why was there no investigation into 'your failure to accomplish' the medical? Did you ever respond to the orders to turn up? And where is the documentation for all this? Why does AP have to sue, when you promised to turn all your documents over?"

Of course the straight-faced White House team will lugubriously lament this intrusion of smear tactics and dirty politics. But hey, Kerry is only asking. What do they have to hide?

Slander is Cheap

They used to say, "You can't buy publicity like this!"

Oh but you can! A few hundred thousands in donations to the "Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth" (SBVFT) produced an ad that only airs in a few small markets – and is guaranteed priceless hours of free national airtime on the right wing talk shows, cable channels like Fox and MSNBC and the other channels that let them dictate the news agenda. George Orwell could almost have written, "He who controls the check-book controls the past."

By Tuesday morning, the Swift Boat story is leading political coverage on the mainstream news networks as well. Americans who were never intended to see the ads on their local stations, now see segments of them as part of the pervasive national news coverage that now reverberates from the controversy. It's fair to say that more than half the population has seen at least portions of the spot. What they're missing is investigative news coverage vetting the Swift Boat Veterans' claims – that Kerry served less than honorably during the Vietnam War.

You really have to admire a smooth operation that has, if we can mix metaphors, the cloven hoof prints of Bush's brain, Karl Rove, all over it. He is associated with one of the chief funders of the ad, and a member of Bush's veterans' support committee actually appeared in it!

Even so, the Bush campaign disclaims all responsibility for the smear ads. Just as it did with the similar smears on Senators John McCain and Max Cleland.

Bush's announcement that he was "disappointed" with the ads, and that Kerry served "admirably," is almost certainly inspired less by genuine contrition than a desire to head off the increasing interest in where Bush was during the Vietnam war, which has arisen because of the SBVFT ad.

Rove has a proven track record of successful smearing, based at least in part on the victims being too "decent" to counter attack, or even in the case of John Kerry last week being so self-defeatedly "decent" as to denounce the counterattack MoveOn mounted on his behalf.

This is a trope that was even picked up by Bill O'Reilly on Fox TV who clucked lugubriously about the Swift Boat ads – but one notes with interest that such pieties are always accompanied by a replaying of the original smears. As the poet said:

Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly

Kerry immediately took up John McCain's invitation to attack the MoveOn ads that countered the SBVFT smears. I hope he was doing so with tongue in cheek. There is a difference between smearing and mentioning painful truths.

The MoveOn ads call upon Bush to disown the attacks on Kerry and point out that Bush dodged the war by using parental influence to join the National Guard – and then went missing. In fact, this is no smear – it's irrefutable. Such of the records that have not been burnt, shredded or misfiled show very clearly that young George W. Bush joined the National Guard with the sole and expressed intention of avoiding service in Vietnam, and also that he did not complete his duty with the Guard.

In fact, McCain had earlier put it succinctly, and, I hope, ironically, when he originally condemned the ads attacking Kerry. "I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. I think George Bush served honorably in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War."

But McCain is also doing Karl Rove's work when he says the MoveOn ad is a "disservice" to members of the National Guard who are "fighting and dying in Iraq." It is one of the Bush campaign's consistent tropes to equate any suggestion that Bush was less than heroic by joining the National Guard during the Vietnam War with an attack on the current Guard personnel who are providing a half or so of the troops in Iraq. Today's National Guards cannot tick a box saying "no" to overseas service, which is what George Bush did.

In contrast, Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post deserves considerable kudos for checking out the records to discover, for example, that one of the veterans, Larry Thurlow, who has denied that the boats were under fire in the incident that won John Kerry a bronze star, won his own bronze star – with a citation saying that they were under fire together!

The Post's Freedom of Information request for documents contrasts honorably with the frequent uncritical media acceptance of the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" allegations. Every time a reporter as assiduous as Dobbs checks the contemporary record, it gives them the lie.

Sadly, however, a significant number of Americans will not be affected by any amount of evidence about Bush, nor any amount of rebuttal from Kerry. In their universe, someone who dodged the war and supported it is morally superior to someone who fought in it and opposed it.

The pathetic sight of Vietnam veterans at the Ohio Veterans of Foreign Wars convention who had applauded George W. Bush, turning their backs on Kerry, who was in Vietnam, show the continuing post-traumatic effects of Vietnam on some veterans.

Kerry should encourage the MoveOn ads. It is a legitimate question why the President supported a controversial war in which he refused to serve all those decades ago.

Even so, by making his Vietnam War record such a central plank of his campaign, Kerry has walked into an ambush. Why should service in a shabby losing war that killed millions of Vietnamese and more than fifty thousand Americans, and which he honorably disagreed with on his return, be such an important part of his platform?

For a huge number of voters, Vietnam itself is ancient history, but Bush has led us into an action replay of it, which has led to almost a thousand American dead and up to 20,000 Iraqi fatalities, a war that is still raging a year after the President in spurious military plumage declared "Mission Accomplished" on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Where are the casualty figures? How many lives and limbs are being lost in this dubious battle? That would surely inject some relevance into a campaign. But to do so John Kerry needs to stop allowing himself to be impaled by Vietnam, and come down off the fence on this real present war.

Into the Media Memory Hole

Where is Osama bin Laden? In fact, the question should be, "Who is bin Laden?" Go on, scratch your head and see if anything comes out other than dandruff. Remember? He was the guy with the beard and the turban who was plastered across every mainstream media TV screen and newspaper front page for months.

The more perceptive among you may remember that he was the excuse for the less precisely xenophobic to have a bash at innocent Sikhs, and also a more creditable excuse for the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Later, he also became a large part of the excuse for the attack on Iraq. Night after night TV news screens emblazoned with the words "War on Terror" paired photographs of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, often with pictures of a blazing World Trade Center until over 70 percent of the American electorate thought that Saddam and Iraq were directly involved with our former Saudi chum in the September 11 attack.

Those in the media with really long memories may call to mind a heroic freedom fighter against godless communist aggression in Afghanistan, but that was a long time ago, in another country, and besides, the USSR is dead.

So any vestigial memories the media have of that bin Laden are filed inaccessibly in their deepest memory hole, along with those of Saddam, our champion in the fight against Iran's ayatollahs and Islamic fundamentalism.

Certainly, nothing on the television is likely to tease any such reminiscences from the depths, although occasionally there are exceptions.

If I may quote myself, (a highly reliable and named source, after all,) during one CNN talk show this April on which I was a guest, conservative pundit John Gizzi compared U.S. President George W Bush to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I could not resist, and replied, "This is precisely an analogy which has occurred to me. We're at a stage where, if, after Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war on America, we had left Hitler up in the mountains in Bavaria untouched while the bulk of our armed forces were down in Argentina, kicking butt on Peron because the president didn't like him. That's where we are. Where is bin Laden? Why is Afghanistan unraveling? That's where the 'war on terror' was. That's the guy that caused 9-11. Why do we have 150,000 American men and women risking their lives in Iraq where they're clearly not totally welcome, when it has nothing to do with the war on terror?"

Luckily, this was on CNN, where someone to the left of Augusto Pinochet can still speak without being barracked or cut short.

On most of what passes for discussion programs that I have been on, it has been about as fair and balanced as a Roman bout between the Christians and the lions. The host introduces the subject with a tendentious diatribe that would not survive a minute with a fact-checker.

For example, only two weeks ago while I was on Joe Scarborough's show he attacked the idea that the U.S. had ever supported Saddam as profoundly unpatriotic.

It is of course indisputably true that Bush senior supported Baghdad in the war on Iran in the 1980s, but as Pontius Pilate said as he launched a whole new brand of big cat food on a waiting Roman Empire, "What is truth?"

The host, or ringmaster, then introduces the "Christian", and joins the one or two conservative lions for a joint attack. Almost invariably, the final shot comes from the conservative pundit, which is then applauded and amplified by the host.

There are a whole host of right-wing foundations who provide a salary for innumerable pundits ready at the drop of a Rolodex to display their ignorance on our screens. The shows, despite the appearance of being fearless and live are usually taped – and the host controls the mikes.

So it is hardly surprising that there is indeed a proven correlation between how knowledgeable an American is about foreign affairs, and how much television they watch. Sadly, it is an inverse correlation. Such is the power of the small screen: It actually seems to absorb information from viewers, so they become less informed the more they watch.

It is bad enough to those exposed to the words on Fox TV. However, we tend to underestimate the subliminal effect of those images.

Often people come to me and tell me that they have seen me on television.

I ask "Oh, what program? What was I talking about?" And more often than not, they will develop a puzzled frown, and say, "I was only watching, I wasn't listening."

Images are very important, of course. So the twin images of bin Laden and Saddam were very effective, and all those shots of Bush addressing troops and being addressed as the commander-in-chief make the unwary think of him as a war leader, with extensive military service in the "war against terror".

The most iconic image of course is the commander-in-chief as intrepid naval aviator, bathed in the evening glow of the sun, strutting across the deck of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in his full naval jump suit with its swelling codpiece accentuated by the cross straps of his escape harness.

Oddly, even some very strong Democrats confessed surprise to discover that this took place off California and not in the Gulf of the war theater.

That image lingers while only sour political commentators remember the banner "Mission Accomplished" or the White House message, some 800 dead GIs ago, that major hostilities were over.

On a more mundane note, we have dissected the George Bush naval aviator collector's doll that went on sale immediately – and it is padded, whether to enhance the size or a replica of incontinence pants, we do not know.

Of course, the president's military record itself is highly questionable, or at least it is whenever we can find the records. As for his strategic prowess, please refer to the above. If he is fighting the "war on terror," where is Osama bin Laden?

Will there be a new October surprise, the reverse of the kind that released the American hostages in Iran on the day of Ronald Reagan's reelection? Will bin Laden suddenly be captured, days before Nov. 2? Will millions of tele-screens suddenly remind millions of voters about the guy with the beard and the turban who has effectively been a non-person for 18 months?
Hey, this is the 20th anniversary of 1984, and Little Brother Bush has told some serious whoppers so far. Why should the run-up to an election be any different?

The Morality of Intervention

The civil war in Sudan has claimed more than 50,000 lives in Darfur, while a million more have been driven from their homes, caught in the crossfire of the bloody conflict between the Sudanese government and ethnic minority rebels.

The need for immediate action is clear. But because of the Iraq War, it may never be taken.

Under pressure from human rights groups, both Britain and the United States have joined Kofi Annan in proposing a UN resolution that calls for economic sanctions and travel restrictions. It is an exercise in futility – the kind that paved the way for widespread massacres in Rwanda and Srebrenica. What is urgently needed now is a credible threat of a military intervention, which was all that was required to preempt genocide in the past.

The sad truth is that the lack of action on Sudan is in no small part a result of George Bush and Tony Blair's not-so-excellent adventures in desert. A study published on Wednesday by the Foreign Policy Center, a British think-tank, unequivocally laid the blame for the unfolding genocide on the Iraq war. The report criticizes Britain and the United States for backing "quiet diplomacy, " a response it characterizes as "utterly inappropriate." Its author Greg Austin told The Independent, "The commitment of the U.S. and the U.K. in Iraq and the use of military force in Iraq pushed them away from considering any sort of military option."

The invasion of Iraq also diminished the prospects for an international consensus for action in Sudan, and too vigorous a push by the U.S. will achieve little except to stiffen resistance. Fears of blurring the line between humanitarian intervention and moral crusade seem all the more pressing because of the Bush/Blair war machine, which has done its best to sell the one as the other.

While Britain and Australia have both expressed readiness to commit troops, it is almost impossible for Muslim nations in the Security Council such as Algeria and Pakistan to agree to U.S. led action against an Arab League member like Sudan. The Arab world's tolerance for the atrocities committed by their rulers is indeed a cause for despair. But the occupation of Iraq, including the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the U.S.'s total support for Ariel Sharon, and the xenophobic anti-Muslim and anti-Arab outbursts in the United States, make that stone harder to cast.

In the case of Sudan, in particular, there is also Bill Clinton's botched destruction of the pharmaceuticals factory that demonstrated, long before 9/11 and the missing WMD, that military intelligence is often an oxymoron. And some of the organizations in the U.S. pushing for action would not be as zealous in the case of Sudan if it did not entail taking action against "Arabs."

It is therefore hardly surprising that many governments and their people across the world are willing to cut some slack for any Arab regime in the face of American "concern." And even if they were to accept the need for intervention of some kind in Sudan, why would they entrust George Bush with such a task?

While those who oppose the Bush administration's call for action are right to doubt Washington's intentions, there is no shortage of countries that are just eager to support a rogue state for reasons of shortsighted or expedient "national interest." The fact that some of the members opposing action against Sudan are the same as those who opposed the war in Iraq is hardly a cause for reassurance.

France, for example, was the patron of the former Rwandan regime, the protector almost up to last moment of the Serbian ethnic cleansers in Bosnia, the defender of Morocco's occupation and repression in Western Sahara. And even if French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin did make an excellent case against attacking Iraq, his government was previously a staunch defender of its oil interests in Iraq.

