Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Comment on "Diagnosing the US national character"

After I posted "Diagnosing the US national character" on another list the same day (April 27) that I posted it here, I received the following comments that I think worthy of your attention. Bill

I'd say that Americans are addicted to picking fights with people in a weaker position than they are (cf the so-called Powell Doctrine, which makes this explicit). It doesn't really matter what the fight is about, as long as they win ("Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing"). The drama after the Vietnam War had little to do with what the fighting was about, but with the fact that Americans lost a war.

The sad thing about this mentality is that a lot of American lives have to be damaged or lost, before Americans know when to stop ("operation accomplished, the patient died").

Americans are not especially known for understanding the morals of other peoples. What they understand is brute force. And money. It's a harsh society, which thinks sensitivity has to do with sex. That's their functionalist culture.

As far as I am concerned, Americans lost any moral high ground when they provided Israelis with a gigantic killing machine, so that Israelis could be like Americans, that is, pick fights with people in a weaker position than they are. The murder of Iraq is "merely" a new low point of American morality.

Thankfully there are still plenty Americans - and Jews - for whom this cynical approach to human beings is utterly repugnant. So there is still hope for the American character, what's left of it.

But it will take more than a baseball coach to sort it out.



NB - I left out one important aspect, namely the connection between winning and (moral) truth in American ideology. What I mean here, is that the American belief is that "if we win, we are right", and the fact that they win, seems to prove practically "our way is right" or superior. In the historical sciences, they say "history is typically rewritten by the victors to reflect their path to victory" and indeed insofar as American pragmatists are at all interested in history, it often focuses very much on who won and who lost, with the suggestion that the ideas of the winners "must" have been better, otherwise they wouldn't have won. Alas, historical processes are more complex than that, since "you might win the battle, but lose the war".


Bill Totten

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Empire's New Clothes

Bill Totten

Invisible Hands of the Market

Bill Totten

Patriotism requires faith

A modest proposal for understanding President Bush's policies

by Charles Davis, Staff Writer

The Vista, University of San Diego (April 20 2006)

No matter where one turns these days, it seems impossible to avoid negative news stories about President Bush and his mission to bring peace and freedom to the people of Iraq. All too often the liberal media, which has wanted our troops to fail from the start, has reported only the bad things happening while completely avoiding all of the positives.

For instance, thirty people were burned to death in a Baghdad market as the result of an ongoing wave of sectarian violence, but there is no recognition of the people who were saved from the flames or watched a cherished loved one agonizingly die before their eyes. Furthermore, in their ongoing war against America and its values, liberals have even gone so far as to question our leader's policies and conduct in a time of war - a clear act of treason. The president's critics must realize that he is only doing what he feels is best for America.

"President Bush's policies are helping the United States economy"

Questions are best saved for the end of the conflict, which, as Vice-President Cheney has told us, should be in just a few short generations.

To further their anti-American agenda, many critics of the Bush administration have made outlandish accusations, including the claim that the president lied to the nation, prompting a war on a country that posed no discernible threat.

These critics point to statements made by people such as former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who stated that the administration discussed plans for invading Iraq from the very first cabinet meeting in 2001, and said that "it was all about finding a way to [invade]. That was the tone of it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this'."

Others point to the Downing Street memos, wherein a British intelligence officer who met with the Bush administration back in July 2002 reported to his superiors that Bush was ready to go to war but that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".

Of course, these partisan critics of the president inevitably act as if misleading the public into war is a bad thing - but is it?

In reality, Bush is only ensuring that Americans have plenty of future adversaries and conflicts, meaning plenty of business for our nation's patriotic defense contractors.

Ever since World War II, the United States' economy has been dependent on what former president Dwight D Eisenhower called "the military-industrial complex".

As the Department of Defense's Web site states, "[We] are America's oldest, largest, busiest and most successful company", employing millions of people, operating over 6,000 bases in the United States and 702 overseas bases in 130 countries.

For 2007, the defense budget is roughly $463 billion, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which account for an additional $120 billion.

The United States' defense budget accounts for just under half of world military spending.
By launching wars and planning for future conflicts, Bush has allowed our economy to thrive.

Since launching the war on Iraq in 2003, companies like Lockheed-Martin have seen profits rise by over 73 percent, and Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar said "2005 was the best in our 86-year history", after seeing his company's profits soar to $2.4 billion.

Without war, the American economy would collapse, forcing defense contractors and their families to live on the streets begging for scraps of food.

By actively planning for war, Bush has shown his bold foresight and commitment to creating well-paying American jobs, while proving to foreigners that America means business.

Some critics say that by heralding militarism and international belligerence, Bush is neglecting other important fields, such as science and medicine; however, nothing could be further from the truth. By allocating $22 billion for the Energy Department to develop a new class of tactical nuclear weapons, Bush is providing jobs for some of America's brightest scientists.

With all that said, too many Americans seem to have, unfortunately, bought into the mainstream media and liberal academia.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, Bush's approval rating sits at a dismal 33 percent, with the most frequent words used to describe him including "incompetent" and "liar". President Bush is being unjustly persecuted by his detractors.

With two-thirds of the public apparently not appreciative of all the work Bush has done perpetuating the success of our war economy, one is left with no other option but to ask: Why do so many Americans hate America?

The Vista (April 20 2006) Volume 43, Issue 10

(c) 2006 USD. All rights reserved.

University of San Diego, 5998 Alcala' Park, San Diego, California 92110 (619) 260-4600

Bill Totten

Friday, April 28, 2006

America's rags-to-riches dream an illusion: study

by Alister Bull

Reuters (April 26 2006)

America may still think of itself as the land of opportunity, but the chances of living a rags-to-riches life are a lot lower than elsewhere in the world, according to a new study published on Wednesday.

The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to "Understanding Mobility in America", a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.

By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.

"In other words, the chances of getting rich are about twenty times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family", he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.

He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.

"Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents' incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren", Hertz said.

"In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent", he said.

The research was based on a panel of over 4,000 children, whose parents' income were observed in 1968, and whose income as adults was reviewed again in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999.

The survey did not include immigrants, who were not captured in the original data pool. Millions of immigrants work in the US many illegally, earnings much higher salaries than they could get back home.

Several other experts invited to review his work endorsed the general findings, although they were reticent about accompanying policy recommendations.

"This debunks the myth of America as the land of opportunity, but it doesn't tell us what to do to fix it", said Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland who has researched this field.

Recent studies have highlighted growing income inequality in the United States, but Americans remain highly optimistic about the odds for economic improvement in their own lifetime.

