Adam Ash

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

Friday, June 22, 2007

US Diary: fuckhead Bush, his fucked war, our fucked troops, our fucked nation, etc.

1. George Bush and the First Person Possessive
by Michael Winship / The Messenger Post (New York)


There’s a famous, possibly apocryphal story about Lyndon Johnson visiting Vietnam during his presidency. On a carrier flight deck, he started striding toward a helicopter when a Navy officer said to him, “No, Mr. President, your helicopter is this way.”

LBJ looked him in the eye and said, “Son, they’re ALL my helicopters.”

A similar story on a slightly smaller scale made the rounds of Washington during the early days of the current presidency. It was in April 2001, after China seized and then released a US Navy EP-3 surveillance aircraft. During a medical appointment the doctor asked George W. Bush what had been the most difficult part of his presidency so far. He replied, “When the Chinese took my airplane.”

Fast forward more than six long years, post-9/11 years of disasters at home and abroad, incompetence, abuses of power, stonewalling, obstruction of justice, etc. I could make a longer list but it would paralyze you like the monologue of that guy in “Forrest Gump” who goes on about all the ways you can cook shrimp.

You’d think that with such a shambles in his wake and his popularity at an all-time low, George Bush would at least partially have relinquished his pride of ownership. Not so.

Here he is the other day, responding to the aborted attempt in the Senate to legislatively declare “no confidence” in Attorney General “Fredo” Gonzales:

“They can try to have their votes of no confidence,” the president said, “but it’s not going to determine — make the determination — who serves in my government.”

MY government? Now that’s entitlement. And you thought George Bush didn’t have a vision for America. Unfortunately, it’s one big MySpace page, from sea to shining sea. Or, rather, shining me.

Luckily, as this lame duck presidency wobbily waddles toward the sunset, cooler heads are prevailing in both the public and private sectors. Read, for example, last week’s majority decision in the case of Al Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari national held in military custody. Written by US Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, it states that simply designating someone an “enemy combatant” does not allow the White House to imprison them indefinitely without charges.

“The President cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention,” Justice Motz wrote. “… To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and the country.

“For a court to uphold a claim to such extraordinary power would do more than render lifeless the Suspension Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the rights to criminal process in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments; it would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. It is that power — were a court to recognize it — that could lead all our laws ‘to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces.’ We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.”

Wow. When it comes to compelling rhetoric Judge Motz could give the Founding Fathers’ debating team a run for the loving cup. In fact, she leaned on their words to back up her case: “In the Declaration of Independence our forefathers lodged the complaint that the King of Great Britain had ‘affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power’ and objected that the King had ‘depriv[ed] us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.’ A resolute conviction that civilian authority should govern the military animated the framing of the Constitution.”

Motz is a Clinton appointee, so subject to the slings and arrows of the right. But similar concerns were addressed last month by a group calling itself the American Freedom Agenda, founded by three leaders of the anti-bleeding heart lobby: David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, one of the House managers of Clinton’s impeachment; and the writer and conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie.

They’ve asked each GOP presidential candidate to sign a ten-point pledge that reads, in part, “I hereby pledge that if elected President of the United States I will undertake the following to restore the Constitution’s checks and balances: to honor fundamental protections against injustice, and to eschew usurpations of legislative or judicial power. These are keystones of national security and individual freedom.”

Other points, as reported by Charlie Savage in the June 12 Boston Globe, “include renouncing the use of presidential signing statements to claim a right to disobey laws; ending threats to prosecute journalists who write about classified matters; and promising to use regular courts rather than military commissions to try terrorism suspects…

“The group also plans to lobby Congress to pass legislation imposing stronger checks and balances on the presidency. It is urging debate moderators to ask questions of the candidates about their views on the limits of presidential power, and it is planning to host events to raise voter awareness of the issue.”

Theirs may be a quixotic quest. So far, the only candidate to take the pledge is libertarian Congressman Ron Paul. But what the Freedom Agenda proposes would take us a long way to restoring a government that represents “We, the People,” and not, as the title of that old George Harrison Beatles song goes, “I Me Mine.”

(Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes this weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York.)


2. A Culture of Atrocity
by Chris Hedges/TruthDig.com


All troops, when they occupy and battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza or Vietnam, are swiftly placed in what the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton terms “atrocity-producing situations.” In this environment, surrounded by a hostile population, simple acts such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke or driving down a street means you can be killed. This constant fear and stress leads troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy and hard to find. The rage that soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed over time to innocent civilians who are seen as supporting the insurgents. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral one. It is a leap from killing-the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm-to murder-the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you. The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing. American Marines and soldiers have become, after four years of war, acclimated to atrocity.

The American killing project is not described in these terms to the distant public. The politicians still speak in the abstract of glory, honor and heroism, of the necessity of improving the world, in lofty phrases of political and spiritual renewal. The press, as in most wars, is slavishly compliant. The reality of the war-the fact that the occupation forces have become, along with the rampaging militias, a source of terror to most Iraqis-is not transmitted to the American public. The press chronicles the physical and emotional wounds visited on those who kill in our name. The Iraqis, those we kill, are largely nameless, faceless dead. Those who kill large numbers of people always claim it as a regrettable but necessary virtue.

The reality and the mythic narrative of war collide when embittered combat veterans return home. They find themselves estranged from the world around them, a world that still believes in the myth of war and the virtues of the nation.

Tina Susman in a June 12 article in the Los Angeles Times gave readers a rare glimpse into this side of the war. She wrote about a 17-year-old Iraqi boy killed by the wild, random fire unleashed by American soldiers in a Baghdad neighborhood following a bomb blast. These killings, which Iraqis say occur daily, are seldom confirmed, but in this case the boy was the son of a local Los Angeles Times employee.

Iraqi physicians, overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, published a study last year in the British medical journal The Lancet. The study estimated that 655,000 more people than normal have died in Iraq since coalition forces invaded the country in March 2003. This is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech last December.

Of the total 655,000 estimated “excess deaths,” 601,000 resulted from violence. The remaining deaths occurred from disease and other causes, according to the study. This is about 500 additional violent deaths per day throughout the country.

Lt. Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran who is a professor of international relations at Boston University, estimated last year that U.S. troops had killed “tens of thousands” of innocent Iraqis through accidents or reckless fire.

Official figures have ceased to exist. The Iraqi government no longer releases the number of civilian casualties and the U.S. military does not usually give reports about civilians killed or wounded by U.S. forces.

“It’s a psychological thing. When one U.S. soldier gets killed or injured, they shoot in vengeance,” Alaa Safi told the Los Angeles Times. He said his brother, Ahmed, was killed April 4 when U.S. troops riddled the streets of their southwestern Baghdad neighborhood with bullets after a sniper attack.

War is the pornography of violence. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it “the lust of the eye” and warns believers against it. War allows us to engage in primal impulses we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy life. It allows us to destroy not only things but human beings. In that moment of wholesale destruction, we wield the power of the divine, the power to give or annihilate life. Armed units become crazed by the frenzy of destruction. All things, including human beings, become objects-objects to either gratify or destroy or both. Almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.

