Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ten myths about Iraq that make everything worse (like trusting our Asshole-in-Chief Bush to solve anything)

1. Ten Fallacies About the Violence in Iraq
The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Here are ten of the worst myths being spread in the media.
By John Tirman/AlterNet

The escalating violence in Iraq's civil war is now earning considerable attention as we pass yet another milestone -- U.S. occupation there, in two weeks, will exceed the length of the Second World War for America. While the news media have finally started to grapple with the colossal amount of killing, a number of misunderstandings persist. Some are willful deceptions. Let's look at a few of them:

1. The U.S. is a buffer against more violence. This is perhaps the most resilient conjecture that has no basis in fact.

Iraqis themselves do not believe it. In a State Department poll published in September, huge majorities say the U.S. is directly responsible for the violence. The upsurge of bloodshed in Baghdad seems to confirm the Iraqis' view, at least by inference. The much-publicized U.S. effort to bring troops to Baghdad to quell sectarian killing has accompanied a period of increased mortality in the city.

2. The killers do it to influence U.S. politics. This was the mantra of right-wing bloggers and cable blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, who asserted time and again before November 7 that the violence was a "Tet offensive" designed to tarnish Bush and convince Americans to vote for Democrats. This is American solipsism, at which the right wing excels. If anything, the violence has grown since November 7.

English-language sources have more than 1,000 dead since the Bush rejection at the polls. Bill, are the Iraqi fighters now aiming at the Iowa caucuses in '08?

3. The "Lancet" numbers are bogus. Since the only scientific survey of deaths in Iraq was published in The Lancet in early October, the discourse on Iraqi casualties has changed. But many in media and policy circles are still in denial about the scale of mayhem.

Anthony Cordesman, Fred Kaplan, and Michael O'Hanlon, among many others, fail to understand the method of the survey -- widely used and praised by leading epidemiologists -- which concluded that between 400,000 and 700,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict. One knowledegable commentator describes the Lancet survey as "flypaper for innumerates," and the deniers indeed look foolishly innumerate when they state that there was "no way" there could be more than 65,000 or 100,000 deaths. As soon as that bit of ignorance rolled off their lips, the Iraq Health Ministry admitted to 150,000 civilians killed by Sunni insurgents alone, which would be in the Lancet ballpark. Much other evidence suggests the Lancet numbers are about right. (See "The Human cost of the War in Iraq" here ; fyi, I commissioned the study. More on this another time.)

4. Syria and Iran are behind the violence. There is no compelling reason why the two neighbors would foment large-scale violence that could spill over to threaten their regimes. Iran is in the driver's seat -- as everyone not blinded by neo-con fantasies knew in advance -- with its Shia cousins in power; Syria has its own regime stability problems and does not need the large influx of refugees or potential jihadis. That both are happy to make life hard for the U.S. is not a secret (call it their Monroe Doctrine). But are they organizing the extreme and destabilizing violence we've seen this year? Doubtful. And, there's very little evidence to support this piece of blame-someone-else.

5. The "Go Big" strategy of the Pentagon could work. The Pentagon apparently is about to forward three options to Bush for a retreat: "Go Big," meaning more troops for a short time, "Go Long," a gradual withdrawal while training Iraqis, and "Go Home," acknowledging defeat and getting out. Go Big is what McCain and Zinni and others are proposing, as if adding 20,000 or 30,000 troops will do the trick. The argument about more troops, which speaks also to the " incompetence dodge " (i.e., that the war wasn't wrong, just badly managed), has one problem: no one can convincing prove that modest increments in troop strength will change the security situation in Iraq (see #1 above). One would need 300,000 or more troops to have a chance of pacifying Iraq, and that is neither politically feasible or logistically possible, and is therefore a nonstarter. So is "Go Big."

6. Foreign fighters, especially jihadis, are fueling the violence. This was largely discredited but is making a comeback as Washington's search for scapegoats intensifies. By most estimates, including the Pentagon's, foreign fighters make up a small fraction of violent actors in Iraq -- perhaps 10 percent overall. (This is based on identifying people arrested as fighters.) Some of the more spectacular attacks have been carried out by al Qaeda or its imitators, but overall the violence is due to three forces: U.S. military, Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents, and Shia militia, with minor parts played by Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk and the foreign bad boys.

7. If we do not defeat the violent actors there, they will follow us here. This is now the sole remaining justification for U.S. involvement in the war. If the numbers about foreign fighters are correct, then it is plainly wrong. The main anatgonists are Iraqis, and they will remain there to fight it out for many years. That does not mean we have not created many "terrorists" who would do us harm, as U.S. intelligence agencies assert, but killing them in Iraq is not a plausible option. It's too difficult; aggressive counterinsurgency creates more fighters the longer we stay and harder we try; and they might not be there.

8. The violence is about Sunni-Shia mutual loathing; a pox on both their houses. This is the emerging "moral clarity" of the right wing, that we gave it our best, we handed the tools of freedom to Iraqis, and they'd rather kill each other. That there was longstanding antagonism, stemming from decades of Sunni Arab domination and repression, is well known. But the truly horrifying scale of violence we see now took many months to brew, and is built on the violence begun by the U.S. military and the lack of economic stability, political participation, etc., that the occupation wrought. Equally as important, sectarian killing found its political justification in the constitution fashioned by U.S. advisers that essentially split the country into three factions, giving them a very solid set of incentives to go to war with each other.

9. The war is an Iraqi affair, and the best we can do now is train them to enforce security. This is the more upbeat version of #8, the "Go Long" strategy that sees training as a panacea. Despite three years of serious attempts, the U.S. training programs are bogged down by the sectarian violence itself, or by incompetence all round. No one who has looked at this carefully believes that training Iraqis is a near-term solution. It's a useful ruse as an exit strategy, blaming the victims for violence and failure.

10. Trust the same people who caused or endorsed the war to tell us what to do next. We know who they are: Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other cronies; the neo-cons now increasingly on the periphery of power but still bleating (Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Adelman, Lieberman), the liberal hawks , and the right-wing media (Krauthamer, Fox News, Glenn Beck, phalangist bloggers, et al). They say, "just finish the job." Just finish the job... at a human cost of how many more dead? How many lives ruined? How much more damage to U.S.-Arab relations? How much anti-Muslim racism fomented to justify the killing?

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Yesterday there was a report about 100 widows a day being created in Iraq. A Times of London report from last summer notes that gravediggers in one Baghdad cemetery are handling 200 bodies daily, compared with 60 before the war. The situation of the displaced is becoming a humanitarian crisis that will soon rival the worst African cases; the middle and upper classes have fled, leaving the poor to cope. So the poor from the U.S. go to beat up the poor in Iraq, or stand by helplessly as the Iraqi poor ravage each other.

That is the harsh reality of violence in Iraq. A half million dead. More than two million displaced. No end in sight.

Beware the delusions.

(John Tirman is Executive Director of MIT's Center for International Studies)

2. Quitting Iraq Is the Only Brave Thing to Do
We should demand to the Democrats that we get out of Iraq now and ask the Iraqi people for their forgiveness.
By Michael Moore/

November 27 marks the day that we will have been in Iraq longer than we were in all of World War II.

That's right. We were able to defeat all of Nazi Germany, Mussolini, and the entire Japanese empire in LESS time than it's taken the world's only superpower to secure the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad.

And we haven't even done THAT. After 1,347 days, in the same time it took us to took us to sweep across North Africa, storm the beaches of Italy, conquer the South Pacific, and liberate all of Western Europe, we cannot, after over 3 and 1/2 years, even take over a single highway and protect ourselves from a homemade device of two tin cans placed in a pothole. No wonder the cab fare from the airport into Baghdad is now running around $35,000 for the 25-minute ride. And that doesn't even include a friggin' helmet.

Is this utter failure the fault of our troops? Hardly. That's because no amount of troops or choppers or democracy shot out of the barrel of a gun is ever going to "win" the war in Iraq. It is a lost war, lost because it never had a right to be won, lost because it was started by men who have never been to war, men who hide behind others sent to fight and die.

Let's listen to what the Iraqi people are saying, according to a recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland:

** 71% of all Iraqis now want the U.S. out of Iraq.

** 61% of all Iraqis SUPPORT insurgent attacks on U.S. troops.

Yes, the vast majority of Iraqi citizens believe that our soldiers should be killed and maimed! So what the hell are we still doing there? Talk about not getting the hint.

There are many ways to liberate a country. Usually the residents of that country rise up and liberate themselves. That's how we did it. You can also do it through nonviolent, mass civil disobedience. That's how India did it. You can get the world to boycott a regime until they are so ostracized they capitulate. That's how South Africa did it. Or you can just wait them out and, sooner or later, the king's legions simply leave (sometimes just because they're too cold). That's how Canada did it.

The one way that DOESN'T work is to invade a country and tell the people, "We are here to liberate you!" -- when they have done NOTHING to liberate themselves. Where were all the suicide bombers when Saddam was oppressing them? Where were the insurgents planting bombs along the roadside as the evildoer Saddam's convoy passed them by? I guess ol' Saddam was a cruel despot -- but not cruel enough for thousands to risk their necks. "Oh no, Mike, they couldn't do that! Saddam would have had them killed!" Really? You don't think King George had any of the colonial insurgents killed? You don't think Patrick Henry or Tom Paine were afraid? That didn't stop them. When tens of thousands aren't willing to shed their own blood to remove a dictator, that should be the first clue that they aren't going to be willing participants when you decide you're going to do the liberating for them.

A country can HELP another people overthrow a tyrant (that's what the French did for us in our revolution), but after you help them, you leave. Immediately. The French didn't stay and tell us how to set up our government. They didn't say, "we're not leaving because we want your natural resources." They left us to our own devices and it took us six years before we had an election. And then we had a bloody civil war. That's what happens, and history is full of these examples. The French didn't say, "Oh, we better stay in America, otherwise they're going to kill each other over that slavery issue!"

The only way a war of liberation has a chance of succeeding is if the oppressed people being liberated have their own citizens behind them -- and a group of Washingtons, Jeffersons, Franklins, Gandhis and Mandellas leading them. Where are these beacons of liberty in Iraq? This is a joke and it's been a joke since the beginning. Yes, the joke's been on us, but with 655,000 Iraqis now dead as a result of our invasion (source: Johns Hopkins University ), I guess the cruel joke is on them. At least they've been liberated, permanently.

So I don't want to hear another word about sending more troops (wake up, America, John McCain is bonkers), or "redeploying" them, or waiting four months to begin the "phase-out." There is only one solution and it is this: Leave. Now. Start tonight. Get out of there as fast as we can. As much as people of good heart and conscience don't want to believe this, as much as it kills us to accept defeat, there is nothing we can do to undo the damage we have done. What's happened has happened. If you were to drive drunk down the road and you killed a child, there would be nothing you could do to bring that child back to life. If you invade and destroy a country, plunging it into a civil war, there isn't much you can do 'til the smoke settles and blood is mopped up. Then maybe you can atone for the atrocity you have committed and help the living come back to a better life.

The Soviet Union got out of Afghanistan in 36 weeks. They did so and suffered hardly any losses as they left. They realized the mistake they had made and removed their troops. A civil war ensued. The bad guys won. Later, we overthrew the bad guys and everybody lived happily ever after. See! It all works out in the end!