In any case, there is little evidence that the Bush administration has any serious intention of swooping down in full force and rescuing the Sudanese. The draft submitted by the U.S. is clearly a token Security Council resolution – one that oddly mandates travel restrictions against a motley paramilitary band of Sudanese brigands and militia (who are unlikely to have many cosmopolitan world travelers in their ranks). It appears to be a gesture designed to cover the administration's backside against the "If Iraq, why not Sudan" argument that is denting its already shredded credibility.

The wrangling in the Security Council is in reality a battle of expediency, with both sides pursuing their narrow interests. It also sadly makes it almost inconceivable that the Security Council or the General Assembly will authorize the robust military operation necessary to help people of Sudan.

Yet, we can be assured that polemicists on both left and right will try to polarize this serious and complicated issue into a binary, for or against, debate. When it comes to flexing military muscle, George W. Bush, the bring-'em-on president, is clearly not a man who favors nuance or subtlety. But then neither do many of the pontificating pundits in the media.

Such partisan wrangling will inevitably obscure any meaningful discussion of what can be done to alleviate the misery of Sudanese people. Here's an example of this kind of false logic that passes for debate on television: You approved intervention in Kosovo, so you must have supported the war in Vietnam and so how can you oppose intervention in Iraq?

Being "for" or "against" intervention in the abstract is, frankly, silly. It is like being for or against amputation, a gruesome medical procedure with tragic consequences that still is sometimes necessary. You can oppose the chopping off hands of thieves in, say, Saudi Arabia, be skeptical about drastic procedures that do more for profits than patients, but still be all in favor of cutting of a limb to save the body – all the while subscribing to the Hippocratic principle, "Above all do no harm."

The concept of "humanitarian intervention," however, has a long and checkered history. Nazi Germany, for example, invoked it to justify their invasion of Czechoslovakia. It was to prevent such blatant misuse that the Canadian-convened international commission on the "Responsibility to Protect" in 2000 suggested a set of precautionary principles:

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Soldier of Fortune

Editor's Note: The following article is an excerpt based on Ian Williams' new book, "Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans, and His Past."

On a bright and clear afternoon on May 1st 2003, the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln cruised an hour's sailing off-shore from San Diego, California, with its 6,000 crew members marshaled on its four-and-a-half-acre deck. A Navy S-3B Viking roared past, not once, but twice, and then finally circled around to land on the carrier's flight deck, snagging the wires that stopped the plane and its participants from tumbling into the cold Pacific Ocean. The nominal co-pilot had actually been prepared for just that watery contingency – in the White House swimming pool, since the Viking's precious cargo was none other than President George W. Bush.

As the plane snapped to a halt, the assembled crew, and the peak time cable TV viewers, could see that "Navy 1" was emblazoned on the body of the aircraft and that just below the co-pilot's cockpit window, assiduous Navy sign painters had stenciled "George W. Bush Commander-in-Chief." In his chic olive-colored flight suit, combat booted, looking every inch the warrior, with his doffed helmet tucked under one arm, Bush raised his other in salute to the cheers of the sailors gathered under a huge banner declaring "Mission Accomplished."

The Republican obsession with the military has never been as deep or more contrived than under Bush, who has tried to exorcise his somewhat ethereal military career by appearing whenever he can in front of made-to-order audiences at military bases or veterans' rallies. The phrase "commander-in-chief" is rarely off the president's lips, especially when he speaks to the military. Nor does he often miss an opportunity to don some form of uniform to further underline his military title.

In eighteen months, more than one in three of his speeches and policy pronouncements have been at military bases and veterans' gatherings. Not for him the unscripted happenstance of Town Hall meetings with voters or un-choreographed press conferences with inquisitive reporters; he is much happier surrounded by people in uniform, snappily saluting and calling him "Sir" and cheering dutifully whenever he pauses.

President Bush's 2003 May Day flight was an outstanding, but by no means isolated, example of Bush's abuse-by-association of the military. He had tried for a double the day before, attempting to conscript both God and the military on his side by hosting 150 military chaplains for a prayer breakfast in the White House. Just as typical was his staged ceremony on July 1 2003 at the White House, where he welcomed thirty reenlisting service people. "Like many thousands of other soldiers, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen and marines who reenlist this year, these men and women are answering the highest call of citizenship. ... As commander-in-chief, I assure them, we will stay on the offensive against the enemy."

Bush's dress-up pattern was set long ago, as far back as 1970. While campaigning for his father against Lloyd Bentsen, the future President wore his National Guard flight jacket, which is, of course, an uncanny precursor to that flight onto the deck of the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln. Dressed in military duds, he would then, as now, attract approbation in a way that a less sophisticated, less well-connected, long-haired draft evader would never do, which is why it is a wardrobe choice he now returns to often, from the decks of a battleship to the parade grounds of forts and camps all over America.

A random trawl of the newswires and Defense Department White House archives produces the same dazzling pattern of military camouflage. On August 14 2003, the President was telling it to the Marines, at Miramar Marine base in California, "I am proud to be the commander-in-chief of such a fabulous group of men and women who wear our uniform." In November, he was at it again, issuing a proclamation of National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week, "in honor of employers across America who have shown their support for our National Guardsmen and Reservists. ... These companies have the gratitude of our nation, they have the gratitude of the commander-in-chief." Oh how he loves that title.

His speech on the first anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq was also before a "conscripted" audience at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. There, 20,000 men and women of the 101st Airborne paraded with little handheld flags in their hands and jumbo size banners flying overhead, to provide a backdrop to the President's latest photo-op. For the occasion, the president himself, once again, wore a signature military jacket with "George W. Bush, commander-in chief" over his heart.

Of the many military bases, Fort Hood is the president's favorite, more so since it is conveniently close to his dude ranch in Crawford, Texas. It is also the biggest base in the United States, home to over 40,000 troops. Bush went there during the lead-up to the war in January 2003 to gee up the soldiery in the huge camp, while appropriating the title he loves so much. "Wherever you may be sent, you can know that America is grateful, and your commander-in-chief is confident in your abilities and proud of your service," he told them.

The Department of Defense's web site says the speech produced "more than twenty Hoorahs" for the President, who wore a fetching olive green windcheater emblazoned with the Presidential seal and "Bush, U.S. Army" across his chest. In a way, he looked like Paddington Bear, who also had to be labeled in case he was lost, not least since the commander-in-chief blended so well with the ranks of military personnel dutifully lined up behind him.

Bush was back that April, greeting returning prisoners of war and attending Easter Services in the Church there. That meant he missed the Easter Egg Roll at the White House, which was equally military in spirit. "The youngsters in attendance were children of military families, including the sons and daughters of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq" said the GOP news service. At the Fort Hood Easter Services, the "commander-in-chief" met with two recently returned POWs from Iraq, and threw an arm around the shoulder of one of them, Senior Warrant Officer David S. Williams.

There were not as many waiting to greet him at Easter 2003 as on his New Year visit: By then half the 40,000 troops normally housed at the base were in Iraq missing their Easter eggs. When the Washington Post checked into the neighborhood early in 2004, thirty-five of them were never coming back – all but one of them killed after the President had made his "formalization that tells everybody we're not engaged in combat anymore," the previous May.

Unctuously, in the face of such casualties, the first lady returned to Fort Hood on March 8, 2004, and told a group of military wives that she knows what it's like "having your life turned upside-down because the man you love wants to serve the country he loves." At least she did not wear combat fatigues for the occasion.

Since he has persuaded the majority of Americans, if not the citizens of any other country in the world, that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center, perhaps we should not be surprised at George W. Bush's success in passing himself off as a veteran with so many Americans, including many who are actually combat-seasoned veterans themselves.

Apart from the obvious political benefits of "passing," there are deeply personal reasons why George Bush has wrapped himself in quasi-uniform, which he wears with the same grin of a six-year-old presented with a cowboy suit for Christmas.

From one way of looking at it, all over the world, men and women are now dying and being maimed because George W. Bush had lived through "the war of his generation," without hearing a shot fired in anger. "Little Googen," as his indulgent parents called him, has been trying to emulate his genuinely heroic father – without actually risking his life. Bush's Freudian self-delusion is apparent in Bob Woodward's friendly account, "Bush at War." In the days after September 11, Bush tells Rove, "just like my father's generation was called in World War II, now our generation is being called ... I'm here for a reason."

Bush the Elder, however, was a genuine war hero who left school at 18 and used his family connections to become the youngest pilot in the Navy. But when the government was drafting his contemporaries and sending them to Vietnam, his son joined the Air National Guard in Texas, and ticked the box saying "no" to overseas service: a choice denied most of his contemporaries then, who did not have the Ivy League connections to enter such units. (More importantly, such choices are denied now to the National Guardsmen who were not only called up for service in Iraq, but have found their terms extended while they were out in the desert.)

Bush the Younger is very much the product of his family's move from Yale to Texas after his WWII service. In the East, you were rich because of family but with a concomitant sense of noblesse oblige. In the South, you were rich because God loved you, personally. The resulting combination seems to have stripped out any of old money's sense of obligation in favor of a doubled meme for a sense of entitlement, allowing him to enjoy the benefits of playing soldier without taking any of the risks involved in actually being one. It makes for a draft-dodging president who once told Woodward, "I'm the commander – see, I don't need to explain – I do not need to explain why I say things."

This breathtaking arrogance exemplifies essential qualities that define George W. Bush: the sense of privilege for being born rich; the sense of exaltation that God has chosen him to be rich; and the sexual thrill of being commander-in-chief. To get the same combination of lightweight intellect and ruthless appreciation of power, we have to return, as so often in this administration, to Lewis Carroll, who seems to have anticipated our current president' philosophy in Humpty Dumpty: "The question is, which is to be master – that's all."

Empire Falls

Right after the local powerbrokers of the Iraqi Governing Council turned around and bit the very American hand that fed them, there was yet another sign of the United States' diminishing authority on all matters related to Iraq: the revised UN resolution submitted to the Security Council on Tuesday.

Both the IGC's ability to out-maneuver the Americans over the appointment of the interim government and the success of Security Council naysayers such as Russia and China in securing significant concessions reflect the Bush administration's increasingly precarious position: there is blood in the water and everyone can smell it.

The combination of the impending U.S. elections, Abu Ghraib torture pictures, the climb-downs with ex-Ba'athists in Najaf, the Shi'a militia in Fallujah and the mounting U.S. casualties have taken a serious toll on the White House's negotiating power. And the proof is in the details of the draft resolution.

To begin with, the resolution explicitly states that the UN mandate for the Multinational Force -- the term the Coalition intends to use to camouflage itself -- has a sunset clause, expiring after twelve months, unless explicitly renewed. More importantly, the mandate can also be terminated earlier at the request of the Iraqi transitional government that will be elected by Jan. 31, 2005. This overt declaration that U.S. forces will in fact go if asked is a decisive setback for the administration hawks, who have been issuing statements for months suggesting the contrary.

An equally big blow to the neoconservative hopes of running Iraq like the proverbial 51st state is the Bush administration's decision to cede control over Iraqi forces. According to the new text, the Iraqi military, police, and border forces will operate under the command of the Iraqi government and -- shock and horror -- the Iraqi people will "decide their own political future and control their own natural resources." In other words, Iraqis will finally own their oil, though the revenues will still be paid into an internationally controlled fund until a new elected government takes over.

As for the immediate 'transfer of sovereignty,' the resolution also notes "that the presence of the multinational force in Iraq is at the request of the incoming interim government of Iraq," which will take office on June 30. The request, however, has not been made yet and the draft leaves room for the date of that request to be included in the resolution. While the new interim government has already said that it will ask the coalition forces to stay, the details of their status and command and control have not yet been worked out.

The new government headed by Ayad Allawi is already showing every sign of wanting more in the way of independence than anyone anticipated -- it is all but essential for it to gain credibility among the Iraqi people.

Of course, the appointment of Allawi himself came as a rude surprise to Washington -- an unwelcome sign of the changing balance of power between the occupiers and the occupied.

Diplomatic Coup

It was not the U.S. that wrong-footed the U.N. last week by sidelining Brahimi, but the powerbrokers in the IGC, who staged a diplomatic coup in Baghdad.

The first sign that things were not going as planned was when Washington announced that Hussein Shahristani was to be the new Prime Minister of Iraq. (The decision to preempt Brahimi was in itself misguided since the whole purpose of involving the U.N. and Lakhdar Brahimi was to baptize a new administration, guaranteed free of occupational sin.) But Shahristani decided not to accept the nomination because of the other factions on the IGC who forced him to back down, and thus caught both Bremer and Brahimi on the hop.

That the IGC announced its own choice for Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, was in itself highly presumptuous. One of the stated reasons for inviting Brahimi in Iraq had been, until last week, to wave goodbye to the Iraqi Governing Council, which was, after all, a creation of the American occupiers. Brahimi's official brief was, in fact, to marginalize the IGC and appoint a technocratic caretaker administration that would mark the break with the occupation, with the Security Council playing the role of Godfather.

