Jim Lobe

Trump Ignores Advisers on Iran Deal, Follows Pro-Israel Billionaire Adelson's Money

Although much of the Washington commentariat has depicted Trump’s extraordinarily bellicose speech Friday against Iran and the nuclear deal as the latest example of his determination to undo the legacy of his predecessor, meeting the demands of his most important campaign donors may well have served as a major motivation as well. Indeed, his biggest campaign donor, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, may have influenced the specific language Trump used in his remarks.

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How Neocons Helped Create Trump

Prominent neoconservatives, led by Bill Kristol, have played leading roles in trying to block Trump’s nomination or repeal it somehow. They’ve lined up fellow-neocons to sign letters opposing his election and/or declining to serve under him should he actually make it to the White House. Some, albeit a relatively small minority so far, have gone so far as to publicly endorse Hillary for president, if only as the lesser evil. Among the most outspoken in the latter group are Bob KaganMax BootBret Stephens, and Eliot Cohen. Indeed, it’s very difficult to find a neocon at the moment who publicly supports the Republican candidate.

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Thwarted: Israel Lobby's Bid to Scuttle Iran Deal Goes Down In Flames

In what looks to be a clear victory – at least for now – for President Barack Obama, a major effort by the Israel lobby and its most powerful constituent, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to pass a new sanctions bill against Iran has stalled in the U.S. Senate.

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America's Grip on the Middle East Is Slowly Slipping Away

New and unexpected strains in Washington’s ties with two of its closest Middle Eastern allies — Saudi Arabia and Turkey — have underlined the difficult challenges the administration of President Barack Obama faces in navigating its way in the region’s increasingly treacherous and turbulent waters.

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Partial Egypt Aid Cut-Off Has 'Zero Impact': Tools of Repression Remain in Military's Hands

The administration of President Barack Obama announced Wednesday it was freezing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Egyptian military pending “credible progress” toward a return to democratic rule.

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Depressed Over Diplomacy: Neocons Wring Hands Over Talks With Iran

A week that began with a blistering denunciation by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Iranian duplicity ended with diminished prospects for Israel to take direct action to address Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

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Dumbfounded: Washington's Foreign Policy Elite Doesn't Get Why Americans Oppose Bombing Syria

While much of the foreign policy elite here sees the tide of public opposition to U.S. air strikes against Syria that swept over Washington during the past two weeks as evidence of a growing isolationism, veteran pollsters and other analysts say other factors were more relevant.

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The Folks Who Brought You the Iraq Debacle Now Want to Bomb Syria

In an echo of the tactics they used to promote U.S. intervention in the Balkans, Iraq and Libya, a familiar clutch of neo-conservatives published a letter Tuesday urging President Barack Obama to go far beyond limited military strikes against Syria in retaliation for its government’s alleged use last week of chemical weapons that reportedly killed hundreds of people.

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The War Drums Never Stop: Israel Resumes Threats Against Iran

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resumed his threats to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, 29 former senior U.S. experts and foreign diplomats urged President Barack Obama to show greater flexibility in anticipated negotiations following the inauguration of President-elect Hassan Rouhani.

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Washington's Muddled Syria Policy: Arms Shipments to Rebels Won't Turn Military Tide

Despite Thursday’s announcement that President Barack Obama has decided to provide direct military assistance to Syrian rebels, what precisely the administration has in mind remains unclear.

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The Neocons Are Losing: Advocates for Syria Intervention Run Into Wall of American Opposition

With Syrian government forces and their allies scoring a major victory over Western- and Gulf Arab-backed rebel forces this week, neo-conservatives and other anti-Damascus hawks are trying hard to turn up the pressure on President Barack Obama to sharply escalate U.S. support for the opposition.

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Libya in the Rear View Mirror: How NATO Intervention Unleashed Militias and Destabilized Mali

While the tenth anniversary last month of Washington’s invasion of Iraq provoked overwhelmingly negative reviews of the adventure except among its most die-hard neo-conservative proponents, a more recent – albeit far less dramatic and costly – intervention has faded almost completely from public notice.

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Armed to the Teeth: Israel is the World’s Most Militarized Nation

Israel tops the list of the world’s most militarised nations, according to the latest Global Militarisation Index released Tuesday by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC).

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Addicted to War Mongering: Anti-Iran Hawks Maintain PR Offensive Despite Israel Backing Down

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly last month that Iran’s nuclear programme was unlikely to breach his “red line” for presumed military action until next spring or summer, many observers here looked forward to some relief from the nearly incessant drumbeat for war by U.S. neo-conservatives and other hawks.

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The Iranian Extremists America Loves: U.S. Takes Violent Group Off Terror List

In a move certain to ratchet up already-high tensions with Iran, the administration of President Barack Obama will remove a militant anti-regime group from the State Department’s terrorism list, U.S. officials told reporters here Friday.

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Drone War Escalation in Yemen Could Bring Blowback to the US

Even as President Barack Obama touts his progress in extracting the U.S. from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his administration appears to be deepening its covert and military involvement in strife-torn Yemen.

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Obama Backs Military Aid to Countries that Use Child Soldiers

For the second year in a row, U.S. President Barack Obama has waived a Congressionally-mandated ban on military aid for four countries that use child soldiers.

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Bipartisan Campaign Seeks Presidential Executive Order to Ban Torture

WASHINGTON, Jun 25 (IPS) - On the eve of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, a bipartisan group of some 200 religious leaders and former top U.S. national security and military officers launched a campaign for a presidential order to outlaw torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of all detainees.

The campaign, consisting of a "Declaration of Principles," which members of the public are also invited to sign, has been endorsed by, among others, three former secretaries of state, including George Shultz, who served under former President Ronald Reagan; and three former secretaries of defense, including William Cohen, a Republican who served under former President Bill Clinton.

Sponsored by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the Evangelicals for Human Rights, and the Minnesota-based Center for Victims of Torture, the declaration has also been signed by 35 retired generals and admirals, as well as several retired senior counter-terrorist officers of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"Though we come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, we agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American," asserts the declaration, which stresses that such practices are also deeply counterproductive.

"In our effort to secure ourselves, we have resorted to tactics that do not work, which endanger U.S. personnel abroad, which discourage political, military and intelligence cooperation from our allies, and which ultimately do not enhance our security."

The declaration calls on the president to issue an executive order that "categorically rejects the authorization or use (of) any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers." It comes amid a welter of recent disclosures regarding the personal involvement of top Bush administration officials in authorizing the use of what they have called "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding, but which virtually all international human rights groups have denounced as torture.

It also comes in the wake of a report released last week by Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) on extensive medical and polygraph examinations of 11 former detainees held by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay for at least three years and released without charges. In each case, according to the report, the examinations corroborated prisoners' claims of serious physical and psychological abuse, ranging from beatings, electric shocks, shackling in stress positions, and, in at least one case, sodomy.

In a scathing preface to the report, ret. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the military's first official investigation on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, wrote that the evidence forced him to conclude that "the commander-in-chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture."

"The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account," he added.

Taguba's investigation in 2004, as well as subsequent revelations about the treatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, eventually led to Congressional approval of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. It required military interrogations to be performed according to the U.S. Army Field Manual, which itself outlaws techniques that violate the Geneva Conventions' prohibition on cruel and inhumane treatment.

But, under pressure from the Bush administration, the law exempted the CIA, which has reportedly not only continued using the same tactics, but has also continued holding terrorist suspects in secret prisons and in "rendering" them to other countries whose intelligence agencies are known to use torture.

The declaration does not make an explicit reference either to the most recent disclosures regarding the major role played by top officials in authorizing the use of torture and cruel treatment against detainees, nor to question of accountability for past abuses.

Instead, it called for across-the-board application of the Field Manual without exception. The executive order, it said, should declare that "(w)e will have one national standard for all U.S. personnel and agencies for the interrogation and treatment of prisoners."

In addition, it said the order should "acknowledge all prisoners to our courts or the International Red Cross (and) … in no circumstances hold persons in secret prisons or engage in disappearances." Moreover, the order should ban the "transfer (of) any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

"It's time to say not in our name, it's time to ban torture," said Rev. John Thomas, the president of the United Church of Christ, one of more than 100 Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, including 50 prominent Evangelicals, who signed the statement.

The organizers said that despite Bush's unwavering refusal so far to apply the Field Manual to the CIA, they intend to present the declaration to him after collecting more signatures both from the ranks of religious, government, political, and military leaders, as well as the public at large, over the next month or two. If Bush responds negatively, they intend to present it to the next president and then persuade Congress to make it law.

"We chose an executive order because it is the most dramatic, immediate and powerful way to close this ugly chapter on detention and open a new page," said Linda Gustitus, president of the Religious Campaign.

In addition to Shultz, other former secretaries of state who signed the declaration included Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher. In addition, Bush's first deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, also signed, as did Reagan's deputy secretary of state, John Whitehead. Aside from Cohen, former Pentagon chiefs included Harold Brown, who served under Jimmy Carter and William Perry, who served under Bill Clinton. Two former deputy defense secretaries, John Hamre, who served in under Clinton, and William Taft, who served under George H.W. Bush, also signed.

Former national security advisers Sandy Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Anthony Lake, who currently serves as a key adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, also signed the declaration.

