Consider the ultimate gift in a homeland security country: the iTaser, a weapon with its own MP3 player and earphones that can deliver a 50,000 volt electrical charge while you catch your favorite tunes. This new Taser, on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will be available, reports Richard Wray of the British Guardian, in "red, pink and even leopard print designs." Anyone carrying the iTaser will be able to make what may be the first homeland-security fashion statement in any one of the 43 states where Tasers are legal. The company that makes the weapon, Taser International, has already sold 160,000 less-stylish versions to private individuals. According to founder and company CEO Rick Smith, "Personal protection can be both fashionable and functionable."
In November 2006, the Taser infamously broke into the news on campus when a student at the University of Florida, questioning Senator John Kerry harshly, was dragged off, Tased, and subdued by campus police. His plea, "Don't Tase me, Bro!," is now the stuff of bumper stickers, T-shirts, and cell phone ring tones. Thanks largely to him and the publicity the incident got, the New Oxford Dictionary made "Tase" one of its 2007 words of the year, the Yale Book of Quotations put it at the top of its yearly list of most memorable quotes, and the rest of us got a hint that something new might be happening in America's "ivory towers."
As Michael Gould-Wartofsky indicates below, that incident was just the tip of an enormous homeland-security presence on campus. Gould-Wartofsky's remarkable report -- a piece that the Nation Magazine and Tomdispatch.com are sharing -- offers real news about just how deeply the new homeland security state is settling into every aspect of our world. -- Tom Engelhardt, editor of TomDispatch
How to Build a Homeland Security Campus in Seven Steps
By Michael Gould-Wartofsky
Free speech zones. Taser guns. Hidden cameras. Data mining. A new security curriculum. Private security contractors... Welcome to the new homeland security campus
From Harvard to UCLA, the ivory tower is fast becoming the latest watchtower in Fortress America. The terror warriors, having turned their attention to "violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism" -- as it was recently dubbed in a House of Representatives bill of the same name -- have set out to reconquer that traditional hotbed of radicalization, the university.
Building a homeland-security campus and bringing the university to heel is a seven-step mission:
1. Target dissidents: As the warfare state has triggered dissent, the campus has increasingly become a target gallery -- with student protesters in the crosshairs. The government's number one target? Peace and justice organizations.
From 2003 to 2007, an unknown number of them made it into the Pentagon's "Threat and Local Observation Notice" system (TALON), a secretive domestic spying program ostensibly designed to track direct "potential terrorist threats" to the Department of Defense itself. Last year, via Freedom of Information Act requests, the ACLU uncovered at least 186 specific TALON reports on "anti-military protests" in the U.S. -- some listed as "credible threats" -- from student groups at the University of California-Santa Cruz, State University of New York, Georgia State University, and New Mexico State University, among other campuses.
At more than a dozen universities and colleges, police officers now double as full-time FBI agents and, according to the Campus Law Enforcement Journal, serve on many of the nation's 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. These dual-purpose officer-agents have knocked on student activists' doors from North Carolina State to the University of Colorado and, in one case, interrogated an Iraqi-born professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst about his antiwar views.
FBI agents, or their campus stand-ins, don't have to do all the work themselves. Administrators often do it for them, setting up "free speech zones," which actually constrain speech, and punishing those who step outside them. Last year, protests were typically forced into "free assembly areas" at the University of Central Florida and Clemson University; while students at Hampton and Pace Universities faced expulsion for handing out antiwar flyers, aka "unauthorized materials."
2. Lock and load: Many campus police departments are morphing into heavily armed garrisons, equipped with a wide array of weaponry from Taser stun guns and pepper guns to shotguns and semiautomatic rifles. Lock-and-load policies that began in the 1990s under the rubric of "the war on crime" only escalated with the President's Global War on Terror. Each school shooting -- most recently the massacre at Virginia Tech -- just adds fuel to the armament flames.
Two-thirds of universities now arm their police, according to the Justice Department. Many of the guns being purchased were previously in the province of military units and SWAT teams. For instance, AR-15 rifles (similar to M-16s) are now in the arsenal of the University of Texas campus police. Last April, City University of New York bought dozens of semiautomatic handguns. Now, states like Nevada are even considering plans to allow university staff to pack heat in a "special reserve officer corps."
Most of the force used on campus these days, though, comes in "less lethal" form, such as the rubber bullets and pepper pellets increasingly used to contain student demonstrations. Then there is the ubiquitous Taser, the electroshock weapon recently ruled a "form of torture" by the UN. A Taser was used by UCLA police in November 2006 to deliver shock after shock to an Iranian-American student for failing to produce his ID at the Powell Library. Last September, a University of Florida student was Tased after asking pointed questions of Senator John Kerry at a public forum, his plea of "Don't Tase me, bro" becoming the stuff of pop folklore.
3. Keep an eye (or hundreds of them) focused on campus: Surveillance has become a boom industry nationally -- one that now reaches deep into the heart of the American campus. In fact, universities have witnessed explosive growth in the electronic surveillance of students, faculty, and campus workers. On ever more campuses, closed-circuit security cameras can track people's every move, often from hidden or undisclosed locations, sometimes even into classrooms.
The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators reports that surveillance cameras have now found their way onto at least half of all colleges, their numbers on any given campus doubling, tripling, and in a few cases, rising tenfold since September 11, 2001. Such cameras have proliferated by the hundreds on private campuses, in particular. The University of Pennsylvania, for instance, has more than 400 watching over it, while Harvard and Brown have about 200 each.
Elsewhere, it can be tricky just to find out where the cameras are and what they're meant to be viewing. The University of Texas, for example, battled student journalists over disclosure and ultimately kept its cameras hidden. Sometimes, though, a camera's purpose seems obvious. Take the case of Hussein Hussein, a professor in the Department of Animal Biotechnology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In January 2005, the widely respected professor found a hidden camera redirected to monitor his office.
4. Mine student records: Student records have, in recent years, been opened up to all manner of data mining for purposes of investigation, recruitment, or just all-purpose tracking. From 2001 to 2006, in an operation code-named "Project Strike Back," the Department of Education teamed up with the FBI to scour the records of the 14 million students who applied for federal financial aid each year. The objective? "To identify potential people of interest," explained an FBI spokesperson cryptically, especially those linked to "potential terrorist activity."
Strike Back was quietly discontinued in June 2006, days after students at Northwestern University blew its cover. But just one month later, the Education Department's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, in a much-criticized preliminary report, recommended the creation of a federal "unit record" database that would track the activities and studies of college students nationwide. The Department's Institute of Education Sciences has developed a prototype for such a national database.
It's not a secret that the Pentagon, for its part, hopes to turn campuses into recruitment centers for its overstretched, overstressed forces. In fact, the Department of Defense (DoD) has built its own database for just this purpose. Known as Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies, this program now tracks 30 million young people, ages 16 to 25. According to a Pentagon spokesperson, the DoD has partnered with private marketing and data mining firms, which, in turn, sell the government reams of information on students and other potential recruits.
5. Track foreign-born students, keep the undocumented out: Under the auspices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been keeping close tabs on foreign students and their dependents through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). As of October 2007, ICE reported that it was actively following 713,000 internationals on campuses, while keeping more than 4.7 million names in its database.
The database aims to amass and record information on foreign students throughout their stay inside the United States. SEVIS requires thick files on the students from the sponsoring schools, constantly updated with all academic, biographical, and employment records -- all of which will be shared with other government agencies. If students fall out of "status" at school -- or if the database thinks they have -- the Compliance Enforcement Unit of ICE goes into action.
ICE has also done its part to keep the homeland security campus purified of those not born in the homeland. The American Immigration Law Foundation estimates that only one in 20 undocumented immigrants who graduate high school goes on to enroll in a college. Many don't go because they cannot afford the tuition, but also because they have good reason to be afraid: ICE has deported a number of those who did make it to college, some before they could graduate.
6. Take over the curriculum, the classroom, and the laboratory: Needless to say, not every student is considered a homeland security threat. Quite the opposite. Many students and faculty members are seen as potential assets. To exploit these assets, the Department of Homeland Security has launched its own curriculum under its Office of University Programs (OUP), intended, it says, to "foster a homeland security culture within the academic community."
The record so far is impressive: DHS has doled out 439 federal fellowships and scholarships since 2003, providing full tuition to students who fit "within the homeland security research enterprise." Two hundred twenty-seven schools now offer degree or certificate programs in "homeland security," a curriculum that encompasses over 1,800 courses. Along with OUP, some of the key players in creating the homeland security classroom are the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) and the Aerospace Defense Command, co-founders of the Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.
OUP has also partnered with researchers and laboratories to "align scientific results with homeland security priorities." In Fiscal Year 2008 alone, $4.9 billion in federal funding will go to homeland security-related research. Grants correspond with 16 research topics selected by DHS, based on presidential directives, legislation, and a smattering of scientific advice.
But wait, there's more: DHS has founded and funded six of its very own "Centers of Excellence," research facilities that span dozens of universities from coast to coast. The latest is a Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, the funding for which cleared the House in October. The Center is mandated to assist a National Commission in combating those "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system... to advance political, religious or social change."
7. Privatize, privatize, privatize: Of course, homeland security is not just a department, nor is it simply a new network of surveillance and data mining -- it's big business. (According to USA Today, global homeland-security-style spending had already reached $59 billion a year in 2006, a six-fold increase over 2000.)