Human beings are machine-gunned and bombed from the air, automatic grenade launchers pepper hovels and neighborhoods with high-powered explosives, and convoys tear through Iraq, speeding freight trains of death. These soldiers and Marines have at their fingertips the heady ability to call in firepower that obliterates landscapes and villages. The moral universe is turned upside down. No one walks away uninfected. War thrusts us into a vortex of barbarity, pain and fleeting ecstasy. It thrusts us into a world where law is of little consequence.

It takes little in wartime to turn ordinary men and women into killers. Most give themselves willingly to the seduction of unlimited power to destroy. All feel the peer pressure to conform. Few, once in battle, find the strength to resist gratuitous slaughter. Physical courage is common on a battlefield. Moral courage is not.

Military machines and state bureaucracies, which seek to make us obey, seek also to silence those who return from war and speak the truth. Besides, the public has little desire to puncture the mythic, heroic narrative. The essence of war, which is death, is carefully masked from view. The few lone journalists who attempt to speak the truth about war, to describe the experience of constantly being on the receiving end of American firepower, soon become pariahs, no longer able to embed with the military, dine out with officials in the Green Zone or get press credentials. And so the vast majority of the press lies to us, although not overtly; it is the lie of omission, but it is a lie nonetheless.

The veterans who return, even if they do not speak about the atrocities they have committed or witnessed in Iraq, will spend the rest of their lives coping with what they have done. They will suffer delayed reactions to stress. They will endure, as have those who returned from Vietnam, a crisis of faith. The God they knew, or thought they knew, failed them. The high priests of our civic religion, from politicians to preachers to television pundits, who promised them glory and honor through war betrayed them.

War is always about betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics and of troops by politicians. This bitter knowledge of betrayal is seeping into the ranks of the American military. It is bringing us a new wave of enraged and disenfranchised veterans who will never again trust the country that sent them to war.

We make our heroes out of clay. We laud their gallant deeds. We give them uniforms with colored ribbons for the acts of violence they committed or endured. They are our false repositories of glory and honor, of power, of self-righteousness, of patriotism and self-worship, all that we want to believe about ourselves. They are our plaster saints, the icons we cheer to defend us and make us and our nation great. They are the props of our demented civic religion, our love of power and force, our belief in our right as a chosen nation to wield this force against the weak. This is our nation’s idolatry of itself.

Prophets are not those who speak of piety and duty from pulpits-there are few people in pulpits worth listening to. The prophets are the battered wrecks of men and women who return from Iraq and find the courage to speak the halting words we do not want to hear, words that we must hear and digest in order to know ourselves. These veterans, the ones who dare to tell the truth, have seen and tasted how war plunges us into barbarity, perversion, pain and an unchecked orgy of death. And it is their testimonies, if we take the time to listen, which alone can save us.

(Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”)


3. Re-open investigation of Abu Ghraib
by Joseph L. Galloway/McClatchy Newspapers


We were reminded again this week that in this administration, no good deed goes unpunished, and that no scandal is so great that it can't be hidden until it's forgotten.

The sad spectacle that transpired inside the crumbling walls of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came roaring back to life with Seymour Hersh's on-target article in The New Yorker magazine telling the story of an honest general who investigated and reported on events that shocked the world.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Taguba, U.S. Army retired, was an accidental choice to conduct one of 17 Pentagon investigations of the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. He was grabbed because he wore two stars, and they needed someone of that rank to probe a case that involved a one-star general.

The trouble was that Tony Taguba was honest and thorough and reported in detail, early and often, to his superiors on the evidence he was uncovering - film and photos of abuses far worse than those the public saw. There was sexual abuse of female prisoners by their American military guards and forced sex acts between a father and his young son.

He wasn't authorized to investigate any higher up the chain of command than the hapless Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, and so he didn't.

But when his report was completed, Taguba had a hard time getting anyone in the Pentagon - where the powers that be were determined to push responsibility down to a staff sergeant and even lower ranking guards - to read it.

Both President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld went on record declaring that the first they knew of the Abu Ghraib scandal was when they saw the less-offensive photographs in the media.

If you believe that, I've got some oceanfront property in Arizona that I'd like to sell you.

Within 48 hours of the photographs first coming to the notice of the high command in Baghdad, the back channel was rippling with e-mails detailing the terrible scandal that had befallen the American military and its civilian bosses.

As the investigations unfolded, it was clear that the primary motivation of most of them was to protect Rumsfeld and the president from any blame or responsibility for what had transpired at Abu Ghraib. Blame, unlike cream, settles as close to the bottom of any bureaucracy as can be arranged.

For his honesty in revealing what he uncovered in Iraq in his report and in testimony before Republican-controlled congressional committees, Tony Taguba found himself sidelined for a decent interval, then forced to retire.

The president and the secretary of defense expressed their shock and surprise that a few rogue reserve military police soldiers - a few "bad apples" - had treated prisoners in their charge so badly.

That when it was obvious that President Bush and his White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had done everything they could to unleash military and CIA interrogators from the constraints of the Geneva Convention and common human decency.

There are those who know that Rumsfeld himself ordered Maj. Gen. Geoff Miller, who ran things at the detention center at Guantanamo, Cuba, to take a "tiger team" of specialists in rough interrogation techniques to Abu Ghraib in the summer of 2003 and share their knowledge.

A dozen people in the chain of command were reprimanded or, in the case of Gen. Karpinski, reduced in rank. Half a dozen enlisted reserve MP's were court-martialed and given prison sentences for their actions.

The president and his men, and Rumsfeld and his, happily put Abu Ghraib behind them and went merrily along knowing that the network of secret CIA prisons where high-value prisoners were subjected to extreme interrogation techniques was still secret.

The examples made of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and Gen. Taguba weren't lost on military commanders in the field or at home: If you dare speak truth to power in this administration, your career is toast, and any hopes you have of landing a cushy job in one of the defense industry behemoths are finished.

It's long past time for Congress to reopen the matter of who's really responsible for Abu Ghraib and let the chips fall where they may - even if that means they pile up around the retirement home of a former secretary of defense or the gates of the White House itself.

How many more high crimes and misdemeanors will be revealed in the months to come? How long is it going to take to clean, polish and restore the White House and the Pentagon and all the other agencies of our government when this bunch moves out?

Let's begin right here by serving subpoenas on all the rats that are lining up to skitter down the hawsers of a sinking ship, and getting to the TOP of all the sorry scandals of this administration, one by one.

You can read Seymour Hersh's article at the New Yorker.