Former Navy General Counsel, Alberto Mora, one of the government lawyers who battled unsuccessfully within the administration to preserve the ban on torture during Bush's first term, said the use of torture had badly set back Washington's anti-terrorism campaign and "made us less safe rather than more safe, in major part because of its use by insurgents in both Afghanistan and Iraq as an effective recruitment tool. "[Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo] were symbols of American cruelty," he said.

Rev. David Gushee, a leader of the Evangelicals Human Rights group, called the declaration an "important event" in bringing so many groups of people together, including within the Evangelical community, which, he said, "is learning to separate traditional theoretical beliefs from a kind of reflexively conservative political stance."

"What this symbolizes is a kind of moral center -- people looking at the same problem from a variety of viewpoints and saying, 'This is not who we are as the American people.'"

Ominous Signs That White House Advisers Want More Wars

Are the latest accusations and tough language leveled against Iran, Syria, and North Korea evidence of a resurgence by the remaining hawks in the administration of President George W. Bush hoping for a final confrontation against one or more members of the revised 'axis of evil' before his term next January?

That's the big question here this week, particularly following Thursday's long-awaited intelligence briefings to Congress about alleged North Korean involvement in the construction of a 'covert nuclear reactor' in Syria that was destroyed in a raid by Israeli warplanes in September last year.

According to some interpretations, the briefing's timing and content appeared deliberately designed to raise tensions between Washington, on the one hand, and Pyongyang and Damascus, on the other, potentially derailing ongoing long-running negotiations between the State Department and North Korea and Turkish-mediated peace feelers between Israel and Syria.

That Vice President Dick Cheney, whose opposition to engaging both North Korea and Syria and support for 'regime change' in both countries is both well known and of long standing, had pushed hard for the briefing to take place has added to speculation that a major power play by the hawks to reverse the diplomacy that has dominated Bush's second term is underway.

Rumours that the State Department's point man on North Korea, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill -- whose latest accord with Pyongyang negotiated in Singapore earlier this month has been the target of fierce right-wing attacks led by Cheney chum, former U.N. Amb. John Bolton -- has told associates that he will resign next month have added to concerns that the hawks have regained the initiative, at least on that front.

Add the promotion of Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq who has overseen the past year's 'surge' of U.S. troops, to take over the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) this summer, as well as the increasingly harsh charges against Iran's alleged interference in Iraq that have been coming out of the Pentagon in recent days.

All these developments are seen by some as an answer to the prayers of neo-conservatives, in particular, who had largely given up hopes that Bush could be persuaded to attack Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office.

In his testimony about the surge earlier this month, Petraeus had repeatedly blamed allegedly Iranian-sponsored and directed Shi'a 'Special Groups' for attacking Iraqi government and U.S. forces in Basra and Baghdad, describing them as 'the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq'.

And on Friday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, who has generally resisted Iran-bashing, conceded that he was 'extremely concerned' about Iran's 'increasingly lethal and malign influence' in Iraq, as well as in other parts of the region.

At the same time, Pentagon officials announced that it will brief reporters next week on newly discovered arms caches in Iraq which they said proved that Iran has not abided by pledges made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last fall to curb any cross-border weapons shipments.

Indeed, there appears little question that the rhetoric here has become considerably harsher in recent weeks. The shift became particularly evident in February, when the former Centcom commander and the man whom Petraeus will replace, Adm. William 'Fox' Fallon, abruptly announced his resignation following the publication of a profile in Esquire magazine that depicted him as opposing key administration policies and as the one man standing between Bush and war with Iran.

The blunt-spoken admiral had pushed for diplomatic engagement with Iran and aggressively supported efforts to engage North Korea while serving as head of the Pacific Command (Pacom) earlier in the decade. He was in many ways the point man for the 'realist' faction in the administration led by Pentagon chief Robert Gates and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

That faction, which had been almost entirely marginalised by the hawks after the 9/11 attacks -- at least insofar as the Middle East and North Korea were concerned -- has gradually clawed its way back into influence, largely at the hawks' expense, during Bush's second term.

But the latest turn of events has raised the question of whether the hawks have reversed the tide or, at the very least, regained enough influence to stymie additional efforts by the realists to reduce tensions with Iran and Syria and keep advancing the de-nuclearisation process with North Korea and the Six-Party Talks, however haltingly.

While few question that the rhetoric has indeed clearly hardened, it remains unclear how much or even whether the most recent developments will translate into major policy changes.

On North Korea, for example, much will depend both on the reaction by Pyongyang to Thursday's briefing and on the results of a State Department mission -- yet to be reported -- to follow up on the Singapore accord negotiated by Hill.

If the two key issues on which Hill has been attacked by the hawks -- his failure to get a North Korean accounting for an its alleged uranium-enrichment programme and its involvement with the Syrian plant -- are adequately addressed in the view of at least some of the critics, the process is likely to go forward.

Indeed, some in the administration itself have argued that the briefing was designed to clear the air on the second issue, and thus set the stage for Congressional appropriation of money needed to provide Pyongyang with energy and food supplies and aid in dismantling its nuclear facilities and thus advancing the Six-Party process.

Some analysts believe that Cheney and his associates had hoped -- and Hill had feared -- that the briefing itself would provoke such a belligerent reaction from Pyongyang, which has denied supplying Syria with any nuclear-related assistance, that it would effectively torpedo the process. But those hopes have yet to materialise.

As for Syria, which has denied even building a nuclear plant, President Bashar al-Assad's disclosure this week that Turkey has been mediating between Jerusalem and Damascus for more than a year and had been told by the Israelis that they were prepared to return the Golan Heights appeared designed to help insulate it from the anticipated outrage caused by the briefing. The fact that neither Turkey nor Israel denied Assad's account makes it that much more credible.

And while the administration's hawks clearly hoped that the briefing would further isolate and embarrass Damascus, most analysts agree that, given Bush's own strong hostility toward Syria due to its alleged intervention in Lebanon and Iraq, even the realists had long ago given up on the prospect of improving bilateral ties during his administration.

Finally, despite harsher rhetoric against Iran, observers here note that it falls short of the kind of threats that Bush and Cheney were making against Tehran as recently as last fall. Moreover, as recently as a week ago, Mullen reiterated Fallon's exhortations in favour of dialogue with Iran, noting at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, no less: 'We've done that in the past with our enemies. We should be able to do that (with Iran) as well.'

Indeed, some analysts believe that Petraeus' promotion to Centcom was actually engineered by Gates and Mullen not only because he is likely to enjoy exceptional influence with Bush, but also because, despite his championship by neo-conservative hawks, they consider him a fellow-realist who shares the conviction that war with Iran would be a major strategic error.

Right-Wing Group Calling It Quits?

In the absence of an official announcement and the failure since late last year of a live person to answer its telephone number, a Washington Post obituary would seem to be definitive. And, sure enough, the Post quoted one unidentified source presumably linked to PNAC that the group was "heading toward closing" with the feeling of "goal accomplished."

In fact, the 9-year-old group, whose 27 founders included Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, among at least half a dozen of the most powerful hawks in the George W. Bush administration's first term, has been inactive since January 2005, when it issued the last of its "statements," an appeal to significantly increase the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to cope with the growing demands of the kind of "Pax Americana" it had done so much to promote.

As a platform for the three-part coalition that was most enthusiastic about war in Iraq -- aggressive nationalists like Cheney, Christian Zionists of the religious Right, and Israel-centred neo-conservatives -- PNAC actually began breaking down shortly after the Iraq invasion.

It was then that the group's predominantly neo-conservative leadership -- Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, PNAC director Gary Schmitt, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analyst Robert Kagan -- began attacking Rumsfeld, in particular, for failing to deploy enough troops to pacify the country and launch a true nation-building exercise, as in post-World War II Germany and Japan.

It was the first of a number of policy splits that, along with the deepening quagmire in Iraq itself, have debilitated the hawks, forcing neo-conservatives in the group to reach out to liberal interventionists with whom they sponsored a series of joint statements extolling the virtues of nation-building and a larger army, or calling for a tougher U.S. stance toward Russia and China.

PNAC was launched by Kristol and Kagan in 1997, shortly after their publication of an article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," in which they called for Washington to exercise "benevolent global hegemony" to be sustained "as far into the future as possible."

While critical of then President Bill Clinton, the article was directed more against a Republican Congress which, in their view, had grown increasingly isolationist, particularly after the precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Somalia in 1994 and strong Republican opposition to intervention in the Balkans against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

It was in this spirit that the two co-founded PNAC, whose charter was signed by leading neo-conservatives, including Cheney's future chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby; Rumsfeld's future deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; Bush's future top Middle East aide, Elliott Abrams; his future ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad; Rumsfeld's future top international security official, Peter Rodman; American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow and neo-cons impresario Richard Perle, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; as well as Cheney and Rumsfeld themselves.

The charter's few specifics, as well as follow-up reports published by PNAC -- "Rebuilding America's Defenses" and "Present Dangers," both published in 2000 to influence the foreign policy debate during the presidential campaign that year -- were based to a great extent on an infamous "Defense Planning Guidance" (DPG) draft produced under Cheney when he served as secretary of defence under President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

That paper, which was developed by then-Undersecretary of Defence Wolfowitz, Libby, Khalilzad, and the current deputy national security adviser, J.D. Crouch, with assistance from Perle and other like-minded defence specialists, called for the "benevolent domination by one power" (the U.S.) to replace "collective internationalism" and for Washington to ensure that domination, particularly in Eurasia, in order to prevent the emergence, by confrontation if necessary, of any possible regional or global rival.