Not surprisingly, then, universities have, in recent years, established unprecedented private-sector partnerships with the corporations that have the most to gain from their research. The Department of Homeland Security's on-campus National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), for instance, features Lockheed Martin on its advisory board. The Center for Food Protection and Defense relies on an industry working group that includes Wal-Mart and McDonald's offering "guidance and direction," according to its chair.
While vast sums of money are flowing in from these corporate sponsors, huge payments are also flowing out into "strategic supplier contracts" with private contractors, as universities permanently outsource security operations to big corporations like Securitas and AlliedBarton. Little of this money actually goes to those guarding the properties, who are often among the most underpaid workers at universities. Instead, it fills the corporate coffers of those with little accountability for conditions on campus.
Meanwhile, some universities have developed intimate relationships with private-security outfits like the notorious Blackwater. Last May, for example, the University of Illinois and its police training institute cut a deal with the firm to share their facilities and training programs with Blackwater operatives. Local journalists later revealed that the director of the campus program at the time was on the Blackwater payroll. In the age of hired education, such collaboration is apparently par for the course.
Following these seven steps over the past six years, the homeland security state and its constituents have come a long way in their drive to remake the American campus in the image of a compound on lockdown. Somewhere, inside the growing homeland security state that is our country, the next seven steps in the process are undoubtedly already being planned out.
Still, the rise of Repress U is not inevitable. The new homeland security campus has proven itself unable to shut out public scrutiny or stamp out resistance to its latest Orwellian advances. Sometimes, such opposition even yields a free-speech zone dismantled, or the Pentagon's TALON de-clawed, or a Project Strike Back struck down. A rising tide of student protest, led by groups like the new Students for a Democratic Society, has won free-speech victories and reined in repression from Pace and Hampton, where the University dropped its threats of expulsion, to UCLA, where Tasers will no longer be wielded against passive resisters.
Yet, if the tightening grip of the homeland security complex isn't loosened, the latest towers of higher education will be built not of ivory, but of Kevlar for the over-armored, over-armed campuses of America.
The review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a five-yearly event, opened in New York on May 2 without benefit of an agenda. The conference had no agenda because the world has no agenda with respect to nuclear arms. Broadly speaking, two groups of nations are setting the pace of events. One -- the possessors of nuclear arms under the terms of the treaty, comprising the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China -- wants to hold on to its nuclear arsenals indefinitely. The other group -- call them the proliferators -- has only recently acquired the weapons or would like to do so. Notable among them are North Korea, which by its own account has built a small arsenal, and Iran, which appears to be using its domestic nuclear-power program to create a nuclear-weapon capacity.
As the conference began, Iran announced that it would soon end a moratorium on the production of fissile materials and Pyongyang declared that it had become a full-fledged nuclear power -- a declaration buttressed by testimony in the Senate from the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, that North Korea now has rockets capable of landing nuclear warheads on the United States. If the two countries establish themselves as nuclear powers, a long list of other countries in the Middle East and North Asia may seek to follow suit. In that case, the NPT will be a dead letter, and the gates of unlimited proliferation will swing open.
The two groups of nations are in collision. The possessors want to stop the proliferators, and the proliferators want to defy them as well as ask them to get rid of their own mountainous nuclear arsenals. One of the liveliest debates at the conference concerns the nuclear fuel cycle, whereby fuel for both nuclear power and nuclear bomb materials is made. In the possessor countries, proposals abound to restrict this capacity to themselves, thus digging a moat around not only their arsenals but their nuclear productive capacities as well. The proliferators respond that the world's nuclear double-standard should not be fortified but eliminated: In the long run, either everyone should have the right to the fuel cycle -- and for that matter to the bombs -- or no one should. (This was the view of Pakistan and India until, in May 1998, they remedied the inequity in their own cases by testing nuclear weapons and declaring themselves nuclear powers.)
Far more contentious is the new American military doctrine of pre-emptive war, aimed at stopping proliferation by force, as the United States said it sought to do by overthrowing the government of Iraq. Inasmuch as the Bush administration has suggested that even nuclear force might be used, the new policy represents the ultimate extreme of the double standard: The United States will use nuclear weapons to stop other countries from getting those same weapons. The proliferators accordingly fear a world whose commanding heights will be guarded by the nuclear cannons of a few nations, while the rest of the world cowers in the planet's lowlands and back alleys. Nuclear disarmament, once the domain of the peace-loving, would become a prime engine of war in an imposed, militarized global order.
The debate between the nuclear haves and have-nots is probably unresolvable anytime soon. Certainly it will not be settled at the review conference. And yet, as is true of so many adversaries, the two groups of nations have more in common with each other than with other nations: They both want nuclear weapons. And if one looks at what is happening on the ground, a remarkable uniformity appears. All the parties in this quarrel are expanding their nuclear capacities and missions. In a sense the two groups, even as they threaten each other with annihilation, are cooperating in nuclearizing the globe.
The end of the cold war was supposed to be the beginning of a farewell to nuclear danger, but now, 15 years later, it's clear that a nuclear renaissance is under way. China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Britain are all increasing their arsenals and/or their delivery systems. (In an amazingly undernoticed development, the shadow of danger from Chinese nuclear weapons is falling over larger and larger areas of the United States.) The United States, even as it reduces the number of its alert nuclear weapons -- though not the total number of nuclear weapons, alert or otherwise -- is rotating its nuclear guns away from their traditional Cold War targets and toward Third World sites. (The United States and Russia built up such an excess of nuclear bombs during the Cold War that they can string out their dismantlement almost indefinitely without carving into their joint capacity to finish off most of human civilization.) Britain likewise is redirecting its targeting. Its Defense Secretary has stated that even the modest step of declaring no-first-use of nuclear weapons "would be incompatible with our and NATO's doctrine of deterrence, nor would it further nuclear disarmament objectives." In other words, Britain may find it necessary to initiate a nuclear war to achieve nuclear disarmament. Finally, individuals and terrorist groups are reaching for the bomb and other weapons of mass destruction. Osama bin Laden, for instance, has declared that obtaining such is the "religious duty" of Muslims, and Sept. 11 gave us an example of how he might use them.
All but unheard in the snarling din are the true voices of peace -- voices calling on the one group of nations to resist the demonic allure of nuclear arms and on the other group to rid themselves of the ones they have, leaving the world with a single standard: no nuclear weapons. Of the countries represented at the conference, fully 183 have found it entirely possible to live without atomic arsenals, and few -- barring a breakdown of the treaty -- show any sign of changing their minds. In the UN General Assembly the vast majority of them have voted regularly for nuclear abolition. Behind those votes stand the people of the world, who, when asked, agree. Even the people of the United States are in the consensus. Presented by AP pollsters in March with the statement, "No country should be allowed to have nuclear weapons," 66 percent agreed. In other countries, the percentage of supporters is higher. On the day their voices are heard and their will made active, the end of the nuclear age will be in sight.
This article will appear in the May 23rd issue of The Nation.
For some time now, American political discussion has seemed to revolve around little stock phrases, such as "defining moment" (at the time of the first Gulf War), "the end of history" (at the end of the Cold War), "the economy, stupid" (in the early Clinton years), "shock and awe" (as the second Gulf War began). Sometimes there's a revival of one or another. One of these is "winning hearts and minds." It became popular during the Vietnam War and is enjoying a vogue in the context of the war in Iraq.
However, the phrase has undergone an interesting evolution. This is reflected in two recent columns, one by Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post , the other by Mark Bowden in the Los Angeles Times . You might suppose that any reflection on hearts and minds would revolve around the elections that are planned for January in Iraq. How, someone might ask, can the United States, now hugely disliked in Iraq, make itself so appealing that Iraqis would vote for a government cut to our specifications? Yet the principal occasion for the two writers' reflections is instead the military campaign – specifically, the Marines' assault on Fallujah.
Back in the days of Vietnam, the phrase acquired a definite meaning: In a war of pacification, winning battles was not enough; you also had to win the population's hearts and minds. If you did not, each victory in battle would only be the prelude to further battles, and at the end, when you left, all your work would be washed away by the contrary will of the local people, as happened in Vietnam. It was possible to rule by the sword, as empires have done through the ages, but then you had to be ready to occupy the country indefinitely. Winning hearts and minds, therefore, was not a frill of policy but its foundation, the sine qua non of victory.
In his discussion of the invasion of Fallujah, Hoagland begins with a seeming acknowledgment of the Vietnam lesson. He recognizes that the measurements of success cannot merely be the "numbers of insurgents killed or captured, or bomb factories seized or obliterated." For "as Americans learned to their grief in Vietnam," such measurements are "elusive and illusory." We expect to hear at this point that winning hearts and minds is necessary, and Hoagland does not disappoint. But he introduces a variant of the old phrase. Fallujah, he says "is part of a battle for minds rather than 'hearts and minds.'" (The title of the article is "Fighting for Minds in Fallujah.") What can he mean? What happened to hearts?
The answer is that the "immediate objective is to dissuade Sunni townspeople from joining, supporting or tolerating the insurrection," and "the price they will pay for doing so is being illustrated graphically in the streets of Fallujah." This isn't a lesson for the heart – the organ of love, enthusiasm, positive approval. The reaction of the heart – whether Iraqi or American – could only be pity, disgust and indignation. Thus, only the "minds" of "the townspeople" could draw the necessary conclusions, as they survey the corpse-strewn wreckage of their city. In short, the people of Iraq will be stricken with fear, or, to use another word that's very popular these days, terror. Then they'll be ready to vote.