4. Bush's Amazing Achievement
By Jonathan Freedland /NY Review of Books


Three books reviewed:
i) Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic by Chalmers Johnson
ii) Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower by Zbigniew Brzezinski
iii) Statecraft and How to Restore America's Standing in the World by Dennis Ross

1.
One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated. Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.

Last December's Baker-Hamilton report, drawn up by a bipartisan panel of ten Washington eminences with perhaps a couple of centuries of national security experience between them and not a radical bone in their collective body, described the mess the Bush team had left in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." The seventy-nine recommendations they made amounted to a demand that the administration repudiate its entire policy and start again. In the words of former congressman Lee Hamilton, James Baker's co-chair and a rock-solid establishment figure, "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward." [1]

So it comes as less of a surprise than once it might have to see Dennis Ross and Zbigniew Brzezinski—two further fixtures of the national security elite—step forward to slam the administration in terms that would, in an earlier era, have seemed uncouth for men of their rank. Neither Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, nor Brzezinski, a conservative Democrat and cold war hawk, could be dismissed as Nation -reading, Howard Dean types. Yet in withering new books they both eviscerate the Bush record, writing in the tone of exasperated elders who handed over the family business to a new generation, only to see their successors drive the firm into bankruptcy. Both books offer rescue plans for a US foreign policy they consider to be in tatters.

Accordingly, their arguments are less striking than the fact that it is Ross and Brzezinski who are making them. Those who have been listening to the antiwar movement since 2002 will nod along at this assessment of the Iraq adventure:
It is hard to exaggerate the Bush administration's fundamental miscalculations on Iraq, including but not limited to unrealistic policy objectives; fundamental intelligence failures; catastrophically poor understanding of what would characterize the post-Saddam period, and completely unrealistic planning as a result; denial of the existence of an insurgency for several months; and the absence of a consistent explanation to the American people or the international community about the reasons for the war.
Small wonder that after nearly four years of warfare, Iraq has been a disaster, costing thousands of lives, requiring the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, stretching our forces and reserve system to the breaking point, and becoming a magnet for terrorists and hostility toward the United States throughout the Muslim world.

But they should marvel that it comes from Dennis Ross, a loyal former lieutenant of Baker's who writes glowingly of Bush père and who was as comfortable in a Republican administration as a Democratic one. If they do not, then it is only because Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, Scowcroft, and even the late Gerald Ford have made Republican attacks on the Bush record since 2001 seem normal.

Similarly, a sentence like this has been uttered in European chancelleries every week for five years:
The Iraq War in all its aspects has turned into a calamity—in the way it was internally decided, externally promoted, and has been conducted—and it has already stamped the Bush presidency as a historical failure.

Yet that verdict comes not from some Venusian in Paris or Berlin but from Brzezinksi, that hardheaded Martian creature of Washington. Lest there be any doubt, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter issues a report card on the three presidencies since the end of the cold war. George H.W. Bush gets a B, praised for his calm management of the expiration of the Soviet Union and the united international front he constructed for his own desert confrontation with Saddam. Clinton manages a C, credited for effective championing of globalization and oversight of NATO enlargement, but debited for allowing too many important matters, especially nuclear proliferation, to drift. Bush's son is slapped with an unambiguous F.

That verdict is rooted in the administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq, which can't help but form the heart of both books. Judged even by the lights of Bush's own "war on terror" it has been a spectacular failure. It took a country that had been free of jihadist militants and turned it into their most fecund breeding ground; it took a country that posed no threat to the United States and made it into a place where thousands of Americans, not to mention many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis, have been killed. And it diverted resources from the task that should have been uppermost after September 11, namely the hunting down of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, allowing them to slip out of reach.

What's more, Bush's "war on terror" did bin Laden's work for him. Brzezinksi is not alone in suggesting that it was a mistake to treat September 11 as an act of war, rather than as an outrageous crime; in so doing, the administration endowed al-Qaeda with the status it craved. What followed was a series of missteps that seemed bent on vindicating the jihadists' claim of a war of the West against Islam. Whether it was the invasion of Iraq or the early talk of a "crusade" or the abuses at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration fed violent Islamism all it needed to recruit young men the world over. What began as a fringe sect has become, thanks in no small measure to the Bush administration, a global movement able to draw on deep wells of support.

There were ancillary effects. North Korea and Iran, in addition to Saddam Hussein's Iraq the other two charter members of the axis of evil, became more dangerous in the Bush years, advancing further down the nuclear road. That was partly because, with the US tied down in Iraq, they were given a free hand; and partly because the thumping of Saddam had taught would-be nuclear powers a crucial lesson. As Ross puts it, "We attacked Iraq, which did not have nuclear weapons, but have avoided doing the same with the North Koreans, who may have as many as twelve." The 2003 invasion served as a glossy advertisement for the protective power of nuclear arms.

Both Ross and Brzezinski reserve special contempt for Bush's handling of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, shifting the US position from that of an honest broker, albeit one sympathetic to one side, to a partisan ready to indulge whatever course Israel chose to adopt. Here Ross draws on his experience as Middle East envoy during the years of the Oslo peace process, explaining how disengagement by the Bush administration has not only prevented progress but also actively aggravated the conflict. Both authors lay out how the administration's refusal to undertake the hard work of peacemaking has deprived the Palestinians of the state they have craved so long, denied Israel the long-term security it needs, and allowed the sore that most poisons Muslim attitudes toward the West to fester.

For those with the stamina to face it, there are further indictments in both books of every aspect of US foreign policy, from the failure to take a lead on dealing with climate change to the distracted inattention to the rise of China. Some of these strategic blunders relate once again to the invasion of Iraq, whether it be the needless estrangement of European allies or the avoidable driving into a corner of Iran, whose influence from Baghdad to Beirut has self-evidently increased.

The accumulated result has been a plunge in global esteem for the United States. A survey in January 2007 for the BBC World Service found that only 29 percent of those polled in eighteen countries believed the US was playing a "mainly positive role in the world," a fall of eleven points in two years. [2] As Brzezinski writes,
Because of Bush's self-righteously unilateral conduct of US foreign policy after 9/11, the evocative symbol of America in the eyes of much of the world ceased to be the Statue of Liberty and instead became the Guantánamo prison camp.

It's hard to read Ross and Brzezinksi without coming to share their nostalgia for the steady, realistic, and grounded statecraft of George H.W. Bush in contrast with the faith-based pursuit of neoconservative fantasy that has passed for international affairs under his son.

2.
Scathing as they are, these books are mere slaps on the wrist compared to Nemesis , the third volume in Chalmers Johnson's blistering trilogy, which stands as the centerpiece of the American Empire Project, a series of works published by Metropolitan Books examining recent changes in America's strategic thinking, particularly under the Bush administration, and the consequences of those changes at home and abroad. The first in Johnson's series, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire , argued that the United States had, particularly through the covert activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, spilled so much blood and caused so much damage in other people's countries that it was only a matter of time before it felt the wrath of those nations' vengeance. (The term "blowback," Johnson concedes, was not his own coinage: the CIA used it following its involvement in the 1953 overthrow of Iran's elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, an event that, according to Johnson, led to the blowback of the 1979 revo-lution and the installation by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of the anti-American theocracy which has ruled ever since.) Blowback was published in March 2000, making little impact. It took only eighteen months, however, for Blowback suddenly to look chillingly prescient, winning an audience for Johnson he might otherwise have lacked.