The responsibility to end this war now falls upon the Democrats. Congress controls the purse strings and the Constitution says only Congress can declare war. Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi now hold the power to put an end to this madness. Failure to do so will bring the wrath of the voters. We aren't kidding around, Democrats, and if you don't believe us, just go ahead and continue this war another month. We will fight you harder than we did the Republicans. The opening page of my website has a photo of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, each made up by a collage of photos of the American soldiers who have died in Bush's War. But it is now about to become the Bush/Democratic Party War unless swift action is taken.

This is what we demand:

1. Bring the troops home now. Not six months from now. NOW. Quit looking for a way to win. We can't win. We've lost. Sometimes you lose. This is one of those times. Be brave and admit it.

2. Apologize to our soldiers and make amends. Tell them we are sorry they were used to fight a war that had NOTHING to do with our national security. We must commit to taking care of them so that they suffer as little as possible. The mentally and physically maimed must get the best care and significant financial compensation. The families of the deceased deserve the biggest apology and they must be taken care of for the rest of their lives.

3. We must atone for the atrocity we have perpetuated on the people of Iraq. There are few evils worse than waging a war based on a lie, invading another country because you want what they have buried under the ground. Now many more will die. Their blood is on our hands, regardless for whom we voted. If you pay taxes, you have contributed to the three billion dollars a week now being spent to drive Iraq into the hellhole it's become. When the civil war is over, we will have to help rebuild Iraq. We can receive no redemption until we have atoned.

In closing, there is one final thing I know. We Americans are better than what has been done in our name. A majority of us were upset and angry after 9/11 and we lost our minds. We didn't think straight and we never looked at a map. Because we are kept stupid through our pathetic education system and our lazy media, we knew nothing of history. We didn't know that WE were the ones funding and arming Saddam for many years, including those when he massacred the Kurds. He was our guy. We didn't know what a Sunni or a Shiite was, never even heard the words. Eighty percent of our young adults (according to National Geographic) were not able to find Iraq on the map. Our leaders played off our stupidity, manipulated us with lies, and scared us to death.

But at our core we are a good people. We may be slow learners, but that "Mission Accomplished" banner struck us as odd, and soon we began to ask some questions. Then we began to get smart. By this past November 7th, we got mad and tried to right our wrongs. The majority now know the truth. The majority now feel a deep sadness and guilt and a hope that somehow we can make make it all right again.

Unfortunately, we can't. So we will accept the consequences of our actions and do our best to be there should the Iraqi people ever dare to seek our help in the future. We ask for their forgiveness.

We demand the Democrats listen to us and get out of Iraq now.

(Michael Moore is an Academy award-winning filmmaker and author of " Dude, Where's My Country?”)

Is Putin the Russian Poisoner-in-Chief?

A Poisoned Spy – NY Times editorial

Despite the utter lack of evidence about who poisoned Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who died last week in a London hospital, it was hardly surprising that suspicion fell immediately on the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Litvinenko was a defector with many enemies in Russia, official and otherwise, and Mr. Putin’s record on justice and human rights has left many people prepared to believe the worst.

It did not help that the Kremlin quickly went on the defensive. Government spokesmen declared that any suggestion of Kremlin complicity was “sheer nonsense” and that the Soviet and Russian intelligence services hadn’t assassinated anyone since 1959. Talk about sheer nonsense.

How much better it would have been had Mr. Putin’s people said something like, “Let us help find out who did this outrageous thing!” That’s also what Mr. Putin might have said when Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter, was murdered or when all the other reformers were killed.

Words like that might not end the violence. The struggle for wealth and power in Russia is out of control. Mr. Litvinenko also certainly had a long list of highly motivated enemies. He was a defector who claimed he had been ordered to kill the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. He wrote a book alleging that his fellow Russian agents had organized a lethal bombing and accused Chechen terrorists. At the time he was poisoned, he was said to be looking into the death of Ms. Politkovskaya.

But the real problem is that Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. agent himself, has given no indication that he is dismayed by the political killings, or that he is doing much to stop them. He seems mainly concerned with deflecting blame.

Fans of LOTR director Peter Jackson give studio shit over its Orc treatment of him

To Web Fans, Peter Jackson Is the One True Director – by SHARON WAXMAN/NY Times

When it comes to power games, some in Hollywood are beginning to learn a basic lesson of digital politics: the Internet plays rough.

Such is the case with a growing spat between New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson , the A-list director of the “Lord of the Rings” movies and a savvy player when it comes to the power of the Web. Last week Mr. Jackson posted a letter on a fan Web site, , explaining that he had been dumped by New Line from “The Hobbit,” a movie based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien, and still in the planning stages.

“This outcome is not what we anticipated or wanted, but neither do we see any positive value in bitterness and rancor,” Mr. Jackson wrote with his producing partner and wife, Fran Walsh. “We now have no choice but to let the idea of a film of The Hobbit go and move forward with other projects.”

But to legions of avid Jackson and Tolkien fans, the news was a bombshell that went whizzing through cyberspace.

“This is a big blow to the LOTR community, I feel like there has been a death in the family,” wrote a Web master called Xoanon, referring to the “Lord of the Ring” trilogy by its initials. “Why couldn’t New Line come to an agreement with P J? Is there really a time option on the film rights for New Line? Who will they get to direct?”

Within hours thousands of other fans weighed in on , and other sites, worrying about the future of the Tolkien enterprise and asking New Line, which has an option to produce the film until 2009, to back down. was among those calling for a boycott of any Hobbit film not made by Mr. Jackson.

“The fan community as a whole is up in arms about the way Peter Jackson has been treated,” said Chris Pirrotta, a founder of site, which has faithfully followed Mr. Jackson for years, even posting his video diary during the making of last year’s “King Kong.” “Fans are very distraught to see someone who’s created something so wonderful being treated so poorly by the studio.”

On the heels of the protest, reporters and entertainment bloggers called the studio to ask about the film’s fate. In what was once an insular club of power brokers and back-stabbers, the voices of outsiders — dancing across the globe at the speed of a modem — have begun to penetrate.

New Line declined to comment on “The Hobbit,” but said in a statement to The Times that the situation was complicated by the lawsuit of Mr. Jackson’s company, Wingnut Films, against the studio over revenues from the “Lord of the Rings,” which New Line produced.

“We are in litigation with Wingnut Films, and have been unsuccessful despite a formal mediation, as well as discussions with Wingnut directly to settle the matter; therefore, we cannot comment at this point,” the studio said this week.

But anxiety continued to reverberate in cyberspace. Ian McKellen , who played Gandalf in the Rings series, wrote on his Web site, : “I’m very sad as I should have relished revisiting middle Earth with Peter again as team-leader. It’s hard to imagine any other director matching his achievement in Tolkien country.”

And Saul Zaentz , the veteran producer who holds the underlying rights, was quoted on yet another Web site, this one in German, saying Mr. Jackson would indeed direct “The Hobbit,” which still has no script, no budget, no cast and no production date.

In an interview from Italy Mr. Zaentz said he was misquoted, but that Mr. Jackson should be the one to direct “The Hobbit.” “We would like to see it done, of course with Peter Jackson,” he said. “He’s a good film director. He’s the right guy. He knows it too. But it’s a hard thing to do, when you feel you didn’t get the money you were supposed to get.”

The contretemps over “The Hobbit,” those involved say, is really about the lawsuit over revenues from the “Lord of the Rings” series, which has taken in a staggering $2.9 billion in box office receipts alone.

In February 2005 Mr. Jackson sued New Line, saying he was owed money from the trilogy. Mr. Jackson has said he sued over profits from “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” after he was unable to get New Line to submit to an independent audit of its books. The lawsuit, which was unsuccessfully mediated, still has no court date, and so far no audit has taken place. New Line executives have complained that Mr. Jackson has become vastly wealthy from the Tolkien trilogy and is unjustifiably portraying himself as a victim.

In his letter Mr. Jackson said New Line was holding the new movie hostage to his lawsuit, saying that Michael Lynne, the New Line co-president, told Mr. Jackson’s manager, Ken Kamins, “that the way to settle the lawsuit was to get a commitment from us to make the Hobbit, because ‘that’s how these things are done.’ ”

Mr. Jackson added: “Michael Lynne said we would stand to make much more money if we tied the lawsuit and the movie deal together and this may well be true, but it’s still the worst reason in the world to agree to make a film.”

Neither Mr. Jackson nor the studio would comment publicly on the lawsuit.

The final straw in continuing tensions between the two sides came earlier this month, when Mr. Jackson declined to contribute a video salute to New Line for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of its founding, planned for next year, according to two people familiar with the matter. Days later a New Line executive called Mr. Kamins to say that the studio would be seeking another director for “The Hobbit.”

So while New Line accused Mr. Jackson of trying to negotiate the lawsuit through the Internet, Mr. Jackson’s camp accused the studio of brinksmanship in a fit of pique.

It was left to another studio entirely, MGM, which owns the distribution rights to “The Hobbit,” to step in and calm the raging waters — and the Web sites.

“We expect to partner with New Line in financing ‘The Hobbit,’ ” a spokesman for MGM said. “We support Peter Jackson as a filmmaker, and believe that when the dust settles, he’ll be making the movie. We can’t imagine any other result.”

Doing the Peace Corps thing in your 50s

Younger than that now
An aging wave of Peace Corps volunteers finds new reasons to act on an old idealism
By Daniel Brook/

RAY GRZYBOWSKI, THE PEACE CORPS volunteer who recently showed me around the historic walled city of Berat, Albania, in many ways fits the stereotype. Bright and idealistic, Grzybowski is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York, and now works with the Institute of Cultural Monuments, Albania's historic preservation agency, to keep the country's centuries-old homes, churches, and mosques in lasting condition. To do so, he has brought the agency's provincial office in Berat into the 21st century.

"I've been a technical resource in getting their computers up to snuff," Grzybowski explained. "They had outdated software and viruses when I got here. I straightened that out. And when the local phone service introduced high-speed Internet, I set that up as a shared connection for the computers in the office. I also digitized some video for them," he said with the can-do attitude you'd expect of a corps volunteer.

But in one respect, Grzybowski does not fit the conventional Peace Corps image. He is 58 years old.

When the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, its volunteers were nearly all recent college graduates, dubbed "Kennedy's Kids," after the new president who created the program by executive order. Grzybowski was just 14 years old at the time, but the founding made an impression. "I remember being struck at the time that this sounded like a great idea, that we were going to invest in building peace and understanding between nations rather than just spending money on defense."

But after college Grzybowski soon had a job, a wife, and a family. It was not until he retired from a computer consulting company in Maryland that he considered joining up. "I wanted to keep busy. I was looking for a volunteer activity, particularly something where I could put my computer skills to use," he told me.

These days Peace Corps volunteers like Grzybowski are not as unusual as they once were. When the program was founded, Sargent Shriver, Kennedy's brother-in-law and the first director of the Peace Corps, advised the president that though young people would presumably be the most likely applicants, he saw no reason to impose an upper-age limit for volunteers. In the first group of volunteers, less than 1 percent were over 50; in today's Peace Corps, they make up more than 6 percent, or more than 400 volunteers.