It was PNAC's role to sustain and propagate these ideas through its reports, its periodic letters and statements signed by right-wing notables, and a steady flow of opinion-pieces and essays, that acted as part of a larger neo-conservative "echo chamber" that included Kristol's Weekly Standard, Fox News, the Washington Times, and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, to frame debates in official Washington and the mainstream media.

In this sense, PNAC was more of a "letter-head organization" that acted more as a mechanism for developing consensus on issues among different political forces -- in its case, Republican hawks -- and then pushing them in public, than as a think tank.

Indeed, the fact that several of its half-a-dozen staff members -- most recently, PNAC director Schmitt -- have taken posts at the much-larger AEI located just five floors above PNAC's offices helps illustrate the incestuous nature of the larger network. Nonetheless, PNAC was the first to call publicly (in 1998) for Washington to pursue "regime change" in Iraq by military means in conjunction with the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi, who would later play a key role in the propaganda campaign against Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

But perhaps its most notable letter was sent to Bush Sep. 20, 2001, just nine days after the 9/11 attacks. In addition to calling for the ouster of the Taliban and war on al Qaeda, the letter called for waging a broader and more ambitious "war on terrorism" that would include cutting off the Palestinian Authority under Yassir Arafat, taking on Hezbollah, threatening Syria and Iran and, most importantly, ousting Hussein regardless of his relationship to the attacks or al Qaeda.

"It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States," it said. "But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."

The letter was signed by 38 members of the predominantly neo-conservative Washington echo chamber, many of whom -- especially Kristol, Kagan, Defence Policy Board members Perle, Woolsey, Eliot Cohen, Centre for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney, former Education Secretary William Bennett, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, and Foundation for the Defence of Democracies director Clifford May -- would emerge, along with Woolsey, as the most ubiquitous champions of war with Iraq outside the administration.

Seven months later, PNAC issued another letter signed by many of the same people urging Bush to step up preparations for war with Iraq, sever all ties to the Palestinian Authority under Arafat and give full backing to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's efforts to crush the Palestinian intifada.

"Israel's fight against terrorism is our fight. Israel's victory is an important part of our victory," the letter noted. "For reasons both moral and strategic, we need to stand with Israel in its fight against terrorism." Bush complied two months later.

That period -- Sep. 20, 2001, to the run-up to the Iraq war in early 2003 -- marked the high-water mark of PNAC's existence. Since then, things have generally gone downhill, as the hawks they represented, including the group's dominant neo-conservatives, have fallen prey to internal disagreements: over Rumsfeld's stewardship of Iraq and the Pentagon; over the wisdom of democratic "transformation" in the Arab Middle East; over Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan; over China; and even over the latest administration moves on Iran.

All of which has made it far more difficult to forge consensus -- and compose letters -- in these areas.

Playing Mind Games with Iran?

Three years after the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces, Washington is abuzz about new reports that the administration of Pres. George W. Bush is preparing to attack Iran, possibly with nuclear weapons.

In just the past few days, lengthy articles detailing planning for aerial attacks on as many as 400 nuclear and military targets have appeared in the Washington Post, the London Sunday Times, The Forward, the main weekly of the U.S. Jewish community, and The New Yorker.

The New Yorker account, written by legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who two years ago was the first to disclose U.S. abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, was the most spectacular, although it relied heavily on unnamed sources outside the administration.

Among other assertions, Hersh's 6,300-word article, "The Iran Plans", alleged that U.S. combat forces have already entered Iran to collect target data and make contact with "anti-government ethnic-minority groups" -- assertions that the Post said it was unable to confirm. It also claimed that efforts by senior military officials to get the administration to eliminate contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against specific hardened targets had been "shouted down" by the Pentagon's civilian leadership.

Unlike other accounts that have argued that any U.S. attack was unlikely to take place until after the November mid-term elections at the earliest, Hersh also suggested that a U.S. attack could come at any time.

"The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot programme, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium," Hersh wrote, citing official sources. In an interview on CNN Monday morning, the journalist insisted that planning for an attack had moved into an "operational" phase, "beyond contingency planning".

Without denying any of Hersh's assertions, Bush himself insisted Monday that the latest reports constituted "wild speculation" and that his administration remained committed to "diplomacy". At the same time, White House spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that military force remained an option.

The sudden spate of detailed stories has raised the question of whether the administration really intends such an attack -- if not imminently, then before it leaves office, as contended by the Sunday Times -- or if it is carrying out a psychological warfare campaign designed to persuade the Iranians and Washington's less warlike friends, especially in Europe, that it will indeed take action unless Tehran agrees to U.S. demands to abandon its enrichment programme.

There is no consensus on this question.

To some experts, the potential costs of such an attack -- from an Iranian-inspired Shiite uprising in Iraq to missile attacks on Saudi oil fields and skyrocketing energy prices (not to mention a rise in anti-U.S. sentiment in Europe and the Islamic world) -- so clearly outweigh the possible benefits that Bush's top political aides would recognise them as exorbitant.

"Although they may be reckless with the security of the United States, I think they are utterly cold-blooded realists when it comes to political power," noted Gary Sick, an Iran policy expert at Columbia University, who sees the latest reports and threats by senior administration officials as an effort to intimidate Tehran.

"(O)ne of their strongest negotiating tools is the widespread belief that they are irrational and capable of the most irresponsible actions. That is their record, so they have no need to invent it. If they can use that reputation to keep Iran -- and everybody else -- off balance, so much the better," he added, noting, however, that if that analysis is correct, "there is always the huge danger of miscalculation and accident".

Graham Fuller, a former CIA officer and Middle East specialist at the RAND Corporation, echoed this view. He told the Forward that the recent spate of articles "shows the fine hand of U.S. (maybe U.K. too) disinformation and psychological warfare against Iran ...(that) may now be intensified, perhaps out of frustration that the 'real thing' is not, in fact, on the table any more."

Other analysts, however, do not see the administration as bluffing.

"For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran," wrote Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear proliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) last week.

"In the last few weeks, I have changed my view," he went on. "In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran."

"In recent months, I have grown increasingly concerned that the administration has been giving thought to a heavy dose of air strikes against Iran's nuclear sector without giving enough weight to the possible ramification of such action," Wayne White, the State Department's top Middle East analyst until 2005, told The Forward.

Whether psychological warfare or serious premeditation, leading the charge are clearly the same aggressive nationalist and pro-Israel elements within and outside the administration that were behind the drive to war in Iraq.

Thus, the rhetoric of Vice Pres. Dick Cheney and U.N. Ambassador John Bolton -- two of the administration's most hawkish figures -- has been particularly threatening in recent weeks, with Cheney vowing "meaningful consequences" and Bolton "tangible and painful consequences" in speeches last month to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) if Iran did not freeze its nuclear programme.

Similarly, neo-conservatives closely associated with right-wing sectors in Israel have been most outspoken in arguing that the benefits of an attack strongly outweigh the possible costs.

Thus, while Hersh quoted Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the AIPAC-created Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as calling for war, if covert action, including "industrial accidents," is not sufficient to set back Iran's nuclear programme, the Sunday Times quoted former Defence Policy Board chairman, Richard Perle, as asserting that destroying the programme would be much easier than many anticipate.

"The attack would be over before anybody knew what had happened," said Perle who told the AIPAC conference last month that a dozen B-2 bombers could handle the problem overnight.

His colleague at the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, has also stressed that "the administration is deadly serious... and while everyone recognises the problems of any military action, there is a real belief that the consequences of Iran going nuclear would be worse."

Indeed, as in Iraq, hardliners in and outside the administration may be embarked on their own psy-war campaign against more moderate forces within the administration, either to counter European pressure on Washington to engage Iran in direct negotiations, to provoke Iran into an overreaction that would offer a pretext for an attack, or to rhetorically box the administration into a position where it would look unacceptably weak if it did not take action.

"A sudden unexplained explosion at a U.S. embassy, a clash with militias in Basra, or a thousand other things could call the administration's bluff," according to Sick. "(T)here are certainly individuals in and around the administration who would not hesitate for a second to recommend a bombing attack on Iran."

All rights reserved, IPS�Inter Press Service (2006)

Ill-will Ambassador

In a breath-taking victory for right-wing hawks, President George W. Bush has nominated a die-hard unilateralist to become his next ambassador to the United Nations.

John Bolton is best known as one of the most confrontational, combative, and humorless figures within the administration, having earned his formidable reputation as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during Bush's first term.

''This is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse," said Heather Hamilton, vice president of programs for Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) (formerly the World Federalist Association).

The Armageddon Nominee

John Bolton, Hamilton says, is the ''Armageddon nominee,'' alluding to the words of former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who once admiringly described Bolton as ''the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world."

Bolton began his career-long battle with evil under Ronald Reagan in the '80s, when – despite a notable lack of experience in developing countries – he was appointed to a series of posts in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The highlight of his Reagan years was, however, his tenure as one of then-Attorney General Edwin Meese's top aides, which he spent stonewalling the congressional investigation into the Justice Department's role in the Iran-Contra affair, as well as efforts by Sen. John Kerry to investigate drug- and gun-running operations of the Nicaraguan Contras.