For while Brzezinski in particular edges up to the outer limits of the Washington foreign policy consensus, Johnson unabashedly stands far outside it. Ross and Brzezinski, as former security officials, take as their premise the belief that the United States should be the dominant force in international relations; Brzezinski goes so far as to dub Bush, Clinton, and Bush as "Global Leader" I, II, and III. The chief complaint of both Brzezinski and Ross is that the current president has fumbled this designated role. Johnson's starting point is quite different: he brands as imperial arrogance the very assumption that America should extend its reach across the planet (and beyond, into the heavens).

The clue is in the subtitle: "The Last Days of the American Republic." Johnson joins those who urge Americans, despite their anti-imperial origins in ejecting King George, to see that they have succeeded both ancient Rome and nineteenth-century Britain in becoming the empire of their age. This impulse became fashionable in the post–September 11 period, including among those who saw the imperial mission in a benign light. [3] Johnson's perspective is very different. He wants the scales to fall from American eyes so that the nation can see the truth about its role in the world, a truth he finds ugly.

Scholars can make a parlor game of compare and contrast between Washington and Rome, and the parallels are indeed striking. [4] Both rank as the predominant military powers of their time, Rome brooking no competition, while, by Johnson's reckoning, US military spending exceeds that of all the other defense budgets on earth combined. In each case, military strength both fosters and is fostered by technological prowess: while Roman armies built the straight roads that served as the arteries of their conquered lands, so the US Department of Defense incubated the information superhighway, the Internet that now girdles the globe.

The Romans often preferred to exercise power through friendly client regimes, rather than direct rule: until Jay Garner and L. Paul Bremer became US proconsuls in Baghdad, that was the American method too. Rome even took in the scions of their defeated peoples' leading families, the better to prepare them for their future as Rome's puppets; perhaps comparable are Washington's elite private schools, full of the "pro-Western" Arab kings, South American presidents, and Afri-can leaders of the future. Sometimes the approach backfired, then and now. Several of those who rebelled against Rome had earlier been sponsored as pliant allies; their contemporary counterparts would surely be Saddam Hussein, a former US ally against Iran, and the one-time CIA-funded "freedom fighter," Osama bin Laden.

Still, Johnson is in deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it's just that Americans are blind to them. America is an "empire of bases," he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost. Official figures speak of 737 US military bases in foreign countries, adding up to an armed American presence, whether large or small, in 132 of the 190 member states of the United Nations.

Johnson reckons the number is actually higher, if one includes those bases about which the Pentagon is coy. The 2005 Base Structure Report omits to mention, for example, garrisons in Kosovo, as well as bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though it is well known that the US established a vast presence in both the Persian Gulf and Central Asia after September 11. (Admittedly, the US was evicted from its base in Uzbekistan in 2005.) Nor does the Pentagon ledger include the extensive military and espionage installations it maintains in Britain, estimated to be worth some $5 billion, since these are nominally facilities of the Royal Air Force. "If there were an honest account, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no-one—possibly not even the Pentagon —knows the exact number for sure," writes Johnson. Intriguingly, he notes that the thirty-eight large and medium-sized US facilities around the world, mostly air and naval bases, match almost exactly both the thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons Britain maintained at its imperial peak in 1898 and the thirty-seven major sites used by the Romans to police the empire from Britannia to Egypt, Hispania to Armenia in 117 AD. "Perhaps," muses Johnson, "the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty."

Precise figures are hard to come by, but there are an estimated 325,000 US military personnel deployed abroad, often alongside dependents and large numbers of civilians, most of them living in sealed compounds, each one a little island of America. As Johnson showed in his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire , this is a parallel world that has its own airline, the Air Mobility Command, connecting one base to another, and an elaborate system, known as Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), dedicated to ensuring that America's imperial servants feel they have never left home. They can be entertained in their own multiplexes playing the latest blockbusters, amused by satellite television airing American shows, and fed by fully stocked branches of Burger King. Johnson spares no detail:
Some of the "rest-and-recreation" facilities include the armed forces ski center at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps, over two hundred military golf courses around the world, some seventy-one Learjets and other luxury aircraft to fly admirals and generals to such watering holes, and luxury hotels for our troops and their families in Tokyo, Seoul, on the Italian Riviera, at Florida's Disney World, and many other places.

The most recent addition to the empire is perhaps the most arresting. The new US embassy in Baghdad is, despite its name, a base. It is set inside a 104-acre compound, making it "six times larger than the UN, as big as Vatican City, and costing $592 million to build." It will be defended by blast walls and ground-to-air missiles, and have its own apartment buildings, along with its own electricity, water supply, and sewage system. (In a dry aside, Johnson notes that "like the former American embassy in Saigon, the Baghdad embassy will have one or more helipads on the roofs.") Life will continue here as it already goes on in the US-enforced Green Zone, complete with its swimming pools, dry-cleaning outlets, and around-the-clock availability of pork in the mess canteen, as cosseted and disconnected from the surrounding reality as Happy Valley was from the rest of Kenya. [5]

Johnson argues this point in the same way he presents his entire case, through the accumulation of cold numbers and hard facts. Little of his material is drawn from primary research; rather Johnson scours published sources and draws facts together to form a picture few others are willing to see. He doesn't labor the imperial analogies, but the similarities are clear. While Rome used to tax its colonies, the US expects those who host American bases to do their bit for "burden sharing," paying for their own protection, as it were. Japan pays up most: $4.4 billion in 2002. These arrangements are presented as voluntary, but Johnson is skillful at showing how, stage by stage, the host countries have little hope of showing their American guests the door.

In some respects, the parallel with the British Empire is the more striking, with the defeated and there-fore reliable nations of Japan and Germany playing the role Britain once assigned to its dominions in South Africa or New Zealand. More import-antly, the British told themselves to the very end that they were only ruling other parts of the world, painting the map pink, from the noblest of intentions. Their goal was to bring civilization to the dark continents, their rhetorical fervor no less than the Americans of today who swear their sole purpose is the export of democracy.

Some, even among American foreign policy's sternest critics, accept that self-description. William Pfaff has recently written that today's Americans, like the British before them, are engaged in something other than crude, acquisitive imperialism. If that was their goal, if Iraq really was all about oil, as many in the antiwar movement have long insisted, then the US could simply have annexed the relevant areas and installed a dictator. But Pfaff argues that the American purpose is of a different order. While "empires usually leave their subjects as they find them," he wrote, "colonizers want to teach new values, convert the hearts and—so to speak—save the souls of the colonized." Iraq has been, wrote Pfaff, an exercise in "value conversion," seeking to win the country for Western-style government and market capitalism. [6]

I suspect that Chalmers Johnson would snort at the notion that Americans are well-meaning colonizers, set only on saving the souls of their subject peoples. For Johnson, the talk of value conversion is only so much fluff, designed to win the public support that would be absent for a naked smash-and-grab raid on a sovereign state. All imperial adventures have disguised themselves as civilizing missions; even the Spanish conquistadors of the sixteenth century claimed to be freeing from superstition and backwardness the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca peoples they crushed. In this reading, the rhetoric is only rhetoric. America's purpose is the same as imperialism's ever was, to allow the foreign power safe and unimpeded access to whatever pickings the plundered nation has to offer.