A survey for the New York Times last year found that eighty percent of those polled believed that it was possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich, compared with less than sixty percent back in 1983.

This contradiction, implying that while people think they are going to make it, the reality is very different, has been seized by critics of President Bush to pound the White House over tax cuts they say favor the rich.

Hertz examined channels transmitting income across generations and identified education as the single largest factor, explaining thirty percent of the income-correlation, in an argument to boost public access to universities.

Breaking the survey down by race spotlighted this as the next most powerful force to explain why the poor stay poor.

On average, 47 percent of poor families remain poor. But within this, 32 percent of whites stay poor while the figure for blacks is 63 percent.

It works the other way as well, with only three percent of blacks making it from the bottom quarter of the income ladder to the top quarter, versus fourteen percent of whites.

"Part of the reason mobility is so low in America is that race still makes a difference in economic life", he said.

Copyright (c) 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

Bill Totten

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Diagnosing the US 'national character'

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

by Robert Jensen

ZNet (April 22 2006)

Politicians and pundits in the United States love to talk about our "national character", typically in rapturous tones of triumphalism.

Often that character is asserted as a noble force but not defined: Earlier this year, for example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said our national character - presumed to be benevolent - requires us to be welcoming to legal immigrants.

Other times it must be defended against foreigners who just don't understand us: Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland last month explained that too many Middle Easterners fall prey to "depictions of Americans routinely raping, killing, firebombing mosques and torturing innocents as a function of national character".

And sometimes character is political destiny: In New Delhi last month, President Bush proclaimed that "democracy is more than a form of government, it is the central promise of our national character". Luckily for India, its national character shares the same feature, according to Bush.

Can a nation have a coherent character? If we take the question seriously - investigating reality rather than merely asserting nobility - we see in the US national character signs of pathology and decay as well as health and vigor. What if, for purposes of analysis, we treated the nation as a person? Scan the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (the bible of mental-health professionals, now in its fourth edition) and one category jumps out: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

DSM-IV describes the disorder as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy" that can be diagnosed when any five of these nine criteria are met:

1. a grandiose sense of self-importance.

2. preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

3. believes he or she is special and unique.

4. requires excessive admiration.

5. sense of entitlement.

6. interpersonally exploitative, taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

7. lacks empathy.

8. often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Narcissistic tendencies to self-aggrandize are not unique to the United States, of course. But given the predominance of US power in the world, we should worry most about the consequences of such narcissism here.

This disorder is bipartisan, and is virtually required of all mainstream politicians. When the House of Representatives held hearings about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi declared that America is "the greatest country that ever existed on the face of the earth". Texas Republican Dick Armey described the United States as "the greatest, most free nation the world has ever known". With a "grandiose sense of self-importance", politicians routinely ratchet up the rhetorical flourishes when asserting that the country is "special and unique".

As for arrogance and haughtiness: When asked at his pre-war news conference in March 2003 whether the United States would be defying the United Nations if it were to invade Iraq without legal authorization, Bush said, "if we need to act, we will act, and we really don't need United Nations approval to do so". Bush prefaced that promise to defy international and US law with the phrase "when it comes to our security", but since the invasion of Iraq had little or nothing to do with the security of the United States we can ignore that qualifier. Here the younger Bush was merely mimicking his father, who remarked in February 1991 as the United States was destroying Iraq a first time: "The US has a new credibility. What we say goes."

On the Gulf War and "lacks empathy": On February 13 1991, US planes hit a bunker in Baghdad. Whether military planners knew it was an air-raid shelter or thought it was a "command-and-control site", an estimated 300-400 civilians died. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referred to this as "one downside of airpower", and said the incident led him to discuss with General Norman Schwarzkopf the need "to look at the target list a little more closely". Was the goal of that review to discuss civilian casualties? No, it was to question the efficiency of bombing an already bombed-out Baghdad. In Powell's words: "I asked questions like, 'Why are we bombing the Baath Party headquarters for the eighth time? ... Why are we bouncing rubble with million-dollar missiles?'"

Powell, who went on to serve as secretary of state in George W Bush's first term, was often referred to as the "dove" of that administration. Perhaps we could call this level of empathy the mark of a "tough dove".

The unpleasant subject of the current Iraq war brings up "fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance". Though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged mistakes in the current Iraq war - "We've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure" - she made it clear that history will vindicate US officials for making "the right strategic decision" to invade. But that small concession to reality was too much for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who responded, "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest".

While it's easy to point at the narcissism of soulless and self-indulgent leaders, this diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder applies to the country as a whole. The belief that the United States is unique - a shining "city upon a hill" - is deeply rooted, and for many has divine origins; 48 percent of Americans believe the United States has "special protection from God", according to a 2002 survey.

The narcissism of the whole society also is evident in the widespread "sense of entitlement", defined as "unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations". This is difficult to confront, precisely because it takes root to some degree in all of us and can't be so easily displaced onto only the most overtly pathological. The vast majority of the US public - by comparison to the rest of the world - lives an extravagant lifestyle that we show few signs of being willing to give up.

We are five percent of the world's population and consume about a quarter of the world's energy. This state of affairs is clearly unjust, made possible by coercion and violence, not some natural superiority of Americans. Yet the vast majority of the US public, and even much of the left cum progressive political community, acts as if they expect this state of affairs to continue. That's real narcissism, and it's at the heart of the political problem of the United States. Even if we swept the halls of Congress and the White House clean of every corrupt and cruel politician, the deeper self-indulgence of an affluent culture would be untouched.

Political activism to derail the pathological policies of those politicians must go forward. Critique of the concentrated power of the corporate elites who support those policies is essential. But the critical self-reflection necessary at the collective level also must come home to each of us.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege (2005) and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (2004), both from City Lights Books. He can be reached at .

Bill Totten

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Fondness for Fossil Fuels

If we're to have a hydrogen economy, we have to secure our supplies of natural gas.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (April 25 2006)

My timing could scarcely be worse. To announce, in this of all weeks, a Damascene conversion to natural gas is to invite ridicule from every quarter. The price of oil has hit $75, and for reasons no energy company has yet been able to explain to me, it takes the gas price with it. Even before this new surge, the wholesale cost of gas had trebled in just three years {1}.

This winter, we nearly had to do without it altogether. First Russia's state-controlled producer Gazprom cut the supplies to Europe in order to show Ukraine where real power still lies; then the private monopolists in the European Union appeared to restrict the flow through the "interconnector" which supplies the United Kingdom. At just the wrong moment - February 16th - the UK's main gas storage facility (on the Rough Field in the North Sea) blew up. Centrica, the company which runs it, predicted then that it would remain closed for one month {2}. A month later, the company said it would be shut till May {3}. Now its spokesman tells me that it will be back in business "from June 1st" {4}. The "from" does not inspire confidence.