His stellar performance gained him a promotion under Bush Senior to assistant secretary of state for international organizations, a post he held until 1993 when he joined first the right-wing Manhattan Institute and then the neoconservative-dominated American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

By the time former Secretary of State James Baker tapped him to serve as a senior member of George Bush's legal team in Florida after the 2000 election, Bolton had become senior vice president at AEI. By then Bolton had cemented his unilateralist credentials by advocating U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and railing against the grave threat posed to U.S. sovereignty by the United Nations and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan. At one point, Bolton suggested simply halting U.S. payments to the world body.

The Undersecretary From Hell

Bolton was well rewarded for this rich history of far-right advocacy with his undersecretary position at the State Department � an appointment forced on a reluctant Colin Powell by Dick Cheney. Within just a few months, Bolton emerged as a forceful advocate for extremist policies favored by a right-wing coalition of neoconservatives, aggressive nationalists and the Christian right.

In the summer of 2001, he shocked foreign delegations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons when he announced that Washington would oppose any attempt to regulate the trade in firearms or non-military rifles or any other effort that would "abrogat(e) the constitutional right to bear arms."

Soon after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax scare, Bolton single-handedly sabotaged a UN meeting to forge an international verification protocol designed to put teeth into a treaty on bio-weapons. On scuttling the agreement, he reportedly told his colleagues, ''It's dead, dead, dead, and I don't want it coming back from the dead."

Within the State Department, Bolton led the drive to repudiate the United States' signature on the 1998 Rome Statute that became the basis for the creation of a new International Criminal Court (ICC), the first permanent tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. When Bush approved the move, Bolton prevailed on Powell to allow him to sign the formal notification to Kofi Annan, an act he later described to the Wall Street Journal as "the happiest moment of my government service."

During the same time, Bolton was also embroiled in a lengthy row with U.S. intelligence agencies over his public charge that Cuba had an offensive biological warfare program. His assertion became a source of embarrassment for the administration after anonymous intelligence officials and retired senior military officers, including the former head of the U.S. Southern Command, dismissed the charge and accused Bolton of twisting intelligence to promote political ends.

Bolton's shoot-from-the-hip style and penchant for incendiary, unsubstantiated allegations made him increasingly unpopular among his colleagues. In July 2003, for example, he was forced to cancel plans to testify to Congress about Syria's alleged plans to develop weapons of mass destruction because of a ''revolt'' among U.S. intelligence analysts, who insisted that there was no evidence to warrant such a conclusion.

Powell frequently complained to his closest aides that Bolton was taking his orders from Cheney and the Pentagon hawks, deliberately undermining his own department's policy positions.

For example, just as Pyongyang agreed to the U.S. demand to enter multilateral talks on its nuclear program, Bolton delivered a sharply-worded speech that described life in North Korea as a ''hellish nightmare," and accused its leader, Kim Jong Il, of being a ''dictator'' or ''tyrant,'' running a ''dictatorship'' or ''tyranny'' no less than a dozen times.

Many onlookers agreed that the speech appeared specifically designed to provoke Kim to boycott the meeting. Indeed, the North Korean media described Bolton as ''rude human scum'' and a ''bloodthirsty vampire'' and demanded that he be withdrawn from the delegation that was to take part in the talks.

Return to Unilateralism?

Bolton's nomination comes at a time when many hope that Bush will pursue a more multilateralist policy in his second term � hopes that were fueled by his recent bridge-building trip to Europe. The appointment of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and Rice's own decision to pick long-time ''realist'' Robert Zoellick as her deputy over Bolton was taken as a clear setback for the coalition of right-wing hawks that have dominated foreign policy since 9/11.

But Bolton's nomination suggests otherwise.

''His nomination sends the exactly the wrong message to the world about the Bush administration's willingness to work with other countries and in multilateral institutions. There's no one who has a greater track record of offending other countries, including our closest allies," Hamilton says.

The "message" to the UN is equally worrisome given Bolton's public and well-documented disdain for the institution. This is, after all, a man who once asserted, ''If the UN (secretariat) building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.''

While many ranking Democrats in the Senate � including John Kerry and Minority Leader Harry Reid � have expressed reservations about Bolton, they are unlikely to scuttle his nomination. Since it's Democrats who helped approve Bolton's State Department appointment in a 57-43 vote in 2001, any hope for derailing his nomination lies with moderate Republicans such as Dick Lugar. So it's no wonder that the Bush administration is already busy rewriting Bolton's credentials as, in Rice's words, "a tough-minded diplomat" with "a proven track record of effective multilateralism." And, yes, the UN is planning to buy that bridge in Brooklyn.

Losing Feith

The departure by mid-2005 of the number-three man at the Defense Department, announced by the Pentagon last week, marks the latest hint that President George W. Bush is moving foreign policy in a more centrist direction.

Combined with several other personnel shifts, as well as a concerted effort to reassure the public and U.S. allies abroad that the recent messianic inaugural address did not portend any dramatic new foreign-policy departures, the resignation of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith suggests that the administration is deliberately shedding its sharper and more-radical edges.

The fact that the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton – who had hoped to be promoted to Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice – has still not been assigned a new job has contributed to that impression.

Like Feith, Bolton – the administration's most outspoken exponent of unilateralism – has generally been regarded as an extremist on key issues that have wreaked havoc on U.S. ties with its European allies. Among these are Iraq, the International Criminal Court (ICC), Iran and other nuclear proliferation issues.

With a number of senior posts, including Feith's, still unfilled, however, it remains too soon to conclude that a Bush's second term will tack to the center.

Rice's decision to appoint Trade Representative Robert Zoellick as her deputy and to rely on career diplomats – rather than political appointees as urged by Cheney and the neoconservatives – for other top spots suggests strongly that the State Department will remain a realist redoubt in Bush's second term. But other key vacancies remain up in the air.

Speculation about who may replace Feith ranges from Bolton and  neoconservative hard-liner and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby; to the more pragmatic, if hawkish, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia, Richard Lawless; while Elliott Abrams, Rice's former Middle East advisor, is considered the inside pick. Although neoconservative, Abrams is considered more flexible – and far more diplomatic – than either Feith or Bolton.

While Feith's hard-line neoconservative backers, including his mentor, former Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, insisted that his decision to leave the administration was taken solely for ''personal and family reasons'' as stated in the Pentagon the announcement – Feith, 51, has four children at home – many analysts dismissed that explanation, citing his well-known ideological zeal.

''I think they decided to get rid him of long ago but were afraid that doing so would have been seen as a tacit admission that Bush screwed up in Iraq,'' said one administration official, who asked not to be identified.

He added that Feith's authority over policy had been gradually reduced over the past 18 months due to complaints about his performance from Congress, the uniformed military, and Washington's coalition partners in Iraq – particularly British Prime Minister Tony Blair who, according to one source, had asked Bush to remove Feith well over a year ago.

As undersecretary, Feith played a critical role in the run-up to the Iraq war, for which he was a major prewar booster. Two offices established under his authority, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special Plans, became particularly controversial.

The former reportedly reviewed ''raw intelligence'' gathered by the official intelligence agencies and Iraqi exiles in order to try to establish the existence of links between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda that could be cited by the administration in its case for going to war. The resulting product – which was subsequently leaked to the neoconservative Weekly Standard – was then ''stovepiped'' to Cheney's office and from there into the White House, thus circumventing review by professional analysts.

The OSP, which became the administration's lead agency for preparing both the Iraq invasion and its subsequent occupation, was widely criticised for excluding regional specialists from its work, often employing instead outside ''consultants'' considered ideologically compatible with Feith's own extreme right-wing Likudist and anti-Arab views.

Many blame Washington's total failure to anticipate the Iraq's insurgency on Feith's work, although his superiors, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, as well as Cheney's office and the White House, clearly shared the same assumptions that U.S. troops would be greeted as "liberators" rather than occupiers.

Feith's competence – both with regard to his assumptions about the region and his strategic knowledge – was also repeatedly questioned by the uniformed military. In Washington Post reporter Bill Woodward's book about the Iraqi war, Plan of Attack, Lt. Gen. Tommy Franks, who was in charge of the operation, famously called Feith the "dumbest f****** guy on the planet."

As the Iraq occupation began going bad in the summer of 2003, Feith began losing influence. By that fall, Rice created an Iraq Strategy Group based in the White House and led by Robert Blackwill to essentially wrest control of occupation policy from Feith and the Pentagon – a process that took many months.

Feith's position was also undermined last summer when it was disclosed that the FBI was investigating whether one of his analysts had given classified material – specifically, a sensitive document on U.S. Iran policy – to an Israeli diplomat via the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful lobby group. A grand jury in the case has since been empanelled and AIPAC's offices subjected to two searches.

While Feith himself has not been implicated in the case, his close ties to Israel have long raised eyebrows, even, at times, within the Bush administration.

In 2003, when Feith, who was standing in for Rumsfeld at an inter-agency 'Principals' Meeting' on the Middle East, concluded his remarks on behalf of the Pentagon, according to the Washington insider newsletter, "The Nelson Report," Rice said, "Thanks Doug, but when we want the Israeli position we'll invite the ambassador."

According to investigative journalist Stephen Green, Feith was summarily removed from his post as a Middle East analyst in the National Security Council under former President Ronald Reagan in 1983 because he had been the object of a FBI inquiry into whether he had provided classified material to an official of the Israeli embassy.