It's a measure of the IGC's power that after a subdued initial response, Brahimi took his list of suggested appointees to the new government to Allawi for his blessing. And the list was for the most part made up of IGC nominations, including Ghazi Yawar as interim President who beat out Adnan Pachachi, the choice of CPA chief Paul Bremer.

To wash away the stigma of occupation that its nomination by the IGC gives it, the new Allawi government has to be even pushier in its demands on the U.S to show Iraqis that they are not American stool pigeons. Allawi is also likely to receive the backing from the other Security Council members who want assurances of public support for the new administration. (Note that the Security Council has asked for the interim government's input on the draft resolution.) And so while the draft resolution represents serious concessions for the Bush White House, there may well be more to come.

A Truly Sovereign Iraq?

Despite such encouraging signs of reason from the Bush administration, the future of a sovereign Iraq looks murky. A convincing display of independence on part of Allawi may not stop various groups within and outside the government from jockeying for power, while using the presence of the Americans to lend a religious or patriotic color to their self-serving maneuvers. It is difficult to see Ahmad Chalabi being happy at exclusion from power, for example.

In some ways, the seeming independence of the new authority could ring some alarm bells. The original plan was to create an interim government of non-politicians. The IGC coup has created instead a government made up of ambitious power-seekers who have no intention of being temporary caretakers. It will not be surprising if some of them -- ones with a somewhat expedient attachment to democracy -- declare it impossible to hold elections in January. Their cavalier treatment of Brahimi suggests that they will not show overmuch respect to the United Nations.

As for the Bush administration, the UN mandate represents the only remaining way out of a very deep hole. During one of the perennial bouts of Republican U.N.-baiting back in 2000, former U.S. ambassador Dennis Jett offered the following profound insight:

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An Unholy Alliance of Spooks

Nearly a year ago, a leaked memo blew the lid off attempts by the British top-secret intelligence service to spy on members of the UN Security Council on behalf of the U.S. National Security Agency. The scandal over this flagrant violation of international law received little media attention at the time. All eyes were peeled instead on Colin Powell's now infamous presentation detailing Iraq's weapons programs in front of the Security Council -- the very presentation that this piece of espionage was intended to aid.

As with the various sleazy tactics employed in their campaign for war, this dirty trick has come back to haunt the Bush-Blair alliance. But more importantly, it reveals a dark underside to the ongoing cooperation between British and American spy agencies -- an alliance that could subvert the constitutional protections of citizens.

The UN story was back in the headlines -- at least in Britain -- thanks to fresh evidence offered by senior diplomats from Mexico and Chile. Aguilar Zinser, the Mexican ambassador to the UN at the time, told the Observer that the intelligence gathered by the GCHQ helped U.S. officials scuttle secret negotiations for a compromise resolution that would have given weapons inspectors more time. Zinser said, "When they found out, they said, 'You should know that we don't like the idea and we don't like you to promote it.'" He claimed that the only way the U.S. could have learned about the secret meetings is by spying on closed door diplomatic meetings.

Zinser's allegations have been echoed by Chile's former ambassador to the UN, Juan Valdes, who said that he found clear evidence of bugging at his mission in New York during the same time.

So it is no surprise that the Blair government decided on Friday to drop charges against Katherine Gun, the 28-year-old translator who leaked the damning memo. Dated Jan. 31, 2003, the memo was written by Frank Koza at the National Security Agency and explicitly asked for help in gathering British help in gathering "the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises." These "goals," of course, were mainly to head off any resistance to a second UN resolution authorizing a war on Iraq.

Spying on UN diplomats, of course, violates the headquarters agreement under which the UN is based in New York, not to mention several conventions on diplomatic immunities. It is even more embarrassing to be caught spying on your own allies, the nations whose Security Council votes Britain and the U.S. were supposed to be wooing last March. These included the diplomatic buildings and homes of Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea and Pakistan.

But in some ways this crime is almost a peccadillo in comparison to its larger implications about just what is entailed in the so-called "special relationship" between the United States and Britain. It allows U.S. intelligence agencies to do an end run around laws barring them from domestic spying. Thanks to the GCHQ, they can just get the British to do it for them.

Such cooperation between intelligence agencies is a firmly established cornerstone of an otherwise tenuous alliance. The GCHQ works closely with the National Security Agency in the States on a regular basis, passing along any information that may interest the latter. Britain benefits from American logistics and equipment, while Washington can violate the constitutional rights of its own citizens at will.

Since this kind of "assistance" gives London leverage in an otherwise ant-and-elephant partnership, successive British governments have always invested GCHQ with enormous significance. Although the leaked memo does not offer definitive proof, it seems highly likely that the British end of the partnership was in fact directly involved in the spying in New York, with the eager encouragement of the NSA. It also explains the Blair government's decision to drop the charges against Gun. Although the government had claimed that Gun cannot describe her work at GCHQ as part of her defense for security reasons, that line of reasoning is unlikely to go down well with any jury, or even a judge.

Gun has justified her whistleblowing on the grounds that the documents she leaked exposed "serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. government, which attempted to subvert our own security services." Moreover, her expected line of defense was also to claim that the UK government was engaged in illegal acts in pursuit of an illegal war. Her attorneys had requested public disclosure of the advice offered by Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to the Blair government on the legality of the Iraq war. While Blair has refused to make this information public, a trial would have raised yet another threat to his already precarious position. Many legal experts are confident that, if revealed, the evidence would show that Tony Blair took Britain to war despite being warned that it was illegal.

But dropping the charges may not make this scandal go away, at least for 10 Downing Street. Gun has already drawn the support of public figures like Sean Penn, Jesse Jackson and Daniel Ellsberg, who have signed a public letter of support on her behalf. With the political pressure over the missing WMDs showing no signs of receding, 2004 is shaping up to be a bad year for Tony Blair. He can thank his special relationship with George Bush for that.

Alan Greenspan and the D-Word

In late January, Howard Dean foolishly suggested that it was time for Alan Greenspan to step down. "If he lacks the political courage to criticize the (budget) deficits, if he was foolish enough -- and he's not a foolish man -- to support the outrageous tax cuts that George Bush put through, then he has become too political and we need a new chairman of the Federal Reserve," said Dean at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

The response from Wall Street was swift and unequivocal. Greg Valliere, the chief strategist at Charles Schwab Washington Research Group, accused Dean of "stepping into very dangerous waters here." He told CNN, "The financial markets often get uneasy when they sense friction between a possible president and the Fed chairman. Greenspan's not perfect but I think the financial markets hold him in very high regard." In other words, stay away from our man in the Federal Reserve.

The truth is that Dean was too kind. The man whose chance remark can send the market into a tailspin said very little when the economy stalled and the stock market bubble collapsed in 2001. His silence was especially remarkable given the number of times he publicly took credit for the so-called dot com boom.

In fact, apart from one much-quoted warning about "irrational exuberance," Greenspan did nothing to put the brakes on the stock market bubble, even though he had in his hands the possibility of increasing margins. By reducing the credit available to traders playing the market, he would have prevented them from speculating on borrowed money. But he was more than willing to speak against increasing the minimum wage, which he claimed would be inflationary -- a danger that mysteriously did not seem to apply to the huge salaries and stock options of corporate bosses.

But now the economy is "booming" again, at least if you are a CEO or shareholder, Greenspan has reappeared. He has achieved the difficult task of staying in the public eye, even as he remains obstinately mute on the deficit, which this week has shot up nearly another 20 percent.

The truth is that deficit is much higher even than the figures bandied about in the media. Last year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research pointed out that the numbers made public understate the shortfall because the Bush administration is busily raiding the Social Security surplus and using it balance the books in the general budget. At the time, CEPR estimated that the real deficit is nearly 50 percent larger, equivalent to a whopping 56.6 percent of the government's tax revenue. It can only be much worse now. Yet, Greenspan, the intellectual champion of fiscal discipline and hard money, continues to keep his peace.

Indeed, even as the White House raids social security, Greenspan is busy praising the administration's plans to privatize it. Even the guys at the Cato Institute admit that this means trouble. After privatization, for the foreseeable future, the level of payments to retirees will remain the same as new batches apply for their entitlements, but payments made into the program will decline since the contributions will be diverted to private funds. Of course, in the age of Enron and MCI and Tyco, relying on the financial markets for your pension is not exactly the safest way to provide for your retirement. But it is indisputable that privatization will increase the already ballooning deficit.

Greenspan also stays silent while unemployment stays stubbornly high. One would never guess that under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, the Federal Reserve's charter is not just to control inflation but also unemployment! Indeed it has to aim for a target of keeping unemployment below four percent. Greenspan, however, has consistently ignored his duties in favor of the voodoo economics favored by Wall Street.

Greenspan's tolerance for the ballooning Bush deficit is surprising given his ideological background. He was once an adoring acolyte of Ayn Rand, the proto-monetarist who deified strong bodice-ripping capitalists and the gold standard. Indeed, the good doctor himself, in-between editing the Ayn Rand fan club magazine, penned several paeans to Gold and hymns of hatred to inflation, which he linked directly to deficits.

He was at least consistent with his expressed principles when Bush senior was president -- to the point of costing his patron his job. After Bush Senior, who you may remember denounced Reaganism as "voodoo economics," reappointed him as chairman to the Federal Reserve, Greenspan showed his gratitude by raising interest rates and plunging the economy into recession, thus giving Bill Clinton the edge in the 1992 presidential elections.

The allegedly independent central banker then went on to hypnotize the Clinton administration with his injunctions against the perils of deficits, helped along by a background chorus from the markets bemoaning "tax-and-spend Democrats." Not that there was any good reason to follow the advice of a former lobbyist for the savings-and-loan deregulation, which was at the time the biggest financial scam in history.

It is likely, however, the Democratic Leadership Council crowd needed little persuasion to cut "entitlements" for the less deserving poor as opposed to the always-deserving corporations. But at least under Clinton's watch, the deficit did disappear, and to almost everyone's surprise, we ended up with a generous surplus.

The current president, however, has given us in its place a massive and rising deficit, stubbornly resistant unemployment, a dollar that has devalued by over a half against the gold standard and almost as much against the Euro and the Yen, and an unusually muted Alan Greenspan.

Last week, Greenspan did send the market into an instant panic with one of his opaque remarks, which was interpreted as presaging a modest rate hike later in the year. Fed sources quoted in the latest issue of Fortune magazine are predicting that he will be more openly critical of the deficit when he appears before a congressional committee to give his six-month review of monetary policy and the state of the economy on Feb. 11.

But for the most part, all the signs are that Wall Street's favorite icon is unlikely to rediscover his principles until after November. Greenspan's four-year term as chairman will end in six months. And he probably wants to anoint his place in history by being reappointed, making him the longest serving Fed Chair ever. We all know that Team Bush has no space for squeaky wheels. The White House could with impunity let the faithful retainer go into a long deserved retirement -- and incidentally reduce unemployment by at least one -- and appoint a younger replacement without exciting too much horror in the markets.

Greenspan's vulnerability could explain why his youthful dreams of gold and solid currency, nightmares about the horrors of inflation and deficits have mysteriously disappeared. He is instead uttering impenetrably Delphic statements in support of an administration that is ignoring every single precept that he forced upon its predecessors.

Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for Alternet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, the Nation, and Salon.

Primary Numbers

It could be worse. Remember, Willy Horton was originally Al Gore's inventive way of beating up on co-Democrat Mike Dukakis in the 1988 primary -- but even so, the perennial spectacle of Democrats rooting in each others' dirty linen baskets and waving their soiled finds in public looks like unnecessary party-political harakiri to outsiders.

Month after month, the Democratic contenders have concentrated their venom on each other, letting an incumbent and eminently challengeable President stay relatively unchallenged through gaffe after gaffe.

This public disembowelment is not unique to the Democrats -- but they certainly do specialize in it. What is most surprising is that we are so bogged down in the details that it is decades since anyone seriously questioned the entire process, which has acquired that distinctive American patina of dogmatic unchallengability that coats anything to do with the Constitution.

Americans, even those who consider themselves near-revolutionary, take the primaries for granted without perhaps realizing, or caring, that the whole process that looks completely illogical and undemocratic to all foreigners. In fact, there is a good case to be made that primary elections are responsible for much of the evil in modern American politics, from apathy to the power of money.

Just consider what the primaries are about. It is not the members or active supporters of a party who pick its candidates, but any voter who registers as a supporter. The so-called "open primary" in many states, takes it to even dizzier heights of absurdity. Not only can voters who declare themselves party supporters vote for its candidates without ever shelling out a cent in dues or attending a meeting, but in open primaries, avowed opponents of a party can help choose its candidates.

In Georgia last year incumbent Democrat Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was defeated in the primary -- by cross-voting Republican supporters, according to her. Despairing of a Republican defeating her in the general election, her opponents rallied a "cross party coalition," to defeat her -- in the primary. Incidentally, they also brought in a lot of out of state money to do it. Now, no matter whether one agrees or disagrees with McKinney's fiery brand of politics, such a result has little or nothing to do with democracy as practiced in the rest of the world.