Last week the chief executive of Gazprom, from which the UK buys about a quarter of its natural gas, warned of the consequences this country would suffer if the government refused to let it buy Centrica. "One cannot forget that we are actively developing new markets such as North America and China. Gas producers in Central Asia are also pay [sic] their attention to the Chinese market. It is not by accident. Competition for energy resources is increasing. It is needed to note that attempts to limit Gazprom's activity in European market and politicize gas supply issues ... will make no good results." {5} Doubtless he was stroking a white cat as he said it. To make my task of persuasion particularly difficult, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group reported that the European Union, desperate for access to Turkmenistan's reserves, has been ignoring the atrocities of the borderline-bonkers President Niyazov {6}.

All this means that the British government is even more likely to recommend a new generation of nuclear generators in its energy review in the summer. It can now summon some heavyweight support: on Friday the Financial Times revealed that the International Energy Agency has converted to the nuclear cause {7}. My fellow environmentalists argue that the money would be better spent on wind turbines. I find myself at odds with almost everyone, by deciding, at the worst possible moment, that in one respect at least our battle against climate change depends on neither nuclear power nor renewables, but on a fossil fuel.

The problem comes down to this: that our homes, whose consumption has grown by nineteen percent since 1990, now account for almost one-third of the energy the United Kingdom uses {8}. Of this, only eighteen percent is used for lights and fridges and TVs and the other electronic gadgets with which we now fill them. All the rest is used for space and water heating {9}. In the domestic sector, the big issue is not electricity but heat.

I've looked into every source of sustainable heat I can find, and while there are plenty that could supply some of our houses - wood and straw, solar hot water panels, district heating systems and heat pumps for example - all of them are constrained by one factor or another, such as a shortage of agricultural land, our feeble sun and the disruption involved in fitting them to existing homes. It seems that there is only one low-carbon source of heat which could (with a massive investment in new infrastructure) be supplied to most of the homes in the United Kingdom between now and 2030. It is hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be used to power a fuel cell, which is a kind of gas battery. If, as their promoters predict, fuel cells can very soon be made small enough, cheap enough and reliable enough to take the place of domestic boilers {10}, they could provide both the heat and electricity our homes require. The natural gas pipes to which most of our houses are now attached would be replaced by hydrogen pipes. These are about fifty percent wider, but otherwise the system is much the same.

There are three means of making hydrogen without releasing much carbon dioxide: by reacting natural gas with steam and capturing and burying the carbon it contains, by passing steam and oxygen through pulverised coal (and catching the carbon) and by the electrolysis of water. The last option is the one beloved of both environmentalists (because the electricity can come from wind) and the nuclear industry.

But a hydrogen network will be viable only if it is cheap. According to a report by the US National Academy of Engineering, the wholesale price of hydrogen made from natural gas with carbon capture will, in "the future", be $1.72 per kilogramme; from coal, $1.45; and from electrolysis $3.93 {11}. In other words, if a hydrogen economy is to be taken seriously, the fuel has to be made from gas or coal, rather than by either wind turbines or nuclear generators.

Even in my confessional mood, I cannot bring myself to support coal. I defy anyone who knows what opencast mining looks like to say the words "clean coal" without blushing. This leaves only gas. If my calculations are correct, the retail price of hydrogen made from natural gas will be around fifty percent greater than the retail price of gas itself. But because fuel cells supplying both heat and electricity are more efficient than gas boilers, the total cost would be roughly the same.

So it seems to me that a key environmental challenge, odd as this seems, is to ensure that gas has a future in the United Kingdom, by making its supplies more secure. I don't mean invading Iran or sucking up to Saparmurat Niyazov. I mean increasing our storage capacity so that we cannot be held to ransom - in the short term at least - either by Gazprom or by the companies which control the flow through the interconnector. While other European countries hoard an average of 52 days' worth of gas, the UK stores only fourteen {12}. As we discovered in February, we've put most of our eggs into one basket: the Rough Field facility, which can hold about three billion cubic metres, accounts for seventy percent of our capacity.

The ten new projects under construction in the United Kingdom will provide us with only fifty percent more storage space {13}. We need to develop four or five massive reservoirs like the Rough site, in which gas is pumped back into depleted fields under the seabed during the summer and then extracted in the winter. As far as I can tell, only one significant scheme of this kind is even being discussed: a proposal by a company called Stag Energy to hollow out 500 million cubic metres of caverns from the salt deposits two thousand feet beneath the Irish Sea {14}.

So in two respects, the future seems to lie in the seabed. Our natural gas supplies will be secured and our carbon dioxide buried in old gas fields and salt deposits. All my instincts rebel against this prospect, but there don't seem to be any other answers. Cutting the carbon our homes produce means hydrogen, and hydrogen means natural gas. I appear to have become a supporter of the fossil fuel industry.


1. Eg Christopher Adams, 17th February 2006. Industry feels heat of gas price surge. The Financial Times.

2. BBC Online, 21st February 2006. Damaged gas rig 'out for a month'.

3. BBC Online, 14th March 2006. Crippled rig out of use until May.

4. Andrew Hansen, Centrica, 21st April 2006. pers comm.

5. Gazprom, 18th April 2006. On Results of Alexey Miller's Meeting with Ambassadors of the European Union countries. Press release.

6. Nicholas Watt, 21st April 2006. EU accused of ignoring human rights abuses in rush for gas deal. The Guardian.

7. Carola Hoyos, 21st April 2006. Energy watchdog to back N-power. The Financial Times.


9. The Department of Trade and Industry, updated July 2005. Energy consumption in the UK.

10. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2005. Decarbonising the UK - energy for a climate conscious future. Tyndall Centre, Manchester.

11. National Academy of Engineering - Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, 2004. The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs (2004).

12.House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 15th July 2004. Renewable Energy: Practicalities. The Stationery Office, London.

13. Andrew Hansen, ibid.

14. Stag Energy, 2006. Gateway Project - Fact Sheet. Sent to me by Stag, 21st April 2006.

Bill Totten

Bush Tax Cuts

Bill Totten

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rules To Live By

by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (April 21 2006)

What follows are some rules for how to live the rest of your life. They're from an article by Janet Sternberg in ETC: A Review of General Semantics. Most of them she attributes to a New York University professor, Neil Postman.

Now, these are rules to help you live in a decadent and decaying society, a fit description of America 2006. Some of them are facetious, but some are full of wisdom.