Bowden takes up the same theme. "Guerrilla war is always about hearts and minds," he notes. He acknowledges that most of the guerrillas would have escaped in the long buildup to the attack. Still, he argues, the attack was important. True, it will not influence the "boldest" souls, who are motivated by "nationalism, religion, kinship or ideology." (All these things were applauded in the recent American election, but they apparently are to have no place in the life of Iraqis.) But "ordinary people" can still be won over. How? He arrives at the same conclusion as Hoagland. "I suspect fear has more to do with influencing them than anything else." Most Iraqis, "like sensible people everywhere, are looking to see which side is most likely to prevail." The stake for them is "survival" – depending on which side is more likely to kill them. Bowden wants it to be the United States. The payoff is not any concrete achievement of the attack; it is the spectacle of the subjugated city, which "works as a demonstration of will and power."
Certainly, the assault on Fallujah has given the Iraqi people a lot to look at, and a lot to think about. Some 200,000 people – the great majority of Fallujah's population of some 300,000 – were driven out of their city by news of the imminent attack and the U.S. bombardment. No agency of government, U.S. or Iraqi, which turned off the city's water and electricity in preparation for the assault, offered assistance. Nor did the United Nations Refugee Agency or any other representative of the international community appear. And where are the people now? And what stories are the expelled 200,000 telling the millions of Iraqis among whom they are now mixing? We don't know. No one seems to be interested.
When the attack came, the first target was Fallujah General Hospital. The New York Times explained why: "The offensive also shut down what officers said was a propaganda weapon for the militants: Fallujah General Hospital, with its stream of reports of civilian casualties." If there were no hospital, there would be no visible casualties; if there were no visible casualties, there would be no international outrage, and all would be well. What of those civilians who remained? No men of military age were permitted to leave during the attack. Remaining civilians were trapped in their apartments with no electricity or water. No one knows how many of them have been killed, and no official group has any plans to find out. The city itself is a ruin. "A drive through the city revealed a picture of utter destruction," the Independent of Britain reports, "with concrete houses flattened, mosques in ruins, telegraph poles down, power and phone lines hanging slack and rubble and human remains littering the empty streets."
Both columnists do mention the elections. Bowden says the best hope for Iraq is "for elections to take place," and Hoagland believes the attack on Fallujah will "clear the way" for them. Ballot boxes are to spring up in the tracks of the tanks. Some commentators even refer to "the Sunni heartland." (As far as I can tell, no one has yet asked how Iraqi "security moms" will vote.) Meanwhile, the insurgency, failing so far to learn its lesson, has opened fronts in other cities, which may soon get the same treatment as Fallujah. "They made a wasteland and called it peace,"
Tacitus famously said. It was left to the United States, champion of freedom, to update the formula: They made a wasteland and called it democracy.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, once a supporter of the war in Iraq, has been rethinking his position. The day after Sen. John Kerry's speech at NYU attacking the president's war policies, Cohen wrote, "I still don't think the United States can just pull out of Iraq. But I do think the option is worth discussing."
Well, let's discuss it.
The United States should just pull out of Iraq.
There are many issues in politics that are very complicated. The war in Iraq is not one of them. Common sense in regard to this war rests on two rock-solid pillars:
(1) The United States should never have invaded Iraq.
(2) Now it should set a timetable to withdraw and leave.
These two propositions go together. The litany of reasons why it was wrong to invade Iraq – that there were no weapons of mass destruction in the country, no ties to al Qaeda and only the dimmest prospect of democracy – are the same as the reasons why it is now wrong to remain there.
And in truth, the war would have been an even greater mistake if the reasons given for it had been based on reality – if the weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda had existed. People don't have to ask themselves today what might have happened if Vice President Cheney had been correct in saying, as he did before the war, that Iraq had "reconstituted its nuclear weapons" and if CIA director George Tenet had also been correct in saying that the sole circumstance in which Saddam might use weapons of mass destruction would be if his power were threatened. Had both men been correct, there might have been a use of weapons of mass destruction against American troops in the Iraq theater, or even on U.S. soil (if the ties to al Qaeda had also been real), and a possible use of nuclear weapons by the United States in retaliation.
How fortunate we are that Cheney, at least, was factually mistaken! That he was wrong is the bright side, if you like, of the current mess. His disastrous factual errors may have saved us from his catastrophic policy errors. Nor has the war brought with it any new justification for itself. On the contrary, it has added fresh reasons for leaving. If the story of the occupation so far – a story of scarcely imaginable incompetence, misfired intentions, collapsing plans, multiplying horrors and steadily growing resistance – teaches a single clear lesson it is that the United States is a radicalizing force in Iraq. The more the United States pursues the goal of a democratic Iraq, the farther it recedes into the distance. The longer the United States stays the course, the worse the actual outcome becomes.
Let there be as orderly a transition as possible, accompanied by as much aid, foreign assistance and general sweetness and light as can be mustered, but the endpoint, complete withdrawal, should be announced in advance, so that everyone in Iraq – from the beheaders and other murderers, to legitimate resisters, to any true democrats who may be on the scene – can know that the responsibility for their country's future is shifting to their shoulders. The outcome, though not in all honesty likely to be pretty, will at any rate be the best one possible. If the people of Iraq slip back into dictatorship, it will be their dictatorship. If they choose civil war, it will be their civil war. And if by some happy miracle they choose democracy, it will be their democracy – the only kind worth having.
Kerry's speech was the beginning "at long last" (his words) of a serious debate in the campaign over the war. The speech was heralded by his charge, a few days before, that George W. Bush lives in a "fantasy world of spin" – the first telling, or even widely audible, phrase that Kerry has used in his entire campaign for president. Bush, indeed, has an audacious personal quality that has somehow served him well so far: full frontal repudiation of facts known to all. Faced with the absence of WMDs in Iraq he once simply said, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction." Faced with a Presidential Daily Brief titled "bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.," he and his spokespersons called it "historical." In his universe, faithfulness to delusion is "consistency." It reached its apogee at the GOP convention, where the president presented a picture of the war in Iraq from which all current facts – the street fighting, the bombing, the kidnappings, the torture, the departing allies – had been removed.
"Staying the course" meant staying in the imaginary world. At the convention, the president, if we are to judge by his sudden dramatic rise in the polls, apparently drew a majority of the country into that world with him. Yet almost immediately thereafter, he sank again in many polls. As of this writing, the polls are in anarchy, showing anything from a double-digit Bush lead to a dead heat. The polling may reflect the confusion of a public groping to deal with its immersion in the imaginary world. Like a movie audience emerging from a feel-good blockbuster onto the icy streets, the public probably cannot help noticing that what is before its eyes is quite different from what was on the screen. The bright and shining lies are always more appealing, at least for a while, than the plain truth. Could the resulting double-vision be the reason for a certain flip-flopping, so to speak, of the public itself?
In his speech, Kerry embraced one of the pillars of common sense, finally declaring that the war was a mistake, saying of the president, "Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is no." He did not proceed, however, to the necessary corollary, that withdrawal is necessary, though he hinted at it. Each of his concrete proposals – to find allies, train Iraqi police, speed up reconstruction, hold elections – is fine, but none guarantee the success in creating a "viable" Iraq that he still seems to promise.
He has put one foot in the real world, but left the other in the imaginary world, leaving himself open, still, to the flip-flopping charge that Bush immediately leveled against him again. Only 100 percent fantasy will do for the president. But Kerry has at least begun the journey – one as hard as the journey from his service in Vietnam to his protest against it – toward the real. Give him credit for that.
"When they sent those Swift Boats up the river in Vietnam... John Kerry said, 'Send me.'
"And then when America needed to extricate itself from that misbegotten and disastrous war, Kerry donned his uniform once again, and said, 'Send me'; and he led veterans to an encampment on the Washington Mall, where, in defiance of the Nixon Justice Department, they conducted the most stirring and effective of the protests, that forced an end to the war.
"And then, on my watch, when it was time to heal the wounds of war and normalize relations with Vietnam...John Kerry said, 'Send me.'"
So spoke President Clinton at the Democratic Convention – except that he did not deliver the third paragraph about Kerry's protest; I made that up. The speech cries out for the inclusion of Kerry's glorious moment of antiwar leadership; and its absence is as palpable as one of those erasures from photographs of high Soviet officials after Stalin had sent them to the gulag. Clinton's message was plain.
Military courage in war is honored; civil courage in opposing a disastrous war is not honored. Even thirty years later, it cannot be mentioned by a former President who himself opposed the Vietnam War. The political rule, as Clinton once put it in one of the few pithy things he has ever said, "We [Democrats] have got to be strong.... When people feel uncertain, they'd rather have somebody who's strong and wrong than somebody who's weak and right."
And now the United States is engaged in a war fully as wrong as the one in Vietnam. The boiling core of American politics today is the war in Iraq and all its horrors: the continuing air strikes on populated cities; the dogs loosed by American guards on naked, bound Iraqi prisoners; the kidnappings and the beheadings; the American casualties nearing a thousand; the 10,000 or more Iraqi casualties; the occupation hidden behind the mask of an entirely fictitious Iraqi "sovereignty"; the growing scrapheap of discredited justifications for the war. But little of that is mentioned these days by the Democrats. The great majority of Democratic voters, according to polls, ardently oppose the war, yet by embracing the candidacy of John Kerry, who voted for the Congressional resolution authorizing the war and now wants to increase the number of American troops in Iraq, the party has made what appears to be a tactical decision to hide its faith.