In other democratic countries, the candidates are picked by party members who have paid dues and declared support for the party's principles. Of course, the association of party and principle seems oxymoronic to many disgruntled Americans, but maybe the primaries have had something to do with that as well.

Once again, an outside perspective helps. There are problems in Britain of course, but it's worth looking just to show that it is indeed possible to do things a bit differently. To run as a candidate, prospective members of the British parliament need only the endorsement of the local and national parties. They do not need money for the often fiercely contested process -- even if backing from party officials can help -- since it is the local members who make the selection.

The process is run by the party itself, among members who have paid their dues and accept its rules. Once candidates win the nomination, there are strict limits on spending -- they personally do not need to raise any of it. But that's not so bad. There is no paid radio or TV advertising in Britain (although what media moguls like Rupert Murdoch or Conrad Black will do, unpaid, is another issue.) And Tony Blair has been looking longingly at the American way of doing things, which should be worrying both for Brits and for Americans who are lumbered with the system.

So apart from principle, what's wrong with primaries? Let's begin with apathy. A Democratic presidential primary contest is like a tapeworm, long and with no conclusive ending, copulating with itself all the time, but with no real climax -- except that the results tend to come out covered in crap. How can you expect even activists who have spent such a long and tedious gestation period cheering on one contender to switch the same enthusiasm to a winner whom your hero or heroine of choice has been castigating for all that time?

How can you expect ordinary voters to turn out for someone who has been so thoroughly besmeared by his own alleged party colleagues? Any shining armor would be rusty and dented by the time it comes through this process. Any white horse would be bay when it comes to the finishing lines.

The second and most pernicious aspect of primary contests is that they provide the first of many points of entry for large donors to buy the candidates of their choice. They become a financial steeplechase, in which electorally popular candidates are forced to drop out because they have run out of money. You may remember that Bill Clinton was not the leading candidate when he reached the New York primary back in 1991 -- but he had found out where the checks were to be found, which more than made up for any temporary embarrassment on the voting front.

The osmotic power of big money in elections tends to defeat all the best ideas to combat it. The original idea of primaries was to take politics out of the smoke-filled rooms of the party bosses, where as Tammany Hall's Boss Tweed once said, "I don't care who does the electin', so long as I do the nominatin'."

Apart from anti-smoking laws, all that's happened since is that the fulcrum of the process has moved to rubber chicken-filled banqueting rooms. The amount of money that an individual needs to find to run a primary campaign has risen dramatically -- and with it the influence of those who have money by the bucketful.

We now take it for granted, almost as constitutional in fact, that the race is much more likely to go to the richest than the worthiest.

To win a contested primary, candidates need to find people with money to help them along. Except perhaps in the Iowa caucuses, they cannot target their campaigns to members, so they have to run their campaigns on television and radio. This is a huge cash-gobbling business, whose main end is probably to persuade uncommitted voters that the Democrats are not a cohesive challenge to the incumbent.

Money that comes wholesale is much easier. Howard Dean may have pioneered a neat way to kick-start the campaign with smaller donations and enthusiastic activism, but we can be sure he will be disappointed if bigger checks do not accompany any campaign against Bush.

But that raises an interesting question. Republican presidential candidates traditionally outspend Democrats. But if you added up all that money raised for Democratic primary contenders, and put it against Bush, it would certainly outweigh even all those Halliburton checks. But they'd rather spend it on fighting each other.

Sadly, there are no immediate solutions. The Supreme Court, especially this one, will almost certainly throw out any limits on spending in elections as a restraint on its own version of Free Speech. But the Iowa caucuses, even if derided by some candidates, are in fact a much more representative and serious way for a real party to pick real candidates. But to replicate it nationally, or to reform the primaries, the Democratic Party would have to reform itself as a genuine membership organization, rather than stay as a sort of post office box for big soft money checks and a franchiser of candidates who have bought their nominations. But that raises the question, just who is the Democratic Party now?

Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for AlterNet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, the Nation, and Salon.

The Less-Than-Special Bush/Blair Relationship

George Bush's visit to Britain spoke volumes about the lopsided Special Relationship between Washington and London -- and none of it spelled good news for his comrade-in-arms Tony Blair.

Apart from his eloquent praise for "one of the great alliances of mankind," Bush offered little more than doublespeak as usual. Speaking at the Royal Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace, he declaimed, "We're sometimes faulted for a naive faith that liberty can change the world. If that's an error it began with reading too much John Locke and Adam Smith."

Of course, it's more than a little ironic that a president who boasts that he does not read newspapers, should claim to have even opened the covers of any of their books, let alone read "too much" of them.

In similar vein, Bush responded to the 100,000 protesters gathered in the streets of London by celebrating the freedom to demonstrate, a right now shared, he noted, by both London and Baghdad. "Freedom is beautiful," he said, adding he was happy to be in a country where people were allowed to speak their minds freely. "All I know is that people in Baghdad weren't allowed to do this until recent history."

Never mind that in Iraq, panicky U.S. forces have shown a disturbing tendency to shoot demonstrators on sight. As it is, the British public can thank Bush for the rare sight of gun-toting bobbies, forced to take up arms to soothe White House paranoia.

"No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found," Bush declared. It explains his continuing refusal to hand over, or guarantee due process to, the British citizens that London maintains are being held illegally in Guantanamo. Blair told reporters in faux confidence, "It will be resolved at some point or other. It will be resolved soon." But his special friend Bush remained determinedly noncommittal, insisting that "justice is being done, they're being treated in a humane fashion."

And, of course, we can assess the sincerity of Bush's attachment to free trade, not to mention his gratitude to Tony Blair, in his refusal to lift the tariffs on British Steel that the WTO has ruled against, although, as he said, the Prime Minister had spoken to him about it at least three times. Indeed, even as the president celebrated the virtues of free trade, the U.S. government has imposed quotas on Chinese textiles. The memory-challenged conservative British press columnists may not have observed Dubya's distinction between doing and dictating, but the invisible hand of the market was paying close attention. The dollar plunged to its lowest ever against the Euro and foreigners are unloading U.S. bonds as if they were Confederate banknotes.

Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister during the Vietnam War, fought off tremendous economic pressure from LBJ and resisted any attempts to commit British forces to Vietnam. One reason was that the streets of London were already filled with protestors against the Americans being in Vietnam, let alone the British joining them. Blair, on the other hand, has been more than willing to alienate his core constituency, so in some sense we have to admire him. The British Prime Minister gets nothing out of this extra-special relationship in the political realm but grief. His country gets few economic or diplomatic benefits either.

But when you compare the Bush-Blair marriage with the truly Special Relationship between Ariel Sharon and George Bush, the reasons for British ire become clear. Sharon tweaks Dubya's nose at regular intervals, making it plain to Israeli audiences at least, that as far as he is concerned, he is the tail wagging the Bushy dog. No wonder the British are angry. Talk about being taken for granted. On the face of it, they would get more returns from bombing their neighbors than putting up Bush in the Buckingham Palace and watch Blair, unrewarded, and unheeded, fawn over George II.

Polls show that the British are not anti-American but anti-Bush. The British Labour Party can take much of the blame or credit for establishing the NATO treaty. In the face of developing American post-war isolationism, exhausted from the Second World War, the Labour Foreign Minister Ernie Bevan wanted to "keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down." More recently, the British public was quite prepared to send soldiers to Afghanistan after Sept.11, and even to Iraq as long as the war was conducted under the aegis of the United Nations.

If nothing else, the presidential visit has made the British public's attitude toward the Bush administration hard to ignore. Let's just say that if Britain ever formalizes the special relationship and becomes the 51st state, you can be sure that George W. Bush would not win its electoral votes, hanging chads or not.

Ian Williams is the Nation's UN correspondent. He writes on international affairs for AlterNet, Foreign Policy in Focus and In These Times.

An Object Lesson in Investing

Every year, ordinary Americans put billions, indeed trillions of dollars into Wall Street. Even if we do not directly own a single share, our pension funds and our insurance companies pour our money into the financial markets that are, as we are often told, the secret of our success as the world's largest economy.

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics much-quoted by conservatives, once said, "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." It's a description that fits today's Wall Street to a tee.

They may not be the evil capitalists favored by those Soviet cartoons of yore, sitting in smoke-filled rooms in their top hats. They may not be scheming to take over the world, as some in the anti-globalization movement would have you believe. But the current workings of the finance industry are, in sum, a giant conspiracy to loot ordinary investors for the benefit of its members and their friends.

The sources for my paranoia on this point are not loony Leninists, but the financial sections of major newspapers. The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times look increasingly like a cross between the National Inquirer and a criminal court docket, with Captains of Finance pictured daily doing a perp walk across their pages.

While adding the throwaway caveat that there are many sincere and honest people in the finance sector, we should note that in order to stay honest, they almost have to buck the system. To prove my point, let's trace the progress of your hard-earned dollars through the financial food chain.

Let's say an unwitting investor goes to a broker, who then recommends a mutual fund. Hitherto regarded as unassailable, the mutual fund's virtue is now under question thanks to the investigation launched by New York's attorney general Eliot Spitzer. To begin with, your broker may be receiving kickbacks from the fund managers for steering you in the "right" direction. So your money is going to the fund that gives the broker the best returns rather than you.

To add insult to the proverbial injury, not all investors are made equal in the eyes of a mutual fund. They often offer special deals to major investors, who are allowed to trade after the markets have officially closed for the day. It's a bit like allowing people to bet on a horse race after the winners have gone past the finishing post.

The funds are also tied to the brokers' interests in other ways. The "sell-side" of brokerage firms is made up not just of stock sales teams, but also of analysts. These so-called independent researchers recommend which companies to buy -- always an overwhelming majority of those on offer -- and which to sell, a number that is all too frighteningly small.

There is usually a strong correlation between "buy" recommendations and whether or not the brokerage house has a stake in the contract for new stock issues -- or hopes to acquire one in the future. While analysts are supposed to be protected by a "Chinese Wall" from such temptations, bonuses and commissions often make up a large part of their remuneration. I have spoken to several who confess to netting $100,000 for making one phone call.

Many mutual funds took a beating in the last two years because they followed the sell-side analysts' recommendations and pumped their money into the bubble stocks that were being touted by the brokers and bankers. It is the average investor, however, who paid for their abysmal performance. The mutuals either took a percentage of your money up-front, or charged you a management fee for losing your money.

Here are your choices then. Invest in a mutual fund or invest in the companies recommended by your broker -- and in either case end up as a victim of the same bad advice.

However you invest your hard-earned money, it is likely to go through the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike the NASDQ, the NYSE has a network of so-called "specialists," who act as middlemen between buyers and sellers. It now turns out that these firms were skimming off the top themselves. Instead of matching the seller with a potential buyer, the specialists bought the stock themselves and resold it to the seller at a slight profit. But don't worry, the Exchange regulates itself, which is why the directors handpicked by former Chairman Richard Grasso paid him a whopping $180 million for putting them on the regulatory board.

After passing through this chain of sticky hands, at last your money arrives at its destination, ready to do its job, i.e. finance the American economy. And does it? Well, yes, but only up to a point.

If you invested in an Initial Public Offering at the height of the dot.com boom, for example, a large chunk of your money (around 20 percent) went in charges and fees to bankers, lawyers and the finance houses that pulled together the deal. Of course, you'd have to wait your turn for that privilege. A bulk of IPO stocks were sold not to the public, but to friends, management, potential clients, and the executives of the company, who got their stock allocations at the beginning, along with the big institutional investors.

These good Samaritans then collectively pumped the stock until it reached dizzying heights, and then unloaded it to individual stock holders mesmerized by the tales of fools' gold available in IPO's -- - i.e. you. You were left watching it reconnect with the laws of gravity, as it hit rock bottom with a leaden thump.

Herein lies the telltale evidence of Wall Street greed. If the IPO's were about raising money for the company, then those involved would clearly want to get the highest price for the stock the moment it went on the market. But if the entire process was intended instead as a scam to loot the public, using the company as bait, then it makes sense to charge the lowest price at the outset to a select group of people who can then make a huge profit when the stock price soars.

Unfortunately, even if the shares don't immediately sink like a stone, your money isn't particularly safe. The CEOs of this world get much of their atrociously over-inflated rewards not from salary, but from options to buy shares. Stock options are supposed to "incentivize" managements to work harder. (Why we expect so many Americans to be inspired to feats of productivity just by a minimum wage, while others should need untold millions to give their best, is another story.) While the motivational effects of options are at best suspect, they do provide an incentive to hype the price of the shares so that high-level management can clean up. Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Arthur Anderson, should all ring an alarm bell or two.

Corporate executives of such companies do not like paying dividends, because that goes to the ordinary shareholders. Instead they extol the virtues of "shareholder value," of increasing the stock price. Indeed, many of them tell their shareholders that rather than "waste" money paying out dividends -- which until the recent Bush giveaway was taxable -- they prefer to buy back stock for the company to raise the share price.