For example, don't move to California. California practiced limp-wristed liberalism and is presently reaping what it sowed. Southern California now goes by the name of Mexifornia. Mexifornia has a lousy school system, too many people, too much development, bad air, high taxes and too much crime. Who needs it?

Another good rule is, do not watch TV news or read tabloid newspapers. Ms Sternberg writes: "Life, as it is, is terrifying enough. Only a fool would expose himself or herself to an exaggeration of the danger." She is exactly right. You will find no useful information in TV news or tabloids. They are both corrupt.

Another rule is not to read any books by people who call themselves futurists, such as Alvin Toffler. They are, she says, up on technology but ignorant of human beings, and therefore are always wrong in their predictions. I agree. I spotted Toffler as a pretentious windbag the first (and last) time I read him.

Still another good rule is to establish as many routines as possible so you only have to think and make decisions about significant matters. Two rules that go together are these: Limit the amount of information you absorb, and seek significance in your work, friends and family.

Information used to be a survival necessity, but now it's just a commodity, says Sternberg. How true that is. Literally tons of information are blasted at us from every conceivable media - most of it lies trying to sell us something, and much of it about things over which we have no control. It's only with our personal work, our friends and our family that we can actually have some effect.

I go even further and suggest that for good psychological health, people should turn off the TV and radio and cancel any newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Andrew Lytle, a Southern novelist, lived like that and told me, "If anything important happens, I'll hear about it by rumor". To paraphrase an old newspaper slogan, 99 percent of the news you don't need to know.

Of course, that would put me out of business, but I learned a long time ago that just because you give people advice doesn't mean they are going to take it.

Another rule is, limit the subjects on which you have an opinion. As she says, we all have the right to have an opinion about everything, but there are some things we just aren't qualified to have an opinion about. Again, that's true. There are certain areas of the world I never write about because I do not have sufficient background knowledge of those areas to have an opinion.

Opinions, if they are to have any value, have to be based on knowledge and experience. That's why we don't ask the plumber for his opinion about our health and don't call the doctor when the dishwasher leaks.

The purpose of all of these rules is to help us live in peace and harmony. There is no point in worrying about anything that is inevitable. There is no point in worrying about anything over which we have no control. And, as the Roman stoic Epictetus reminds us, the only thing we can really control are our own thoughts.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten

Monday, April 24, 2006

Imperial and imperious

Taking aim at the Sleeping Dragon

by Michael T Klare (April 19 2006)

The Bush administration's containment strategy for China may herald the next cold war.

"... Preparing for war with China, in other words, is to be the future cash cow for the giant US weapons-making corporations in the military-industrial complex ..".

Slowly but surely, the grand strategy of the Bush administration is being revealed. It is not aimed primarily at the defeat of global terrorism, the incapacitation of rogue states, or the spread of democracy in the Middle East. These may dominate the rhetorical arena and be the focus of immediate concern, but they do not govern key decisions regarding the allocation of long-term military resources. The truly commanding objective - the underlying basis for budgets and troop deployments - is the containment of China. This objective governed White House planning during the administration's first seven months in office, only to be set aside by the perceived obligation to highlight anti-terrorism after 9/11; but now, despite Bush's preoccupation with Iraq and Iran, the White House is also reemphasizing its paramount focus on China, risking a new Asian arms race with potentially catastrophic consequences.

President Bush and his top aides entered the White House in early 2001 with a clear strategic objective: to resurrect the permanent-dominance doctrine spelled out in the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for fiscal years 1994-1999, the first formal statement of US strategic goals in the post-Soviet era. According to the initial official draft of this document, as leaked to the press in early 1992, the primary aim of US strategy would be to bar the rise of any future competitor that might challenge America's overwhelming military superiority.

"Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival ... that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union", the document stated. Accordingly, "we [must] endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power".

When initially made public, this doctrine was condemned by America's allies and many domestic leaders as being unacceptably imperial as well as imperious, forcing the first President Bush to water it down; but the goal of perpetuating America's sole-superpower status has never been rejected by administration strategists. In fact, it initially became the overarching principle for US military policy when the younger Bush assumed the presidency in 2001.

When first enunciated in 1992, the permanent-dominancy doctrine was non-specific as to the identity of the future challengers whose rise was to be prevented through coercive action. At that time, US strategists worried about a medley of potential rivals, including Russia, Germany, India, Japan and China; any of these, it was thought, might emerge in the decades to come as would-be superpowers, and so all would have to be deterred from moving in that direction. By the time the second Bush administration came into office, however, the pool of potential rivals had been narrowed in elite thinking to just one: the People's Republic of China. Only China, it was claimed, possessed the economic and military capacity to challenge the United States as an aspiring superpower; and so perpetuating US global predominance meant containing Chinese power.

The imperative of containing China was first spelled out in a systematic way by Condoleezza Rice while she served as a foreign policy advisor to then Governor George W Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign. In a much-cited article in the journal Foreign Affairs, she suggested that the PRC, as an ambitious rising power, would inevitably challenge vital US interests. "China is a great power with unresolved vital interests, particularly concerning Taiwan", she wrote. "China also resents the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region".

For these reasons, she stated, "China is not a 'status quo' power but one that would like to alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor. That alone makes it a strategic competitor, not the 'strategic partner' the Clinton administration once called it". It was essential, she argued, to adopt a strategy that would prevent China's rise as regional power. In particular, "the United States must deepen its cooperation with Japan and South Korea and maintain its commitment to a robust military presence in the region". Washington should also "pay closer attention to India's role in the regional balance" and bring that country into an anti-Chinese alliance system.

Looking back, it is striking how this article developed the allow-no-competitors doctrine of the 1992 DPG into the very strategy now being implemented by the Bush administration in the Pacific and South Asia. Many of the specific policies advocated in her piece, from strengthened ties with Japan to making overtures to India, are being carried out today.

In the spring and summer of 2001, however, the most significant effect of this strategic focus was to distract Rice and other senior administration officials from the growing threat posed by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. During her first months in office as the president's senior advisor for national security affairs, Rice devoted herself to implementing the plan she had spelled out in Foreign Affairs. By all accounts, her top priorities in that early period were dissolving the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia and linking Japan, South Korea and Taiwan into a joint missile defense system, which, it was hoped, would ultimately evolve into a Pentagon-anchored anti-Chinese alliance.