The growth in the number of older volunteers is the result not just of older Americans feeling vigorous enough to take on a challenge like the Peace Corps. As America's popularity in the world has sunk to new lows, it seems many Americans -- including many graying children of the New Frontier -- hope to project a different image of the United States by volunteering abroad. Meanwhile, as the Peace Corps has taken on more sophisticated tasks it has begun to actively recruit more experienced volunteers, many of whom, like Grzybowski, are eager for a second chance to be a Kennedy Kid.

Over the last decade, as the Corps has responded to the AIDS crisis, for example, or helped developing countries with technologically sophisticated methods of environmental protection, it has seen a need for more skilled volunteers. There's currently a "blitz for social workers and nurses to do HIV/AIDS work," said Peace Corps spokesperson Joanna O'Brien.

But it's not just experienced service professionals who are being recruited. People from the private sector -- tech world veterans like Grzybowski as well as engineers and business people -- are also in high demand. And because all volunteers receive the same stipends regardless of experience, the Peace Corps, unlike a conventional employer, doesn't have to pay a premium for more experienced people.

Retirees, for their part, may be better equipped than recent college graduates to make the financial sacrifices that volunteering entails: 27 months of living on a stipend designed to put volunteers' living standards in line with the community they serve. The unprecedented tuition and mortgage debts facing today's twenty- and thirty-somethings are flipping the old norm that young people are footloose while old people are tied down. "A 35-year-old still has student loans....Or they're married and they just bought a condo," O'Brien said. "Someone in their 50s has paid off their mortgage, but they still feel young and energetic."

Since 2003, the Peace Corps has been holding recruiting events aimed specifically at this age group. But changing the perception that the Peace Corps is for "kids" has been an uphill battle. Deputy director Jody Olsen, who recently gave recruiting presentations at the AARP convention in Anaheim, said that few Americans are aware that the program is open to all ages. "I just got back from North Carolina State University," Olsen told me, and "I was surprised at the number of faculty and administrators who asked me, 'What is the upper age limit?' I explained that we've had people in their upper 80s." The oldest current volunteer is 79; the oldest ever was 86.

Today's Peace Corps recruitment materials showcase older volunteers in photographs. Some brochures specifically target applicants over 50, selling them on the benefits of leaving our youth-obsessed culture. "Do people tell you you're over the hill?" reads one brochure. "What if you were over the hill, and over an ocean, to another continent. Where elders are looked to as leaders."

Even outside the proverbial African village with its council of elders, older volunteers' experiences tend to bear this out. "Part of their culture is to respect age and experience," Grzybowski said of Albania. "By virtue of the fact that I'm older and they know I've worked for so many years in the computer field, I think they give me a lot of respect, more than a younger person would get."

In the tech industry in the United States, by contrast, Grzybowski said "there's often the tendency to look to young people who are up on new technology."

It will be interesting to see if the rise in older volunteers continues after the generation of grown-up Kennedy's Kids ages out. San Diego State University historian Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, author of "All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s," calls the recent increase in 50-plus volunteers the "baby boom echo." She suspects some people who saw the odds and didn't even apply back in the mid-1960s, when the Corps was getting more than 40,000 applications annually, are applying now, when only some 12,000 applications come in each year.

But even today's numbers, Hoffman notes, show renewed interest after the nadir of the late 1990s, when applications slipped below 10,000 for the first time in Corps history. In the last five years, applications have been up among all age groups. Deputy director Olsen attributes the post-9/11 rise to volunteers "wanting to represent who people are as Americans."

For Grzybowski, Kennedy's impulse to invest in cross-cultural understanding, not merely defense, sounds as sensible today as it did during the Cold War -- if not more so. Ironically, President Bush's post-9/11 ultimatum -- "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" -- may have had an effect on Peace Corps recruitment similar to Kennedy's exhortation: "My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

(Daniel Brook's first book, "The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America," will be published in the spring.)

The failure of US elite in foreign affairs - maybe we need a new elite

1. The Conflict in Iraq and U.S. Elites -- by Anatol Lieven and John C. Hulsman/The Globalist

The failure in Iraq is not just one of the Bush Administration — but of much of the U.S. establishment which shared or acquiesced in those plans. With the strategy now in shambles, U.S. political elites are rudderless, argue Anatol Lieven and John C. Hulsman, authors of "Ethical Realism."

What has failed in Iraq has been not just the strategy of the administration of George W. Bush — but a whole way of looking at the world.

This consists of the beliefs that the United States is both so powerful and so obviously good that it has the ability to spread democracy throughout the world; that if necessary, this can be achieved through war; that this mission can also be made to advance particular U.S. national interests — and that this combination will naturally be supported by good people all over the world, irrespective of their own political traditions, national allegiances and national interests.

These beliefs are very widely and instinctively shared throughout the U.S. establishment — and both political parties. As a result, their failure in Iraq has so far led not to a new approach to international relations, but to a period of intellectual and political bewilderment.

Incompetent administration

This is now being succeeded by worrying indications of an emerging new bipartisan consensus, based essentially on the previous assumptions and myths.

Even after the debacle of Iraq, there is therefore at present no real opposition in the United States when it comes to foreign and security policy. The Democrats are bitterly, and rightly, critical of the monstrous incompetence displayed by the Bush Administration.

Defending democracy

But they do not themselves have an alternative strategy or philosophy to offer. And too often, they content themselves with offering similar messianic platitudes about American greatness and the transformative power of democracy.

Vietnam taught us once that the United States is not invincible. All of the United States' technological superiority, and all the courage and skill of its soldiers, may be useless against certain kinds of enemies using certain kinds of strategy.

After all, military power is not something you hang on a wall for visitors to admire. Real military power is power that can be used. America’s famous 12 aircraft carrier battle groups are not much use on the streets of Fallujah.

Lessons not learned

Vietnam also should have taught us that American preaching of democracy, even with the best of intentions, will not be accepted by other peoples — if it is accompanied by strategies that they see as opposed to their national pride and national aspirations.

Yet, a generation later, these lessons seem to have been forgotten. The stakes today are much higher than they were in Vietnam.

Getting serious on security

Despite the illusions of that time, Indochina was never really very important to the United States, to its leadership in the world, or to the world economy.

Nobody could say that of the Middle East today. Nor was there ever a chance of the Vietnamese Communists, or Saddam Hussein for that matter, attacking Americans at home.

Americans, the British and the Spanish all have bitter reason to know that this is not true of Al Qaeda and its allies. The threat from Islamist terrorism has to be taken very seriously indeed — more seriously than any other security issue now facing the United States.

Missing the meaning

Unfortunately the political left, believing the terrorist threat has been exaggerated, directs more of its attention and criticism at America’s own government than at the nation’s mortal enemies.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq has squandered time and energy, increased Muslim hatred of the United States — and created a breeding ground for terrorists. A war with Iran would repeat this dreadful mistake on an even larger scale.

Attacking terrorism

Shunning these distractions, we need to focus on Al Qaeda and their allies in the world of Sunni Islamist extremism. These are the people who actually carried out 9/11 and killed thousands of Americans.

They are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and if they gain them and can deploy them, they will carry out atrocities far worse than 9/11 — and not just against us, but against all their enemies.

Russians, Shia Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan, and victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan all have good reason to know this. The Islamist terrorists are also our most dangerous enemies because they can persuade us to destroy ourselves.


We have already seen in the years after 9/11 how that terrorist attack has led the U.S. administration and military into actions and arguments that previous generations of Americans would have found inconceivable.

These actions have tarnished the image of American democracy in the world. One shudders to think of the consequences for U.S. democracy of another truly massive terrorist attack.

2. How Neocon Favorites Duped US -- by Robert Parry/Consortium News

When American voters go to the polls on Nov. 7, one of the foremost questions that should be on their minds is how did the United States get into the Iraq mess, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 U.S. soldiers and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. What went wrong with Washington and what can citizens do about it?

Part of the answer to what went wrong is that the normal checks and balances - in Congress, the national news media and the U.S. intelligence community - collapsed in the face of George W. Bush's determination to invade Iraq. Pro-war neoconservative opinion leaders also acted as intellectual shock troops to bully the few voices of dissent.

Amid this enforced "group think," a self-interested band of Iraqi exiles found itself with extraordinary freedom to inject pro-war disinformation into the U.S. decision-making process. Despite many reasons to challenge the truthfulness of Iraqi "defectors" handled by the Iraqi National Congress, few in Washington did.

Now, four years later, the Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a long-awaited post-mortem on how the INC influenced this life-and-death debate. The report reveals not only specific cases of coached Iraqi "defectors" lying to intelligence analysts but a stunning failure of the U.S. political/media system to challenge the lies.

In one case, U.S. intelligence analysts correctly concluded that an INC-supplied defector was a "fabricator/provocateur," but his claims about Iraq's supposed mobile weapons labs were never withdrawn and were cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003.

Another INC source, a supposed nuclear engineer who made claims about Iraq's alleged nuclear program, couldn't answer relevant physics questions and kept excusing himself to run to the bathroom where he apparently reviewed notes given to him so he could deceive his American debriefers.

Before interviewing that source, U.S. analysts had received a warning from another Iraqi that an INC representative had instructed the source to "deliver the act of a lifetime." [For details, see below.]

Yet, with President George W. Bush and the powerful right-wing political/media machine pressing for war, the intimidated U.S. intelligence process often worked like a reverse filter, screening out the gems of truth and letting through the dross of disinformation.

Congress and the mainstream Washington press corps proved equally flawed, applying almost no quality controls and serving more as a conveyor belt to carry the polluted information down the line to the broader American public.

While certain individuals and institutions surely deserve the lion's share of the blame, the truth is that the Iraq War represented a systemic failure in Washington - and one that continues to this day because few of the culprits have faced any accountability.

In this Special Report - less than a week before the Nov. 7 elections, possibly the last chance to exact any accountability - looks at how and why the system failed, a failure that has cost the lives of so many people and has so badly damaged U.S. national interests:

Special Report

It started out with a simple need.

To gain public acceptance of an unprovoked invasion of Iraq justified by the "war on terror," the Bush administration had to demonstrate two central points: first, the American people had to be convinced that Saddam Hussein had rebuilt his arsenal of unconventional chemical and biological weapons and was well on his way to manufacturing a nuclear bomb, and second, there had to be a plausible case that Hussein's secular dictatorship had a secret relationship with Islamic terrorists, who might carry Hussein's weapons to the United States.

Otherwise, it was unlikely the American people would support sending an expeditionary force halfway around the world to attack a country that presented no plausible threat to the United States.

The Bush administration's success in selling the bogus Iraq case to a still-frightened American public would mark a near total breakdown of the U.S. institutional capability of separating fact from fiction, both in the corridors of government and in the news media where newspaper editors and TV executives would act as enablers and collaborators in disinforming America.

With the handful of WMD skeptics marginalized to the fringes of public discourse, it would take a long time for the fuller story of the deception to emerge.

Four years after the key deceptions, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited assessment of how so much bad intelligence had been injected into the decision-making process. In September 2006, the committee released two reports, one evaluating the false intelligence that buttressed the claims of cooperation between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaeda terrorists, and the other on the Iraqi National Congress, an influential group of exiles who worked with American neoconservatives to sell the case for war with Iraq.

The History

The official U.S. relationship with these Iraqi exiles dated back to 1991 after President George H.W. Bush had routed Hussein's army from Kuwait and wanted to help Hussein's domestic opponents.