There are several holes in this argument. One is that most ordinary shareholders own shares through their pension plans, and do not pay tax on dividends. The second is the uncanny similarity between the number of shares "bought back" by the company and the number of options issued to high-ranking company executives. In other words, under the banner of shareholder value, shareholders and employees are being once again robbed. Think of all those Enron employees whose pensions were locked up in plummeting stock, even as the executives were dumping their shares.

The moral, of course, is that free markets be damned, if people can make off with your money, you can be damn sure that they will -- unless someone stops them. We have the best regulators in the world, of course. The NYSE checks the listings; the SEC monitors the company filings; independent auditors keep tabs on the books; and a board elected by the shareholders scrutinizes the company strategy. All of these men and women, each dedicated to a single end: the welfare of the shareholders. Right?

Let's see. The National Association of Securities Dealers keeps most of its judgments against its member's secret, so you have no idea if the nice broker trying to sell you a parcel of Enron has a "record." The New York Stock Exchange is part of the problem and not the solution, as its new chairman John Reed has tacitly admitted. The Securities and Exchange Commission, on the admission of its previous chairman, was lobbied into not counting the cost of stock options to managements as part of doing business. Besides, even if the lobbyists allowed it to work harder, it is already far too overstretched to mind the coop.

Most of its judgments are arrived at through mutual consent. So if a corporate honcho steals millions of dollars, he will avoid prison time and indeed a criminal record as long as he repays a little bit of it. Indeed, he will probably be invited to the White House and made a member of the president's inner-circle of "friends" if he makes a big enough donation with his loot. On the other hand, try stealing a few knick-knacks from a Wal-Mart and see where that will get you!

With the financial regulators displaying such fine form, we're left with Elliot Spitzer and other state attorney generals, who may have political ambitions, but are doing a better job of fighting these large-scale forms of white-collar crime. Thanks to them, Wall Street may try and genuinely clean up its act -- for the moment.

However, the Street is based on the lemming principle. Much of this self-flagellation only happened when the market tanked. That was when the ponzi schemes unraveled and the truth about the rosy corporate accounting dawned on investors.

The next time the market goes up, you can bet that they will all be at it again. The same institutions will join in on the feeding frenzy, persuading average Joes and Janes to put their savings in the hands of this great money-skimming machine.

Ian Williams is the Nation's UN correspondent. He writes frequently for AlterNet, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Salon on international affairs.

No Money for the Halliburton Development Fund

According to the incurable optimists in the White House, the Madrid donors' conference for Iraq was a diplomatic triumph, as country after country dipped into its pockets to help the American reconstruction effort. Of course, if you actually paid attention what the participants were saying and doing, the take-home message to Washington was quite to the contrary.

The rest of the world is now questioning not just the morals of the U.S. occupation, but also its method.

The push to raise international funding, insofar as it made any sense at all, was an attempt by Powell to win an inter-departmental battle in Washington. Still trying to convince skeptical Pentagonistas and Dubya of the dividends of a multilateral approach, the State Department is wooing the less reactionary swing vote within the administration with a demonstration of the tangible cash benefits of working with others.

Powell displayed his share of Washingtonian chutzpah during the conference, telling the French press that France and Germany "would have better served the cause of the international community if they had accepted to make additional financial contributions." In other words, they should have paid to clean up for a war they opposed, presumably so that folks at the Pentagon would forgive them being so accurate about the results of ignoring their advice!

Powell succeeded in his donor drive, but only up to a point. Few if any of the assembled donors were prepared to put any of their cash into the so-called Iraqi Development Fund, into which the residual money from the Oil For Food program, future oil revenues, and any other cash assets of the Iraqi regime are supposed to go. They will instead be channeling their money directly through the "UN window" into funds under international rather than coalition control.

They have good reasons for their reluctance to trust Uncle Sam with their money. To begin with, it has taken six months for the U.S. to allow the establishment of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, which is supposed to supervise the allocations made by the Development Fund, which increasingly resembles a Halliburton/Bechtel moneybox.

Faced with the obduracy of the multinational institutions who actually wanted to supervise the development fund spending rather give it the desired Arthur Anderson/Enron rubber stamp, Satrap Bremer finally succumbed on the very eve of the Madrid conference. The U.S. agreed to allow appointments on terms specified by the institutions, which include the stipulation "that export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas from Iraq are made consistent with prevailing international market best practices."

In other words, no sweetheart deals for GOP contributors. But the concession was too little, too late. Most of the donors had already noticed which way the cash was flowing: right into the pockets of U.S. companies.

That's the reason Washington's demand -- recently reiterated as part of resolution 1511 at the UN -- that all outstanding Iraqi government assets be transferred into the fund, has met with little success. Other governments have been less than impressed, and in no small part due to the fate of the $1.7 billion of Baghdad's assets that were frozen in the United States.

The White House confiscated those funds under the Patriot Act, ensuring that they were technically no longer considered Iraqi assets. While U.S. Treasury officials testified to Congress that the money was used "for the benefit of the Iraqi people" they have not been handed over to the Iraqi Development Fund. And yes, there is a Santa Claus. The seized assets are as unlikely to end up in the reconstruction fund as the large stashes of hundreds of millions of greenbacks that were recovered in the early days of the war.

Given this track record of American good faith, many, indeed possibly all, of the large and round figures announced triumphantly at Madrid will bypass the Bremer Slush Fund. Most foreign donations will be devoted to financing aid projects conducted without Halliburton's help, but through a joint UN/World Bank fund. The fund's recently drafted rules repeatedly refer to spending the money in conjunction with the Iraqi and not coalition authorities.

A perhaps equally disheartening development for Halliburton & Co was the statement by the UN's acting head in Iraq, Lopes da Silva, who pointed out that the UN had "incorrectly assumed that the professional classes would be displaced, and they have not." He was tactfully alluding to the huge proportion of the cost of previous aid exercises that had been eaten up by expensive international experts and contractors. Since Iraq has little or no need for such outside expertise, it is yet another reason to hasten the empowerment of an indigenous Iraq government that would be more likely to hire Iraqis than Texans. It would allow the Iraqi professionals in ministries and state institutions to make policy and technical choices, decide priorities, develop strategies and take the relevant decisions, said da Silva.

Indeed most UN speakers took pains to point out the long relationships that the organization had at every level with the Iraqis, and the competence of the locals. Once again, the not-so-subtle subtext pointed to the superfluity of U.S. occupation.

The nebulosity of all donation data suggests again that for Washington a major purpose of the donor conference is indeed to create an illusion of multilateral support, for both global and Washington consumption. But in this dialogue of the deaf, the gentle but sustained message from almost all concerned was an invitation to the U.S. to butt out of Iraq at the earliest opportunity. Judging from the media reports, that message was lost in translation.

Ian Williams is the Un correspondent for the Nation. His writes regularly for AlterNet, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Salon.

A Pyrrhic Victory at the UN

Well-spun by U.S. and British press handlers, the wire services announced the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1511 as a victory for American diplomacy. And so it was, in the sense that a bald man winning a hairbrush in a raffle could claim a victory.

The resolution called on the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to return governing authority to the people of that country "as soon as practicable." In addition, the Council urged Member States to contribute to a multinational force in Iraq to maintain security under a unified command until the establishment of a representative government, at which time its mandate would expire. The Security Council will review the requirements and mission of the force within one year.

The Bush administration did finally get their resolution, but the question is, what can they do with it? The short answer is "not a lot." The White House did not seek this resolution because they felt a need for moral and legal absolution and approbation from the United Nations. It wanted it as a means to four specific goals: to coax more troop contributions from reluctant governments; to coax more cash for Iraqi reconstruction; to coax Kofi Annan to return UN civilian staff to Iraq; and perhaps most of all, reinforced by the previous three, to persuade the bulk of Iraqis that they weren't really occupied at all.

It is highly unlikely to secure any of those goals. On the other hand, it contains so many verbal concessions, and pledges for a rapid transition to Iraqi self-governance, that, even if they are thoroughly hedged in substance, the U.S. has put itself ineluctably on a slippery slope to a more genuinely multilateral approach. The slope is of course helpfully greased with facts on the ground in Iraq, and impending votes on the ground in the U.S.

The key issue for which Russia, France, and Germany had been holding out was a timetable for a constitution, elections, and independence, and for the possibility of handing over power before the whole process was finished. They seem to have won the latter point, more as a hypothesis than a promise, and they ended up with a timetable for a timetable. The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) must present a timetable for constitution and elections by December 15th.

The Resolution as Theology

The obsessive -- and self defeating -- refusal of the U.S. to hand over the reins, or even to promise when and how it would do so, almost scuppered the deal, and by the end it almost looked as if there had been a team of theologians and metaphysicists on the drafting team.

How else can you explain almost self-mocking statements such as clause 4 which

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Annan Trounces Bush at UN

While the U.S. media will most likely play up George Bush's boring speech to the UN, the day clearly belonged to Kofi Annan.

In his distinctively quiet-spoken manner, Annan trounced the Bush administration's foreign policy doctrine of unilateral preemptive strikes at the United Nations General Assembly. Saying the world had "come to a fork in the road," at what "may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded," Annan spelt out explicitly and in the most public way possible the position he has until now reserved for quiet off-the-cuff sessions with the media. Drawing on the power of his office, he ripped apart the U.S. policy of hot preemption -- though without pointing specifically at the Bush administration:

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Time for a Reality Check in Iraq

The foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council met in Geneva, and unsurprisingly, did not come to agreement over the future of Iraq. But the sound of silence is often significant in diplomacy. There was little of the name-calling and public vituperation that marked such negotiations over the war last year, nor were there any peremptory demands from Washington for an immediate vote and resolution.

Contrary to appearances, significant efforts are underway behind the scenes to find a workable compromise -- a solution that will help get the Americans out of the hole they have dug for themselves, without pulling the UN and the rest of the world into the sinkhole with them. George W. Bush will address the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23. While there is some pressure inside the administration to get a Security Council resolution first, the consensus is that his speech will be aimed at the opposition, to soften up the ground for a favorable vote.

But the real opposition is in Washington, where some of the hardliners are still seething over the decision to go back to the UN. The prospects for a workable solution for Iraq depend as much on how the debate inside the administration is resolved as they do on negotiations within the UN.

Ideologues have a difficult time grappling with reality. It is often complicated, requires compromise, and entails making difficult choices. Given the current state of affairs in Iraq, there are no easy or perfect solutions. As the apocryphal lost traveler in the West of Ireland was told, “If I was you, I wouldn’t start from here!” So while the U.S. should not have gone into Iraq, its invasion has created a different reality that requires a pragmatic rather than an ideological strategy.

For weeks, the Bush administration was holding out for a Security Council mandate to legitimize the U.S. occupation -- a wildly optimistic expectation that reflected its alarming disconnect from reality. Donald Rumsfeld was fondly indulging his fantasy of tens of thousands of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi troops under U.S. command, but enlisted by a UN resolution. By recruiting native foot-soldiers of the former British Raj to replace American GIs, Rumsfeld hoped to preserve his reputation, which he had staked on the effectiveness of a relatively small U.S. force to both invade and occupy Iraq.

At the Geneva summit and in talks in New York, there were reassuring signs that the Bush administration may be ready to relinquish such neoconservative fantasies. It is in no one's interests, including the long-suffering Iraqis, for the country to disintegrate into chaos. The reality check which compelled the Bush administration to return to the UN has also pushed the French, Russians and Germans a long way toward a compromise. The French and Russians (much mollified by a hint of continuing contracts for TotalFinaElf and Lukoil) are pursuing a reasonable course that will give everyone -- except the die-hard hawks in the Bush administration -- what they want. It's the same type of pragmatism that impelled the Arab League to abandon its own version of political puritanism and give qualified recognition to the Iraqi Governing Council.

The most effective solution would be the institution of some form of UN surveillance and monitoring of the political transition, accompanied by a U.S.- or NATO-led military operation. No one who remembers the tendency of UN peacekeepers to surrender at the first militia road block -- be it in Cambodia, Bosnia or Sierra Leone -- could seriously expect the UN to ensure security in Iraq. The bloodthirsty militias operating are armed well-enough. We don't need to add the arms of UN peacekeepers to their arsenal. Military security is simply not the organization's métier.

While U.S. troops should not be pulled out immediately, they should indeed be taken off the streets. Far too many Iraqis have been found guilty of “Driving While Arab,” and executed for their sins. While giving U.S. soldiers a UN mandate and reinforcing them with international troops will make them less of a target, the U.S. military in turn must cease acting like an occupying army with imperial privileges. Washington has to swallow hard and accept an end to the occupation in a political sense.