Richard A Clarke, the senior White House advisor on counterterrorism, later charged that, because of her preoccupation with Russia, China and great-power politics, Rice overlooked warnings of a possible al-Qaida attack on the United States and thus failed to initiate defensive actions that might have prevented 9/11. Although Rice survived tough questioning on this matter by the 9/11 Commission without acknowledging the accuracy of Clarke's charges, any careful historian, seeking answers for the Bush administration's inexcusable failure to heed warnings of a potential terrorist strike on this country, must begin with its overarching focus on containing China during this critical period.

After September 11, it would have been unseemly for Bush, Rice and other top administration officials to push their China agenda - and in any case they quickly shifted focus to a long-term neocon objective, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the projection of American power throughout the Middle East. So the "global war on terror" (or GWOT, in Pentagon-speak) became their major talking point and the invasion of Iraq their major focus. But the administration never completely lost sight of its strategic focus on China, even when it could do little on the subject. Indeed, the lightning war on Iraq and the further projection of American power into the Middle East was intended, at least in part, as a warning to China of the overwhelming might of the American military and the futility of challenging US supremacy.

For the next two years, when so much effort was devoted to rebuilding Iraq in America's image and crushing an unexpected and potent Iraqi insurgency, China was distinctly on the back burner. In the meantime, however, China's increased investment in modern military capabilities and its growing economic reach in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America - much of it tied to the procurement of oil and other vital commodities - could not be ignored.

By the spring of 2005, the White House was already turning back to Rice's global grand strategy. On June 4 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a much publicized speech at a conference in Singapore, signaling what was to be a new emphasis in White House policy making, in which he decried China's ongoing military buildup and warned of the threat it posed to regional peace and stability.

China, he claimed, was "expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world" and "improving its ability to project power" in the Asia-Pacific region. Then, with sublime disingenuousness, he added, "Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing and expanding arms purchases? Why these continuing robust deployments?" Although Rumsfeld did not answer his questions, the implication was obvious: China was now embarked on a course that would make it a regional power, thus threatening one day to present a challenge to the United States in Asia on unacceptably equal terms.

This early sign of the ratcheting up of anti-Chinese rhetoric was accompanied by acts of a more concrete nature. In February 2005, Rice and Rumsfeld hosted a meeting in Washington with top Japanese officials at which an agreement was signed to improve cooperation in military affairs between the two countries. Known as the "Joint Statement of the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee", the agreement called for greater collaboration between American and Japanese forces in the conduct of military operations in an area stretching from northeast Asia to the South China Sea. It also called for close consultation on policies regarding Taiwan, an implicit hint that Japan was prepared to assist the United States in the event of a military clash with China precipitated by Taiwan's declaring its independence.

This came at a time when Beijing was already expressing considerable alarm over pro-independence moves in Taiwan and what the Chinese saw as a revival of militarism in Japan - thus evoking painful memories of World War II, when Japan invaded China and committed massive atrocities against Chinese civilians. Understandably then, the agreement could only be interpreted by the Chinese leadership as an expression of the Bush administration's determination to bolster an anti-Chinese alliance system.

Why did the White House choose this particular moment to revive its drive to contain China? Many factors no doubt contributed to this turnaround, but surely the most significant was a perception that China had finally emerged as a major regional power in its own right and was beginning to contest America's long-term dominance of the Asia-Pacific region. To some degree this was manifested - so the Pentagon claimed - in military terms, as Beijing began to replace Soviet-type, Korean War-vintage weapons with more modern (though hardly cutting-edge) Russian designs.

It was not China's military moves, however, that truly alarmed American policy makers - most professional analysts are well aware of the continuing inferiority of Chinese weaponry - but rather Beijing's success in using its enormous purchasing power and hunger for resources to establish friendly ties with such long-standing US allies as Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. Because the Bush administration had done little to contest this trend while focusing on the war in Iraq, China's rapid gains in Southeast Asia finally began to ring alarm bells in Washington.

At the same time, Republican strategists were becoming increasingly concerned by growing Chinese involvement in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia - areas considered of vital geopolitical importance to the United States because of the vast reserves of oil and natural gas buried there. Much influenced by Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Geostrategic Imperatives (Basic Books), first highlighted the critical importance of Central Asia, these strategists sought to counter Chinese inroads. Although Brzezinski himself has largely been excluded from elite Republican circles because of his association with the much despised Carter administration, his call for a coordinated US drive to dominate both the eastern and western rimlands of China has been embraced by senior administration strategists.

In this way, Washington's concern over growing Chinese influence in Southeast Asia has come to be intertwined with the US drive for hegemony in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. This has given China policy an even more elevated significance in Washington - and helps explain its return with a passion despite the seemingly all-consuming preoccupations of the war in Iraq.

Whatever the exact balance of factors, the Bush administration is now clearly engaged in a coordinated, systematic effort to contain Chinese power and influence in Asia. This effort appears to have three broad objectives: to convert existing relations with Japan, Australia and South Korea into a robust, integrated anti-Chinese alliance system; to bring other nations, especially India, into this system; and to expand US military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Since the administration's campaign to bolster ties with Japan commenced a year ago, the two countries have been meeting continuously to devise protocols for the implementation of their 2005 strategic agreement. In October, Washington and Tokyo released the Alliance Transformation and Realignment Report, which is to guide the further integration of US and Japanese forces in the Pacific and the simultaneous restructuring of the US basing system in Japan. (Some of these bases, especially those on Okinawa, have become a source of friction in US-Japanese relations and so the Pentagon is now considering ways to downsize the most objectionable installations.) Japanese and American officers are also engaged in a joint "interoperability" study, aimed at smoothing the "interface" between US and Japanese combat and communications systems. "Close collaboration is also ongoing for cooperative missile defense", reports Admiral William J Fallon, commander in chief of the US Pacific Command (PACOM).

Steps have also been taken in this ongoing campaign to weld South Korea and Australia more tightly to the US-Japanese alliance system. South Korea has long been reluctant to work closely with Japan because of that country's brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and lingering fears of Japanese militarism; now, however, the Bush administration is promoting what it calls "trilateral military cooperation" between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington. As indicated by Fallon, this initiative has an explicitly anti-Chinese dimension. America's ties with South Korea must adapt to "the changing security environment" represented by "China's military modernization", Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7. By cooperating with the United States and Japan, he continued, South Korea will move from an overwhelming focus on North Korea to "a more regional view of security and stability".

Bringing Australia into this emerging anti-Chinese network has been a major priority of Rice, who spent several days there in mid-March. Although designed in part to bolster US-Australian ties (largely neglected by Washington over the past few years), the main purpose of her visit was to host a meeting of top officials from Australia, the United States and Japan to develop a common strategy for curbing China's rising influence in Asia. No formal results were announced, but Steven Weisman of the New York Times reported on March 19 that Rice convened the meeting "to deepen a three-way regional alliance aimed in part at balancing the spreading presence of China".