In May 1991, the CIA approached Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shiite who had not lived in Iraq since 1956. Chalabi was far from a perfect opposition candidate, however. Beyond his long isolation from his homeland, Chalabi was a fugitive from bank fraud charges in Jordan. Still, in June 1992, the Iraqi exiles held an organizational meeting in Vienna, Austria, out of which came the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi emerged as the group's chairman and most visible spokesman.

But Chalabi soon began rubbing CIA officers the wrong way. They complained about the quality of his information, the excessive size of his security detail, his lobbying of Congress, and his resistance to working as a team player.

For his part, smooth-talking Chalabi bristled at the idea that he was a U.S. intelligence asset, preferring to see himself as an independent political leader. Nevertheless, he and his organization were not averse to accepting American money.

With U.S. financial backing, the INC waged a propaganda campaign against Hussein and arranged for "a steady stream of low-ranking walk-ins" to provide intelligence about the Iraqi military, the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

The INC's mix of duties - propaganda and intelligence - would create concerns within the CIA as would the issue of Chalabi's "coziness" with the Shiite government of Iran. The CIA concluded that Chalabi was double-dealing both sides when he falsely informed Iran that the United States wanted Iran's help in conducting anti-Hussein operations.

"Chalabi passed a fabricated message from the White House to" an Iranian intelligence officer in northern Iraq, the CIA reported. According to one CIA representative, Chalabi used National Security Council stationery for the fabricated letter, a charge that Chalabi denied.

In December 1996, Clinton administration officials decided to terminate the CIA's relationship with the INC and Chalabi. "There was a breakdown in trust and we never wanted to have anything to do with him anymore," CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

However, in 1998, with the congressional passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, the INC was again one of the exile organizations that qualified for U.S. funding. Starting in March 2000, the State Department agreed to grant an INC foundation almost $33 million for several programs, including more propaganda operations and collection of information about alleged war crimes committed by Hussein's regime.

By March 2001, with George W. Bush in office and already focusing on Iraq, the INC was given greater leeway to pursue its projects, including an Information Collection Program.

The INC's blurred responsibilities on intelligence gathering and propaganda dissemination raised fresh concerns within the State Department. But Bush's National Security Council intervened against State's attempts to cut off funding.

The NSC shifted the INC operation to the control of the Defense Department, where neoconservatives wielded more influence. To little avail, CIA officials warned their counterparts at the Defense Intelligence Agency about suspicions that "the INC was penetrated by Iranian and possibly other intelligence services, and that the INC had its own agenda," the Senate report said.

"You've got a real bucket full of worms with the INC and we hope you're taking the appropriate steps," the CIA told the DIA.

Media Hype

But the CIA's warnings did little to stanch the flow of INC propaganda into America's politics and media. Besides irrigating the U.S. intelligence community with fresh propaganda, the INC funneled a steady stream of "defectors" to U.S. news outlets eager for anti-Hussein scoops.

The "defectors" also made the rounds of Congress where members saw a political advantage in citing the INC's propaganda as a way to talk tough about the Middle East. In turn, conservative and neoconservative think tanks honed their reputations in Washington by staying at the cutting edge of the negative news about Hussein, with human rights groups ready to pile on, too, against the brutal Iraqi dictator.

The Bush administration found all this anti-Hussein propaganda fitting perfectly with its international agenda.

So the INC's information program served the institutional needs and biases of Official Washington. Saddam Hussein was a despised figure anyway, with no influential constituency that would challenge even the most outrageous accusations against him.

When Iraqi officials were allowed onto American news programs, it was an opportunity for the interviewers to show their tough side, pounding the Iraqis with hostile questions. The occasional journalist who tried to be evenhanded would have his or her professionalism questioned. An intelligence analyst who challenged the consensus view could expect to suffer career repercussions.

A war fever was sweeping the United States and the INC was doing all it could to spread the infection. INC's "defectors" supplied primary or secondary intelligence on two key points in particular, Iraq's supposed rebuilding of its unconventional weapons and its alleged training of non-Iraqi terrorists.

Sometimes, these "defectors" would enter the cloistered world of U.S. intelligence with entrées from former U.S. government officials.

For instance, ex-CIA Director James Woolsey referred at least a couple of these Iraqi sources to the DIA. Woolsey, who was affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and other neoconservative think tanks, had been one of the Reagan administration's favorite Democrats in the 1980s because he supported a hawkish foreign policy. After Bill Clinton won the White House, Woolsey parlayed his close ties to the neoconservatives into an appointment as CIA director.

In early 1993, Clinton's foreign policy adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger explained to one well-placed Democratic official that Woolsey was given the CIA job because the Clinton team felt it owed a favor to the neoconservative New Republic, which had lent Clinton some cachet with the insider crowd of Washington.

Amid that more relaxed post-Cold War mood, the Clinton team viewed the CIA directorship as a kind of a patronage plum that could be handed out as a favor to campaign supporters. But new international challenges soon emerged and Woolsey proved to be an ineffective leader of the intelligence community. After two years, he was replaced.

As the 1990s wore on, the spurned Woolsey grew closer to Washington's fast-growing neoconservative movement, which was openly hostile to President Clinton for his perceived softness in asserting U.S. military power, especially against Arab regimes in the Middle East.

On Jan. 26, 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century sent a letter to Clinton urging the ouster of Saddam Hussein by force if necessary. Woolsey was one of the 18 signers. By early 2001, he also had grown close to the INC, having been hired as co-counsel to represent eight Iraqis, including INC members, who had been detained on immigration charges.

So, Woolsey was well-positioned to serve as a conduit for INC "defectors" trying to get their stories to U.S. officials and to the American public.

The "Sources"

DIA officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Woolsey introduced them to the first in a long line of INC "defectors" who told the DIA about Hussein's WMD and his supposed relationship with Islamic terrorists. For his part, Woolsey said he didn't recall making that referral.

The debriefings of "Source One" - as he was called in the Senate Intelligence Committee report - generated more than 250 intelligence reports. Two of the reports described alleged terrorist training sites in Iraq, where Afghan, Pakistani and Palestinian nationals were allegedly taught military skills at the Salman Pak base, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

"Many Iraqis believe that Saddam Hussein had made an agreement with Usama bin Ladin in order to support his terrorist movement against the U.S.," Source One claimed, according to the Senate report.

After the 9/11 attacks, information from Source One and other INC-connected "defectors" began surfacing in U.S. press accounts, not only in the right-wing news media, but many mainstream publications.

In an Oct. 12, 2001, column entitled "What About Iraq?" Washington Post chief foreign correspondent Jim Hoagland cited "accumulating evidence of Iraq's role in sponsoring the development on its soil of weapons and techniques for international terrorism," including training at Salman Pak.

Hoagland's sources included Iraqi army defector Sabah Khalifa Khodada and another unnamed Iraqi ex-intelligence officer in Turkey. Hoagland also criticized the CIA for not taking seriously a possible Iraqi link to 9/11.

Hoagland's column was followed by a Page One article in The New York Times, which was headlined "Defectors Cite Iraqi Training for Terrorism." It relied on Khodada, the second source in Turkey (who was later identified as Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, a former senior officer in Iraq's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat), and a lower-ranking member of Mukhabarat.

This story described 40 to 50 Islamic militants getting training at Salman Pak at any one time, including lessons on how to hijack an airplane without weapons. There were also claims about a German scientist working on biological weapons.

In a Columbia Journalism Review retrospective on press coverage of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, writer Douglas McCollam asked Times correspondent Chris Hedges about the Times article, which had been written in coordination with a PBS Frontline documentary called "Gunning for Saddam," with correspondent Lowell Bergman.

Explaining the difficulty of checking out defector accounts when they meshed with the interests of the U.S. government, Hedges said, "We tried to vet the defectors and we didn't get anything out of Washington that said, 'these guys are full of shit.'"

For his part, Bergman told CJR's McCollam, "The people involved appeared credible and we had no way of getting into Iraq ourselves."

The journalistic competition to break anti-Hussein scoops was building. Based in Paris, Hedges said he would get periodic calls from Times editors asking that he check out defector stories originating from Chalabi's operation.

"I thought he was unreliable and corrupt, but just because someone is a sleazebag doesn't mean he might not know something or that everything he says is wrong," Hedges said. Hedges described Chalabi as having an "endless stable" of ready sources who could fill in American reporters on any number of Iraq-related topics.

The Salman Pak story would be one of many products from the INC's propaganda mill that would prove influential in the run-up to the Iraq War but would be knocked down later by U.S. intelligence agencies.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee's post-mortem, the DIA stated in June 2006 that it found "no credible reports that non-Iraqis were trained to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations at Salman Pak after 1991."

Explaining the origins for the bogus tales, the DIA concluded that Operation Desert Storm had brought attention to the training base at Salman Pak, so "fabricators and unestablished sources who reported hearsay or third-hand information created a large volume of human intelligence reporting. This type of reporting surged after September 2001."

Going With the Flow

However, in the prelude to the Iraq War, U.S. intelligence agencies found it hard to resist the INC's "defectors" when that would have meant bucking the White House and going against Washington's conventional wisdom. Rather than take those career chances, many intelligence analysts found it easier to go with the flow.

Referring to the INC's Source One, a U.S. intelligence memorandum in July 2002 hailed the information as "highly credible and includes reports on a wide range of subjects including conventional weapons facilities, denial and deception; communications security; suspected terrorist training locations; illicit trade and smuggling; Saddam's palaces; the Iraqi prison system; and Iraqi petrochemical plants."

Only analysts in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research were skeptical because they felt Source One was making unfounded assumptions, especially about possible nuclear research sites.

Only after the invasion of Iraq would U.S. intelligence recognize the holes in Source One's stories and spot examples of analysts extrapolating faulty conclusions from his limited first-hand knowledge.

"In early February 2004, in order to resolve … credibility issues with Source One, Intelligence Community elements brought Source One to Iraq," the Senate Intelligence Committee report said. "When taken to the location Source One had described as the suspect [nuclear] facility, he was unable to identify it.

"According to one intelligence assessment, the 'subject appeared stunned upon hearing that he was standing on the spot that he reported as the location of the facility, insisted that he had never been to that spot, and wanted to check a map' …

"ntelligence Community officers confirmed that they were standing on the location he was identifying. … During questioning, Source One acknowledged contact with the INC's Washington Director [redacted], but denied that the Washington Director directed Source One to provide any false information. "

The U.S. intelligence community had mixed reactions to other Iraqi "walk-ins" arranged by the INC. Some were caught in outright deceptions, such as "Source Two" who had talked about Iraq supposedly building mobile biological weapons labs.

After catching Source Two in contradictions, the CIA issued a "fabrication notice" in May 2002, deeming him "a fabricator/provocateur" and asserting that he had "been coached by the Iraqi National Congress prior to his meeting with western intelligence services."

However, the DIA never repudiated the specific reports that had been based on Source Two's debriefings. So, Source Two continued to be cited in five CIA intelligence assessments and the pivotal National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002, "as corroborating other source reporting about a mobile biological weapons program," the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

Source Two was one of four human sources referred to by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his United Nations speech on Feb. 5, 2003. When asked how a "fabricator" could have been used for such an important speech, a CIA analyst who worked on Powell's speech said, "we lost the thread of concern … as time progressed I don't think we remembered."