Feith, who was immediately hired by Perle when the latter was assistant secretary of defence, has long been associated with extreme views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. His former law partner, Marc Zell, has served as a spokesman for the Israeli settler movement, and he publicly and prolifically opposed the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

In 1996, he joined with Perle and four other prominent hard-line neoconservatives – including David Wurmser, Cheney's Middle East advisor since October 2003 – as part of a study group sponsored by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.

The result was a paper drafted by Wurmser and submitted to incoming Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, titled 'A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.' It called on Israel to work "closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back" regional threats, strike Syrian targets in Lebanon and possibly Syria itself, and work to overthrow Saddam Hussein as the key to permanently transforming the regional balance of power and dictating peace terms to the Palestinians.

At the same time, Feith was active in several U.S. groups considered close to the Israeli far right, including the Center for Security Policy, the Middle East Forum, OneJerusalem.org, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and the Zionist Organization of America.

Significantly, CSP and ZOA have expressed strong reservations about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans – which are strongly backed by Abrams and the White House – to remove all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and four from the West Bank as part of a "disengagement" process that could renew an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Neoconservative Wish List

An influential foreign-policy neoconservative with close and long-standing ties to top hawks in the George W. Bush administration has laid out what he calls ''a checklist of the work the world will demand of this president and his subordinates in a second term.''

The list, which begins with the destruction of Falluja in Iraq and ends with the development of ''appropriate strategies'' for dealing with threats posed by China, Russia and ''the emergence of a number of aggressively anti-American regimes in Latin America,'' calls for ''regime change'' in Iran and North Korea.

The list's author, Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), also warns that the Bush administration should resist any pressure arising from the anticipated demise of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to resume peace talks that could result in Israel's giving up ''defensible boundaries.''

While all seven steps Gaffney listed in an article published Friday morning in the National Review Online have long been favoured by prominent neocons, the article itself, entitled 'Worldwide Value', is the first comprehensive compilation to emerge since Bush's re-election Tuesday.

His article opens by trying to pre-empt an argument that is already being heard on the right against expanding Bush's ''war on terrorism;'' namely that, since a plurality of Bush voters identified ''moral values'' as their chief concern, the president should stick to his social conservative agenda rather than expand the war.

''The reality is that the same moral principles that underpinned the Bush appeal on 'values' issues like gay marriage, stem-cell research, and the right to life were central to his vision of U.S. war aims and foreign policy,'' Gaffney wrote. ''Indeed, the president laid claim square to the ultimate moral value – freedom – as the cornerstone of his strategy for defeating our Islamofascist enemies and their state sponsors, for whom that concept is utterly (sic) anathema.''

To be true to that commitment, policy in the second administration must be directed toward seven priorities,  Gaffney says, beginning with the ''reduction in detail of Fallujah and other safe havens utilized by freedom's enemies in Iraq;'' followed by ''(r)egime change – one way or another – in Iran and North Korea, the only hope for preventing these remaining 'Axis of Evil' states from fully realizing their terrorist and nuclear ambitions.''

Third, the administration must provide ''the substantially increased resources need to re-equip a transforming military and rebuild human-intelligence capabilities (minus, if at all possible, the sorts of intelligence 'reforms' contemplated pre-election that would make matters worse on this and other scores) while we fight World War IV, followed by enhancing ''protection of our homeland,'' including deploying effective missile defenses at sea and in space, as well as ashore.''

Fifth, Washington must keep ''faith with Israel, whose destruction remains a priority for the same people who want to destroy us (and...for our shared 'moral values) especially in the face of Yasser Arafat's demise and the inevitable, post-election pressure to 'solve' the Middle East problem by forcing the Israelis to abandon defensible boundaries.''

Sixth, the administration must deal with France and Germany and the dynamic that made them ''so problematic in the first term: namely, their willingness to make common cause with our enemies for profit and their desire to employ a united Europe and its new constitution – as well as other international institutions and mechanisms – to thwart the expansion and application of American power where deemed necessary by Washington.''

Finally, Bush must adapt ''appropriate strategies for contending with China's increasingly fascistic trade and military policies, (Russian President) Vladimir Putin's accelerating authoritarianism at home and aggressiveness toward the former Soviet republics, the worldwide spread of Islamofascism, and the emergence of a number of aggressively anti-American regimes in Latin America,'' – which Gaffney does not further identify.

It is also sure to be contested – not just by Democrats who, with the election behind them, are poised to take a more anti-war position on Iraq – but by many conservative Republicans in Congress as well. They blame the neoconservatives for failing to anticipate the quagmire in Iraq and worry that their grander ambitions, such as those set forth by Gaffney, will bankrupt the treasury and break an already-overextended military.

Yet its importance as a road map of where neoconservatives – who, with the critical help of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, dominated Bush's foreign policy after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon – want U.S. policy to go was underlined by Gaffney's listing of the names of his friends in the administration who, in his words, ''helped the president imprint moral values on American security policy in a way and to an extent not seen since Ronald Reagan's first term.''

In addition to Cheney and Rumsfeld, he cited the most clearly identified – and controversial – neoconservatives serving in the administration: Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis ''Scooter'' Libby; his top Middle East advisors, John Hannah and David Wurmser; weapons proliferation specialist Robert Joseph and top Mideast aide Elliott Abrams on the National Security Council; Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith; and Feith's top Mideast aide, William Luti in the Pentagon; and Undersecretaries for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton and for Global Issues Paula Dobriansky at the State Department.

Virtually all of the same individuals have been cited by critics of the Iraq war, including Democratic lawmakers and retired senior foreign service and military officials, as responsible for hijacking the policy and intelligence process that led to the U.S. invasion.

Indeed, in a lengthy interview about the war last May on  60 Minutes,  the former head of the U.S. Central Command and Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief Middle East envoy until 2003, ret. Gen. Anthony Zinni called for the resignation of Libby, Abrams, Wolfowitz and Feith, as well as Rumsfeld, for their roles.

Zinni also cited former Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, who has been close to Gaffney since both of them served, with Abrams, in the office of Washington State Sen. Henry M. Jackson in the early 1970s. When Perle became an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, he brought Gaffney along as his deputy. When Perle left in 1987, Gaffney succeeded him before setting up CSP in 1989.

As Perle's long-time protegé and associate, Gaffney sits at the center of a network of interlocking think tanks, foundations, lobby groups, arms manufacturers and individuals that constitute the coalition of neoconservatives, aggressive nationalists like Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Christian Right activists responsible for the unilateralist trajectory of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11.

Included among CSP's board of advisors over the years have been Rumsfeld, Perle, Feith, Christian moralist William Bennett, Abrams, Feith, Joseph, former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Navy Undersecretary John Lehman, and former CIA director James Woolsey, who also co-chairs the new Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), another prominent neoconservative-led lobby group that argues that Washington is now engaged in ''World War IV'' against ''Islamo-fascism.''

Also serving on its advisory council are executives from some of the country's largest military contractors, which finance CSP's work,  along with contributions from wealthy pro-Likud individuals, such as prominent New York investor Lawrence Kadish and California casino king Irving Moskowitz, and right-wing foundations, such as the Bradley, Sarah Scaife and Olin Foundations.

Gaffney, a ubiquitous ''talking head'' on television in the run-up to the war in Iraq, himself sits on the boards of CPD's parent organisations, the Foundation for the Defense Democracies (FDD) and Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT), and also was a charter associate, along with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz and Abrams, of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), another prominent neoconservative-led group that offered up a similar checklist of what Bush should do in the ''war on terrorism'' just nine days after the 9/11 attacks.

''These items do not represent some sort of neocon 'imperialist' game plan,'' Gaffney stressed in his article. ''Rather, they constitute a checklist of the work the world will demand of this president and his subordinates in a second term."

The World According to a Bush Voter

Do the supporters of President Bush really know their man or the policies of his administration?

Three out of 4 self-described supporters of President George W. Bush still believe that pre-war Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or active programs to produce them. According to a new survey published Thursday, the same number also believes that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein provided "substantial support" to al Qaeda.

But here is the truly astonishing part: as many or more Bush supporters hold those beliefs today than they did several months ago. In other words, more people believe the claims today �- after the publication of a series of well-publicized official government reports that debunked both notions.

These are among the most striking findings of a survey conducted in mid-October by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and Knowledge Networks, a California-based polling firm.

The survey polled the views of nearly 900 randomly chosen respondents equally divided between Bush supporters and those intending to vote for Democratic Sen. John Kerry. It found a yawning gap in the perceptions of the facts between the two groups, particularly with regards to President Bush's claims about pre-war Iraq.

According to the accompanying analysis offered by PIPA:

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Vietnam Redux

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has been the "most misguided" policy since the Vietnam War, according to an open letter signed by some 500 U.S. national security specialists.

The letter, released Tuesday by Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy (S3FP), said that the current situation in Iraq could have been much better had the Bush administration heeded the advice of some of its most experienced career military and foreign service officers.

But the administration�s failure to do so has actually fueled "the violent opposition to the U.S. military presence," as well as the intervention of terrorists from outside Iraq.

"The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests," according to the group which called for a "fundamental reassessment" in both the U.S. strategy in Iraq and its implementation.