An even bigger prize, in Washington's view, would be the integration of India into this emerging alliance system, a possibility first suggested in Rice's Foreign Affairs article. Such a move was long frustrated by congressional objections to India's nuclear weapons program and its refusal to sign on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Under US law, nations like India that refuse to cooperate in nonproliferation measures can be excluded from various forms of aid and cooperation. To overcome this problem, President Bush met with Indian officials in New Delhi in March and negotiated a nuclear accord that will open India's civilian reactors to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection, thus providing a thin gloss of nonproliferation cooperation to India's robust nuclear weapons program. If Congress approves Bush's plan, the United States will be free to provide nuclear assistance to India and, in the process, significantly expand already growing military-to-military ties.

In signing the nuclear pact with India, Bush did not allude to the administration's anti-Chinese agenda, saying only that it would lay the foundation for a "durable defense relationship". But few have been fooled by this vague characterization. According to a recent article by Weisman in the New York Times, most US lawmakers view the nuclear accord as an expression of the administration's desire to convert India into "a counterweight to China".

Accompanying all these diplomatic initiatives has been a vigorous, if largely unheralded, effort by the Department of Defense (DoD) to bolster US military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

The broad sweep of American strategy was first spelled out in the Pentagon's most recent policy assessment, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released on February 5. In discussing long-term threats to US security, the QDR begins with a reaffirmation of the overarching precept first articulated in the DPG of 1992: that the United States will not allow the rise of a competing superpower. This country "will attempt to dissuade any military competitor from developing disruptive or other capabilities that could enable regional hegemony or hostile action against the United States", the document states. It then identifies China as the most likely and dangerous competitor of this sort. "Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional US military advantages" - then adding the kicker, "absent US counter strategies".

According to the Pentagon, the task of countering future Chinese military capabilities largely entails the development, and then procurement, of major weapons systems that would ensure US success in any full-scale military confrontation. "The United States will develop capabilities that would present any adversary with complex and multidimensional challenges and complicate its offensive planning efforts", the QDR explains. These include the steady enhancement of such "enduring US advantages" as "long-range strike, stealth, operational maneuver and sustainment of air, sea, and ground forces at strategic distances, air dominance, and undersea warfare".

Preparing for war with China, in other words, is to be the future cash cow for the giant US weapons-making corporations in the military-industrial complex. It will, for instance, be the primary justification for the acquisition of costly new weapons systems such as the F-22A Raptor air-superiority fighter, the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter, the DDX destroyer, the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine and a new, intercontinental-penetrating bomber - weapons that would just have utility in an all-out encounter with another great-power adversary of a sort that only China might someday become.

In addition to these weapons programs, the QDR also calls for a stiffening of present US combat forces in Asia and the Pacific, with a particular emphasis on the Navy (the arm of the military least utilized in the ongoing occupation of and war in Iraq). "The fleet will have greater presence in the Pacific Ocean", the document notes. To achieve this, "the Navy plans to adjust its force posture and basing to provide at least six operationally available and sustainable [aircraft] carriers and sixty percent of its submarines in the Pacific to support engagement, presence and deterrence". Since each of these carriers is, in fact, but the core of a large array of support ships and protective aircraft, this move is sure to entail a truly vast buildup of US naval capabilities in the western Pacific and will certainly necessitate a substantial expansion of the American basing complex in the region - a requirement that is already receiving close attention from Fallon and his staff at PACOM. To assess the operational demands of this buildup, moreover, this summer the US Navy will conduct its most extensive military maneuvers in the western Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War, with four aircraft carrier battle groups and many support ships expected to participate.

Add all of this together, and the resulting strategy cannot be viewed as anything but a systematic campaign of containment. No high administration official may say this in so many words, but it is impossible to interpret the recent moves of Rice and Rumsfeld in any other manner. From Beijing's perspective, the reality must be unmistakable: a steady buildup of American military power along China's eastern, southern and western boundaries.

How will China respond to this threat? For now, it appears to be relying on charm and the conspicuous blandishment of economic benefits to loosen Australian, South Korean and even Indian ties with the United States. To a certain extent, this strategy is meeting with success, as these countries seek to profit from the extraordinary economic boom now under way in China - fueled to a considerable extent by oil, gas, iron, timber and other materials supplied by China's neighbors in Asia. A version of this strategy is also being employed by President Hu Jintao during his current visit to the United States. As China's money is sprinkled liberally among influential firms like Boeing and Microsoft, Hu is reminding the corporate wing of the Republican Party that there are vast economic benefits still to be had by pursuing a nonthreatening stance toward China.

China, however, has always responded to perceived threats of encirclement in a vigorous and muscular fashion as well, and so we should assume that Beijing will balance all that charm with a military buildup of its own. Such a drive will not bring China to the brink of military equality with the United States - that is not a condition it can realistically aspire to over the next few decades. But it will provide further justification for those in the United States who seek to accelerate the containment of China, and so will produce a self-fulfilling loop of distrust, competition and crisis. This will make the amicable long-term settlement of the Taiwan problem and of North Korea's nuclear program that much more difficult and increase the risk of unintended escalation to full-scale war in Asia. There can be no victors from such a conflagration.

This article originally appeared on

Bill Totten

Glass Half Full

Bill Totten

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Anti-Empire Report

Some things you need to know before the world ends

by William Blum (April 22 2006)

Your War Channel - all war - all the time - 24/7 - 25/8 - round the clock-breaking only for commercials for Halliburton and Bechtel

The recent paper by two prominent academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, on "The Israel Lobby", has spurred considerable discussion both in the mainstream media and on the Internet about the significance of the role played by this lobby in instigating the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The answer to this question may reside ultimately, and solely, in the minds of the neo-conservatives, in or close to official government positions, who lobbied for years to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein; an early instance of this being their now-famous letter to President Clinton in January 1998, which, in no uncertain terms, called for an American strategy that "should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power". Warning of Saddam's potential for acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the neo-cons, in language at times sounding frenzied, insisted that his removal was absolutely vital to "the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century" and for "the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world's supply of oil".

This of course was a gross exaggeration. In 1998, after seven years of relentless US bombing and draconian sanctions, Iraq was but a pitiful shell of its former self and no longer a threat even to its neighbors, much less "the world". There were those who hated Saddam, but the only country that had any good reason to fear Iraq, then or later, was Israel, as retaliation for Israel's unprovoked bombing of Iraq in 1981. The letter to Clinton was signed by Elliott Abrams, Richard L Armitage, William J Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, John Bolton, Paula Dobriansky, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Peter W Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, William Schneider, Jr, Vin Weber, Paul Wolfowitz, R James Woolsey, and Robert B Zoellick {1}, most of whom, if not all, could be categorized as allies of Israel; most of whom were soon to join the Busheviks. What could have prompted these individuals to write such a letter to the president other than a desire to eliminate a threat to the safety of Israel? And when they came into power some began immediately to campaign for regime change in Iraq.