What complicates the picture is the sincerity, naive as it may be, of so many of those neoconservative dreamers, perhaps extending to the President himself. Clearly they, no less than their British predecessors, believe, or believed, that they are engaged in the work of liberation rather than conquest. Are they themselves deceived by shadowy forces who use the veneer of spreading democracy to conceal a more base purpose? Or is it instead that imperialism, once in motion, exerts a momentum of its own?

3.
While they often converge on the same point, Johnson enters this discussion from an angle different from that of Noam Chomsky and the traditional anti-imperialist left. He certainly has sympathy for those who have found themselves on the receiving end of America's sense of manifest destiny, including the luckless Japanese who have had to endure the boorishness and sometimes outright brutality of the 50,000 US troops, military-related civilians, and their dependents stationed in Okinawa. But his is a patriot's passion: his motive is to save the American republic he loves. While Chomsky argues that American guilt can be traced back to the Constitution —he disapprovingly quotes James Madison's insistence that the new Republic should "protect the minority of the opulent against the majority" [7] — Johnson reveres that document and the careful balance of powers it constructed. His fear is that America's steady descent into imperialism renders those arrangements unsustainable, just as the rise of the Roman Empire ensured the slow death of the Roman Republic.

This is the core of his argument, that by extending its reach in the world America is not only endangering itself physically, by increasing the risk of blowback, but bankrupting itself, financially, constitutionally, and morally. The economic evidence is devastating, a succession of numbers each more stark than the last. The annual Pentagon budget, which falls short of $500 billion, is far from the whole story. There are also the separately accounted costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which stood in 2006 at approximately $450 billion since their inception. When those sums are combined with military spending by agencies other than the Pentagon, the national defense outlay for 2007 reaches $622 billion. Johnson would have us add to that figure the ongoing costs of wars past, including the lifetime care of the seriously wounded ($68 billion) and widows' pensions, as well as State Department subsidies paid to foreign countries to encourage their purchase of US-made weapons ($23 billion). That would still exclude the interest paid on the share of the national debt incurred by military spending, for which Johnson cites one estimate of $138.7 billion. Even on the most conservative reckoning, the US is spending more in real terms on defense now than at any time since the Second World War. If it accounts for a relatively modest share of GDP, per-haps less than 5 percent, that is only because the US economy is now so much bigger than it was. [8]

What's driving this is a nexus of military, political, and financial interests, all of whom benefit from ever-increasing military spending. Johnson provides an anatomy of one particularly egregious example, the expansion into space weaponry represented by the so-called National Missile Defense program (NMD). Patiently he demonstrates why a system aimed at intercepting nuclear bombs before they can land on America does not and could not work. For one thing, no one has yet worked out how to identify a hostile launch and no interceptor has yet been designed that can tell the difference between an incoming warhead and a decoy. The result is that NMD is nothing more than a boondoggle in the sky, at last count pulling in $130 billion of American taxpayers' money, a figure which on current plans would reach $1.2 trillion by 2015.

But the NMD pork-in-space project is far from exceptional. Seeking fat contracts, the big defense companies give donations to those politicians who will pay them back by commissioning expensive defense projects; the contractors then reward the politicians by locating their firms in their districts; finally the voters, glad of the jobs, reward the politicians by reelecting them. Johnson offers dozens of examples, including Florida's Democratic senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, who in the 2006 federal budget "obtained $916 million for defense projects, about two-thirds of which went to the Florida-based plants of Boeing, Honeywell, General Dynamics, Armor Holdings, and other munitions makers." Since 2003, Nelson has received $108,750 in campaign contributions from thirteen companies for which he arranged contracts. It's a cycle perpetuated by everyone involved: contractors, politicians, voters. Everyone benefits from this untamed form of military Keynesianism—except the next generations of Americans who can be expected to drown in a debt that now measures $9 trillion and grows daily.

Yet even this does not pose the greatest danger to the republic. Johnson looks to Rome and to Caesar to demonstrate how the powers required to maintain an empire are incompatible with the checks and balances of a republic. His attempts to argue this theoretically are weaker than his practical case studies. He describes in detail the CIA's transformation from Harry Truman's provider of reliable intelligence into an outfit that performs covert military operations— such as the toppling of Chile's democratically elected president Salvador Allende in the 1973 coup which installed the murderous regime of Augusto Pinochet. The CIA, writes Johnson, has long been beyond the reach of meaningful democratic oversight; it has become a presidential private army, an American counterpart to Rome's praetorian guard.

Tellingly, however, his most powerful evidence is drawn from the Bush years since 2001. Johnson may argue that these are trends that have been in evidence for decades, but it is the current administration which has illuminated them. By declaring the nation at war and himself a wartime president, Bush has grabbed powers to himself that America's founders never intended him to have. As the infamous "torture memo" made clear, Bush's legal team has constructed something it calls the "unitary executive theory of the presidency" to place the Oval Office outside the law, arguing that there can be no infringement on his "ultimate authority" as commander in chief in the conduct of war. Because practically any measures taken, at home or abroad, since September 11, 2001, can be construed as the conduct of war, this doctrine is nothing less than a claim of absolute power. Whether it be treaties signed and ratified by the US, like the Geneva Conventions, or the laws of the land passed in Congress, nothing can touch him. He is Caesar.

There was a time when such claims would have sounded overheated (and some, like Johnson's comparison of Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rums-feld to Adolf Eichmann, still do). Yet now Johnson finds mainstream allies for at least part of his case, Brzezinski among them. Not only is Brzezin-ski unafraid to describe US activities as imperial, he has joined those who believe the current administration is "propagating fear and paranoia" and is engaged in "the deliberate manipulation of public anxiety." Once again, this was the sort of argument previously marshaled chiefly by those outside the United States and a world away from its governing circles. [9] It testifies to Bush's recklessness that he has now placed a man of Brzezinski's stature alongside them.

With the license granted by the "war on terror," and the acquiescence of both Congress (until January 2007) and much of the US press and television, as well as several federal judges, the administration has been able to trample on the Constitution and the once-cherished liberties it contains. The pattern is clear, whether it involves eavesdropping without a warrant by the National Security Agency; the denial of habeas corpus to inmates of Guantánamo Bay; the deliberate obstruction of the Freedom of Information Act; the constant use of presidential "signing statements" usually to nullify legislation passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President himself; or the torture at Abu Ghraib and Camp X-Ray. As Johnson writes:
Over any fairly lengthy period of time, successful imperialism requires that a domestic republic or a domestic democracy change into a domestic tyranny.... The United States today, like the Roman Republic in the first century BC, is threatened by an out-of-control military-industrial complex and a huge secret government controlled exclusively by the president. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, cynical and short-sighted political leaders of the United States began to enlarge the powers of the president at the expense of the elected representatives of the people and the courts.
The public went along, accepting the excuse that a little tyranny was necessary to protect the population. But, as Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1759, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

4.
What can be done? For Ross and Brzezinski, the solutions are arduous, but at least imaginable. Ross urges a return to statecraft, to the painstaking work of diplomacy and alliance building. Indeed, of the three books, his is the one that would be of most direct use to the next administration taking office in 2009. Condoleezza Rice's successor could do worse than sit down with Ross's "Negotiation: Twelve Rules to Follow," followed by his "Eleven Rules for Mediation." (A canny publisher might try to publish those sections on their own, aiming them at the CEO market; inside Ross's foreign policy monograph there may be a business best-seller crying to get out.)