"We�re advising the administration, which is already in a deep hole, to stop digging," said Prof. Barry Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of the organizers of S3FP (which includes some of the most eminent U.S. experts on both national security policy and on the Middle East and the Arab world).

Among the signers are six of the last seven presidents of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and professors teaching in more than 150 colleges and universities in 40 states.

Besides Posen, the main organizers included Stanley Kaufman of the University of Delaware; Michael Brown, director of security studies at Georgetown University; Michael Desch, who holds the Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security Decision-Making at the Bush School of Government at Texas A & M University; and Jessica Stern, at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who also served in a senior counter-terrorism post in the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

"I think it is telling that so many specialists on international relations, who rarely agree on anything, are unified in their position on the high costs that the U.S. is incurring from this war," said Prof. Robert Keohane of Duke University in North Carolina.

Their critique mirrors an unprecedented statement released by 27 retired top-ranking foreign service and military officials last June, many of whom said they had voted for Bush in the 2000 election.

The 27, called Diplomats for Change, accused the administration of launching the country "into an ill-planned and costly war from which exit is uncertain." As their name suggests, they are calling for Bush to be defeated in 2004.

The statement's signatories include a number of retired government officials � some are career military and foreign service officers; others are political appointees in Democratic and Republican administrations � who are currently working at colleges and universities.

Much of their critique echoes arguments voiced by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry who, in recent weeks, has pounded away at alleged failures in the way Bush has prosecuted the "war on terrorism," particularly with respect to Iraq.

"We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists," S3FP writes.

The scholars applauded the Bush administration for its initial focus on destroying al Qaeda�s bases in Afghanistan; they charged that its subsequent "failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al Qaeda fighters in the [early] stages of that war was a great blunder."

"It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists."

The letter noted that "many of the justifications" provided by the administration for the Iraq war, including an operational relationship between al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and Iraq�s programs for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), have proven "untrue" and that North Korea and Pakistan pose much greater risks of nuclear proliferation.

"Even on moral grounds, the case for war was dubious: the war itself has killed over a thousand Americans and unknown thousands of Iraqis, and if the threat of civil war becomes reality, ordinary Iraqis could be even worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein."

Since the invasion, "policy errors � have created a situation in Iraq worse than it needed to be," according to the letter which noted that the administration ignored advice from the Army chief of staff on the need for many more U.S. troops to provide security and and also ignored advice from the State Department and other U.S. agencies on how reconstruction could be carried out.

"As a result, Iraqi popular dismay at the lack of security, jobs or reliable electric power fuels much of the violent opposition to the U.S. military presence, while the war itself has drawn in terrorists from outside Iraq."

While Saddam�s removal was "desirable," according to the scholars, the actual benefit to the United States was "small," particularly in light of the fact that Iraq posed far less of a threat to the U.S. or its allies than the administration had asserted.

"On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea�s and Iran�s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East."

Even worse, the occupation�s failures, such as the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, have acted as a recruitment tool for al Qaeda and similar groups throughout the region, according to the letter.

"Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order," the letter said.

Americans Say No to Unilateralism

Despite his standing in the polls, George Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy views are broadly rejected by both the average American and by public leaders, according to a major new survey released Tuesday by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR).

The survey, titled "Global Views 2004: American Public Opinion and Foreign Policy,' found that 76 percent of the general public reject the notion that Washington should play the role of world policeman and 80 percent believe that the U.S. is currently playing that role "more than it should be."

The results reflect the views of nearly 1,200 randomly selected members of the public and of 450 "leaders with foreign policy power, specialization, and expertise," including U.S. lawmakers and their senior staff, religious, business and labor leaders, senior administration officials, heads of major foreign policy organizations and lobby groups, and university professors and journalists who make foreign policy their main focus.

The survey, which was conducted in July, shows that all Americans - be it the layperson or a policy leader – much prefer multilateral solutions to foreign-policy problems to the more unilateral approach that has dominated the Bush administration.

Asked what is the more important lesson from the 9/11 attacks, 73 percent of the public said, "The U.S. needs to work more closely with other countries to fight terrorism," as opposed to 23 percent who said it "needs to act on its own more..." Among the leaders, who were surveyed separately, the margin in favor of multilateralism was even larger: 84 percent, as opposed to the mere nine percent who called for more unilateral action.

Support among both groups for strengthening the United Nations is particularly high, especially when compared to the results of the 2002 CCFR survey. More than two-thirds of respondents in both groups said the UN should have a standing peacekeeping force, while some four in five in both groups favored U.S. participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

Strong majorities among both groups also rejected Bush's notion of pre-emptive war, which is codified in his 2002 National Security Strategy and is often cited by the president as a justification for the war after the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. Only 17 percent of the public and ten percent of leaders interviewed in the survey said that war was justifiable if the "other country is acquiring (WMDs) that could be used against them at some point in the future."

Some 53 percent of the public and 61 percent of the surveyed leaders said war could only be justified if there was "strong evidence" that the country is in "imminent danger" of attack, while 25 percent of both groups said the U.S. should go to war only if the other country attacks first.

CCFR has conducted the 'Global Views' survey every four years since 1976, making it a standard reference for experts on public and "elite" attitudes on Washington's role in the world. It decided to conduct one this year, just two years after its last one, because of the importance of foreign policy in the current election campaign.

The survey found a "lowered sense of threat" from abroad compared to two years ago, with "protecting American jobs" cited more often among by the American public (but not the leaders) as a "very important" goal of foreign policy than both fighting international terrorism and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. It also found that "Islamic fundamentalism," which was considered a "critical threat" by 61 percent of the public in 2002, was cited by only 38 percent this year.

The most striking changes in elite opinion, on the other hand, were found in the sharp rise in the importance they gave to "improving the standard of living" in poor countries and in "strengthening the United Nations" compared with two years ago. Similarly, the percentage of leaders who cited "maintaining superior power worldwide" as a "very important" goal, fell from 52 percent in 2002 to only 37 percent in 2004 – the first time the issue has received less than a majority since the question was first posed to respondents in 1994.

Contrary to the Bush doctrine, large majorities of the public and surveyed leaders favor retaining rather than loosening traditional constraints on the use of force by individual states, including the U.S..

Majorities of both groups oppose states taking unilateral military action without authorization of the UN Security Council except in cases of genocide. Two thirds of both groups, for example, said the U.S. should be required to get the Council's approval before taking military action to eliminate North Korea's alleged nuclear arsenal.

The survey also found strong support for U.S. participation in international treaties and agreements that have been rejected by the Bush administration.

For example, nearly 90 percent of the public and 85 percent of the leaders said they favor a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty; 80 percent of both groups said the U.S. should agree to the global ban on anti-personnel land mines; and more than 70 percent of both groups said they support U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. A strong majority also said that international terrorists should be tried before the ICC if their own countries refuse to put them on trial.

While the survey showed a broad consensus among the two groups in opposing the unilateralist policies pursued by the Bush administration on most issues, it also found that the leaders were unaware of just how multilaterally inclined the American public is.

Asked to predict what percentage of the public supported the ICC, for example, only 20 percent of the leaders predicted the correct answer – a "strong majority." Seventy percent of the elite respondents (including 68 percent of senior administration officials and 91 percent of Republicans on Capitol Hill) thought ICC would receive support from less than a simple majority.

Similarly, the public was far more supportive of other international agreements and of steps to strengthen the UN than the leaders assumed, according to the CCFR results.

On Iraq-related issues, more than two thirds of both groups said the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq if a clear majority of the Iraqi people want it to do so. As to Bush's more ambitious plans for the Middle East, 57 percent of the public do not think Washington should put "greater pressure" on Arab states to become more democratic and 68 percent oppose plans for increasing aid and investment in the region on the order of the Marshall Plan after World War II. On this, as in some other specific areas, the leaders take the opposite view: 64 percent favor a Marshall Plan for the region, while 30 percent oppose the idea.

The CCFR report concludes, "All of these findings points again to the idea that Americans feel that the responsibilities and costs of many international actions are too great for it to shoulder alone ... More than ever, they are turning to other nations and to international institutions to help share the load through collective decision-making and collective action."

Mendacity Under Fire

"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda," U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters last week, is "because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda."

This is what logicians call a tautology, or a "useless repetition," as the dictionary defines it, but it is also an indication of how the Bush administration is defending itself against a growing number of scandals and deceptions in which it finds itself enmeshed.

Repetition and blaming the media, an old standby, of which Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld are particularly fond dating back to their service under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford 30 years ago, are back in vogue.

Thus it was that Cheney, the most aggressive administration proponent of the theory that Saddam Hussein had not only been working hand in glove with Osama bin Laden for years, but that he was also behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York back in 1993, complained that New York Times coverage of the 9/11 Commission's finding that there was no such link was "outrageous" and probably "malicious."

And thus it was that Rumsfeld charged that media coverage of the abuses of detainees held by the U.S. in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere was not only wrong, but dangerous. "The implication that's out there is the United States government is engaging in torture as a matter of policy, and that's not true," he declared, despite the cascading leaks of Pentagon, Justice Department, and White House memoranda suggesting ways in which domestic and international bans on torture can be circumvented or ignored in the "war on terror."

And, in a distinct echo of the charges leveled by diehard hawks over the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam under the Nixon/Ford watch, he suggested that reporters and editors, "sitting in an air-conditioned room some place," not the military (and certainly not the policymakers) would be to blame if Washington lost in Iraq.