The strong and wrong position won out in the Democratic Party when its voters chose Kerry over Howard Dean in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. An antiwar party rallied around a prowar candidate. The result has been one of the most peculiar political atmospheres within a party in recent memory. The Democrats are united but have concealed the cause that unites them. The party champions free speech that it does not practice. As a Dennis Kucinich delegate at the convention said to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, "Peace" is "off-message." A haze of vagueness and generality hangs over party pronouncements. In his convention speech, President Carter, who is on record opposing the war, spoke against "pre-emptive war" but did not specify which pre-emptive war he had in mind. Al Gore, who has been wonderfully eloquent in his opposition to the war, was tame for the occasion. "Regardless of your opinion at the beginning of this war," he said, "isn't it now abundantly obvious that the way this war has been managed by the Administration has gotten us into very serious trouble?"
What of the antiwar sentiment that is still in truth at the heart of most Democrats' anger? It has been displaced downward and outward, into the outlying precincts of American politics. The political class as a whole has proved incapable of taking responsibility for the future of the nation, and the education of the American public has been left to those without hope of office. Like a balloon that squeezed at the top expands at the base, opposition to the war increases the farther you get from John Kerry. Carter and Gore can express a little more of it. Howard Dean, who infused the party with its now-muffled antiwar passion, can express more still. Representative Kucinich, a full-throated peace candidate, has endorsed Kerry and has kind words to say about him but holds fast to his antiwar position. On the Internet, Tomdispatch.com, AlterNet.org, commondreams.org, antiwar.com, MoveOn.org and many others are buzzing and bubbling with honest and inspired reporting and commentary. Michael Moore is packing audiences into 2,000 theaters to see Fahrenheit 9/11.
It's not too early to worry about the dangers posed by the Democrats' strategy. In the first place, they have staked their future and the country's on a political calculation, but it may be wrong. By suffocating their own passion, they may lose the energy that has brought them this far. They have confronted Bush's policy of denial with a politics of avoidance. Bush is adamant in error; they are feeble in dedication to truth. If strong and wrong is really the winning formula, Bush may be the public's choice.
In the second place, if Kerry does win, he will inherit the war wedded to a potentially disastrous strategy. If he tries to change course, Republicans – and hawkish Democrats (Senator Joe Lieberman has just joined in a revival of the Committee on the Present Danger) – will not fail to remind him of his commitment to stay the course, and renew the charge of flip-flopping. But the course, as retired Gen. Anthony Zinni has commented, may take the country over Niagara Falls. Then Kerry may wish that he and his admirers at this year's convention had thought to place a higher value on his service to his country when he opposed the Vietnam War.
This article will appear in the latest issue of The Nation magazine.
Halfway through Tim Russert's hour-long interview with Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry on April 18, there was an exchange that revealed in microcosm some of the fundamental unspoken rules of American politics in our day. Russert played a clip from Kerry's 1971 appearance on Meet the Press following his testimony as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A longhaired Kerry, in uniform, was seen saying that he stood by the essence of his testimony, in which he had said that veterans had admitted that they had "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power." He added that under the Geneva Conventions such acts were war crimes.
Russert did not play the tape to congratulate Kerry for his truth-telling. On the contrary, he was clearly calling him on the carpet. He even suggested that "a lot" of Kerry's allegations had been discredited. In fact, every word that Kerry spoke then has been shown to be true in an abundance of testimony. Even now, new revelations pour out. For example, the Toledo Blade just won the Pulitzer Prize for unearthing the story of an army company that went on a seven-month rampage in Vietnam, routinely killing peasants, burning villages, cutting off the ears of corpses. Troops in the field can hardly engage in such conduct over a period of months without the knowledge and at least tacit approval of higher authority.
Kerry answered warily. He began by trying to make light of the clip. "Where did all that dark hair go? -- that's a big question for me," he joked. He went on to say that although some of his language had been "excessive," he was still proud of the stand he had taken. His predicament is worth pondering. The powers that be, with the approval of mainstream opinion, had sent him into a misbegotten war whose awful reality they covered up. When he helped uncover it, it was not they but he who was punished. In short, by sending young men into an atrocious, mistaken war, they created a truth so distasteful to the public that its disclosure, by discrediting the discloser, keeps them in power.
Was Kerry "flip-flopping" -- the Bush Administration's main campaign charge against him? Was he all-too-characteristically trying to back off from a position he had once taken while at the same time embracing it? And didn't this performance echo his complicated and equivocal stance on the Iraq war, in which he has said that his vote in the Senate to authorize the President to use armed force against Iraq was "not a vote to go to war" and that in 2003 he voted "for" the $87 billion supplemental authorization for the war "before" he voted "against it" (a statement the Republicans are making political hay with in a current TV ad)?
Kerry's equivocations are indeed related. For if as a soldier in Vietnam in 1968 and '69 he was brought face to face with one reality -- the human reality of the war -- then as a presidential candidate in 2004 he has been driven up against another -- the political reality that no antiwar candidate of modern times has ever made it into the White House. One might think that Kerry's good sense and bravery in opposing the Vietnam War three decades ago might stand him in good stead today. (How many Americans now think getting into Vietnam was a good idea?) But as the Russert interview shows, just the opposite is the case. It is Kerry's bravery as a soldier fighting the mistaken war, not his bravery as a veteran opposing it, that helps him in his bid for the presidency.
And so just as Kerry bowed to political reality by distancing himself from his old testimony while expressing continued pride in it, so he bowed to that same reality by voting for the Iraq authorization (while expressing opposition to "the way" the President went to war). Even today he will not acknowledge that his vote -- and the war -- were a mistake. Kerry is stuck between politics and truth. After the Congressional vote on the war, however, a peculiar thing happened. Kerry's political sails, far from filling with a fresh breeze, began to flap idly in the wind. Polls and pundits agreed: His nomination was dead in the water.
The action shifted elsewhere. For while opposition to a crazy war might not be a ticket to the White House, it was still good for something. It swelled a powerful popular movement. Huge demonstrations against the war took place in the United States, as they did throughout the world. In the time of Vietnam, antiwar sentiment propelled first Eugene McCarthy, then Robert Kennedy and later George McGovern into the forefront of Democratic politics. Now antiwar sentiment propelled Howard Dean into his brief moment of front-runnership. In the game of politics and truth, truth was sneaking in the back door. Suddenly, everyone was saying that the Democratic Party had recovered its energy, its "backbone."
But then came another surprising twist. A shrewd, or possibly over-shrewd, Democratic primary electorate, steaming with indignation against the war but apparently fearful of history's lesson that the antiwar man cannot win, shifted its allegiance from Dean to Kerry. All at once, the apparently political calculation that had underlain Kerry's vote for the war in the first place paid off, and he became the candidate.
Such is the archeology of the dilemma that Kerry and the Democratic Party face today. Their flip-flopping, which is real enough, is between the truth as they see it and politics as they know it to be. The party is an antiwar party that dares not speak its name. Its candidate is energized, but with a borrowed energy. He has a backbone, but it is a borrowed backbone.
The antiwar movement that has lent Kerry and his party this energy and this backbone faces a dilemma, too. On the one hand, it needs Kerry to win, even though he refuses to repent his vote to authorize the war. On the other hand, neither the movement nor Kerry can afford to let the antiwar energies that were and remain a principal source of their hopes and his, die down. The movement must persist, independent of Kerry and keeping him or making him honest, yet not opposing him. If truth must be an exile from the mainstream of politics, let it thrive on the margins.
Jonathan Schell, Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute, is the author, most recently, of 'The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People' (Metropolitan).
This article was originally published in the May 10 issue of The Nation.
The Iraqi struggle for independence from American rule has begun in earnest. US forces there now face a double insurrection -- one part Sunni Muslim, the other Shiite Muslim -- that threatens at the same time to turn into a civil war. Only the Kurdish north is quiet. With these events, US policy for Iraq has taken leave of reality as thoroughly as America's claims regarding weapons of mass destruction did before the war. The policy was declared on November 21, when Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, announced that on June 30 of this year the "occupation of Iraq will end," and Iraq will then enjoy "sovereignty."
Since then, news commentators and officials have repeatedly told the public that on that date the United States "will hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people" (in the words of Dan Senor, a senior adviser to the CPA), who will then enjoy what is commonly called an "interim constitution." Every word of these short phrases is based on assumptions radically at odds with the facts.
1. "Sovereignty." According to Webster's, sovereignty is "supreme power, especially over a body politic." But it is no longer possible, if it ever was, to argue that the United States and its allies wield "supreme power" in Iraq. True, US forces can go where they like, but do they rule? Do the Iraqi people obey them? When the American authorities order something to happen, does it? On the contrary, none of the US plans for running the country announced by the Bush Administration has so far even been enacted, much less succeeded. Even now, GOP Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that he has "no idea" what the plans for the June 30 transition are.
Iraqi political figures, by contrast, have been making a lot happen. According to the always invaluable (and now winner of a Pulitzer prize) Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post, the most popular of the Shiite leaders, the comparatively moderate Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, launched a petition against the US-sponsored "constitution." The petition quickly gathered tens of thousands of signatures. This peaceful opposition to American rule, however, was quickly superseded, at least for the time being, by the Shiite insurrection, led by the extreme Islamist Muqtada al-Sadr.