Among his concrete tips is the suggestion that the US back a new nongovernmental body to perform, under international direction and in secular fashion, the popular tasks now undertaken by the Islamists of Hamas or Hezbollah, namely providing social services and building civic institutions like hospitals and schools. Ross surely sees the danger of such an approach: that any agency known to be US-backed would instantly be deemed suspect by much of the Palestinian street. His answer might be to seek Saudi, rather than American, patronage, exploiting Riyadh's palpable anxiety over the rise of Iran and its Islamist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon. The Saudis, Ross argues, could be persuaded to bankroll anti-Islamist forces, including the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, if that would weaken Hamas.

Ross is right to see the opportunity presented by Sunni concern over the rise of Iran, an opportunity to form an alliance against aggressive Islamism that the Bush administration has squandered. Still, one cannot help but detect a bad, even imperialist habit here: the desire to pick other nations' representatives for them. Rather than devising clever ruses to marginalize Hamas, would not US energies be better spent encouraging Hamas toward a political, rather than armed, pursuit of its goals, dangling before the organization the rewards that would come if it changed course?

Ross has some imaginative ideas for Iran, too, including an alternative to full-scale military action. He floats the notion of a covert operation to sabotage Iran's delicate nuclear machinery. Such a step, he writes cheerfully, would "prove very costly for the Iranians to overcome, and yet would be completely deniable." Unlike Bush's former UN ambassador John Bolton, who said, "I don't do carrots," Ross is keen to show he would use both the carrots of "soft power" and the sticks of physical force as well. One wonders, though, how "deniable" such force could be in today's world and if such a covert plan could be efficiently executed in the first place.

Brzezinski is equally brimming with advice, calling, like Ross, for a Washington that shows more respect to the world and one that would shore up the Euro-Atlantic area of nations, lest it lose its influence to East Asia. Most radically, he advocates for a shift in the American social model, away from excess consumption and income inequality toward a more ecologically sustainable pattern that would appeal internationally. One of Brzezinski's most striking observations is that an "awakening" is underway around the world, a stirring, if vague, sense of injustice—and that the United States can only succeed if it is held to be on the right side of the divide. "In today's restless world, America needs to identify itself with the quest for universal human dignity," he writes. What that will take, he adds provocatively, is both "a cultural revolution and regime change."

Necessarily, it is Johnson, who has diagnosed a more radical problem, who has to come up with a more radical solution. He cannot merely call for greater powers for Congress, because by his own lights, "the legislative branch of our government is broken," reduced to the supine creature of large corporations, the defense contractors first among them. Instead, he urges a surge in direct democracy, "a grassroots movement to abolish the CIA, break the hold of the military-industrial com-plex, and establish public financing of elections"—but he has the grace to recognize how unlikely such a development is.

So he is left offering not an eleven- or twelve-step program, but rather a historical choice. Either the United States can follow the lead of the Romans, who chose to keep their empire and so lost their republic. Or "we could, like the British Empire after World War II, keep our democracy by giving up our empire." That choice was neither smooth nor executed heroically, but it was the right one. Now much of the world watches the offspring of that empire, nearly two and a half centuries later—hoping it makes the same choice, and trembling at the prospect that it might not.

Notes
[1] "Iraq Report Well Received in Washington," NPR, December 6, 2006, available at www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6587217.
[2] "World View of US Role Goes from Bad to Worse," available at www.pub licdiplomacy.org/14.htm#Apr2007.
[3] See, among others, Michael Ignatieff, "The Burden," The New York Times Magazine , January 5, 2003; and Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (Penguin, 2004).
[4] See, for the most recent example, Cullen Murphy, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).
[5] For a breathtaking account of the American enclave in Baghdad, see Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (Knopf, 2006).
[6] "The Doomed Colonial Wars of the US and NATO," March 2, 2007, available at www.williampfaff.com/modules/ news/article.php?storyid=212.
[7] See Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Metropolitan, 2006), p. 207.
[8] Much of the publicly available data on military spending is gathered by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, www.csbaonline.org.
[9] See the BBC TV documentary The Power of Nightmares , written and produced by Adam Curtis, 2004. It argued that politicians who could no longer inspire, sought to scare instead, citing the Bush team as a prime example. "Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us: from nightmares," the film's introduction declares. It has never been shown on American television.

5. Americans Unready to Revolt, Despite Revolting Conditions
By Joel S. Hirschhorn


T he latest NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll results vividly show a population incredibly dissatisfied with their nation’s political system. In other countries in other times such a depressing level of confidence in government would send a signal to those running the government that a major upheaval is imminent. But not here in the USA. Why?

First, here are the highlights of the poll that surveyed 1,008 adults from June 8-11, with a margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

A whopping 68 percent think the country is on the wrong track. Just 19 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction - the lowest number on that question in nearly 15 years. And most of those with the positive view are probably in the Upper Class.

Bush’s approval rating is at just 29 percent, his lowest mark ever in the survey. Only 62 percent of Republicans approve, versus 32 percent who disapprove. Take Republicans out of the picture and a fifth or less of Americans have a positive view of Bush.

Even worse, only 23 percent approve of the job that Congress is doing. So much for that wonderful new Democratic control of Congress. Bipartisan incompetence is alive and well.

On the economic front, nearly twice as many people think the U.S. is more hurt than helped by the global economy (48 to 25 percent). Globalization does not spread wealth; it channels it to the wealthy, making billionaires out of millionaires.

I have long asserted that Americans live in a delusional democracy with delusional prosperity and these and loads of other data support this view. There is a super wealthy and politically powerful Upper Class that is literally raping the nation. Meanwhile, the huge Lower Class continues to lose economic ground while their elected representatives sell them out to benefit the Upper Class. Yet no rational person thinks that a large fraction of the population is ready to rise up in revolt against the evil status quo political-economic system that so clearly is not serving the interests of the overwhelming majority of Americans. Why not?

For a nation that was built on a revolt against oppressive governance by the British, something has been lost from our political DNA. We apparently no longer have the gene for political rebellion. It has been bred out of most of us. And those of us that urge a Second American Revolution are seen as fringe, nutty subversives.