A CIA supervisor added, "Clearly we had it at one point, we understood, we had concerns about the source, but over time it started getting used again and there really was a loss of corporate awareness that we had a problem with the source."

Flooding Defectors

Part of the challenge facing U.S. intelligence agencies was the sheer volume of "defectors" shepherded into debriefing rooms by the INC and the appeal of their information to U.S. policymakers.

"Source Five," for instance, claimed that Osama bin Laden had traveled to Baghdad for direct meetings with Saddam Hussein. "Source Six" claimed that the Iraqi population was "excited" about the prospects of a U.S. invasion to topple Hussein. Plus, the source said Iraqis recognized the need for post-invasion U.S. control.

By early February 2003, as the final invasion plans were underway, U.S. intelligence agencies had progressed up to "Source Eighteen," who came to epitomize what some analysts still suspected - that the INC was coaching the sources.

As the CIA tried to set up a debriefing of Source Eighteen, another Iraqi exile passed on word to the agency that an INC representative had told Source Eighteen to "deliver the act of a lifetime." CIA analysts weren't sure what to make of that piece of news - since Iraqi exiles frequently badmouthed each other - but the value of the warning soon became clear.

U.S. intelligence officers debriefed Source Eighteen the next day and discovered that "Source Eighteen was supposed to have a nuclear engineering background, but was unable to discuss advanced mathematics or physics and described types of 'nuclear' reactors that do not exist," according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

"Source Eighteen used the bathroom frequently, particularly when he appeared to be flustered by a line of questioning, suddenly remembering a new piece of information upon his return. During one such incident, Source Eighteen appeared to be reviewing notes," the report said.

Not surprisingly, the CIA and DIA case officers concluded that Source Eighteen was a fabricator. But the sludge of INC-connected misinformation and disinformation continued to ooze through the U.S. intelligence community and to foul the American intelligence product - in part because there was little pressure from above demanding strict quality controls.

Curve Ball

Other Iraqi exile sources - not directly connected to the INC - also supplied dubious information, including a source for a foreign intelligence agency who earned the code name "Curve Ball." He contributed important details about Iraq's alleged mobile facilities for producing agents for biological warfare.

Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA's European Division, said his office had issued repeated warnings about Curve Ball's accounts. "Everyone in the chain of command knew exactly what was happening," Drumheller said. [Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2005]

Despite those objections and the lack of direct U.S. contact with Curve Ball, he earned a rating as "credible" or "very credible," and his information became a core element of the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq.

Drawings of Curve Ball's imaginary bio-weapons labs were a central feature of Secretary of State Powell's presentation to the U.N.

Even after the invasion, U.S. officials continued to promote these claims, portraying the discovery of a couple of trailers used for inflating artillery balloons as "the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program." [CIA-DIA report, "Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants," May 16, 2003]

Finally, on May 26, 2004, a CIA assessment of Curve Ball said "investigations since the war in Iraq and debriefings of the key source indicate he lied about his access to a mobile BW production product."

The U.S. intelligence community also learned that Curve Ball "had a close relative who had worked for the INC since 1992," but the CIA could never resolve the question of whether the INC was involved in coaching Curve Ball.

One CIA analyst said she doubted a direct INC role because the INC pattern was to "shop their good sources around town, but they weren't known for sneaking people out of countries into some asylum system."

Delayed Report

In September 2006, four years after the Bush administration seriously began fanning the flames for war against Iraq, a majority of Senate Intelligence Committee members overrode the objections of the panel's senior Republicans and issued a report on the INC's contribution to the U.S. intelligence failures.

The report concluded that the INC fed false information to the intelligence community to convince Washington that Iraq was flouting prohibitions on WMD production. The panel also found that the falsehoods had been "widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war" and did influence some American perceptions of the WMD threat in Iraq.

But INC disinformation was not solely to blame for the bogus intelligence that permeated the pre-war debate. In Washington, there had been a breakdown of the normal checks and balances that American democracy has traditionally relied on for challenging and eliminating the corrosive effects of false data.

By 2002, that self-correcting mechanism - a skeptical press, congressional oversight, and tough-minded analysts - had collapsed. With very few exceptions, prominent journalists refused to put their careers at risk; intelligence professionals played along with the powers that be; Democratic leaders succumbed to the political pressure to toe the President's line; and Republicans marched in lockstep with Bush on his way to war.

Because of this systematic failure, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded four years later that nearly every key assessment of the U.S. intelligence community as expressed in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's WMD was wrong:

"Postwar findings do not support the [NIE] judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq's acquisition of high-strength aluminum tubes was intended for an Iraqi nuclear program; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake' from Africa; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that 'Iraq has biological weapons' and that 'all key aspects of Iraq's offensive biological weapons program are larger and more advanced than before the Gulf war'; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq possessed, or ever developed, mobile facilities for producing biological warfare agents; … do not support the [NIE] assessments that Iraq 'has chemical weapons' or 'is expanding its chemical industry to support chemical weapons production'; … do not support the [NIE] assessments that Iraq had a developmental program for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle 'probably intended to deliver biological agents' or that an effort to procure U.S. mapping software 'strongly suggests that Iraq is investigating the use of these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.'"

So, it now falls to the electoral process - another flawed part of the American democratic system - to exact some measure of accountability on individuals and institutions that sent more than 2,800 American soldiers to their death on false pretenses.

The Nov. 7 elections stand as the last check and balance, perhaps the last hope.

(Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at , as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.')

3. Human Failings
The human-rights movement will have to go beyond persuading those who hold power, using the tools of truth and legal argument, but will also have to join the fight to change the basic structure of power in American society, just as the dissidents they support do abroad.
By Mark Schmitt/The American Prospect

The crowning disgrace of this country’s five-year experiment with one-party Republican rule was surely the passage of a bill on September 29, that sanctioned abusive treatment of prisoners in the "war on terror," banned habeas corpus claims for those identified as "enemy combatants," and allowed the president to place that designation on anyone, including U.S. citizens.

Even with their president’s approval ratings at Nixonian levels, and their own sinking below that, congressional Republicans were able to muster one last grand gesture of disciplined subservience to their only master, power itself. Their logic was best expressed by Senator Arlen Specter, who declared, "I can’t support [this] bill. ... I’d be willing, in the interest of party loyalty, to turn the clock back 500 years, but 800 years goes too far." And then he sucked it up and voted yea to the 12th century.

Democrats opposed the bill but elected not to fight or filibuster. Perhaps it was a reasonable calculation: A filibuster would have failed, and many days’ worth of headlines would have shifted the agenda to President Bush’s preferred frame -- we Republicans are the only things holding back the coming Islamofascist caliphate.

But why was the calculation reasonable? What created the political conditions that made torture not only a political issue, but one in which the moral absolute -- "don’t torture" -- became the losing side?


There exists in this country something called the "human-rights movement." Its key organizations -- Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others -- are well funded and respected, and have had some notable successes. But as a political force, unfortunately, they were not strong enough either to force the Republicans to balk at this bill or to force the Democrats to see that they could withstand the political fallout of the moral stance. Why?

It’s not that they didn’t work hard enough or muster good arguments or mobilize their members. But three factors limited their ability to influence the recent debate. First, all three organizations have been under sustained attack. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, both of which operate from the belief that credibility and truth have a power of their own, have been deemed "controversial" for the very act of telling the truth, the first for the use of the accurate word "gulag" to describe the network of secret CIA prisons that Bush later promised to close, the latter for its reporting on the Lebanon War.

Second, these organizations have generally eschewed politics. They were founded during the high tide of legal liberalism, the era when the prevailing assumption was that the true path to justice ran not through Congress but through the courts. It was the era in which organizations with names that end with the phrase "Legal Defense Fund" or begin with the phrase "Lawyers Committee for" were created. And while several have recently changed their names (the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights became Human Rights First), those assumptions are deeply rooted.

Finally, the human-rights movement, to a greater degree than just about any advocacy community, depends on and prides itself on bipartisan support. And with good reason. The cross-party alliances they formed involve not just the familiar dying remnant of moderate Republicans, but genuine conservatives who hold real power in their party: Religious conservatives such as Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Chris Smith join forces on international human rights, and libertarians like former Congressman Bob Barr back the ACLU on domestic privacy issues. The human-rights movement is reluctant to jeopardize those alliances.


But the military detainee bill put the value of these bipartisan alliances to the test. When the question was called, where were those Republicans? I suspect Specter spoke for all of them: Nothing is more important than power.

In such circumstances, the human-rights movement has to learn what other advocates learned earlier: Social change is a matter of political power. The human-rights movement will have to go beyond persuading those who hold power, using the tools of truth and legal argument, but will also have to join the fight to change the basic structure of power in American society, just as the dissidents they support do abroad. That will mean joining in electoral fights, and often finding themselves fully ensconced within one party’s coalition. Someday, perhaps soon, there will again be a Republican Party that responds to evidence and respects international law, the Constitution, and simple morality. But until that day comes, the strategies that worked so well in the 1980s and 1990s will fail again and again, even on the simplest moral question.

4. Iraq Panel's Real Agenda: Damage Control
The Iraq Study Group's makeup gives away its true purpose.
By Andrew J. Bacevich/Christian Science Monitor

Boston - Even as Washington waits with bated breath for the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to release its findings, the rest of us should see this gambit for what it is: an attempt to deflect attention from the larger questions raised by America's failure in Iraq and to shore up the authority of the foreign policy establishment that steered the United States into this quagmire. This ostentatiously bipartisan panel of Wise Men (and one woman) can't really be searching for truth. It is engaged in damage control.

Their purpose is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded. The ISG is antidemocratic. Its implicit message to Americans is this: We'll handle things - now go back to holiday shopping.

The group's composition gives the game away. Chaired by James Baker, the famed political operative and former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, former congressman and fixture on various blue-ribbon commissions, it contains no one who could be even remotely described as entertaining unorthodox opinions or maverick tendencies.

Instead, it consists of Beltway luminaries such as retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and lobbyist Vernon Jordan. No member is now an elected official. Neither do its ranks include any Iraq war veterans, family members of soldiers killed in Iraq, or anyone identified with the antiwar movement. None possesses specialized knowledge of Islam or the Middle East.

Charging this crowd with assessing the Iraq war is like convening a committee of Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the church's clergy sex-abuse scandal. Even without explicit instructions, the group's members know which questions not to ask and which remedies not to advance. Sadly, the average Catholic's traditional deference to the church hierarchy finds its counterpart in the average American's deference to "experts" when it comes to foreign policy. The ISG exemplifies the result: a befuddled, but essentially passive-electorate looks for guidance to a small group of unelected insiders reflecting a narrow range of views and operating largely behind closed doors.

The guardians of the foreign policy status quo are counting on the panel to extricate the US from Iraq. More broadly, they are counting on it to avoid inquiring into the origins of our predicament. So don't think for a moment that the ISG will assess the implications of America's growing addiction to foreign oil. Don't expect it to question the wisdom of President Bush's doctrine of preventive war or the feasibility of his Freedom Agenda, which promises to implant democracy across the Islamic world.