The Iraqi blogger Zayed, until now pro-occupation, offers the following portrait of life in Baghdad the day after the insurrection:
"No one knows what is happening in the capital right now. Power has been cut off in my neighbourhood since the afternoon, and I can only hear helicopters, massive explosions, and continuous shooting nearby. The streets are empty, someone told us half an hour ago that Mahdi [Sadr's militia] are trying to take over our neighbourhood and are being met by resistance from Sunni hardliners. Doors are locked, and AK-47's are being loaded and put close by in case they are needed. The phone keeps ringing frantically."
There is no "sovereign," American or other, in this Iraq; there is anarchy. The less "sovereignty" the United States possesses, it appears, the more quickly it wants to surrender it.
2. "Hand over." How can the United States "hand over" power that it has never possessed? In any case, sovereignty is not a physical object, like a desk, that can be moved from one office to another. It is a relationship among people -- one of command and obedience. Even if the United States did have sovereignty in Iraq, as it obviously does not, it would not be able to pass it on to someone else. Either the United States would remain the real sovereign behind the scenes or the new group would have to build up sovereign power for itself. Admittedly, the United States does possess something in Iraq -- unopposable military force. But this is one thing, needless to say, that the United States decidedly will not hand over on June 30 or any other day. (Other things it is not planning to hand over are control of the central bank and the news media.) Will the Governing Council, which many Iraqis call "the Governed Council," command American troops or, for that matter, even their own Iraqi troops? Not likely. Meanwhile, the misnamed "administrator" of the misnamed "coalition" will be replaced by a misnamed "ambassador," presiding over what is to be the largest US "embassy" in the world.
3. "The Iraqi people." The Iraqi people will have no involvement, whether as givers or takers of power, on June 30. Those to whom the United States plans to hand over something or other (it will certainly not be power) are a small group of Iraqi officials, most of whom are to be US appointees. No one knows yet exactly who they will be or how they are to be chosen, Bremer's previous plan of selecting them by means of managed "caucuses" having been scuttled in the face of opposition from Ayatollah Sistani.
4. "Interim Constitution." A series of temporary regulations promulgated, before any election has been held, in the name of a conquering power and its local appointees is wholly misdescribed as a constitution. A constitution is the fundamental, enduring law of a country. In a democracy, it proceeds from the will of the people. Nothing of this kind will be instituted in Iraq on June 30.
5. "June 30, 2004." Among political observers, it is widely and believably said that this date is geared not to any events in Iraq but to the 2004 US presidential election. The Bush Administration wants to bolster the President's campaign by creating an impression of progress in Iraq, and is staffing the CPA's office of strategic communications with GOP operatives including Rich Galen, former press spokesman for Newt Gingrich and Dan Quayle.
Keeping all these things in mind, we should revise the commonly used phrases. Instead of saying, "On June 30, the Coalition will hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people," we should say, "On June 30, the re-election campaign of George W. Bush will hand over the appearance of responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq to certain of its local appointees."
And the Iraqi people? They are busy, violently and otherwise, struggling for their own future. One of the organizers of the Sistani petition, Saad Taher, commented to Shadid, "America has a term: the rebuilding of Iraq. We are rebuilding ourselves. We want to create a new Iraqi personality. That's our task. That's not the Americans' task." For better or worse, these words are already on their way to becoming true.
Jonathan Schell is the Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People.
The first anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq has arrived. By now, we were told by the Bush Administration before the war, the flower-throwing celebrations of our troops' arrival would have long ended; their numbers would have been reduced to the low tens of thousands, if not to zero; Iraq's large stores of weapons of mass destruction would have been found and dismantled; the institutions of democracy would be flourishing; Kurd and Shiite and Sunni would be working happily together in a federal system; the economy, now privatized, would be taking off; other peoples of the Middle East, thrilled and awed, so to speak, by the beautiful scenes in Iraq, would be dismantling their own tyrannical regimes.
Instead, 530 American soldiers and uncounted thousands of Iraqis, military and civilian, have died; some $149 billion has been expended; no weapons of mass destruction have been found; the economy is a disaster; electricity and water are sometime things; America's former well-wishers, the Shiites, are impatient with the occupation; terrorist bombs are taking a heavy toll; and Iraq as whole, far from being a model for anything, is a cautionary lesson in the folly of imperial rule in the twenty-first century. And yet, all this is only part of the cost of the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. To weigh the full cost, one must look not just at the war itself but away from it, at the progress of the larger policy it served, at things that have been done elsewhere -- some far from Iraq or deep in the past -- and, perhaps above all, at things that have been left undone.
While American troops were dying in Baghdad and Falluja and Samarra, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan businessman, was busy making centrifuge parts in Malaysia and selling them to Libya and Iran and possibly other countries. The centrifuges are used for producing bomb-grade uranium. Tahir's project was part of a network set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the "father" of the Pakistani atomic bomb. This particular father stole most of the makings of his nuclear offspring from companies in Europe, where he worked during the 1980s. In the 1990s, the thief became a middleman -- a fence -- immensely enriching himself in the process. In fairness to Khan, we should add that almost everyone who has been involved in developing atomic bombs since 1945 has been either a thief or a borrower. Stalin purloined a bomb design from the United States, courtesy of the German scientist Klaus Fuchs, who worked on the Manhattan Project. China got help from Russia until the Sino-Soviet split put an end to it. Pakistan got secret help from China in the early 1980s. And now it turns out that Khan, among many, many other Pakistanis, almost certainly including the highest members of the government, has been helping Libya, Iran, North Korea and probably others obtain the bomb. That's apparently how Chinese designs -- some still in Chinese -- were found in Libya when its quixotic leader, Muammar Qaddafi, recently agreed to surrender his country's nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The rest of the designs were in English. Were Klaus Fuchs's fingerprints on them? Only figuratively, because they were "copies of copies of copies," an official said. But such is the nature of proliferation. It is mainly a transfer of information from one mind to another. Copying is all there is to it.
Sometimes, a bit of hardware needs to be transferred, which is where Tahir came in. Indeed, at least seven countries are already known to have been involved in the Pakistani effort, which Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, called a "Wal-Mart" of nuclear technology and an American official called "one-stop shopping" for nuclear weapons. Khan even printed a brochure with his picture on it listing all the components of nuclear weapons that bomb-hungry customers could buy from him. "What Pakistan has done," the expert on nuclear proliferation George Perkovich, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has rightly said, "is the most threatening activity of nuclear proliferation in history. It's impossible to overstate how damaging this is."
Another word for this process of copying would be globalization. Proliferation is merely globalization of weapons of mass destruction. The kinship of the two is illustrated by other details of Tahir's story. The Sri Lankan first wanted to build his centrifuges in Turkey, but then decided that Malaysia had certain advantages. It had recently been seeking to make itself into a convenient place for Muslims from all over the world to do high-tech business. Controls were lax, as befits an export platform. "It's easy, quick, efficient. Do your business and disappear fast, in and out," Karim Raslan, a Malaysian columnist and social commentator, recently told Alan Sipress of the Washington Post. Probably that was why extreme Islamist organizations, including Al Qaeda operatives, had often chosen to meet there. Global terrorism is a kind of globalization, too. The linkup of such terrorism and the world market for nuclear weapons is a specter that haunts the world of the 21st century.
The War and Its Aims
But aren't we supposed to be talking about the Iraq war on this anniversary of its launch? We are, but wars have aims, and the declared aim of this one was to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In his State of the Union address in January 2002, the President articulated the threat he would soon carry out in Iraq: "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." Later, he said we didn't want the next warning to be "a mushroom cloud." Indeed, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell explicitly ruled out every other justification for the war. Asked about the other reasons, he said, "The President has not linked authority to go to war to any of those elements." When Senator John Kerry explained his vote for the resolution authorizing the war, he cited the Powell testimony. Thus, not only Bush but also the man likely to be his Democratic challenger in this year's election justified war solely in the name of nonproliferation.
Proliferation, however, is not, as the President seemed to think, just a rogue state or two seeking weapons of mass destruction; it is the entire half-century-long process of globalization that stretches from Klaus Fuchs's espionage to Tahir's nuclear arms bazaar and beyond. The war was a failure in its own terms because weapons of mass destruction were absent in Iraq; the war-policy failed because they were present and spreading in Pakistan. For Bush's warning of a mushroom cloud over an American city, though false with respect to Iraq, was indisputably well-founded in regard to Pakistan's nuclear one-stop-shopping: The next warning stemming from this kind of failure could indeed be a mushroom cloud.
The questions that now cry out to be answered are why did the United States, standing in the midst of the Pakistani nuclear Wal-Mart, its shelves groaning with, among other things, centrifuge parts, uranium hexafluoride (supplied, we now know, to Libya) and helpful bomb-assembly manuals in a variety of languages, rush out of the premises to vainly ransack the empty warehouse of Iraq? What sort of nonproliferation policy could lead to actions like these? How did the Bush Administration, in the name of protecting the country from nuclear danger, wind up leaving the country wide open to nuclear danger?
In answering these questions, it would be reassuring, in a way, to report that the basic facts were discovered only after the war, but the truth is otherwise. In the case of Iraq, it's now abundantly clear that some combination of deception, self-deception and outright fraud (the exact proportions of each are still under investigation) led to the manufacture of a gross and avoidable falsehood. In the months before the war, most of the governments of the world strenuously urged the United States not to go to war on the basis of the flimsy and unconvincing evidence it was offering. In the case of Pakistan, the question of how much the Administration knew before the war has scarcely been asked, yet we know that the most serious breach -- the proliferation to North Korea -- was reported and publicized before the war.