Part of the genius of our contemporary ruling class elites is that they have engineering a state of political and economic oppression that paradoxically is still embraced by the Lower Class. The rational way to understand this is that ordinary, oppressed Americans are in a deep psychological state of self-delusion. Despite all the empirical, objective evidence of a failed government, they fail to see rebellion opportunities. Many still believe they live in the world’s best democracy. But across all elections considerably less than half the citizens even bother to vote anymore. Yet, as the new NBC/Journal poll results show, people are cognitively aware of just how awful the political-economic system is. Yet they are not feeling enough pain to seriously consider rebellion. And it is visceral pain that must drive people to the daring act of rebellion.

Why is there insufficient pain for revolution? This is a deadly serious issue. What is historically unique about America is that even the most oppressed and unfairly treated people are distracted by affordable materialism, entertainment, sports, gambling, and myriad other aspects of our frivolous, self-absorbed culture. Even failed school and health care systems do not drive people, paying enormous sums to fill up their SUVs, to rebellion. So, Americans are aware of their oppression, but the power elites have successfully drugged them with a plethora of pleasure-producing distractions sufficient to keep them under control. We are free to bitch, but too weak to revolt. The Internet has provided a release valve for some pent up anger and frustration. But it too has mostly become another source of distraction, rather than an effective tool for rebellion.

Though these new poll statistics make news, those in control of the political-economic system are not afraid that the population is on the verge of retaking their constitutionally guaranteed sovereign power and take back their nation. Thousands of people like me keep writing books and articles and creating protest groups and events. Those in power just find new, ingenious ways to keep the population distracted – if not through pleasure, then certainly through fear of terrorism. Growing economic insecurity also contributes to self-paralysis, as do never-ending political lies.

What a system.

Even as the population has growing awareness of the dire condition of their nation, the move by the politically powerful on the right and left continues to seek a new immigration law that will solidify the selling out of America. Business interests want more of those fleeing Mexico and other nations to keep wages low. Instead of Mexicans rising up in rebellion against their oppressive government and economic system they escape to the USA. But Americans have no such viable escape solution. Though global warming will certainly make Canada increasingly attractive.

So what do Americans have – other than a terribly bleak future? Where is hope in our dismal world?

In a bizarre twist of history that further illustrates just how impotent Americans have become, virtually all citizens are either unaware of or unreceptive to the ultimate escape route that the Framers of our Constitution gave us. They anticipated that Americans could become quite dissatisfied with the federal government. They feared that the political system could become incredibly corrupted by moneyed interests. They were right.

So here we sit over 200 years after our nation was created unwilling to use what is explicitly given to us in Article V of the Constitution – the option to have a convention outside the control of Congress, the President and the Supreme Court to make proposals for constitutional amendments. Do we really believe in the rule of law? If so, then we should understand that the supreme law of the land – what is in our Constitution – is the ultimate way to obtain the deep political and government reforms to restore true democracy and economic fairness to our society.

Make no mistake: an Article V convention has been stubbornly opposed by virtually all groups with political and economic power. This is most evidenced by the blatant refusal of Congress to obey the Constitution and give us an Article V convention, even though the single explicit requirement for a convention has been met. This fact alone should tell rational people that they are being screwed and oppressed. The rule of law is trumped by the rule of delusion. Our lawmakers are lawbreakers.

Come learn more about the effort to get an Article V convention at www.foavc.org and become a member. Do not keep witnessing the unraveling of American society, voting for lesser evil candidates, and believing the propaganda that putting different Democrats or Republicans in office will actually improve things for most of us. Choose peaceful rebellion by using what our Constitution gives us. Fight self-delusion.

[Joel S. Hirschhorn is the author of Delusional Democracy ( www.delusionaldemocracy.com ); and a founder of Friends of the Article V Convention ( www.foavc.org ).]

6. War at the Remote
By Norman Solomon/truthout.org


Three years have passed since most Americans came to the conclusion that the Iraq war was a "mistake." Reporting the results of a Gallup poll in June 2004, USA Today declared: "It is the first time since Vietnam that a majority of Americans has called a major deployment of US forces a mistake." And public opinion continued to move in an antiwar direction. But such trends easily coexist with a war effort becoming even more horrific.

In Washington, over the past 25 years, top masters of war have preened themselves in the glow of victory after military triumphs in Grenada, Panama, the 1991 Gulf War, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. During that time, with the exception of the current war in Iraq, the Pentagon's major aggressive ventures have been cast in a light of virtue rewarded - in sync with the implicit belief that American might makes right.

"The problem after a war is with the victor," longtime peace activist A. J. Muste observed several decades ago. "He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay."

The present situation has a different twist along the same lines. The Iraq war drags on, the United States is certainly not the victor - and the US president, a fervent believer in war and violence, still has a lot to prove.

Faith that American might makes right is apt to be especially devout among those who command the world's most powerful military - and have the option of trying to overcome wartime obstacles by unleashing even more lethal violence.

These days, there's a lot of talk about seeking a political solution in Iraq - but the Bush administration and the military leaders who answer to the commander in chief are fundamentally engaged in a very different sort of project. Looking ahead, from the White House, the key goal is to seem to be winding down the U.S. war effort while actually reconfiguring massive violence to make it more effective.

Two sets of figures have paramount importance in mainline US media and politics - the number of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and the number of them dying there. Often taking cues from news media and many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, antiwar groups have tended to buy into the formula, emphasizing those numbers and denouncing them as intolerably high.

Meanwhile, the Iraqis killed by Americans don't become much of an issue in the realms of US media and politics. News coverage provides the latest tallies of Iraqis who die from "sectarian violence" and "terrorist attacks," but the reportage rarely discusses how the US occupation has been an ascending catalyst for that carnage. It's even more rare for the coverage to focus on the magnitude of Iraqi deaths that are direct results of American firepower.

In the United States, many advocates of US withdrawal from Iraq have focused on what the war has been doing to Americans. This approach may seem like political pragmatism and tactical wisdom, but in the long run it's likely to play into the hands of White House strategists who will try to regain domestic political ground by reducing American losses while boosting the use of high-tech weaponry against Iraqi people.

Every night, I receive an email bulletin that's called "US Air Force Print News." It's one of countless ways the Pentagon does continual outreach to journalists with messages that encourage favorable coverage of what the military is doing. Those messages are filled with stories about the bravery, compassion and towering stature of - in the words of retired Gen. Colin Powell a decade ago - "those wonderful men and women who do such a great job."

But journalists receive just a trickle of limited information about the bombing runs undertaken by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq. The official sources have very little to say about what happens to people at the other end of the bombs. And, overall, US media outlets don't add much information about the human consequences.

In late May, an important challenge to those media patterns appeared on the website TomDispatch.com (and, in shorter form, in The Nation magazine). The in-depth article - titled "Did the US Lie about Cluster Bomb Use in Iraq?" - went beyond probing the Pentagon's extensive use of barbaric cluster bombs in Iraq since the spring of 2003. The piece, by journalist Nick Turse, also shined a bright light on fundamental aspects of a US air war that has seldom seen any light of day in big American media outlets.