There are those who argue that the United States has invaded numerous countries without requiring instigation by Israel. This is of course true, it's what the empire does for a living. But to say that the Israel lobby played a vital role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is not to suggest an explanation for the whole history of US foreign interventions.

To the role of the Israel lobby we must add two other factors carrying unknown degrees of weight in the decision to invade Iraq: controlling vast amounts of oil, and saving the dollar from the euro by reversing Saddam Hussein's decision to use the latter in Iraq's oil transactions (and this reversal was one of the first edicts of the occupation).

Whatever ambiguity may remain about the role of the Israel lobby in the invasion of Iraq, it's clear that if and when the sociopaths who call themselves our leaders attack Iran, Israeli security will be the main reason, with the euro in second place because Iran has been taking - or at least threatening to take - serious steps to replace the dollar with the euro in oil transactions. Iran of course also has lots of oil, but unless the United States aims at conquest and occupation of the country - and where will Los Socios find a few hundred thousand more clueless American bodies - access to and control of the oil would not be very feasible. The Israel lobby appears to be the only major organized force that is actively pushing the United States toward crisis in Iran. Along with the lobby's leading member, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), there's the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has taken out full-page ads in major US newspapers with the less-than-subtle heading: "A Nuclear Iran Threatens All", depicting radiating circles on an Iran-centered map to show where its missiles could strike.

"The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel", declared George W last month. "That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace. I made it clear, and I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel." {2}

Chutzpah of an imperial size

Do you remember the classic example of "chutzpah"? It's the young man who kills his parents and then asks the court for mercy on the grounds that he's an orphan.

The Bush administration's updated version of that is starting a wholly illegal, immoral, and devastating war and then dismissing all kinds of criticism of its action on the grounds that "We're at war".

They use this excuse to defend warrantless spying, to defend the imprisonment of people for years without charging them with a crime, to abuse and torture them, to ignore the Geneva Convention and other international treaties; they use it against Democrats, accusing them of partisanship during "a time of war"; they use it to justify the expansion of presidential powers and the weakening of checks and balances. In short, they claim "We can do whatever we want about anything at all related to this war, because we're at war".

"War is war", says Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, "and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. Give me a break." {3} Scalia, in his public talks, implies that prisoners held in the far-flung American gulag were all "captured on the battlefield". {4} But this is simply false. Very few of the poor souls were captured on any kind of battlefield, few had even a gun in their hand; most were just in the wrong place at the wrong time or were turned in by an informer for an American bounty or a personal grudge.

The American public, like all publics, requires only sufficient repetition from "respectable" sources to learn how to play the game: Earlier this month many cities of Wisconsin held referendums on bringing the troops home from Iraq. Here's Jim Martin, 48, a handyman in Evansville. He thinks that his city shouldn't waste taxpayers' money running a referendum that means nothing. "The fact of the matter remains, we're at war", he said as he ate his lunch at the Night Owl bar. {5}

And here now is Chris Simcox a leader in the Minuteman movement that patrols the Mexican border: "If I catch you breaking into my country in the middle of the night and we're at war ... you're a potential enemy. I don't care if you're a busboy coming to wash dishes." {6}

One observer has summed up the legal arguments put forth by the Bush administration thusly: "The existing laws do not apply because this is a different kind of war. It's a different kind of war because the president says so. The president gets to say so because he is president ... We follow the laws of war except to the extent that they do not apply to us. These prisoners have all the rights to which they are entitled by law, except to the extent that we have changed the law to limit their rights." {7}

Yet, George W has cut taxes tremendously, something probably unprecedented while at war.

Facing calls for impeachment, plummeting popularity, a looming Republican electoral disaster, and massive failure in Mesopotamia, Georgie looks toward Persia. He and the other gang members will be able to get away with almost anything they can think of if they can say "We're in two wars!"

A tale of two terrorists

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged to date in the United States in connection with the September 11 2001 attacks, testifying at his trial in Alexandria, Virginia:

The sobbing September 11 survivors and family members who testified against him were "disgusting" ... He and other Muslims want to "exterminate" American Jews ... executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was "the greatest American" {8} ... He expressed his willingness to kill Americans "any time, anywhere" ... "I wish it had happened not only on the 11th, but the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th". {9}

Orlando Bosch, one of the masterminds behind the October 6 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane, blown out of the sky with 73 people on board, including the entire young Cuban fencing team, interviewed April 8 by Juan Manuel Cao of Channel 41 in Miami:

Cao: Did you down that plane in 1976?

Bosch: If I tell you that I was involved, I will be inculpating myself ... and if I tell you that I did not participate in that action, you would say that I am lying. I am therefore not going to answer one thing or the other.

Cao: In that action 73 persons were killed ...

Bosch: No chico, in a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.

Cao: But don't you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?

Bosch: Who was on board that plane? Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five
Guyanese ... Who was there? Our enemies.

Cao: And the fencers? The young people on board?

Bosch: I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant. We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.

Cao: If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn't you think it difficult ... ?

Bosch: No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba.

The main difference between Zacarias Moussaoui and Orlando Bosch is that one of them is on trial for his life while the other walks around Miami a free man, free enough to be interviewed on television.

Bosch had a partner in plotting the bombing of the Cuban airliner, Luis Posada, a Cuban-born citizen of Venezuela. He's being held in custody in the United States on a minor immigration charge. His extradition has been requested by Venezuela for several crimes including the downing of the airliner, part of the plotting having taken place in Venezuela. But the Bush administration refuses to send him to Venezuela because they don't like the Venezuelan government, nor will they try him in the United States for the crime. However, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation (1973), of which the United States is a signatory, gives Washington no discretion. Article 7 says that the state in which "the alleged offender is found shall, if it does not extradite him, be obliged, without exception whatsoever and whether or not the offence was committed in its territory, to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution". {10} Extradite or prosecute. The United States does neither.