"This much is certain," he said Thursday. "Coalition forces cannot be defeated on the battlefield. The only way this effort could fail is if people were to be persuaded that the cause is lost, or that it's not worth the pain -- or if those who seem to measure progress in Iraq against a more perfect world convince others to throw in the towel."

The tactic on which the administration appears to have settled in dealing with what is clearly an unraveling of whatever shred of credibility it retains is simply to insist -- as it has for so long anyway -- that it never made any mistakes or exaggerated or misrepresented or lied about anything in any way, and to hope that, if it repeats itself sufficiently loudly and often, people will come to believe it.

"At this point, the White House position is just frankly bizarre," Daniel Benjamin, a senior counter-terrorism official in the Clinton White House, told the Los Angeles Times in response to Bush's declaration about Al Qaeda and Hussein. "They're just repeating themselves, rather than admit they were wrong."

Bush, of course, was responding to the finding by the bipartisan 9/11 commission that, while bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq" when he was based in Sudan through 1994, "Iraq apparently never responded," and no "collaborative relationship" was ever established.

Proceeding from his tautology, Bush insisted that "this administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda."

That rendition, of course, raises a host of questions, among them definitional -- does the existence of "numerous contacts" amount to a "relationship," particularly when one side fails to respond to the other?

"When I was 15 and kept asking Mary Beth for a date, and she would always politely refuse, I think I would have been hard put to describe that as a 'relationship' as much as I wanted to brag about one," noted one Congressional aide this week.

But, more important, the Bush's statement simply flies in the face of the record. Just before invading Iraq, for example, Bush himself asserted that Iraq had sent bomb-making and document-forgery experts to "work with al-Qaeda" and also "provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training" -- a relationship that goes far beyond mere "contacts."

And, although he denied that his administration had ever suggested Hussein connivance in the 9/11 attacks themselves, his March 19, 2003, letter to Congress officially informing it that hostilities had begun asserted that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Cheney, always the most aggressive in asserting a link between Hussein and both al-Qaeda and 9/11, repeatedly made similar charges and last fall endorsed the contents of an article in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard -- consisting largely excerpts of a classified document prepared by the Pentagon's shady Office of Special Plans (OSP) as "the best source of information" -- that concluded that "Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003." Under pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon later issued a release describing the article's conclusions as "inaccurate."

Cheney, along with neo-conservative members of the Defense Policy Board, the Wall Street Journal editorial writers, and The Weekly Standard, also has been the administration's biggest champion of the single-sourced Czech intelligence report of a meeting in Prague between a senior Iraqi intelligence official and the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, five months before the attacks.

The meeting, according to the commission, which had access to contemporaneous video shots of Atta, his cell phone records, and the testimony of the Iraqi official who has been in U.S. custody since last July, never took place.

Yet Cheney said Thursday that he was still not convinced, suggesting cryptically that he may have access to intelligence the commission was not able to see. "That's never been proven," he said. "It's never been refuted."

Of course, Cheney's treatment of this issue gets us right into the epistemological puzzles in which Rumsfeld specializes -- that "there are known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns," which are those "we don't know we don't know" -- speculations that seemed increasingly appropriate in light of the latest revelations by Human Rights First that the U.S. is holding an unknown number of detainees in as many as a dozen facilities in the Middle East, South Asia, aboard naval vessels in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere whose existence has not been disclosed to either the International Committee of the Red Cross or to Congress.

Indeed, Rumsfeld's angry admonitions against the dangers of media coverage of torture and abuses in U.S.-run prisons came at a press conference in which he admitted that one Iraqi prisoner -- one of 13 so-called "ghost detainees" tracked by Human Rights Watch -- had been kept off prison rosters for some seven months, apparently to keep the Red Cross in the dark about whereabouts. If true, that would constitute a clear violation of Article 75 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, according to Deborah Pearlstein of Human Rights First. Rumsfeld assured reporters that the detainee in question had been treated "humanely" at all times.

Pressed by the White House, the Republican leadership in Congress, meanwhile, prevented Democratic lawmakers from issuing subpoenas for some of the administration's memoranda on its interrogation and detention policies and its contention, in at least two leaked memos, that the president can overrule international conventions, U.S. laws, and even the Constitution in his war-making powers as commander-in-chief.

Such unconstrained power is, of course, entirely consistent with the notion that a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hussein existed because the president says so.

Teetering on the Brink

One year after President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq, the United States appears to be teetering on the brink of strategic defeat in its Mesopotamian adventure.

Even as Bush Friday reiterated his ambition of bringing "freedom and democracy" to Iraq and the Middle East, a series of recent policy reversals -- capped by Friday's announcement that a former Baathist general will take charge of an all-Iraqi security force in Fallujah -- suggests that an increasingly desperate Washington will settle for far less.

Indeed, over the past two weeks, the administration appears to have almost entirely jettisoned the neoconservative vision of an ardently pro-U.S. Iraq led by Iraqi National Congress (INC) chief Ahmed Chalabi, opened wide to U.S. and western capital, and eager to serve as a convenient base for destabilizing Syria, Iran, and even Saudi Arabia if it gets out of line.

The defeat of the neo-conservatives, whose influence has been exercised primarily through the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has been made abundantly clear by the mandate the administration has given UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to essentially handpick the leadership of the new Iraqi government that will gain ''limited sovereignty," as one State Department official put it this week, after June 30.

The fact that the UN has been given such an important role severely undercuts the maximalist objectives of the neo-cons and other right-wing unilateralists whose main aim in going to war in Iraq was to demonstrate that Washington did not need the world body to ''legitimate'' its role as the ultimate guarantor of global security.

Brahimi's apparent decision to exclude Chalabi, for whom he is said to have the greatest contempt, drew strong protests from the INC leader's neocon supporters in the Pentagon and outside the administration who were then further infuriated by Brahimi's statements last week to the current Israeli policies, fervently backed by the neocons, were ''poison'' for the entire region. Bush's refusal to back away from the Algerian diplomat confirmed that the balance of power within the administration, at least on Iraq, has shifted decisively toward the realists.

Finally, the decision not only to forgo a major attack on insurgents in Fallujah, but to also withdraw Marines to positions outside the city and recognize a new, Baathist-led force to guarantee security there, defied the hawks' increasingly shrill insistence that a failure to crush the uprising and capture or kill those responsible for the deaths of four U.S. private-security contractors in early April would mark a strategic defeat for the occupation.

The deal, which clearly caught the Pentagon civilians off-guard, appeared to have been negotiated by commanders on the ground and approved by the National Security Council staff in the White House -- one more indication that neocons have fallen from grace.

But it also indicated a larger policy already announced by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) chief Paul Bremer a week ago -- that, in the words of Iraq specialist Juan Cole at the University of Michigan, ''the United States has embarked on a policy of re-Baathification, rehabilitating thousands of ex-Baathists and putting them to work." This policy reversal, too, has been strongly opposed by Chalabi, who had been in charge of the de-Baathification program, and his allies in Washington.

But, while the administration no longer appears to be heeding the neo-cons on Iraq policy, the big question is whether these policy reversals will save the U.S. occupation and Washington's minimum goals of putting in place (with Brahimi's help) a broadly representative government that can both ensure stability and accede to the indefinite presence of several discreetly situated U.S. military bases.

On this, opinions in Washington are deeply divided, but a growing number of analysts believe that policy changes may be a case of too little, too late.

The foreign policy establishment was shocked by an interview in the Wall Street Journal by ret. Gen. William E. Odom calling for a swift withdrawal. Odom, who among other posts served as Ronald Reagan's director of the National Security Agency (NSA), said, ''We have failed,'' adding that even if an Iraqi election is held next January as scheduled, ''Anybody that's pro-American cannot gain legitimacy."

Odom, who is based at the conservative Hudson Institute and has never been inclined to traditional isolationism, warned that the very presence of U.S. troops -- let alone a major military crackdown against Iraqi insurgents -- was radicalizing both Iraqis and other Arabs, risking the destabilization of the entire region. He said, ''The issue is how high a price we're going to pay. ... Less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later?"

Odom's analysis is bolstered by the results of a recent Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey, which found that 57 percent of Iraqis wants the U.S. occupation forces to leave the country ''immediately," a time frame defined as ''in the next few months." When the generally pro-U.S. Kurdish sample (representing about 13 percent of the population) was excluded, the portion of Iraqis favoring an immediate withdrawal rose to two-thirds.

The detailed survey largely confirmed reports that the vast majority of Iraqis have become very disillusioned with the U.S. and the occupation forces over the last 13 months. While pleased that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, four out of five non-Kurdish Iraqis said they now regard the coalition forces as ''occupiers'' rather than ''liberators."

More importantly, the survey was conducted before the sieges of Fallujah and Najaf which, according to most published reports, further alienated Iraqis from the occupation. ''If these polls results are to be believed, we've already lost the war for hearts and minds," notes one congressional aide whose boss initially supported the war.

''I don't believe that the American public generally understand what happened in the first half of April which is that the U.S. lost control of Iraq to a set of popular uprisings and was forced to reconquer the country," says Cole.

But the cost in both Iraqi and U.S. lives has been unexpectedly high. More than 130 U.S. soldiers were killed in April, more than were killed in the first six weeks of the invasion; indeed, more than any one-month military death toll since just before the last U.S. combat troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1973.