Far be it from the group to ask whether an open-ended "global war on terror" makes sense as a response to 9/11 or to ponder the flagrant manipulation and misuse of intelligence in the months leading up to the Iraq war. The ISG won't assess the egregious flaws in US military planning for the Iraq invasion or the manifest deficiencies in American generalship since the war began. On the role that Congress has played in enabling presidential fecklessness, you can be certain that Baker and Hamilton will remain silent.

The ISG will provide cover for the Bush administration to shift course in Iraq. It will pave the way for the Democratic Congress to endorse that shift in a great show of bipartisanship. But it will hold no one responsible.

Above all, it will leave intact the assumptions, arrangements, and institutions that gave rise to Iraq in the first place. In doing so, it will ensure that the formulation of foreign policy remains the preserve of political mahatmas like Baker and Hamilton, with the American people left to pick up the tab.

In this way, the ISG will make possible - even likely - a repetition of some disaster akin to Iraq at a future date.

Bookplanet: A Jew and his love for Germany

From Breslau to Morningside Heights
Review of “Five Germanys I Have Known” by Fritz Stern
By Philip Weis/The American Conservative

Fritz Stern was supposed to follow in the family calling of three generations and become a doctor in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland). Events interceded. In 1932, when he was 6, his parents gave him a typewriter, and then next year Hitler came to power. Five years after, the family, who were Christians but of Jewish stock, fled for America. The boy had by then become the family’s secretary and was hoarding pieces of writing that interested him, down to scraps of newspaper. He grew up to be a historian, publishing several important volumes about German and Jewish history, of which this beautifully-written memoir is the most soulful. In a sense Stern never abandoned the family profession: at 80, he is trying to heal himself and heal Germany—and even heal the Jews.

Stern loves Germany, and his memoir is best understood as a demonstration that all societies are vulnerable to the evil forces that swept that land in the ’30s and ’40s. His epiphany came on a trip he made back to Germany in 1954, to attend a tenth-year memorial service for the July plot by German officers to kill Hitler, a plot that led instead to the torture and execution of the brave conspirators. “As I looked at the people in the courtyard—old, distinguished, and sadly proud, dressed in mourning, faces hardened and humbled by suffering—I felt a sense of shame for my indiscriminate hatred of Germans,” he writes. The accumulation of such moments forced Stern at a late age to overcome his natural reluctance to write about himself. He understands what an unusual life he has had and how instructive it can be.

The first of Stern’s five Germanys was the Weimar Republic. He was born in 1926 into the assimilated Jewish elite. Jews had risen to new prominence in “most realms of public life,” but that did not keep them from “self-criticism,” sometimes joking, sometimes “harsh.” Religion tended to be a private matter, but everyone knew who was what.

His grandparents had converted to Christianity, yet the family never abandoned its Jewish identity, its sense of an elite intellectual inheritance. The complexity of the situation can be seen in the case of Stern’s godfather, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Fritz Haber, a friend of Zionist Chaim Weizmann and the inventor of a poison gas that was later used by the Nazis. Haber was a convert. But he was somehow able “to fuse a nominal Christian identity with a kind of civic religion, Germanness, and a private Jewish identity…”

Private became public with the Third Reich. For years the Stern family bargained that the nationalistic nonsense about Aryans would not last, even as the civil service was purged by the 1935 Nuremberg laws and Jewish doctors were stripped of public duties (to the satisfaction of many German doctors, who couldn’t compete).

Young Stern knew now that he was Jewish. He attended a gymnasium at which math problems were framed in terms of, “If three Jews rob a bank…” and on a family outing he read a piece of doggerel on a sign outside a village: “Trust not the fox on the green heath, and not the Jew when he gives his oath.”

Eight decades later, the author asks, “Why does this piece of filthy trash remain in my head?” The answer is obvious: this was living history.

Most of my classmates were in the Hitler Youth, and on special days (the Fuhrer’s birthday, for example) they would appear in their uniforms. Even without them, their pride in things German and Nazi and their joy in communal belonging were tangible. At times I was a target of verbal and, in the schoolyard, physical assault … . I have forgotten, or perhaps repressed, much of the unpleasantness, probably because it was so minor compared with the horrors visited later on others, but I do remember the indoctrinations, the celebratory assemblies, the Heil Hitlers that I neither could nor would say, the hateful songs, the party sermons …

In 1938, the Stern family escaped, and Stern’s father relaunched his medical practice in New York, though it seems that young Fritz held the family together. At 12, he was composing the correspondence for his shell-shocked family, reading Thucydides, and going to a Hoboken pier to greet other refugees. How many other boys would have spotted Thomas Mann and his brother in the crowd?

Portraiture became Stern’s strong suit. He made his name with a study of three early German nationalists and anti-Semites and solidified it with a study of Gerson Bleichroder, a Jewish banker who advised Bismarck. For nearly 50 years, Stern was a professor at Columbia University. In that time, he gained access to many a powerful chamber and, happily, this book includes some reports.

There is Henry Kissinger, who would have been a high-school teacher in Furth, he tells Stern, were it not for Hitler. When Stern criticizes Nixon, the secretary of state responds, “Don’t forget, he is not my president,” a reminder that he had supported Rockefeller. “What sublime disloyalty!” Stern comments.

When he meets Pope John Paul II, Stern tells him that Asian-Americans have taken the place of American Jews in schools. The pope says, “Yes, but they still control the media and finance.” (Stern says, “I was stunned.”)

Leading Jews from Einstein to Weizmann also make appearances. The historian Isaiah Berlin refuses to shake Menachem Begin’s hand, for he remembers the Jewish terrorism of the 1940s. The Zionist Nahum Goldmann comes to Germany to negotiate reparations and says that Jews are “a people one can admire but one cannot love. They are wonderful when they are persecuted. They are impossible when they have it good.”

As the author returns to Germany again and again, the reader sees that he is German at the core. In a book that involves identity, what does core mean? The feeling arises from Stern’s story that he is made by the German language and longs for the sensibilities that German words are able to pluck. Those words come in and out of the book. Schmokern , the love of light reading. Schlicht , a kind of simple, unostentatious elegance. Lebenluge , a lie on which a life is based. Wissenschaft , the body of documented knowledge. Nietzsche and Goethe are frequently cited and so is the idea that is central to Stern’s sense of himself: Bildung , the “goal of self-formation and education that sprang in part from knowing and exulting in the great works of culture …”

OK, then: explain Nazism. “Never before had a modern, educated, proudly civilized class so readily abandoned, betrayed, and traduced the most basic rights of citizens. Why? Fear? Willing acquiescence and complicity? Indifference? The questions haunt us still.” Stern’s best answer is that the religious and nationalist appeals that carried away a fearful and humiliated people can carry away other high-minded cultures. For all states struggle with “illiberal” forces and periods of “exaltation.” (As do rival administrators at Columbia: “If they had nuclear weapons, I thought, they would use them.”)

I can only hope that Stern’s comments about Israel get publicity. They are so understated yet backed by such intimate knowledge of anti-Semitism and the Zionist brain trust that no one can write them off. The last of the 20th-century utopias is now endangered by “self-betrayal,” militarism and nationalism. Israelis are incapable of accepting criticism from foreigners. Indeed the Holocaust seems to have hardened them in their contempt for critics. But Stern has studied the “harsh truths” of Israel’s 1948 war for independence and is perplexed by the public denial of evidence that Zionists forced a flood of Arabs from the land—“a pertinent question, especially for those of us concerned about ‘forgetting.’” Unlike so many other prominent Americans who have been to Israel and simply marveled at the society, Stern has also visited the West Bank and is grieved by the occupation. Palestinian refugees “had been made to suffer for the crimes of omission and commission that the Europeans had committed against the Jews.”

I wish he had brought these lessons home. The chief fault of this book is Stern’s resistance to taking on the historian’s “metaphysical fluency and … arrogance” (intellectual qualities he praises in Hannah Arendt) when it comes to Jewish history in the United States. He does not apply to the American scene his knowledge of Bleichroder’s presence at Bismarck’s side or of the German nationalists’ fury toward modernity. This reader kept waiting for Stern’s opinion on such issues as: How powerful are Jews in America? How does their role in the economy and the professions compare to Weimar? The obvious question is of course whether our society is capable of seeking the extermination of Jews, but just as interesting is whether the Jewish role in the American establishment has hampered our ability to relate to the Arab world. As it is, the neoconservatives are only glimpsed here, for instance in a crack about how much money Richard Perle has made.

I found one lesson between the lines. In 1954 Stern is traveling on a boat back to Germany when he hears the news of the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education . The reader exults with him: a great blot was removed from his adopted society, and Stern was able to bring out to Europe a demonstration of the noble American experiment. That was a very long time ago.

(Philip Weiss is at work on a book about Jewish issues. He writes a blog for the New York Observer, Mondoweiss)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

We all want to get the hell out of Iraq, but pundits still have a lot to talk about

1. Does Anyone in Washington or at Downing Street Know What's Really Happening in Iraq?
Iraq Nears the "Saigon Moment"

Iraq is rending itself apart. The signs of collapse are everywhere. In Baghdad the police often pick up over 100 tortured and mutilated bodies in a single day. Government ministries make war on each other. A new and ominous stage in the disintegration of the Iraqi state came earlier this month when police commandos from the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry kidnapped 150 people from the Sunni-run Higher Education Ministry in the heart of Baghdad.

Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call 'the Saigon moment', the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. "They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried our by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles," said the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari with a despairing laugh to me earlier this summer. "But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen."

It is getting worse. The Iraqi army and police are not loyal to the state. If the US army decides to confront the Shia militias it could well find Shia military units from the Iraqi army cutting the main American supply route between Kuwait and Baghdad. One convoy was stopped at a supposedly fake police checkpoint near the Kuwait border earlier this month and four American security men and an Austrian taken away.

The US and British position in Iraq is far more of a house built on sand than is realized in Washington or London despite the disasters of the last three-and-a-half years. President Bush and Tony Blair show a unique inability to learn from their mistakes, largely because they do not want to admit having committed any errors in the first place.

Civil war is raging across central Iraq, home to a third of the country's 27 million people. As Shia and Sunni flee each other's neighbourhoods Iraq is turning into a country of refugees. The UN High Commission for Refugees says that 1.6 million are displaced within the country and a further 1.8 million have fled abroad. In Baghdad neighbouring Sunni and Shia districts have started to fire mortars at each other. On the day Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death I phoned a friend in a Sunni area of the capital to ask what he thought of the verdict. He answered impatiently that "I was woken up this morning by the explosion of a mortar bomb on the roof of my next door neighbour's house. I am more worried about staying alive myself than what happens to Saddam."

Iraqi friends used to reassure me that there would be no civil war because so many Shia and Sunni were married to each other. These mixed couples are now being compelled to divorce by their families. "I love my husband, but my family has forced me to divorce him because we are Shi'ite and he is Sunni," said Hiba Sami, the mother of four, to a UN official. "My family say they [the husband's family] are insurgents and that living with him is an offence to God." Members of mixed marriages set up an association to protect each other called the Union for Peace in Iraq but they were soon compelled to dissolve it when several founding members were murdered.