It's important to recall the chronology of the Korean aspect of Pakistan's proliferation. In January 2003, Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that Pakistan had given North Korea extensive help with its nuclear program, including its launch of a uranium enrichment process. In return, North Korea was sending guided missiles to Pakistan. In June 2002, Hersh revealed, the CIA had sent the White House a report on these developments. On October 3, 2002, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs James Kelly confronted the North Koreans with the CIA information, and, according to Kelly, North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister, Kang Suk Ju, startled him by responding, "Of course we have a nuclear program." (Since then, the North Koreans have unconvincingly denied the existence of the uranium enrichment program.)
Bush of course had already named the Pyongyang government as a member of the "axis of evil." It had long been the policy of the United States that nuclearization of North Korea was intolerable. However, the Administration said nothing of the North Korean events to the Congress or the public. North Korea, which now had openly embarked on nuclear armament, and was even threatening to use nuclear weapons, was more dangerous than Saddam's Iraq. Why tackle the lesser problem in Iraq, the members of Congress would have had to ask themselves, while ignoring the greater one in North Korea? On October 10, a week after the Kelly visit, the House of Representatives passed the Iraq resolution, and the next day the Senate followed suit. Only five days later, on October 16, did Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, reveal what was happening in North Korea.
In short, from June 2002, when the CIA delivered its report to the White House, until October 16 -- the period in which the nation's decision to go to war in Iraq was made -- the Administration knowingly withheld the news about Korea and its Pakistan connection from the public. Even after the vote, Secretary of State Colin Powell strangely insisted that the North Korean situation was "not a crisis" but only "a difficulty." Nevertheless, he extracted a pledge from Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf that the nuclear technology shipments to North Korea would stop. (They did not.) In March, information was circulating that both Pakistan and North Korea were helping Iran to develop atomic weapons. (The North Korean and Iranian crises are of course still brewing.)
In sum, the glaring contradiction between the policy of "regime change" for already-disarmed Iraq and regime-support for proliferating Pakistan was not a postwar discovery; it was fully visible before the war. The Nation enjoys no access to intelligence files, yet in an article arguing the case against the war, this author was able to comment that an "objective ranking of nuclear proliferators in order of menace" would put "Pakistan first," North Korea second, Iran third, and Iraq only fourth -- and to note the curiosity that "the Bush Administration ranks them, of course, in exactly the reverse order, placing Iraq, which it plans to attack, first, and Pakistan, which it befriends and coddles, nowhere on the list." Was nonproliferation, then, as irrelevant to the Administration's aims in Iraq as catching terrorists? Or was protecting the nation and the world against weapons of mass destruction merely deployed as a smokescreen to conceal other purposes? And if so, what were they?
A New Leviathan
The answers seem to lie in the larger architecture of the Bush foreign policy, or Bush Doctrine. Its aim, which many have properly been called imperial, is to establish lasting American hegemony over the entire globe, and its ultimate means is to overthrow regimes of which the United States disapproves, pre-emptively if necessary. The Bush Doctrine indeed represents more than a revolution in American policy; if successful, it would amount to an overturn of the existing international order. In the new, imperial order, the United States would be first among nations, and force would be first among its means of domination. Other, weaker nations would be invited to take their place in shifting coalitions to support goals of America's choosing. The United States would be so strong, the President has suggested, that other countries would simply drop out of the business of military competition, "thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." Much as, in the early modern period, when nation-states were being born, absolutist kings, the masters of overwhelming military force within their countries, in effect said, "There is now a new thing called a nation; a nation must be orderly; we kings, we sovereigns, will assert a monopoly over the use of force, and thus supply that order," so now the United States seemed to be saying, "There now is a thing called globalization; the global sphere must be orderly; we, the sole superpower, will monopolize force throughout the globe, and thus supply international order."
And so, even as the Bush Administration proclaimed US military superiority, it pulled the country out of the world's major peaceful initiatives to deal with global problems -- withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol to check global warming and from the International Criminal Court, and sabotaging a protocol that would have given teeth to the biological weapons convention. When the Security Council would not agree to American decisions on war and peace, it became "irrelevant"; when NATO allies balked, they became "old Europe." Admittedly, these existing international treaties and institutions were not a full-fledged cooperative system; rather, they were promising foundations for such a system. In any case, the Administration wanted none of it.
Richard Perle, who until recently served on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, seemed to speak for the Administration in an article he wrote for the Guardian the day after the Iraq war was launched. He wrote, "The chatterbox on the Hudson [sic] will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions."
In this larger plan to establish American hegemony, the Iraq war had an indispensable role. If the world was to be orderly, then proliferation must be stopped; if force was the solution to proliferation, then pre-emption was necessary (to avoid that mushroom cloud); if pre-emption was necessary, then regime change was necessary (so the offending government could never build the banned weapons again); and if all this was necessary, then Iraq was the one country in the world where it all could be demonstrated. Neither North Korea nor Iran offered an opportunity to teach these lessons -- the first because it was capable of responding with a major war, even nuclear war, and the second because even the Administration could see that US invasion would be met with fierce popular resistance. It's thus no accident that the peril of weapons of mass destruction was the sole justification in the two legal documents by which the Administration sought to legitimize the war -- HJR 114 and Security Council Resolution 1441. Nor is it an accident that the proliferation threat played the same role in the domestic political campaign for the war --by forging the supposed link between the "war on terror" and nuclear danger. In short, absent the new idea that proliferation was best stopped by pre-emptive use of force, the new American empire would have been unsalable, to the American people or to Congress. Iraq was the foundation stone of the bid for global empire.
The reliance on force over cooperation that was writ large in the imperial plan was also writ small in the occupation of Iraq. How else to understand the astonishing failure to make any preparation for the political, military, policing and even technical challenges that would face American forces? If a problem, large or small, had no military solution, this Administration seemed incapable of even seeing it. The United States was as blind to the politics of Iraq as it was to the politics of the world.
Thus, we don't have to suppose that the Bush officials were indifferent to the spectacular dangers that Kahn's network posed to the safety of the United States and the world or that the Iraqi resistance would pose to American forces. We only have to suppose that they were simply unable to recognize facts they had failed to acknowledge in their overarching vision of a new imperial order. In both cases, ideology trumped reality.
The same pattern is manifest on an even larger scale. Just now, the peoples of the world are embarked, some willingly and some not, on an arduous, wrenching, perilous, mind-exhaustingly complicated process of learning how to live as one indivisibly connected species on our one small, endangered planet. Seen in a certain light, the Administration's imperial bid, if successful, would amount to a kind of planetary coup d'état, in which the world's dominant power takes charge of this process by virtue of its almost freakishly superior military strength. Seen in another, less dramatic light, the American imperial solution has interposed a huge, unnecessary roadblock between the world and the Himalayan mountain range of urgent tasks that it must accomplish no matter who is in charge: saving the planet from overheating; inventing a humane, just, orderly, democratic, accountable global economy; redressing mounting global inequality and poverty; responding to human rights emergencies, including genocide; and, of course, stopping proliferation as well as rolling back the existing arsenals of nuclear arms. None of these exigencies can be met as long as the world and its greatest power are engaged in a wrestling match over how to proceed.
Does the world want to indict and prosecute crimes against humanity? First, it must decide whether the International Criminal Court will do the job or entrust it to unprosecutable American forces. Do we want to reverse global warming, and head off the extinction of the one-third of the world's species that, according to a report published in Nature magazine, are at risk in the next fifty years? First, the world's largest polluter has to be drawn into the global talks. Do we want to save the world from weapons of mass destruction? First, we have to decide whether we want to do it together peacefully or permit the world's only superpower to attempt it by force of arms.
No wonder, then, that the Administration, as reported by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in these pages, has mounted an assault on the scientific findings that confirm these dangers to the world (see "The Junk Science of George W. Bush"). The United States' destructive hyperactivity in Iraq cannot be disentangled from its neglect of global warming. Here, too, ideology is the enemy of fact, and empire is the nemesis of progress.
If the engine of a train suddenly goes off the rails, a wreck ensues. Such is the war in Iraq, now one year old. At the same time, the train's journey forward is canceled. Such is the current paralysis of the international community. Only when the engine is back on the tracks and starts in the right direction can either disaster be overcome. Only then will everyone be able to even begin the return to the world's unfinished business.
Jonathan Schell is the Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of the recently published 'The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People'.
The apocalyptic imagination has spawned a new kind of violence at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We can, in fact, speak of a worldwide epidemic of violence aimed at massive destruction in the service of various visions of purification and renewal. In particular, we are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing war and military power. Both sides are energized by versions of intense idealism; both see themselves as embarked on a mission of combating evil in order to redeem and renew the world; and both are ready to release untold levels of violence to achieve that purpose.
The war on Iraq -- a country with longstanding aspirations toward weapons of mass destruction but with no evident stockpiles of them and no apparent connection to the assaults of September 11 -- was a manifestation of that American visionary projection.