To earn the UN imprimatur, the United States has to set a speedy deadline to hand over political control to the United Nations, along with a clear timeline for Iraqi independence. It is time to bid a fond farewell to its grand schemes for long-term military bases, pipelines to Israel or selling the shop at bargain basement prices to Halliburton and Bechtel. So far, the U.S. and British occupation has not even taken the step of appointing the international supervisors who were to act as a multilateral figleaf on American control of the Iraq Development Fund into which the oil money is supposed to flow.

There are other tests of sincerity. An easy one would be allow in the UN weapons inspectors -- even though the same administration cited Saddam’s alleged lack of cooperation with the UN as its official cause for war. An interesting minor "test" to watch for will be an impending decision on cell-phone contracts. Will they go to companies using the American system, which is incompatible with the rest of the world, and more especially with Iraq's neighboring countries?

In the end, the ultimate test of sincerity is to hand over the reconstruction effort to the UN, which has the required expertise to head the civil and economic rebuilding of Iraq and legitimize any transition regime. There are perfectly good precedents for UN involvement in Iraq. In the case of Kosovo, NATO officially controlled the military operations, while the UN took care of civilian affairs.

To be sure, a UN-run reconstruction effort has its drawbacks -- often ignored in inflated representations of its past efforts. Both Kosovo and East Timor locals complained of a neocolonial streak in the UN occupation, often with more than a little justification. However, in both places, there were no indigenous government institutions in place since they were ruled by Yugoslavia and Indonesia respectively as colonial outposts. UN employees were forced to take over their role. An Iraqi administration, however, can be largely made up of Iraqis themselves. There are millions of public employees who are more than eager to return to work. The UN’s role should be supervise the administration and set the pace for constitutional reform and elections and control the checkbook.

No one should be surprised that the collapse of the all-controlling Ba’athist state has led to privatization of murder and mayhem on a massive scale. But there is no way that a foreign army, however large or lethally equipped, can bring it under control. A genuine United Nations mandate accompanied by a genuine U.S. commitment to cede political control may do the trick. And there is every reason, apart from faith-based ideology and neo-imperial arrogance, to take up the option.

Any government brought into being by the United States will be treated as a political stooge to be replaced at the earliest nationalist coup. A Security Council rubber stamp of the occupation and even of the Iraqi Governing Council would suffer from the same fate. The United Nations needs a visible, hands-on role in the process without becoming a mere accoutrement of a U.S. occupation.

Of course, it may hurt some in the administration to actually live up to its claims of altruism, but domestic political reality demands no less. The costs of continuing the occupation in its present form goes beyond billions of dollars of deficit and even further than the body bags and planeloads of amputees landing at Andrews Air force base. In the end, this war may extract from the White House the greatest price of all: the 2004 presidential election.

Time for Another Regime Change in Iraq

As so often with the George W. Bush administration, the real debate about the UN's role is not in the Security Council, it is in Washington. With some macabre irony, the bombing of the UN headquarters August 19th in Baghdad may create some political space in the White House. With the attrition of will for the occupation due to the loss of U.S. soldiers' blood and U.S. taxpayers' gold, and an impending presidential election campaign, there are signs that administration is moving, albeit too slowly, toward the inevitable. It should be encouraged to do so.

The murderers who set off the truck bomb outside the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, whether they were vengeful Ba'athists or Islamic fundamentalists, were not fighting for freedom of a kind that any of us would recognize.

It is not the first time that there has been a morbid synergy between some of the faith-based warriors in the Pentagon and their fundamentalist sparring partners in the region. They both have a profound disdain for the UN and any concept of international law.

However, while the hard-liners in the Pentagon can see the dangers of the UN to the U.S. (and of course, how could we forget, the British) occupation, the bombers probably could not. Nuance is not their forte.

Their biggest victim, Sergio Vieira de Mello, had been trying to enlarge the UN presence incrementally, without provoking blowback from the right wing of the Pentagon. If his plan had succeeded, the Iraqi government would not have the Quisling stigmata of being a regime installed by the invaders. In fact, the UN presence could help ensure an independent, secular, rights-based government in Baghdad.

On a very superficial level, you can see why the murderers may consider the UN as pandering to the American occupation. Kofi Annan did indeed say that the invasion was against the UN Charter, but it was a muted statement for the record rather than a loud, global denunciation. The UN was setting up shop once again in Baghdad, after it had overseen a decade worth of sanctions. However, the secretary general has a lot of company in his diplomatic reticence.

Most of the world has contented itself with skirting the issue of the invasion's legality, in the hope of influencing the course of the reconstruction. The UN has been similarly circumspect -- trying to work with the small internationalist wing of the State Department to ameliorate the plight of the Iraqi people but yet trying not to mention "the war," for fear of alienating the Pentagon even more.

As so often in diplomacy, ambiguity is very useful. Security Council Resolution 1500, which "welcomed" the Iraqi Governing Council, is a classic example. Most members saw it, correctly, as a step toward returning sovereignty to the Iraqis as soon as possible, while Washington hailed it as international validation of the U.S. invasion and occupation. In fact the other members, having noticed that the Iraqi Governing Council has been very eager to win UN validation and is straining to break out from American tutelage, have certainly been very careful not to approve the actual invasion.

It is clear that the local administrators would rather work with the UN than with the occupation forces, who are increasingly overstaying their welcome and have left much to be desired in the way of service delivery. Both sane and cynical voices in Washington have noticed that the UN actually has considerable institutional experience in reconstruction, not to mention long contacts with Iraq itself.

Many in the progressive community say that since Washington cooked this particular hot potato, it should hold it, but that would be unfair to the long-suffering Iraqis. While the U.S. and British troops should not have gone in without Security Council mandate, the world now has to deal with the reality that was created. Without the Ba'athists' tight control of a country filled with lethal weaponry and huge grudges, the security situation on the ground is unstable at best.

But the U.S. troops should be taken off the streets as soon as possible. Their presence as occupiers, (let alone the casualties inflicted upon the Iraqi people, now estimated as between 6-7,000), is far too costly for the Iraqi people. The price the U.S. has to pay for UN peacekeepers doing the job is a much more explicit role for the international community in the administration than the Pentagon has been prepared to allow so far.

It may be too much to expect from the White House to internationalize control of the military in Iraq but it would make a lot of sense to leave reconstruction and civil administration, including justice and policing, to a combination of the Iraqi Governing Council and the United Nations. A sensible approach would be loosely modeled on Kosovo, where the military command structure was separate from the UN's civilian and administrative side.

It is time to reassure the world and the Iraqis with a firm timetable to end the occupation, and to internationalize the transition to independence and democracy.

Ian Williams contributes frequently to Foreign Policy in Focus, Alternet.org, and the Nation (online at www.fpif.org ) on UN and international affairs.

Tattered Road Map Still Legible

Amazingly, the "Road Map," has survived the Israeli cabinet's attempts to fold it into an origami dead duck with its "14 serious concerns" that it wanted the United States to sign on to -- and an Israeli assassination attempt on Hamas almost certainly contrived to provoke a suicide attack that would give Israel an excuse to break off talks.

As past precedent dictated, this attack was followed in sanguinary succession by a suicide bomb on a bus, and then more Israeli assassinations. But this time even the White House seems to have understood what was happening, singling out the initial assassination attempt for condemnation. What's more, it seems the United States is not accepting that the ensuing suicide attacks are a legitimate excuse to call off the talks.

There is, of course, a history behind this. Most recent Mideast peace processes have had a built-in self-destruct device that can, and will be, triggered by the fanatics on both sides if the old Yitzhak Shamir tactic of simply stalling annoys the Americans too much. And the "14 serious concerns" had exactly such a clause, which the violence triggered.

It is not paranoia to think of sabotage in this connection. When things looked too peaceful back in 2000, Ariel Sharon decided to go for a provocative walk around at the Al Aqsa Mosque. For the Palestinians, Sharon is, of course, not just any Israeli politician, but the one on Belgium's wanted list for his responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. And so the current Intifada exploded.

People have accused Sharon of many things, but rarely of stupidity. He knew what he was doing at Al Aqsa: Winning the next Israeli election, and frustrating the Labor Party's tentative moves towards a peace settlement. His recent behavior fell into the same pattern, talking peace while relying on the hawkish factions inside the Israeli services to mount a provocation -- confident that their counterparts among the Palestinians will rise to the bait.

The difference is that while no one holds the whole Israeli state, with all its armed forces, police and allegedly omniscient security services responsible for what one fundamentalist settler does, or indeed for what the Israeli Defense Forces do, the embattled Palestinian Authority -- with its police stations in rubble, its forces under regular attack by Israel, not allowed to move from one village to another, and even denied the tax revenues it is owed -- are still held to account for every last suicide bomber.

Don't Underestimate Bush

There is ample room for skepticism, or even scoffing, about the Road Map, yet strangely enough, there is indeed a tantalizing hint that things may be different this time. And it is not just that prominent voices such as former AIPAC luminary and U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, are pointing out the absurdity of conditioning peace talks on the shattered PA's ability to police other Palestinian factions.

Most liberals have underestimated President Bush. It is true that from appearances alone you would not trust him to ride a tricycle around a padded playground, but that belies his genuine accomplishments: In less than one year flat to have engineered, fought and won a war with no tangible casus belli, and in the teeth of strong opposition from most allies, is no mean achievement. Now it would seem that it is not just the State Department, but also the White House that is putting real pressure on Sharon to deliver.

Because without such American pressure, it is difficult to see any other rationale for the Likud Prime Minister to take the political risks he did with the Israeli right wing by announcing, completely out of character, that "Ruling three and a half million Palestinians cannot go on indefinitely," and adding that, "Today there are 1.8 million Palestinians fed by international organizations. Would you like to take this upon yourselves? Where will we get the money?"

Amazingly, he sounds convinced -- yet one does not have to be a cynic to doubt that he has had some sort of moral epiphany. Could it be he sincerely does not want to annoy George W. Bush? Or is his back against the wall for other reasons? The Israeli stock market soared when the cabinet signed on for the Road Map, showing that the money has no taste for continuing mayhem, and even less for a bruising confrontation with Washington.

The 14 Roadblocks

Before the Road Map launch, Sharon and the Israeli cabinet put forward the expected 14 "essential" Israeli amendments to the Road Map, which if accepted would have made the document as useful as a paper airplane.

The Israeli cabinet also resolved firstly and separately that it "clarifies" that, "both during and subsequent to the political process, the resolution of the issue of the refugees will not include their entry into or settlement within the State of Israel." This; of course, muddies rather than clarifies the issues; on one level it is a challenge to the Palestinians to pull out, since they are equally adamant that the "right to return" must be addressed, but on the other hand, it is so vaguely worded that anyone with the duplicity of Sharon can walk right through it.

The other fourteen points, as their drafters intend, are roadblocks rather than signposts. The first is to make it a precondition for progress that the weakened and besieged PA disarm and stop all armed activity while denying it the actual power to do so. The provisional Palestinian state would be an attenuated Bantustan with "certain attributes of sovereignty," with provisional borders and its airwaves, air space and external connections provided courtesy of Israel. While talking about the issues, settlements will not be on agenda apart from the "freeze" and the so-called illegal outposts, the status of the PA, and its institutions in Jerusalem.

Additionally, says the Israeli document, the road map has to lose all references to the Saudi peace plan, even though it was that initiative that launched the current process, as well as to any other UN resolutions other than 242 and 338 -- where, of course, the Israeli definitions differ wildly from everyone else's and even then only as an "outline." The key here is an attempt to get away with more than the 1967 borders.

Check the thermostat in hell

However, what Israel got from White House was a lot less than had they had publicly anticipated earlier. "The United States shares the view of the Government of Israel that these are real concerns, and will address them fully and seriously in the implementation of the roadmap to fulfill the President's vision of June 24, 2002," said the White House.

Basically, they said that the Road Map stands. Indeed Secretary of State Colin Powell's call afterwards for "contiguous territory" for the Palestinians, and his quite remarkable use of the term Bantustan at the negotiations in Aqaba last week, in effect, to describe the results of most Israeli peace suggestions, is in some ways a direct rebuttal of the intended results of the 14 points.

"It has to have contiguity, it has to be connected, it has to have means of moving about within that state," said Powell. "So it can't be chopped up in so many ways in some form of Bantustan that it would not really be seen as an honest effort to provide a state for the Palestinian people."

So while normally the clichés about the odds of a snowball in hell would spring to mind when considering this, there are so many anomalies that one almost wonders whether the odds may not have shortened. Something has happened, although it is not clear what.

If Bush concentrates on the original road map, in particular its invocation of the Saudi peace plan, he may pull this all off. It is a prospect that certainly worries the right wing in Israel, whose fan club in Congress this week launched its first condemnation of Bush. But Bush is mean and stubborn, and such criticism may backfire. I'd give a lot to eavesdrop on the conversations between the President and his deity at the moment.

Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for Alternet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, The Nation, and Salon.