Everything in Iraq is dominated by what in Belfast we used to call "the politics of the last atrocity". All three Iraqi communities--Shia, Sunni and Kurdish -- see themselves as victims and seldom sympathize with the tragedies of others. Every day brings its gruesome discoveries. Earlier this month I visited Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq that has a population of 1.7 million people of whom about two thirds are Sunni Arabs and one third Kurds. It is not the most dangerous city in Iraq but it is still a place drenched in violence. A local tribal leader called Sayid Tewfiq from the nearby city of Tal Afar told me of a man from there who went to recover the tortured body of his 16-year old son. The corpse was wired to explosives that blew up killing the father so their two bodies were buried together.

Khasro Goran, the efficient and highly effective deputy governor of Mosul, said there was no civil war yet in Mosul but it could easily happen. He added that 70,000 Kurds had already fled the city because of assassinations. It is extraordinary how in Iraq slaughter that would be front page news any where else in the world soon seems to be part of normal life. On the day I arrived in Mosul the police had found 11 bodies in the city which would have been on the low side in Baghdad.

I spoke to the Duraid Mohammed Kashmula, the governor of Mosul, whose office is decorated with pictures of smiling fresh faced young men who turned out to be his son and four nephews, all of them killed by insurgents. His own house together with his furniture was burned to the ground two years ago. He added in passing that Mr Goran and he himself were the prime targets for assassination in Mosul, a point that was dramatically proved true the day after we spoke when insurgents exploded a bomb beside beside his convoy--fortunately he was not in it at the time-- killing one and wounding several of his bodyguards.

It is obviously very difficult for reporters to discover what is happening in Iraq's most violent provinces without being killed themselves. But at the end of September I travelled south along the Iraqi side of the border with Iran sticking to Kurdish villages to try to reach Diyala, a mixed Sunni-Shia province north-east of Baghdad where there had been savage fighting. It is a road on which a wrong turning could be fatal. We drove from Sulaimaniyah through the mountains, passed through the Derbandikhan tunnel and then took the road which runs beside the Diyala river, its valley a vivid streak of lush green in the dun-coloured semi desert. The area is a smuggler's paradise. At night trucks drive through the desert without lights, their drivers finding their way with night vision goggles. It is not clear what cargoes they are carrying -- presumably weapons or drugs -- and nobody has the temerity to ask.

Officials in Khanaqin had no doubt about what was happening in their province. Lt Col Ahmed Nuri Hassan, the exhausted looking commander of the federal police, said: "There is an sectarian civil war here and it is getting worse every day." The head of the local council estimated that 100 people were being killed every week. In Baquba, the provincial capital, Sunni Arabs were driving out Shia and Kurds. The army and police were divided along sectarian lines. The one Iraqi army division in Diyala was predominantly Shia and only arrested Sunni. On the day after I left Sunni and Kurdish police officers fought a gun battle in Jalula, the village I had been warned not to enter. The fighting started when Kurdish police refused to accept a new Sunni Arab police chief and his followers. Here in miniature in Diyala it was possible to see Iraq breaking up. The province is ruled by its death squads. The police say at least 9,000 people had been murdered and after such bloodshed, it is difficult to see how Sunni and Shia in the province can ever live together again.

In much of Iraq we long ago slipped down the rapids leading from crisis to catastrophe though it is only in the last six months that these dire facts have begun to be accepted abroad. For the first three years of the war Republicans in the US regularly claimed that the liberal media was ignoring signs of peace and progress in Iraq. Some right wingers even set up web sites devoted to spreading the news of American achievements in this ruined land. I remember a team from a US network news channel staying in my hotel in Baghdad complaining to me, as they buckled on their body armour and helmets, that they had been once again told by their bosses in New York, themselves under pressure from the White House, to "go and find some good news and report it."

Times have changed in Washington. The extent of the disaster in Iraq is admitted by almost all aside from President Bush. Even before the Democrats' victory in the Congressional elections on 7 November the magazine Vanity Fair commented acidly that 'the only group in the Bush camp at this point are the people who wait patiently for news of the W.M.D. and continue to believe that Saddam and Osama were once lovers.' Previous supporters of the war are showing embarrassing haste in recanting past convictions and becoming born-again critics of the White House.

These days it is in Britain alone, or more specifically in Downing Street, that policies bloodily discredited in Iraq in the years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein still get a hearing. I returned from Mosul to London earlier this month just in time to hear Tony Blair speaking at the Lord Mayor's banquet. It was a far more extraordinary performance that his audience appreciated. As the prime minister spoke with his usual Hugh Grant charm it became clear that he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing in three-and-a-half years of war.

Misconception after misconception poured from his lips. Contrary to views of his own generals and every opinion poll assessing Iraqi opinion he discounted the idea that armed resistance in Iraq is fueled by hostility to foreign occupation. Instead he sees dark forces rising in the east, dedicated like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings to principles of pure evil. The enemy, in this case, is "based on a thoroughly warped misinterpretation of Islam, which is fanatical and deadly." Even by the standard of Middle Eastern conspiracy theories it was puerile stuff. Everywhere Blair saw hidden hands -- "forces outside Iraq that are trying to create mayhem"--at work. An expert on the politics of Iraq and Lebanon recently said to me: "The most dangerous error in the Middle East today is to believe that the Shia communities in Iraq and Lebanon are pawns of Iran."

But this is exactly what the prime minister does believe. The fact that the largest Shia militia in Iraq--the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al- Sadr--is anti-Iranian and Iraqi nationalist is conveniently ignored. These misconceptions are important in terms of practical policy because they give support to the dangerous myth that if the US and Britain could only frighten or square the Iranians and Syrians then all would come right as their Shia cats-paws in Iraq and Lebanon would inevitably fall into line. In a very British way [and American too, of course -- editors] opponents of the war in Iraq have focused not on current events but on the past sins of the government in getting us into the war. No doubt it was all very wrong for Downing Street to pretend that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was a threat to the world when they knew he was not. But this emphasis on the origins of the war in Iraq has diverted attention from the fact that, going by official statements, the British government knows no more about what was going on in Iraq in 2006 than it did in 2003. The picture Blair paints of Iraq seldom touches reality at any point. For instance he says Iraqis 'voted for an explicitly non-sectarian government,' but every Iraqi knows that the vote in two parliamentary elections in 2005 went wholly along sectarian and ethnic lines. The polls were the starting pistol for the start of the civil war.

Blair steadfastly refuses to accept the fact that opposition to the American and British occupation of Iraq has been the main cause of the insurgency. The commander of the British army General Sir Richard Dannatt was almost fired for his trouble when he made the obvious point that "we should get ourselves out some time soon because our presence exacerbates the security problem." Iraq is a notoriously complicated country but the swiftest way to grasp the most important features of its politics is to look at figures from the latest of a series of opinion polls carried out by the US-based group at the end of September. These explain why Dannatt is right and Blair is wrong. The poll shows that 92 per cent of the Sunni and 62 per cent of the Shia--up from 41 per cent at the start of the year -- approve of attacks on US led forces. Only the Kurds support the occupation. Some 78 per cent of all Iraqis think that the US military presence provokes more conflict than it prevents and 71 per cent want US-led forces out of Iraq within a year.

It used to be said that at least the foreign occupation prevented a civil war but with 1,000 Iraqis being killed every week, this it is now very clearly failing to do. On the contrary it was the occupation itself that helped provoke the present civil war. I do not mean that anybody conspired in Washington and London to set Iraqis at each other's throats. It was always true that in post-Saddam Iraq there was going to be friction-- probably involving violence--between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities. But Iraqis were also forced to decide if they were for or against a foreign invader. The Sunni community was always going to fight the occupation, the Kurds to welcome it and the Shia to cooperate with the US and Britain for just so long as it served their interests. Patriotism and communal self-interest combined. Before 2003 a Sunni might see a Shia as the member of a different sect but once the war had started he started to see him as a traitor to his country.

Of course Bush and Blair argue that there is no occupation. In June 2004 sovereignty was supposedly handed back to Iraq. "Let Freedom Reign," wrote Mr Bush on the piece of paper informing him of the carefully choreographed return of power to an Iraqi government at a ceremony in the heart of the Green Zone. But the reality of power remained firmly with the US and Britain. The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said this month that he could not move a company of soldiers without seeking permission of the Coalition (the US and Britain). Officials in Mosul confirmed to me that they could not carry out a military operation without the agreement of US forces.

There is a hidden history to the occupation of Iraq which helps explain why it has proved such a disaster. In 1991 after the first Gulf war, a crucial reason why President George Bush senior did not push on to Baghdad was that he feared that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would be followed by elections that would be won in turn by Shia religious parties sympathetic to Iran. No worse outcome of the war could be imagined in Washington. After the capture of Baghdad in 2003 the US faced the same dilemma. Many of the contortions of US policy in Iraq since then have been a covert attempt to avoid or dilute the domination of Iraq's Shia majority.

For over a year the astute US envoy in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad tried to conciliate the Sunni: Bring their politicians into government, modify the federal constitution and open secret talks with the Sunni armed resistance. He failed. Attacks on US forces are on the increase. Dead and wounded US soldiers now total almost 1,000 a month. But the US is now gearing up for a fight with the Mehdi Army, the largest Shia militia. An Iraqi government will only have real legitimacy and freedom to operate when US and British troops have withdrawn.

Washington and London have to accept that if Iraq is to survive at all it will be as a loose federation run by a Shia-Kurdish alliance because together they are 80 per cent of the population. But, thanks to the miscalculations of Mr Bush and Mr Blair, the future of Iraq will be settled not by negotiations but on the battlefield.

(Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Occupation.)

2. While Iraq Burns -- by Bob Herbert/NY Times columnist

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns.

The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City — where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs — and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls that had opened for business at midnight.

A Wal-Mart in Union, N.J., was besieged by customers even before it opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday. “All I can tell you,” said a Wal-Mart employee, “is that they were fired up and ready to spend money.”

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war.

With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don’t even think about the war. They’re more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday’s test.”

His thoughts were echoed by other students, including John Cafarelli, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, who was asked if he had any friends who would be willing to join the Army. “No, definitely not,” he said. “None of my friends even really care about what’s going on in Iraq.”

This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name. While shoppers here are scrambling to put the perfect touch to their holidays with the purchase of a giant flat-screen TV or a PlayStation 3, the news out of Baghdad is of a society in the midst of a meltdown.

According to the United Nations, more than 7,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in September and October. Nearly 5,000 of those killings occurred in Baghdad, a staggering figure.

In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”

Journalists in Iraq are being “assassinated with utmost impunity,” the U.N. report said, with 18 murdered in the last two months.

Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore. They warrant maybe one sentence in a long roundup article out of Baghdad, or a passing reference — no longer than a few seconds — in a television news account of the latest political ditherings.

Since the vast majority of Americans do not want anything to do with the military or the war, the burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed.

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

3. 'Neocons' Abandon Iraq War at White House Front Door – USA Today Editorial

President John F. Kennedy's famous remark that victory has a thousand fathers and that defeat is an orphan couldn't be more apt these days. The intellectual godfathers of the ruinous Iraq war - "neoconservatives" who insisted it would be a breeze to invade Iraq and transform it into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East - are jumping ship and pointing fingers.

Their scurrying defection is a telling measure of how poorly the war is going and how bleak the outlook is. As of today, U.S. involvement in Iraq will have lasted longer than American participation in World War II. The price in American lives is approaching 3,000; the cost in dollars exceeds $300 billion. The Thanksgiving Day massacre in Baghdad, in which bombings killed and wounded hundreds in a Shiite neighborhood, only underscored Iraq's descent into chaos.