By now the religious fanaticism of Osama bin Laden and other Islamist zealots has acquired a certain familiarity to us -- as to others elsewhere -- for their violent demands for spiritual purification are aimed as much at fellow Muslims as at American "infidels." Their fierce attacks on the defilement that they believe they see everywhere in contemporary life resemble those of past movements and sects from all parts of the world; such sects, with end-of-the-world prophecies and programmatic violence in the service of bringing those prophecies about, flourished in Europe from the eleventh through the sixteenth centuries. Similar sects like the fanatical Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released sarin gas into the Tokyo subways in 1995, have existed, even proliferated, in our own time.
The American apocalyptic entity is less familiar to us. Even if its urges to power and domination seem historically recognizable, it nonetheless represents a new constellation of forces bound up with what I've come to think of as "superpower syndrome." By that term I mean a national mindset -- put forward strongly by a tightly-knit leadership group -- that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations. The American superpower status derives from our emergence from World War II as uniquely powerful in every respect, still more so as the only superpower from the end of the cold war in the early 1990s.
More than mere domination, the American superpower now seeks to control history. Such cosmic ambition is accompanied by an equally vast sense of entitlement -- of special dispensation to pursue its aims. That entitlement stems partly from historic claims to special democratic virtue, but has much to do with an embrace of technological power translated into military terms. That is, a superpower -- the world's only superpower -- is entitled to dominate and control precisely because it is the superpower.
The murderous events of 9/11 hardened that sense of entitlement as nothing else could have. Superpower syndrome did not require 9/11, but the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon made us an aggrieved superpower, a giant violated and made vulnerable, which no superpower can permit.
Indeed, at the core of superpower syndrome lies a powerful fear of vulnerability. A superpower's victimization brings on both a sense of humiliation and an angry determination to restore, or even extend, the boundaries of a superpower-dominated world. Integral to superpower syndrome are its menacing nuclear stockpiles and their world-destroying capacity.
In important ways, the "war on terrorism" has represented an impulse to undo violently precisely the humiliation of 9/11. To be sure, the acts of that day had a warlike aspect. They were certainly committed by men convinced that they were at war with us. In post-Nuremberg terms they could undoubtedly be considered a "crime against humanity." Some kind of force used against their perpetrators was inevitable and appropriate. The humiliation caused, together with American world ambitions, however, precluded dealing with the attacks as what they were--terrorism by a small group of determined zealots, not war. A more focused, restrained, internationalized response to Al Qaeda could have been far more effective without being a stimulus to expanded terrorism.
Unfortunately, our response was inseparable from our superpower status and the syndrome that goes with it. Any nation attacked in that way would have felt itself humiliated. But for the United States, with our national sense of being overwhelmingly powerful and unchallengeable, to have our major institutions violently penetrated created an intolerable breakdown of superpower invulnerability that was never supposed to happen, a contradiction that fed our humiliation.
We know from history that collective humiliation can be a goad to various kinds of aggressive behavior -- as has been true of bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It was also true of the Nazis. Nazi doctors told me of indelible scenes, which they either witnessed as young children or were told about by their fathers, of German soldiers returning home defeated after World War I. These beaten men, many of them wounded, engendered feelings of pathos, loss and embarrassment, all amid national misery and threatened revolution. Such scenes, associated with strong feelings of humiliation, were seized upon by the Nazis to the point where one could say that Hitler rose to power on the promise of avenging them.
With both Al Qaeda and the Nazis, humiliation could, through manipulation but also powerful self-conviction, be transformed into exaggerated expressions of violence. That psychological transformation of weakness and shame into a collective sense of pride and life-power, as well as power over others, can release enormous amounts of aggressive energy. Such dangerous potential has been present from the beginning in the American "war" on terrorism.
War itself is an absolute, its violence unpredictable and always containing apocalyptic possibilities. In this case, by militarizing the problem of terrorism, our leaders have dangerously obfuscated its political, social and historical dimensions. Terrorism has instead been raised to the absolute level of war itself. And although American leaders speak of this as being a "different kind of war," there is a drumbeat of ordinary war rhetoric and a clarion call to total victory and to the crushing defeat of our terrorist enemies. When President Bush declared that "this conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others [but] will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing," he was misleading both in suggesting a clear beginning in Al Qaeda's acts and a decisive end in the "battle" against terrorism. In that same speech, given at a memorial service just three days after 9/11 at the National Cathedral in Washington, he also asserted, "Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, not a man given to irony, commented that "the president was casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God's master plan."
At no time did Bush see his task as mounting a coordinated international operation against terrorism, for which he could have enlisted most of the governments of the world. Rather, upon hearing of the second plane crashing into the second tower, he remembers thinking: "They had declared war on us, and I made up my mind at that moment that we were going to war." Upon hearing of the plane crashing into the Pentagon, he told Vice President Cheney, "We're at war." Woodward thus calls his account of the President's first hundred days following 9/11 Bush at War. Bush would later recall, "I had to show the American people the resolve of a commander in chief that was going to do whatever it took to win." With world leaders, he felt he had to "look them in the eye and say, 'You're either with us or you're against us.'" Long before the invasion of Iraq -- indeed, even before the invasion of Afghanistan -- Bush had come to identify himself, and be identified by others, as a "wartime president."
Warmaking can quickly become associated with "war fever," the mobilization of public excitement to the point of a collective experience of transcendence. War then becomes heroic, even mythic, a task that must be carried out for the defense of one's nation, to sustain its special historical destiny and the immortality of its people. In this case, the growth of war fever came in several stages: its beginnings, with Bush's personal declaration of war immediately after September 11; a modest increase, with the successful invasion of Afghanistan; and a wave of ultrapatriotic excesses -- triumphalism and labeling of critics as disloyal or treasonous--at the time of the invasion of Iraq. War fever tends always to be sporadic and subject to disillusionment. Its underside is death anxiety, in this case related less to combat than to fears of new terrorist attacks at home or against Americans abroad -- and later to growing casualties in occupied Iraq.
The scope of George Bush's war was suggested within days of 9/11 when the director of the CIA made a presentation to the President and his inner circle, called "Worldwide Attack Matrix," that described active or planned operations of various kinds in eighty countries, or what Woodward calls "a secret global war on terror." Early on, the President had the view that "this war will be fought on many fronts" and that "we're going to rout out terror wherever it may exist." Although envisaged long before 9/11, the invasion of Iraq could be seen as a direct continuation of this unlimited war; all the more so because of the prevailing tone among the President and his advisers, who were described as eager "to emerge from the sea of words and pull the trigger."
The war on terrorism is apocalyptic, then, exactly because it is militarized and yet amorphous, without limits of time or place, and has no clear end. It therefore enters the realm of the infinite. Implied in its approach is that every last terrorist everywhere on the earth is to be hunted down until there are no more terrorists anywhere to threaten us, and in that way the world will be rid of evil. Bush keeps what Woodward calls "his own personal scorecard for the war" in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out if killed or captured. The scorecard is always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.
War and Reality
The the war on terrorism is amorphous, so that a country like Iraq -- with a murderous dictator who had surely engaged in acts of terrorism in the past -- could, on that basis, be treated as if it had major responsibility for 9/11. There was no evidence at all that it did. But by means of false accusations, emphasis on the evil things Saddam Hussein had done (for instance, the use of poison gas on his Kurdish minority) and the belligerent atmosphere of the overall war on terrorism, the Administration succeeded in convincing more than half of all Americans that Saddam was a major player in 9/11.
The war on terrorism, then, took unshaped impulses toward combating terror and used them as a pretext for realizing a prior mission aimed at American global hegemony. The attack on Iraq reflected the reach not only of the "war on terrorism" but of deceptions and manipulations of reality that have accompanied it. In this context, the word "war" came to combine metaphor (as in the "war on poverty" or "war on drugs"), conventional military combat, justification for "pre-emptive" attack and assertion of superpower domination.
Behind such planning and manipulation can lie dreams and fantasies hardly less apocalyptic or world purifying than those of Al Qaeda's leaders, or of Aum Shinrikyo's guru. For instance, former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey, a close associate of Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the Pentagon, spoke of the war against terrorism as a Fourth World War (the Third being the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union). In addressing a group of college students, he declared, "This Fourth World War, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the cold war."
That kind of apocalyptic impulse in warmaking has hardly proved conducive to a shared international approach. Indeed, in its essence, it precludes genuine sharing. While Bush has frequently said that he prefers to have allies in taking on terrorism and terrorist states worldwide, he has also made it clear that he does not want other countries to have any policy-making power on this issue. In one revealing statement, he declared: "At some point, we may be the only ones left. That's OK with me. We are America." In such declarations, he has all but claimed that Americans are the globe's anointed ones and that the sacred mission of purifying the earth is ours alone.
The amorphous nature of the war on terrorism carries with it a paranoid edge, the suspicion that terrorists and their supporters are everywhere and must be "pre-emptively" attacked lest they emerge and attack us. Since such a war is limitless and infinite -- extending from the farthest reaches of Indonesia or Afghanistan to Hamburg, Germany, or New York City, and from immediate combat to battles that continue into the unending future -- it inevitably becomes associated with a degree of megalomania as well. As the world's greatest military power replaces the complexities of the world with its own imagined stripped-down, us-versus-them version of it, our distorted national self becomes the world.