The United Nations Backs Down

Well, mes amis, it may be time to reconsider your crash solidarity order for Louis Vuitton luggage and Camembert fromage. The stalwart French have taken the crumbs offered by Uncle Sam, liberally garnished them with their own words and eaten them in public. On Thursday morning they rolled over to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483 that to a large extent legalizes the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- previously denounced by most of the council as illegal. It is almost as if a jury returned a verdict of justified homicide for a lynch mob.

Ironically, one of the many absolutely cosmetic concessions the French wrung from the Americans was the change of the word "collaborating" to "working together," to describe the role of the United Nations Special Representative, who had also been upgraded from Special Coordinator. There may some deep psychology at play here. The French ambassador pointed out that the word "collaborate" has some pretty nasty connotations in French.

It does in English as well. And so does the deed of collaboration. Most members of the council decided that fighting for their principles would exact too high a price in blowback from the White House, and well -- how else to put it -- they then collaborated with the resolution. Only Syria absented itself -- and to be honest, one is never sure whether it is high principle or low intellect that decides Damascus' votes. The vote on the 15-member council: 14-0, without Damascus.

The resolution leaves "The Authority," as the occupying powers euphemistically call themselves, in full control of Iraq. Am I alone in being reminded of "The Organization" that used to rule the roost in Pol Pot's Cambodia?

The other cosmetic concession was that the Security Council would review the resolution in six months. But typically, the U.S. could veto any attempt to change it. The Russians were insisting that the U.N. weapons inspectors declare Iraq disarmed before sanctions were lifted. But they went along with a promise in the resolution to review the functions of UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The by-play over the inspectors is highly revealing about the motivations and the powers involved. The British would very much like to see the U.N. inspectors back in Iraq, since they realize that the refusal to admit them makes nonsense of their entire legal case for the war. And, in the increasingly unlikely case that anyone other than Judith Miller of The New York Times finds any weapons, no one will believe weapons are there unless the U.N. is involved.

On the other hand, the Americans are prepared to let in the IAEA immediately, because they are worried about what might have gone missing from the Iraqi nuclear plants and only the IAEA can tell them.

However, on a personal grudge level, the Pentagon has never forgiven former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix for being right about the prohibited weapons, or lack thereof, in Iraq, and so it seems that they will not consider allowing UNMOVIC back in until after Blix's retirement in June. The message is not only that the Pentagon is petty, but also that it is powerful: certainly powerful enough to override their British allies, not to mention powerful enough to ignore common sense.

In return for such minor concessions, the U.S. has secured pretty much all that it wanted. The resolution "welcomes" the willingness of other states to provide forces, thus giving a U.N. fig leaf for coalition members who want to ingratiate themselves further with the White House by sending troops, without themselves being "occupying powers."

The occupiers will finance their occupation with Iraqi oil money that will now go into the Iraqi Development Fund, under occupiers' control but monitored by an allegedly independent board. This board will "include" representatives from the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank and the Arab Fund for Development. It does not specify how many other representatives the "Authority" can appoint. The fund, and any subsequent Iraqi government, will still have to pay 5 percent of the oil revenues for reparations to Kuwaiti and other claimants from the last Gulf War.

The U.N. Special Collaborator, as some wags about the U.N. have taken to calling him, does have a little more power of initiative than before, if only the power to report back to the Security Council. But cynics cannot help but conclude that unless an extraordinary personality gets the job, then the real job description will be "U.N. Special Scapegoat," to carry the can when the Occupiers make a hash of reconstruction.

So is there any upside? Well, up to a point. The U.S. was forced to come back to the U.N. because it could not legally sell Iraq's oil without a Security Council resolution and because even alleged coalition countries wanted a U.N. resolution before they would join in the occupation. The U.S. had to admit that it was, in fact, an Occupying power.

But overall, once the threat to their debt repayments and contracts was lifted along with the sanctions, the other council members decided that, despite the powerful leverage the sanctions and oil sales would give them, they had no dog in this fight, so they declined to do serious battle.

And why am I picking upon the French? Because this week is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Polisario and the beginning of the Western Saharan struggle for the rights that the U.N. says the people are entitled to. Delayed a few days by the Iraq resolution, this week Kofi Annan will present the latest version of James Baker's plan for the region. Preliminary whispers suggest that it will be a warmed-over version of the old one, five years of alleged autonomy followed by a referendum in which all the Moroccan settlers will be entitled to vote.

The Moroccans are supposed to have objected because the plan includes some tougher monitoring of their behavior under autonomy. However, from previous experience, we can predict that the French, the United States, and the little poodle U.K. trotting behind them, will be as one in their determination to sell the Sahrawis down the river. Back to business as usual. They're only Arabs after.

Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for the Nation, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Salon.

Deterring the Empire

While the Bush administration focused its diplomatic might on the Middle East, the more important developments for the future of the American empire were taking place in Europe.

First, Germany, France, Belgium and Luxemburg got together and agreed to cooperate more fully in military matters. Then Greece, as the current EU president, called on member nations to come together to hold joint military preparations. And just this week, even close ally and Iraq war supporter Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi made a surprising argument for the admission of Turkey and Russia to the Union: "Europe will only be able to look at the United States not as a subordinate if it becomes a great Europe, not only great in the economic sense but also important in the sense of military authoritativeness," he said.

Washington is not amused. As Elaine Sciolino wrote in the New York Times, "(T)heir timing could not have been worse." While the Bush administration complains often and bitterly about Europe's low levels of defense spending, it wants them to stick to the script: provide the 21st Century equivalent of the British Empire's Indian sepoy troops, cough up colonial levies to support U.S. military initiatives, and police fallen cities after the Marines have stormed through.

Unhappily for the neoimperialists, the Europeans have other ideas. Last month's meeting was only the first tentative step toward creating a military counterbalance to the overweening power of the United States. But as Washington's apoplectic reaction revealed, any hint of independent military might, no matter how small, is galling, especially if, as now, there is a Gallic component to it.

Both the Russians and the French have sound reasons for pursuing a diplomatic strategy quite different from that of Britain, which has hitched its fortunes to American coat-tails since World War II.

Russia is faced with domestic dissatisfaction over the failure to emulate the United States. On the domestic front, the much-touted liberal economic policies have not brought the promised magical transformation. In the international arena, Washington seized on Gorbachev's hand of friendship as a sign of surrender and the demise of Russia's superpower status. Putin's fortunes are tied to restoring Russia's injured national pride.

Similarly, France has never reconciled itself to a dependent role in its relationship with the United States. Be it through the auspices of the EU, the UN or NATO, the French want recognition. However, American diplomacy being what it is, Washington has never bothered to stroke their national ego. But their strategy is based on more than just wounded pride. France, Russia and China agree on the need to counter the U.S. push to create a unipolar world -- and they possess the economic and military means to offer the required resistance.

Back in 1956, when France and Britain allied with Israel to attack the Suez Canal, Washington threatened to devalue their currency by selling pounds and francs. Today there are no francs, only Euros. With a massive trade deficit, the declining dollar is in no condition to start a pissing match with the rampant Euro -- especially when skyrocketing defense spending and tax cuts are adding to an already massive budget deficit. Empires are not built upon smart missiles alone; they need economic power to maintain long-term military supremacy.

Indeed, while the diversion of huge amounts of American wealth into armaments may have a Keynesian stimulant effect on an economy in the short to medium term, in the long run it can only weaken American economic development. After all, they can't export the most expensive stuff on any large scale without weakening their competitive military advantage. Keynes said, "In the long run, we are all dead." But that is no reason to hasten the process.

The U.S. can pretty much outshoot anyone on the planet in a conventional war, where its enemies helpfully marshal themselves in neat formations ready to be Tomahawked and Daisycut. But in the short run, there is an unintended strategic consequence of American technological superiority.

To illustrate: In one of the Indiana Jones movies, faced with a spectacular display of martial arts prowess on the part of a predatory swordsman, Harrison Ford pulls a pistol and shoots his superior opponent. Nuclear weapons are the equivalent of that leveling pistol in the face of unmatchable conventional military power. It's a strategy the U.S. has used to its advantage in the past; during the first days of the Cold War, NATO military doctrine countered what was then assumed to be Soviet conventional superiority by escalating the production of nuclear weapon as a deterrent against a conventional arms attack.

The lesson remains the same today. Russia and China have always recognized the utility of an advanced nuclear arsenal. The latest entrant, North Korea is using relatively cheap and nasty nukes to escape the fate of Iraq. Unlike Britain, France has both nuclear weapons and the independent means of delivery as well. This is why the neocons in the Pentagon have revived Star Wars, for their imperial dreams crash without a missile defense. But their efforts so far have been as fundamentally faith-based as much of the rest of their policies.

So, contrary to Elaine Sciolino's view, now is actually quite a good time to begin the work of creating a counterbalance to American ignorance and arrogance. As is usual in his dealings with the Americans, Tony Blair has missed the point. To be a genuine friend of the United States, you have to have the strength to gain its respect.

Even if most nations have acquiesced to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, many of them are deeply concerned about the flagrant breach of the UN Charter. The Franco-German plan to "bridge the gap" with the United States is likely to find a sympathetic ear in many quarters in Europe. The democratic states of the European Union are best positioned to kickstart the effort.

For a start, they are also the main economic rivals of the United States. With the Bush administration copping the same unilateralist attitude toward international trade, these nations can't afford not to resist. And if Tony Blair continues to play the Americans' Trojan horse in European politics, he will only increase the pressure on the other Europeans to form some sort of unholy alliance with China and Russia.

That some such non-American, if not anti-American, alliance will emerge is almost inevitable. It's the nature of power. Surely even the neoconservatives can see that if American power is -- as they claim -- at its zenith, then it is inevitably all downhill from here.

Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for Alternet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, The Nation, and Salon.

A Blinkered Vision for Post-War Iraq

Thanks to its inability to differentiate between ideology and reality, the Bush administration is consistently surprised at the most predictable of outcomes of its less-than-advisable actions. If George Bush were connected to reality in any but the most tangential way, he would pull out U.S from Iraq and hand over the task of reconstruction to the United Nations. But he isn't, so he won't.

In Iraq, the administration arrived MacArthur-style, armed with pipe-dreams of being welcomed as liberators. Their "Big Plan": Install a puppet regime that will sign a peace treaty with Israel, hand over large bases to the United States and deliver the oil revenues to Haliburton, Bechtel & Co.

The plan, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be working.

The Pentagon claims to have been taken by surprise by the looting and increasing political chaos. Yet anyone who remembered the end of the Hoxha regime in Albania could have told them what happens when an impoverished people celebrates the end of a hated regime. Anyone who knew the region could have told them that the religious leadership, especially the Shi'a clerics, were best placed to fill the power vacuum that will inevitably ensue Saddam's ouster. Two thirds of the population of Iraq are Shi'as with religious affiliations to Iran. The Bush administration has refused to take the advice of its British allies and engage with the reformist government in Teheran. Its refusal to do so is strengthening the religious conservatives both in Iran and in Iraq. No doubt they will continue to be surprised when local theocratic regimes with more legitimate popular support than the Ahmed Chalabis gain control over parts of Iraq.

The only major achievement that Bush has delivered thus far is to unite the Shi'is and the Sunnis: Both want the Americans out. The White House seems unable to grasp the simple fact that Iraqi hatred of Saddam does not make them any happier about the prospect of an American occupation or charter members of the Ariel Sharon fan club.

In addition to being surprised by the Iraqis, Bush and his advisors in the Pentagon seem just as nonplussed to discover that the rest of the world takes international law very seriously. Despite the pledges made to loyal but clearly disposable ally Blair, the White House has dismissed any significant role for the United Nations. Once again, the administration's position is based on the knee-jerk hostility of the Pentagon hawks rather than a pragmatic assessment of U.S. interests.

To begin with, most nations will discount any discovery of the missing weapons of mass destruction by U.S. forces. The sensible course of action is to call in the U.N. weapons inspectors to ensure credibility. But even with the Brits ranged against the Washington on this one, the administration refuses to budge from its irrational position. More importantly, their bloody-minded obstinacy is likely to hamper the administration's most pressing task: to sell Iraqi oil.

Late as ever, Bush realized last week that no one would buy Iraqi oil while the U.N. sanctions are still in place. Unfortunately, the rest of the nations seem reluctant to get with the Bush plan. True, the French have proposed the "immediate" suspension of sanctions last week. Chirac is playing to the gallery of world opinion again in the typically Gallic manner that infuriates the President and his team, not the least because they are so bad at it themselves. The French cannot be accused either of inconsistency -- since they have opposed the sanctions for years -- or of holding the welfare of the Iraqi people hostage to their political interests.

But the word "suspension" suggests that the sanctions cannot be permanently lifted until the U.N. inspectors have verified Iraq's disarmament. And what the French really mean when they say "immediate" is the time when they can work out a suitable deal for the Oil for Food program, which is crucial since it gives the U.N. control of the oil revenues. The French and Russians can argue, legitimately, that the program is the best way to feed the Iraqis, while ensuring that contracts will be honored, with, for example, French and Russian companies. It is yet another example of the classic mix of expressed altruism with more than a soupcon of self-interest that has characterized French and Russian policy all along.