The fighting has forced the administration to put off scheduled withdrawals and consider sending in more troops. The political effect here has been a sharp drop in public confidence in Bush's Iraq policy, according to a New York Times/CBS poll which also found that a record 58 percent of the U.S. public now believe that the invasion has not been worth the cost in lives and resources.

Cole said that the decision to pull back from Fallujah, as well as other recent major policy reversals ''may have taken us back from the brink, but we could be back there at any time."

Even as the Marines were pulling back from Fallujah, the Pentagon was expediting the shipment of more heavy tanks and armoured vehicles to Iraq -- precisely the kind of weapons that counter-insurgency specialists say will make it more difficult for occupation troops to win ''hearts and minds."

Moreover, there is every indication that U.S. military is already over-stretched and running low on resources. A telling sign: The Army has requested ski areas in the Sierra Nevada mountains that were using five howitzers to prevent avalanches to return them immediately for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jim Lobe writes for the Inter Press Service, TomPaine.com, and foreign Policy in Focus.

Bush Lies Uncovered

For those still puzzling over why the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, two key players offered important, but curiously unnoticed, clues this week.

Statements made by both men confirmed growing suspicions that the Bush administration's drive to war in Iraq had very little, if anything, to do with the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or his alleged ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda -- the two main reasons the U.S. Congress and public were given for the invasion.

Separate statements by Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and U.S. retired Gen Jay Garner, who was in charge of planning and administering post-war reconstruction from January through May 2002, suggest that other, less public motives were behind the war, none of which concerned self-defense, pre-emptive or otherwise.

The statement by Chalabi, on whom the neo-conservative and right-wing hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office are still resting their hopes for a White House-friendly transition to self-rule, will certainly interest congressional committees investigating why the intelligence on WMD before the war was so far off the mark.

In a remarkably frank interview with the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, Chalabi said he was willing to take full responsibility for the INC's role in providing misleading intelligence to George Bush, Congress and the U.S. public to persuade them that Hussein posed a serious threat to the United States that had to be dealt with urgently.

The Telegraph reported that Chalabi merely shrugged off accusations his group had deliberately misled the administration, saying, ''We are heroes in error.''

"As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful," he told the newspaper. "That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants."

It was an amazing admission, and certain to fuel growing suspicions on Capitol Hill that Chalabi, whose INC received millions of dollars in taxpayer money over the past decade, effectively conspired with his supporters in and around the administration to take the United States to war on pretenses they knew, or had reason to know, were false.

Indeed, it now appears increasingly clear that defectors handled by the INC were sources for the most spectacular and detailed -- if completely unfounded -- information about Hussein's alleged WMD programs, offered not only to U.S. intelligence agencies, but also to U.S. mainstream media, especially the New York Times, according to a recent report in the New York Review of Books.

Within the administration, Chalabi worked most closely with those who had championed his cause for a decade, particularly neoconservatives close to Cheney and Rumsfeld -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.

Feith's office was home to the Office of Special Plans (OSP) whose two staff members and dozens of consultants were given the task of reviewing raw intelligence to develop the strongest possible case for war. OSP also worked with the Defense Policy Board (DPB), a hand-picked group of mostly neoconservative hawks, which was chaired until just before the war by Richard Perle, a long-time Chalabi friend.

DPB members, particularly Perle, former CIA director James Woolsey and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, played prominent roles in publicizing reports by INC defectors and other alleged evidence developed by OSP that made Hussein appear as scary as possible.

Chalabi even participated in a secret DPB meeting just a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks in which the main topic of discussion, according to the Wall Street Journal, was finding a way to use 9/11 as a pretext for attacking Iraq.

The OSP and a parallel group under Feith, the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, have become central targets of the congressional investigation, according to aides on Capitol Hill, while unconfirmed rumors circulated here this week that members of the DPB are also under investigation.

The question, of course, is whether the individuals involved were fooled by Chalabi and the INC or whether they were willing collaborators in distorting intelligence.

It appears that Chalabi, whose family has extensive interests in a company that has already been awarded more than $400 million in reconstruction contracts, is signaling his willingness to take all of the blame, or credit, for the faulty intelligence.

But other statements made by Jay Garner this week in an interview with The National Journal suggest that the administration had its own reasons for the war. Asked how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Garner replied, ''I hope they're there a long time," and then compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines between 1898 and 1992.

''One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with (the Iraqi authorities)," he said. ''And I think we'll have basing rights in the north and basing rights in the south ... we'd want to keep at least a brigade."

Garner added, ''Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East."

While U.S. military strategists have hinted for some time that a major goal of war was to establish several bases in Iraq, particularly given the ongoing military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Garner is the first to state it so baldly. Until now, U.S. military chiefs have suggested they need to retain a military presence just to ensure stability for several years, after which they expect to draw down their forces.

If indeed Garner's understanding represents the thinking of his former bosses, then the ongoing struggle within the administration over ceding control to the United Nations becomes more comprehensible. Ceding too much control, particularly before reaching an agreement establishing military bases will make permanent U.S. bases much less likely.

Jim Lobe writes about U.S. foreign policy for Tom Paine, AlterNet, and Foreign Policy in Focus.

The Short End of the Stick

Immigration and human rights groups are hoping that a legal brief they have submitted to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft will persuade him to permit women who have suffered severe domestic abuse in their homeland to receive political asylum in the United States.

Briefs are due today in the asylum case of Rodi Alvarado, an immigrant to the U.S. from Guatemala, who suffered repeated and nearly fatal beatings by her husband, a soldier in the Guatemalan army, for more than ten years before fleeing in 1995 to San Francisco, where she now lives. She contends that if she were returned to Guatemala, her husband would almost certainly track her down and that Guatemalan authorities were unwilling to provide her with protection.

Rights groups are concerned that Ashcroft intends to limit asylum for women fleeing gender-based persecution, a concern that was furthered when the attorney general initially declined to accept briefs to help him decide the matter a year ago. He reversed that decision last fall after 62 members of Congress intervened. Ashcroft has not said when he intends to issue his opinion.

The Alvarado case, which has been pending since the late 1990s, is considered the key test of whether the George W. Bush administration will offer asylum to women based on gender-related abuse, an increasingly important issue in international refugee law.

Among the almost 100 groups that have signed the brief are the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (recently renamed Human Rights First), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee, as well as a number of faith-based groups representing the Catholic Bishops, Jewish congregations, the Presbyterian Church, and the National Association of Evangelicals. In addition, almost 100 law professors have signed the brief, drafted by the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic.

The case is the latest in an almost 20-year evolution that began with a 1985 opinion by the UN High Commission for Refugees that women who face abuse arising from certain customs in their society -- such as female genital mutilation, honour killings or beatings by their mates -- should constitute a special group for asylum purposes. The opinion, however, was largely ignored until the UN's 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, which focused attention on violence committed against women, including mass rape in Bosnia.

Despite these innovations on the international level, U.S. immigration judges continued to view claims of gender-based persecution -- particularly those of battered wives -- skeptically, seeing their plight largely as resulting from personal or family problems, rather than as stemming from social and legal systems that protect their abusers.

In 1995 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issued new guidelines calling on immigration officers to give more attention to the social context in which an alleged persecution took place. But judges continued to make inconsistent and contradictory rulings, as demonstrated by the history of the Alvarado case.

The initial immigration judge in that case granted her asylum on the grounds that she belonged to a persecuted social group defined as "Guatemalan women who have been involved intimately with Guatemalan male companions, who believe that women are to live under male domination."

But that finding was reversed by a majority in a sharply divided, 15-member Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which decided in 1999 that Alvarado could not win asylum because she had presented no evidence that her husband threatened any other members of that social group besides herself. As such a group did not exist, the majority found, she could not claim membership in it.

Under U.S. law, a person can be granted asylum only if he or she establishes a well-founded fear of persecution if returned home on account of five protected areas: race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Thus, the essential difference between the immigration judge and the appeals court majority was over the question of whether battered women could qualify as members of the last category.

As the Clinton administration prepared to leave office, Attorney General Janet Reno overruled the BIA's decision and drafted new rules for immigration judges. In particular, the rules stated that "certain forms of domestic violence may constitute persecution, despite the fact that they occur within familial or intimate relationship." Moreover, such patterns of violence are not private matters, but rather should be addressed when they are supported by a legal system or social norms that condone or perpetuate domestic violence.

Under this test, the key issue was to be whether the victims of domestic violence could obtain protection from their own government. If not, the case for asylum as a member of a persecuted social group must be taken more seriously.

Reno's draft regulations, however, never became final, and last March the BIA informed Alvarado's attorneys at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California's Hastings School of Law in San Francisco, that Ashcroft had decided to formally review the case.

In addition to the rights and immigration groups, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to file a brief. The National Organization for Women (NOW) has also submitted a brief, while the conservative Concerned Women for America (CWA) has sent a letter in support of the grant of asylum on the grounds that turning Alvarado away "would be an act of pointless cruelty."

Human Rights First says that a denial of asylum could have a major impact not only on women immigrants fleeing domestic abuse, but also on other gender-related asylum policy covering sexual trafficking and honour killing. It said proposals for new regulations that have been circulating within the Justice Department suggest a more restrictive approach.

Jim Lobe is a journalist with OneWorld U.S., where this article originally appeared.

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