The neoconservative version of history is that the Iraq war was good idea undone by Bush administration incompetence after Saddam Hussein fell. Influential adviser Kenneth Adelman, who famously predicted Iraq would be a "cakewalk," now says, "This didn't have to be managed this bad; it's just awful." Another prime mover behind the war, former assistantDefense secretary Richard Perle, told Vanity Fair: "The decisions did not get made that should have been. ... At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."

To blame administration bungling exclusively for the Iraq debacle, however, is to learn the wrong lesson. It's true that the occupation of Iraq was mismanaged from the outset. By failing to guard massive munitions stockpiles, the administration helped arm the insurgency. And by disbanding the Iraqi army, it gave the insurgency men to use those arms. But the mistakes began with the decision to go war itself, a naive and arrogant exercise in wishful thinking that the nation can't afford to repeat.

The pretext, of course, was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that represented an imminent threat to U.S. security. In large part, however, the motivation was the neocons' belief - adopted by the administration - that ousting Saddam would create a beachhead for democracy in the Middle East. The effects, the neocons argued, would ripple through the region. The Arab public, inspired by U.S. ideals, would marginalize extremists and dictators alike, bringing peace.

U.S. policymakers would have benefited from more time reading history and less concocting rosy scenarios. In the 1920s, the British similarly believed that democracy could be imposed on a tribal culture accustomed to rule by strongmen. After a few massacres, the British learned their lesson, installed a king and retreated.

Now a bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the Bush administration and Congress are all scrambling to find a way out of the Iraq quagmire. None of the options is appealing or offers the sort of outcome the war's architects envisioned.

It's important not to buy the new self-serving line from the neoconservatives, some of whom are already beating the drums for a pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear program. Recovering the international goodwill squandered in Iraq, and dealing wisely with the threats from Iran and North Korea, requires facing the mistakes squarely.

Although, on Sunday, the 1,347-day-old Iraq war was being compared in duration to WWII, the lessons are better drawn from Vietnam. Gen. Colin Powell, secretary of State in President Bush's first term, said his Vietnam generation learned from that experience to go into conflicts only with a defined mission, an overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy - and to reassess quickly if the mission changes. Unfortunately, in Iraq, the Powell Doctrine took a back seat to neoconservative fantasies.

4. They Lied Their Way into Iraq. Now They Are Trying to Lie Their Way out.
Bush and Blair will blame anyone but themselves for the consequences of their disastrous war - even its victims
By Gary Younge/Guardian

'In the endgame," said one of the world's best-ever chess players, José Raúl Capablanca, "don't think in terms of moves but in terms of plans." The situation in Iraq is now unravelling into the bloodiest endgame imaginable. Both popular and official support for the war in those countries that ordered the invasion is already at a low and will only get lower. Whatever mandate the occupiers may have once had from their own electorates - in Britain it was none, in the US it was precarious - has now eroded. They can no longer conduct this war as they have been doing.

Simultaneously, the Iraqis are no longer able to live under occupation as they have been doing. According to a UN report released last week, 3,709 Iraqi civilians died in October - the highest number since the invasion began. And the cycle of religious and ethnic violence has escalated over the past week.

The living flee. Every day up to 2,000 Iraqis go to Syria and another 1,000 to Jordan, according to the UN's high commissioner for refugees. Since the bombing of Samarra's Shia shrine in February more than 1,000 Iraqis a day have been internally displaced, a recent report by the UN-affiliated International Organisation for Migration found last month.

Those in the west who fear that withdrawal will lead to civil war are too late - it is already here. Those who fear that pulling out will make matters worse have to ask themselves: how much worse can it get? Since yesterday American troops have been in Iraq longer than they were in the second world war. When the people you have "liberated" by force are no longer keen on the "freedom" you have in store for them, it is time to go.

Any individual moves announced from now on - summits, reports, benchmarks, speeches - will be ignored unless they help to provide the basis for the plan towards withdrawal. Occupation got us here; it cannot get us out. Neither Tony Blair nor George Bush is in control of events any longer. Both domestically and internationally, events are controlling them. So long as they remain in office they can determine the moves; but they have neither the power nor the credibility to shape what happens next.

So the crucial issue is no longer whether the troops leave in defeat and leave the country in disarray - they will - but the timing of their departure and the political rationale that underpins it.

For those who lied their way into this war are now trying to lie their way out of it. Franco-German diplomatic obstruction, Arab indifference, media bias, UN weakness, Syrian and Iranian meddling, women in niqabs and old men with placards - all have been or surely will be blamed for the coalition's defeat. As one American columnist pointed out last week, we wait for Bush and Blair to conduct an interview with Fox News entitled If We Did It, in which they spell out how they would have bungled this war if, indeed, they had done so.

So, just as Britain allegedly invaded for the good of the Iraqis, the timing of their departure will be conducted with them in mind. The fact that - according to the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett - it will coincide with Blair leaving office in spring is entirely fortuitous.

More insidious is the manner in which the Democrats, who are about to take over the US Congress, have framed their arguments for withdrawal. Last Saturday the newly elected House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, suggested that the Americans would pull out because the Iraqis were too disorganised and self-obsessed. "In the days ahead, the Iraqis must make the tough decisions and accept responsibility for their future," he said. "And the Iraqis must know: our commitment, while great, is not unending."

It is absurd to suggest that the Iraqis - who have been invaded, whose country is currently occupied, who have had their police and army disbanded and their entire civil service fired - could possibly be in a position to take responsibility for their future and are simply not doing so.

For a start, it implies that the occupation is a potential solution when it is in fact the problem. This seems to be one of the few things on which Sunni and Shia leaders agree. "The roots of our problems lie in the mistakes the Americans committed right from the beginning of their occupation," Sheik Ali Merza, a Shia cleric in Najaf and a leader of the Islamic Dawa party, told the Los Angeles Times last week.

"Since the beginning, the US occupation drove Iraq from bad to worse," said Harith al-Dhari, the nation's most prominent Sunni cleric, after he fled to Egypt this month facing charges of supporting terrorism.

Also, it leaves intact the bogus premise that the invasion was an attempt at liberation that has failed because some squabbling ingrates, incapable of working in their own interests, could not grasp the basic tenets of western democracy. In short, it makes the victims responsible for the crime.

Withdrawal, when it happens, will be welcome. But its nature and the rationale given for it are not simply issues of political point-scoring. They will lay the groundwork for what comes next for two main reasons.

First, because, while withdrawal is a prerequisite for any lasting improvement in Iraq, it will not by itself solve the nation's considerable problems.

Iraq has suffered decades of colonial rule, 30 years of dictatorship and three years of military occupation. Most recently, it has been trashed by a foreign invader. The troops must go. But the west has to leave enough resources behind to pay for what it broke. For that to happen, the anti-war movement in the west must shift the focus of our arguments to the terms of withdrawal while explaining why this invasion failed and our responsibilities to the Iraqi people that arise as a result of that failure.

If we don't, we risk seeing Bono striding across airport tarmac 10 years hence with political leaders who demand good governance and democratic norms in the Gulf, as though Iraq got here by its own reckless psychosis. Eviscerated of history, context and responsibility, it will stand somewhere between basket case and charity case: like Africa, it will be misunderstood as a sign not of our culpability but of our superiority.

Second, because unless we understand what happened in Iraq we are doomed to continue repeating these mistakes elsewhere. Ten days ago, during a visit to Hanoi, Bush was asked whether Vietnam offered any lessons. He said: "We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while ... We'll succeed unless we quit."

In other words, the problem with Vietnam was not that the US invaded a sovereign country, bombed it to shreds, committed innumerable atrocities, murdered more than 500,000 Vietnamese - more than half of whom were civilians - and lost about 58,000 American servicemen. The problem with Vietnam was that they lost. And the reason they lost was not because they could neither sustain domestic support nor muster sufficient local support for their invasion, nor that their military was ill equipped for guerrilla warfare. They lost because it takes a while to complete such a tricky job, and the American public got bored.

"You learn more from a game you lose than a game you win," argued the chess great Capablanca. True, but only if you heed the lessons and then act on them.

5. From Desert Fatigues to Prada
War Chic

The November issue of the magazine Marie Clare did an outstanding job of in remedying the media's woeful lack of coverage of the impact of war on fashion. With several hard-hitting articles and a photo spread, MC gives this aspect of war reporting it's proper due.

The magazine scored a real coup by getting the first print interview ever with Lynndie England since her incarceration for her role in Abu Ghraib. The first paragraph immediately gives us what we want to know,

“Lynndie England smells like soap. She rubs her hands constantly, and her cuticles are raw and nearly bleeding. Her hair is pulled back in four tortoiseshell clips, and it's streaked with premature gray. She is no longer the waiflike girl with a devilish grin who appeared in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos. On this warm fall afternoon, England, 23, now 30 pounds heavier, wears short-sleeve Army fatigues and black, waffle-soled boots. Her name is stitched across her chest. Dangling from her waist is a yellow-and-white badge that reads, ‘Prisoner.’"

There you have it, what she smells like, the condition of her hair and nails, what she is wearing, her footgear and an allusion to Hester Prynne.

Fortunately, the author had the good sense to abandon the glam objectification genre after the first paragraph and the rest of the piece actually does a fine job of looking at who England is, not what she looks like.

But wait, there's more, much more. A back page piece about Army Major Tammy Duckworth addresses issues first. But then, suddenly remembering the publication for whom she is writing, the interviewer asks the inevitable, "What are the fashion challenges?" Duckworth answers with a joke about her missing legs being her excuse for wearing larger size pants and that yes of course she is sad that she can't wear the latest high-wedge heels, but that is nothing "compared to being alive."

The magazine also has an interesting article about women newscasters in the Middle East, talking about a Saudi woman who went public with pictures of herself after she was assaulted by her husband. But when they interview reporter May Chidiak, who lost a leg and an arm in a car bombing in Beirut, we learn that with a cane, she can wear high heels. She can already handle 2 inch heels, her goal is the 4-inchers.

Finally, there is the photo spread that perhaps should have been titled, "Runway: Iraq," in which Marie Claire features the wives of soldiers showing off the latest fashions. Kristi McCoy, wife of a soldier named James, is shown wearing a $2455 Prada dress along with a Catherine Angiel necklace prices at $1340. At least the sidebar says she is wearing this, it is apparently hidden by the baby she is holding who curiously is clad only in a diaper. As Anna Froula, a doctoral candidate at the University of Kentucky who first noticed this curious edition of MC points out, it is truly peculiar to photograph these women in clothes they could not possibly afford on the pay their spouses make in the military.

This sorry objectification of the role of women in the context of militarism does however illustrate the expanding number of visual archetypes that we now have of women in war. Indeed, today's imagery goes far beyond Rosie the Riveter. The wives and sweethearts left behind, England, Duckworth, Jessica Lynch, as well as Iraqi and Afghani women have now become the feminine archetypes of militarism. As Froula makes clear in her research about England and Lynch , we need to do some serious deconstructing of the images of these women that have been presented to us by the media and the military in order to really see the truth of how women participate in militarism and how that impacts their lives.

(Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network,