Diplomatic jousting aside, oil companies operate in a global environment, not the insular and parochial world of Bushistan. They need the mandate and legal status that only the U.N. can award before they commit any serious cash to oil purchases, leave alone investment. Their pressure is sure to add to General Garner's growing difficulties. The U.S. is also asking other countries to help pay for the reconstruction and to forgive pre-Gulf War debts. Such cooperation is unlikely if American companies continue to get all the contracts and huge amounts of oil revenues end up in Kuwait as reparations. Anyone but this administration would anticipate problems ahead.

At one time, I invented the category of "heavily armed victim" to describe states like Israel and Serbia -- regional superpowers who are convinced that they are under threat from every nation around them despite their obvious military prowess. Since Sept. 11, with paranoia and jingoism fanned by the Bush administration and with the willing connivance of most of the media, all too many Americans have now fallen into the syndrome. There can be nothing more dangerous to the world than a superpower with global ambitions but hampered by a parochial and isolationist intellect, and imbued with such a sense of victimization that the mere act of disagreement provokes outrage.

This is an administration driven by fear that acts on faith. The best we can hope for is that Bush and his advisers will get bored with the messy reality of Iraq and ditch the problem on the rest of the world. If not, they will try to hammer the nation and its people into the shape of their illusions, creating a blowback that will hurt generations.

Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for Alternet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, the Nation, and Salon.

The Man Who Would Be King of Iraq

While the U.S. military finds itself bogged down on the road to Baghdad, the real hitch in Bush administration's grand vision for post-war Iraq may well be the man slated to take charge of it -- arms-dealer and former "Star Wars" guru General Jay Garner.

In a move typical for what passes for U.S. diplomacy these days, the Pentagon developed and announced its occupation plan without consulting the rest of the alleged coalition (no, not even trusty Britain) or the State Department. Worse, to this highly visible and important position, it picked a man with a dubious past and ideological credentials worthy of a Bush appointee.

A unilateralist hawk, the retired general is an ideological soulmate of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, his main collaborators in developing the "axis of evil" approach to U.S. foreign policy. But when it comes to the Middle East, his track record is even more alarming.

In 2000, Garner and 26 other U.S. officers signed a statement released by the right-wing Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) praising the Israeli Defense Forces for its "remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority." Indeed, the choice of Garner seems designed to enflame local and regional resistance. This is a man who after one JINSA junket declared, "A strong Israel is an asset that American military planners and political leaders can rely on."

Fortune magazine burbled that "Garner's civilian status is a big plus." But although his official title is "co-ordinator of civilian administration," Garner has always been a die-hard advocate of all things military -- sometimes at the expense of the facts. During the first Gulf War he went to Congress and touted the success of the Patriot missiles during the Iraqi attack on Israel. He did not issue a retraction when it was revealed that the Patriots caused more damage to Israel than the Iraqi Scuds they were supposed to bring down.

The man who will be in charge of the disarmament of Iraq was also a fervent proponent of the fatally flawed Star Wars missile defense system, touting its virtues even when the results of its testing were later revealed to be rigged.

Garner's so-called civilian career was also closely related to the Pentagon. In a classic example of the military-industrial complex at work, Garner retired from the military in 1997 to become President of SY Technology, a defense contractor specializing in missile defense systems. The company soon landed non-competitive contracts as part of the Star Wars program that Pentagon whistleblower, former Lt. Colonel Biff Baker, alleged were procured through Garner's influence. SY Technology sued Baker for defamation and for "causing loss of privacy" for Garner.

The case was settled out of court in January this year, just as Garner was moving to his new and very public position. And by yet another startling coincidence, the company was awarded a $1.5 billion contract this year to provide logistics services to U.S. special operations forces. The Iraqis themselves may be unhappy, if not surprised, to hear that their to-be satrap's former company has contracts to help build Patriot missile systems for Israel and Kuwait.

The Bush administration has been busy spinning Garner's record to make him appear the perfect, sensitive, team player that Iraq needs to rebuild itself in the American image. But it seems entirely appropriate that Garner was unilaterally appointed on Jan. 20, even as the US was still officially trying to get a UN resolution for the invasion of Iraq.

Nor did Garner's visit to the UN impress the aid officials. He made it clear the only job for the UN in Iraq is to help finance the U.S.-led occupation. But if anything can save Iraq from Garner's tender clutches, it will be the need for UN money.

The Bush Administration is like the Red Queen in Alice in the Looking Glass, perfectly able to believe in three impossible things before breakfast. This is a White House that has committed itself both to tax cuts and an expensive war. It claims Iraqi oil fields are the property of its people even as it prepares to pay the post-war reconstruction with the same oil. The same administration that pledged to ensure a role for the UN at the Azores Summit had already announced plans for an all-American administration headed by Jay Garner.

At the heart of Washington's contradictory and constantly shifting position is the desire to monopolize the control of Iraq but persuade the rest of the world to split the bill. The U.S. attitude is best epitomized by the junior diplomat who turned up at the United Nations in the first week of the war and asked the UN officials to hand over the money they had allocated for relief and humanitarian aid -- money that the White House sorely needed since Congress had failed to appropriate any money for the worthy effort. Not surprisingly, Kofi Annan refused.

The two sides finally reached a temporary compromise on Friday when the Security Council unanimously passed a short-term measure allowing the UN to take charge of the oil-for-food program and sign off on food shipments, which then will be distributed by the coalition forces to the Iraqis. But the resolution also made it very clear that the UN is not interested in financing a U.S.-ruled Iraq. It stressed that "to the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population." So when the time comes to set up a post-war administration in Iraq, the U.S. will either have to pay its own way or play ball with the rest of the Security Council.

But so far, there are few signs that the White House is willing to change its greedy ways. Even the British were not impressed with the U.S. decision to let the infamous union-busting company, Stevedoring Services of America, run the newly "liberated" port of Umm Qasr -- a role that they thought rightly belonged to the Iraqis. Aiming General Jay Garner at the innocent civilians of post-war Iraq will be yet another ham-handed, arrogant decision that guarantees an aftermath as messy and potentially disastrous as its initiation.

A number of U.S. and British activists are teaming up to lobby their representatives to oust Jay Garner. You can learn more about it at DumpJayGarner.com

The Precarious Coalition

"Coalition" is a much-bandied word these days. Pentagon briefings, George Bush's speeches, and mainstream media coverage use the word liberally -- conjuring visions of a large band of allies working in unison in the Iraqi desert to oust Saddam Hussein.

To reinforce this impression, the White House supplemented the original list of 30 nations over the weekend. The latest entries, however, were composed mostly of names that were previously withheld as too embarrassing to disclose as allies -- but now serve to pad the list in the smoke of war while the media are looking elsewhere.

But the announcement was at least less cryptic than previous statements on the so-called coalition. Donald Rumsfeld said last Thursday night that the war on Iraq was underway with the "substantial support of Britain and Australia and others." But he did not clarify that the two countries he named are the only ones committing combat troops. Nor did he elaborate on the identities of the mysterious "others."

When Secretary of State Colin Powell announced last week that there were 30 countries in the "coalition of the willing," he also referred to "15 other nations, for one reason or another, who do not wish to be publicly named, but will be supporting the coalition." That's just what you need in time of war -- 15 allies who are so convinced of your cause that they want to hide their faces!

This weekend we learned who some of these mysterious others are: Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Kuwait, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Palau, Panama, Portugal, Rwanda, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Uganda and Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, which stood with the U.S. in the Security Council through thick and thin, had protested vociferously at being left off the original list. Could it have been inadvertently overlooked, even though Washington paid $1.7 billion to buy the pre-Gulf War Iraqi debt to Bulgaria?

Portugal is also an enthusiastic supporter -- so much so that its support was taken for granted. The U.S. forgot to tell its prime minister that the Azores summit was taking place on his territory, and then had to invite him along to make up for the gaffe. They have now remembered to put it on the list.

As for the other shrinking violets, their anonymity probably had less to do with any reservations on their part than with Washington's embarrassment at invoking their less than considerable military powers for the coalition. They are mostly the same countries that were weak enough to be bullied into signing bilateral treaties with the United States to exempt it from the International Criminal Court.

To refresh your memory, the original State Department roster of the 30 states included the following: Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Britain and Uzbekistan. And that brings the total number of nations supporting the U.S. up to a grand total of 46.

But even these latest additions do little to promote the administration's claims about international diplomatic support. The list is like the so-called "evidence" Powell presented to the Security Council. Upon closer scrutiny, it collapses like a deflated freedom soufflé.

Let's begin with the small but mighty entrants -- the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. The three former Pacific Trust territories' entire budget depends on the U.S. Congress, and treaties put their entire defense and a significant say in their foreign policy in the hands of Washington.

The administration does not have much regard for consistency, but it is difficult to question the rights of small countries like Angola or Guinea to vote on the Security Council and then crow about the support of Palau, which is a few square miles in the middle of nowhere that can, at best, lob a few coconuts at Iraq if asked nicely.

Rwanda at least has a legitimate axe to grind -- they hate the French, like Rush Limbaugh, but with more cause.

For many others, membership in the war coalition is hardly a matter of choice. Like Bulgaria, Albania, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, all either want to join NATO or have recently done so. But they each need American support in case Moscow ever gets feisty again So do the former Soviet republics like Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan, which is one of the most vicious and tyrannical regimes outside Iraq. Mongolia, sandwiched between Russia and China, needs any friends it can get, while Singapore, marooned between Malaysia and Indonesia may be a friend in need at some point.

Others like South Korea and Japan are equally dependent on Washington's whims. Afghanistan is about as likely to buck Washington as Osama Bin Laden to eat a ham sandwich. Colombia needs U.S. military aid to fight the FARC rebel forces. Longtime enemies Eritrea and Ethiopia dare not allow the other to get U.S. support, so they both signed on just to be sure.

In other cases, Washington's list seems to be a case of willful exaggeration. It includes, for example, the Netherlands, which has promised a Patriot battery to protect Turkey in case of an Iraqi attack, and is at best a tangential member of the coalition. Turkey itself refused to allow US troops or air bases but under pressure from its military agreed to U.S. over-flights. It's hardly a resounding show of support. The Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer recently said, "The United Nations Security Council process on Iraq should have been allowed to finish. I do not find it right that the U.S. behaved unilaterally before that process ended." And 94 percent of Turks agreed with him.

The attitude of the Philippines is equally suspect. Although it has U.S. troops fighting "terrorists" within its country, many Filipinos were surprised at being counted in the coalition. The Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said the administration had not yet cast its lot with the coalition. In fact, the U.S. claim of Czech support has been rebutted officially by the Prime Minister and the President, but that has not stopped Washington from including them on the list.

The participation of Denmark and Iceland is puzzling, but then Denmark is sending a submarine, which is really useful in the desert. Their statements of support have been highly ambiguous and the majority of the Danes and all the opposition parties oppose the war.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of this list is the human rights record of many of these countries, which seem unlikely allies in any project to build a democratic Iraq. The International Press Institute in Vienna characterized the list as the "Coalition of the Sinning." Director Johann Fritz characterized Eritrea and Ethiopia as countries "ruled by totalitarian governments who care little for human rights in general and press freedom in particular." About Azerbaijan's media, he said "the working conditions in this country are nothing short of alarming." Fifteen journalists have been murdered in Colombia, making it "the most dangerous country in the world" for the media. In Georgia and Uzbekistan, "the high costs far outweigh the benefits of practicing journalism."

The regimes of Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Honduras have a history of relying on terror squads a la Saddam. The Central American republics are also the only ones to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Panama is, of course, well aware of the benefits of American invasions and just wants to share the good news -- but its presence makes one gasp at the ingratitude of Grenada for sticking to its guns.

Finally, we come to the small core of democratic governments who have freely volunteered their services to the cause. There is Italy, which is ruled by Silvio Berlusconi, a political descendant of Mussolini, and Spain, whose premier is in Franco's old party. So they both have a political precedent for ignoring the will of the 80 percent of their own people who oppose the war. But unfortunately their staunch support does not include actually sending troops.

Britain and Australia's population also do not like the war, but British policy is to counterbalance the U.S. against Europe. And Australia is worried about all those Asians to the North and they both hope that Washington will show due gratitude. Indeed, Howard and Blair probably still believe in the tooth fairy.

Let's not forget the allies that still remain unnamed. The Arab states, Bahrain, Djibouti and Qatar, are in fact providing facilities for the invasion, but along with other predominantly Muslim states like Mauritania, members of the Arab League need to be circumspect about public support for the invasion. Conversely, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the invasion is Israel. But even this most diplomatically challenged of administrations can see that boasting of Israeli support does not add international luster to your cause.

So we are now in a war that was opposed not just by the majority of members of the Security Council and the General Assembly, but also most of the citizens of our allied nations and even by some of its governments. When it comes to this war for democracy, one can only rephrase Shakespeare on greatness: Some are bought into coalition, others are coerced into it, but most have had it thrust upon them.

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