"Unfortunately, thanks to an utter lack of coverage by the mainstream media, what we don't know about the air war in Iraq so far outweighs what we do know that anything but the most minimal picture of the nature of destruction from the air in that country simply can't be painted," Turse writes.

The article raises a key question: "Does the US military keep the numbers of rockets and cannon rounds fired from its planes and helicopters secret because more Iraqi civilians have died due to their use than any other type of weaponry?"

Turse, an associate editor and research director of TomDispatch.com, has written for daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. His article pulls no punches about the press as he assesses huge gaps in media coverage of the Iraq air war funded by US taxpayers.

Sadly, he observes, "media reports on the air war are so sparse, with reporting confined largely to reprinting US military handouts and announcements of air strikes, that much of the air war in Iraq remains unknown - although the very fact of an occupying power regularly conducting air strikes in and near population centers should have raised a question or two."

The available evidence is strong that the US air war is escalating - with a surge of resulting casualties among Iraqi civilians. Their suffering and their deaths get very little coverage in the US news media. "Since the Bush administration's invasion, the American air war has been given remarkably short shrift in the media," Turse writes. And he cites "indications that the air war has taken an especially grievous toll on Iraqi children."

The combination of deceptive officials in the US government and an evasive US press has been a disaster for the flow of information to the American public. "With the military unwilling to tell the truth - or say anything at all, in most cases - and unable to provide the stability necessary for [non-governmental organizations] to operate, it falls to the mainstream media, even at this late stage of the conflict, to begin ferreting out substantive information on the air war," Turse points out. "It seems, however, that until reporters begin bypassing official US military pronouncements and locating Iraqi sources, we will remain largely in the dark with little knowledge of what can only be described as the secret US air war in Iraq."

As the summer of 2007 gets underway, the demand to "bring the troops home" is necessary, but insufficient. The numbers of Americans fighting and dying in Iraq are not a reliable measure of US culpability in the continuing slaughter.

( The new documentary film, "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," based on Norman Solomon's book of the same title, is being released directly to DVD in mid-June. For information about the full-length movie, produced by the Media Education Foundation and narrated by Sean Penn, go to: http://www.normansolomon.com/norman_solomon/war_made_easy/index.html .)

7. Turn, Turn, Turn
by Cindy Sheehan


To everything there is a season.
A time for war, a time for peace.
-- Ecclesiastes, Hebrew Scriptures

I wish I could say I thought of something profound as I saw the president and his wife’s picture on that billboard on Hwy 317 in my rear view mirror on my way out of Crawford today. I will be back for the final weekend farewell to Camp Casey on July 6th, but I won’t be back as the owner of property there, or as a leader of the American peace movement.

The protests that were Camp Casey I and II that evolved into the five acres on Hwy 317 (Lone Star Parkway), which was known as Camp Casey III, definitely were effective and served a relevant purpose in the national discourse of the pros and cons of the war. In an occupation that was and still is kept far from apathetic American eyes, summer ‘05 was one of the first times the cost of BushCo’s Iraq fiasco was made public and many people sympathized and resonated with and some even traveled for miles to be with the Mom in the ditch.

When I announced that I was going to put my five acres up for sale in Texas, the horrible anti-peace; anti-American group, Move America Forward announced that they would buy it to erect a “Memorial.” This group still cheer-leads and supports a war where our troops are clearly being misused and mal-treated by their civilian leadership and celebrates each death as
a sacrifice for the neo-con, obscene, and Orwellian idea of “freedom.” Move America Forward is still collecting money for their memorial, which will never be built on my old property and if they really wanted to buy it, they wouldn’t have sent out a press release—they just wanted a few more minutes of fame off of my misery!

Into all of the drama, radio talk show host Bree Walker enters. She could not bear the thought of Move America Forward or any other right-wing fascist group buying Camp Casey, so she cashed in her corporate buy-ins and bought my land to leave as a legacy to peace—and a true memorial to our children and the people of Iraq who have been killed for corporate and
political greed. Bree is putting her money where her mouth is, too, and we Camp Casey-ites were relieved and overjoyed when she purchased it!

I was in Crawford this past week to transfer the deed to Bree and to take care of some last minute business. Selling my land and kicking the Crawford dirt off of my flip-flops was bittersweet. I have had some of my highest-highs in that _ horse town, but also some of my lowest lows.

August ‘05 was the happiest, yet the 2nd most stressful time of my life. The people who saw my sunburned face, wild hair and chapped lips every time they turned on their TV never saw me tossing and turning in my tent or trailer on a nightly basis
totally stressed out about the Rovian smear campaign and worrying about what lies were going to be told about me, or what attack was coming next. It seemed like everyone with an agenda from “Israel is the culprit” to “9-11 was an inside job” flocked to Crawford to have a moment in the blazing hot sun with me. Soldiers came from Ft. Hood to secretly be in solidarity with me and parents of live and dead soldiers also came: Mostly to stand in solidarity with me, but some to try and take Camp Casey over to mold it to their own agendas.

I fell in love at Camp Casey and had my heart broken again there. I found true friends and learned how to distinguish between true friends and people who only pretend to be your friends until your usefulness to them is over. I smiled more than I frowned; I laughed more than I cried; I danced badly and sang out of tune; I received more love than animosity and I think
thousands of us were given renewed hope and energy because Camp Casey existed.

I will always be grateful for this experience that did have an intense and positive effect on the world but I am also content I have chosen a new direction and can rest easily in the fact that we did do good. It’s time for someone else and something else to manifest itself in Crawford and time for some of us to ride into the beautiful Texas sunsets that I definitely will miss.

I think when one is heading in the wrong direction, it is always prudent to change direction—even if you have to pull over and ask the way to go, and very imprudent to stay a ridiculous and mistaken course.

I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of love, support, and financial support that has come my way since my resignation from the peace movement. My medical bills will be paid off and because of Bree’s generosity, I have a financial cushion to help me on to the next phase: helping humans who have been hurt by US corporate imperialism. I want to also thank everyone who has helped me along the way so far and encourage people to stay their courses if they think they are being productive and supported.

The millennia old season of war is getting tiresome and while never good, is growing in evilness as the people who run the wars become more corrupt, callous and as far removed from their conflicts as they can possibly get.

There is a season for peace—I hope for all of our sakes we reach it soon.

(Cindy would like to invite everyone to her 50th Birthday Party and Camp Casey final celebration the weekend of July 6 to 8 at Camp Casey in Crawford, Tx. RSVP to CampCaseyMom@yahoo.com or Tiggerloli@aol.com)

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4 Comments:

At 11/02/2007 8:19 AM, Anonymous IMSMALL said...

UNFORGOTTEN GUILT

My love, if you were here today
How would I then explain this thing,
Divisive war, so too the way
Implementation harrowing

Was brought about? I know not how--
Yet it is for the best, my sweet,
That we may never meet, for now
That I explain you would entreat.

How justify my countrymen?
There are no words for it; however,
Insofar truth propels my pen
Their guilt may be forgotten never.

 
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