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?


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