Despite the constant invocation by the Bush Administration of the theme of "security," the war on terrorism has created the very opposite -- a sense of fear and insecurity among Americans, which is then mobilized in support of further aggressive plans in the extension of the larger "war." What results is a vicious circle that engenders what we seek to destroy: Our excessive response to Islamist attacks creates more terrorists and more terrorist attacks, which in turn lead to an escalation of the war on terrorism, and so on. The projected "victory" becomes a form of aggressive longing, of sustained illusion, of an unending "Fourth World War" and a mythic cleansing -- of terrorists, of evil, of our own fear. The American military apocalyptic can then be said to act as a partner inconcert with the Islamist apocalyptic.
Off the Treadmill
We can do better. America is capable of wiser, more measured approaches, more humane applications of our considerable power and influence in the world. These may not be as far away as they now seem, and can be brought closer by bringing our imaginations to bear on them. Change must be political, of course, but certain psychological contours seem necessary to it.
As a start, we do not have to partition the world into two contending apocalyptic forces. We are capable instead of reclaiming our moral compass, of finding further balance in our national behavior. So intensely have we embraced superpower syndrome that emerging from it is not an easy task. Yet in doing so we would relieve ourselves of a burden of our own creation -- the burden of insistent illusion. For there is no greater weight than that which one takes on when pursuing total power.
We need to take a new and different lesson from Lord Acton's nineteenth-century assertion: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Acton was not quite right. The corruption begins not with the acquisition of power but with the quest for and claim to absolute power. Ever susceptible to the seductive promise that twenty-first-century technology can achieve world control, the superpower (or would-be superpower) can best resist that temptation by recognizing the corruption that follows upon its illusion.
To renounce the claim to total power would bring relief not only to everyone else, but soon enough to the leaders and followers of the superpower itself. For to live out superpower syndrome is to place oneself on a treadmill that eventually has to break down. In its efforts to rule the world and to determine history, the superpower is, in fact, working against itself, subjecting itself to constant failure. It becomes a Sisyphus with bombs, able to set off explosions but unable to cope with its own burden, unable to roll its heavy stone to the top of the hill in Hades. Perhaps the crucial step in ridding ourselves of the syndrome is recognizing that history cannot be controlled, fluidly or otherwise.
Stepping off the superpower treadmill would also enable us to cease being a nation ruled by fear. Renouncing omnipotence would make our leaders themselves less fearful of weakness, and diminish their inclination to frighten their people as a means of enlisting them for illusory military efforts at world hegemony. Without the need for invulnerability, everyone would have much less to fear.
Robert Jay Lifton is the author, among other works, of "Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima," which won a National Book Award, "Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shin Rikyo and the New Global Terrorism," and "Superpower Syndrome."
The basic mistake of American policy in Iraq is not that the Pentagon -- believing the fairy tales told it by Iraqi exile groups and overriding State Department advice -- forgot, when planning "regime change," to bring along a spare government to replace the one it was smashing.
The mistake was not that, once embarked on running the place, the administration did not send enough troops to do the job. Not that a civilian contingent to aid the soldiers was lacking. Not that the Baghdad museum, the Jordanian Embassy, the United Nations and Imam Ali mosque, among other places, were left unguarded. Not that no adequate police force, whether American or Iraqi, was provided to keep order generally. Not that the United States, seeking to make good that lack, then began to recruit men from the most hated and brutal of Saddam's agencies, the Mukhabarat.
It is not that, in an unaccountable and unparalleled lapse in America's once sure-fire technical know-how, Iraq's electrical, water and fuel systems remain dysfunctional. Not that the administration has erected a powerless shadow government composed in large measure of the same clueless exiles that misled the administration in the first place.
Nor is it that the administration has decided to privatize substantial portions of the Iraqi economy before the will of the Iraqi people in this matter is known. Not that the occupation forces have launched search-and-destroy operations that estrange and embitter a population that increasingly despises the United States. Not that, throughout, a bullying diplomacy has driven away America's traditional allies.
All these blunders and omissions are indeed mistakes of American policy, and grievous ones, but they are secondary mistakes. The main mistake of American policy in Iraq was waging the war at all. That is not a conclusion that anyone should have to labor to arrive at.
Something like the whole world, including most of its governments and tens of millions of demonstrators, plus the UN Security Council, Representative Dennis Kucinich, Governor Howard Dean, made the point most vocally before the fact. They variously pointed out that the Iraqi regime gave no support to al-Qaeda, predicted that the United States would be unable to establish democracy in Iraq by force (and that therefore no such democracy could serve as a splendid model for the rest of the Middle East), warned that "regime change" for purposes of disarmament was likely to encourage other countries to build weapons of mass destruction, and argued that the allegations that Iraq already had weapons of mass destruction and was ready to use them at any moment (within forty-five minutes after the order was delivered, it was said) were unproven.
All these justifications for the war are now in history's ash heap, never to be retrieved -- adding a few largish piles to the mountains of ideological claptrap (of the left, the right and what have you) that were the habitual accompaniment of the assorted horrors of the twentieth century.
Recognition of this mistake -- one that may prove as great as the decision to embark on the Vietnam War -- is essential if the best (or at any rate the least disastrous) path out of the mess is to be charted. Otherwise, the mistake may be compounded, and such indeed is the direction in which a substantial new body of opinion now pushes the United States.
In this company are Democrats in Congress who credulously accepted the Bush administration's arguments for the war or simply caved in to administration pressure, hawkish liberal commentators in the same position and a growing minority of right-wing critics.
They now recommend increasing American troop strength in Iraq. Some supported the war and still do. "We must win," says Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, who went on "Good Morning America" to recommend dispatching more troops. His colleague Republican John McCain agrees. The right-wing Weekly Standard is of like mind. Others were doubtful about the war at the beginning but think the United States must "win" now that the war has been launched.
The New York Times, which opposed an invasion without UN Security Council support, has declared in an editorial that "establishing a free and peaceful Iraq as a linchpin for progress throughout the Middle East is a goal worth struggling for, even at great costs." And, voicing a view often now heard, it adds, "We are there now, and it is essential to stay the course." Joe Klein, of Time magazine, states, "Retreat is not an option."
"Winning," evidently, now consists not in finding the weapons of mass destruction that once were the designated reason for fighting the war, but in creating a democratic government in Iraq -- the one that will serve as a model for the entire Middle East. Condoleezza Rice has called that task the "moral mission of our time." Stanford professor Michael McFaul has even proposed a new Cabinet department whose job would be "the creation of new states." The Pentagon's job will be restricted to "regime destruction;" the job of the new outfit, pursuing a "grand strategy on democratic regime change," will be, Houdini-like, to pull new regimes out of its hat.
On the other hand, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which recently produced a report on the situation in Iraq, thinks a big part of the problem is bad public relations and counsels "an intense communications and marketing campaign to help facilitate a profound change in the Iraqi national frame of mind."
These plans to mass-produce democracies and transform the mentalities of whole peoples have the look of desperate attempts -- as grandiose as they are unhinged from reality -- to overlook the obvious: First, that people, not excluding Iraqis, do not like to be conquered and occupied by foreign powers and are ready and able to resist; second, that disarmament, which is indeed an essential goal for the new century, can only, except in the rarest of circumstances, be achieved not through war but through the common voluntary will of nations. It is not the character of the occupation, it is occupation itself that in a multitude of ways the Iraqis are rejecting.
The practical problem of Iraq's future remains. The Iraqi state has been forcibly removed. That state was a horrible one; yet a nation needs a state. The children must go to school; the trains must run; the museums must open; murderers must be put in jail. But the United States, precisely because it is a single foreign state, which like all states has a highly self-interested agenda of its own, is incapable of providing Iraq with a government that serves its own people. The United States therefore must, to begin with, surrender control of the operation to an international force.
It will not suffice to provide "UN cover" for an American operation, as the administration now seems to propose. The United States should announce a staged withdrawal of its forces in favor of and in conjunction with whatever international forces can be cobbled together. It should also (but surely will not) provide that force with about a hundred billion or so dollars to do its work -- a low estimate of what is needed to rebuild Iraq.
Biden says we must win the war. This is precisely wrong. The United States must learn to lose this war -- a harder task, in many ways, than winning, for it requires admitting mistakes and relinquishing attractive fantasies. This is the true moral mission of our time (well, of the next few years, anyway).
The cost of leaving will certainly be high, but not anywhere near as high as trying to "stay the course," which can only magnify and postpone the disaster. And yet -- regrettable to say -- even if this difficult step is taken, no one should imagine that democracy will be achieved by this means. The great likelihood is something else -- something worse: perhaps a recrudescence of dictatorship or civil war, or both. An interim period -- probably very brief -- of international trusteeship is the best solution, yet it is unlikely to be a good solution. It is merely better than any other recourse.
The good options have probably passed us by. They may never have existed. If the people of Iraq are given back their country, there isn't the slightest guarantee that they will use the privilege to create a liberal democracy. The creation of democracy is an organic process that must proceed from the will of the local people. Sometimes that will is present, more often it is not. Vietnam provides an example. Vietnam today enjoys the self-determination it battled to achieve for so long; but it has not become a democracy.
On the other hand, just because Iraq's future remains to be decided by its talented people, it would also be wrong to categorically rule out the possibility that they will escape tyranny and create democratic government for themselves. The United States and other countries might even find ways of offering modest assistance in the project; it is beyond the power of the United States to create democracy for them.
The matter is not in our hands. It never was.
Jonathan Schell, the Harold Willens Peace Fellow of the Nation Institute, is the author of the recently published "The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People" (Metropolitan). Reprinted with permission from the September 22, 2003 issue of The Nation. Read more at TomDispatch.com.