This is your mind on anti-communism

Earlier this month, in Miami-Dade County, Florida (where else?) it was reported that the parent of a schoolchild asked the school board to ban a book called "Vamos a Cuba" ("Let's go to Cuba"), a travel book that has smiling kids on the cover and inside depicts happy scenes from a festival held in Cuba. "As a former political prisoner from Cuba, I find the material to be untruthful", Juan Amador, wrote to the school board. "It portrays a life in Cuba that does not exist. I believe it aims to create an illusion and distort reality." Mr Amador is presumably claiming that no one in Cuba is ever happy or even smiles. The book is currently being reviewed by a school committee. {11}

During his recent election campaign, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi declared that communists in Mao's China boiled babies to make fertilizer {12}. He defended his remark by citing: The Black Book of Communism" a "history" of communism published in 1997, a book that is to the study of communism as The Protocols of the Elders of Zionism is to Judaism or the collected statements of George W Bush are to understanding why we are fighting in Iraq. Berlusconi's remark may actually be regarded as progress in the wonderful world of anti-communism, for following the Russian Revolution of 1917 it was widely and long proclaimed that the Bolsheviks killed and ate babies (as the early pagans believed the Christians guilty of devouring their children; the same was believed of Jews in the Middle Ages). It's interesting to note (well, to me at least) that in 2003, when my book Killing Hope was published in Italy, the publisher gave it the title Il Libro Nero Degli Stati Unit (The Black Book of The United States). {13}

Charles Taylor and that fake opposition party known as the Democrats

Some things I have to repeat, because the news makes them relevant once again, and because the media ignores them once again. Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, has been captured and is being held for trial in a UN-sponsored war-crimes court in neighboring Sierra Leone. In 2003 Taylor was indicted by this court for "bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law" during Sierra Leone's civil war. The United States, along with the rest of the world, condemns Taylor, applauds his capture, and calls for his punishment. What we're not reminded of is this:

In 1998, President Clinton sent Reverend Jesse Jackson as his special envoy to Liberia and Sierra Leone, the latter being in the midst of one of the great horrors of the 20th century - You may remember the army of mostly young boys, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), who went around raping and chopping off people's arms and legs. African and world opinion was enraged against the RUF, which was committed to protecting the diamond mines they controlled. Taylor was an indispensable ally and supporter of the RUF and Jackson was an old friend of his. Jesse was not sent to the region to try to curtail the RUF's atrocities, nor to hound Taylor about his widespread human rights violations, but instead, in June 1999, Jackson and other American officials drafted entire sections of an accord that made RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, Sierra Leone's vice president, and gave him official control over the diamond mines, the country's major source of wealth. {14}

And what was the Clinton administration's interest in all this? It's been speculated that the answer lies with certain individuals with ties to the diamond industry and to Clinton, while he was president or while governor of Arkansas; for example, Maurice Tempelsman, generous contributor to the Democratic Party and escort of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright around this time, whose Antwerp, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv diamond marts arranged for Sierra Leone diamond sales to Tiffany and Cartier. {15}

Good ol' Bill? Good ol' Jess? I know, I know, I keep tearing down your heroes. Who will you have left? But remember the words of the two characters in Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo":

"Unhappy the land that has no heroes", says the first.

"No", says the other, "Unhappy the land that needs heroes".

Or as Abbie Hoffman said: "Sacred cows make the best hamburger".

After the war-crimes trial we'll need a second tribunal for shameless lying, gross insults to our intelligence, and just plain weird stupidity and stupid weirdness.

George W Bush, speaking March 29, 2006 to the Freedom House organization in Washington: "We're a country of deep compassion. We care. One of the great things about America, one of the beauties of our country, is that when we see a young, innocent child blown up by an IED [improvised explosive device], we cry. We don't care what the child's religion may be, or where that child may live, we cry. It upsets us. The enemy knows that, and they're willing to - they're willing to kill to shake our confidence. That's what they're trying to do." {16}

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities". - Voltaire

Is this any way to organize a society of human beings?

April 18 was the 100th anniversary of the historic, catastrophic San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Studies predict that the next big quake in the city will take a much greater human toll because so many of the residents live in apartments and houses built before building codes were tightened in 1970. And because many units are rent-controlled apartments, we are told, landlords have few incentives to seismic retrofit. {17}

There are those who would use this as an argument against rent control. There are others who would use it as an argument against free enterprise or private ownership of housing. Think of it. Over the years, California has learned very well how to modernize buildings to prepare them to withstand earthquakes much better than in the past. That this works has been proven again and again, even dramatically, such as in Los Angeles, hit by a 7.4 quake in 1994, with relatively little damage. (I was asleep in my bed in Hollywood when it hit in the early morning of January 17 and was rudely and frighteningly awakened, but the apartment building was fine.) Yet large numbers of people in California are still living in dwellings very vulnerable to a quake because to correct the situation would adversely affect the profit and loss statements of the owners of those dwellings.


{1} Letter to Clinton:

{2} Agence France Presse (March 20 2006)

{3} Newsweek (April 3 2006)

{4} Washington Post (April 15 2006), page 2

{5} Associated Press (March 27 2006)

{6} Philadelphia Inquirer (March 26 2006)

{7} Dahlia Lithwick, (March 28 2006)

{8} Washington Post (April 14 2006), page 1

{9} Deutsche Presse-Agentur (April 13 2006)


{11} Washington Post (April 9 2006), page 2

{12} Associated Press (March 29 2006)

{13} For many other examples of the mind on anti-communism, see William Blum, Freeing the World to Death, chapter 12 ("Before there were terrorists there were communists and the wonderful world of anti-communism")

(14) Ryan Lizza, "Where angels fear to tread", New Republic (July 24 2000)

(15) The Washington Post (August 2 1997), page A1 and (February 6 1998), page B1 re Tempelsman. Other speculation in various places has concerned diamond investors Jean Raymond Boulle and Robert Friedland, each with alleged ties to Clinton.

(16) Federal Information and News Dispatch, Inc, State Department Documents and Publications (March 29 2006)

(17) Washington Post (April 17 2006), page 3

William Blum is the author of:-

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2 (Common Courage Press, 1995)

Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002)

West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press, 2002)

Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage Press, 2004)

Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

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Bill Totten

Foreign Policy Update

Bill Totten

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Real First Casualty of War

Censorship by journalism is virulent in Britain and the US - and it means the difference between life and death for people in faraway countries.

by John Pilger

New Statesman Cover story (April 24 2006)

During the 1970s, I filmed secretly in Czechoslovakia, then a Stalinist dictatorship. The dissident novelist Zdenek Urba'nek told me, "In one respect, we are more fortunate than you in the west. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and watch on television, nothing of the official truth. Unlike you, we have learned to read between the lines, because real truth is always subversive".

This acute scepticism, this skill of reading between the lines, is urgently needed in supposedly free societies today. Take the reporting of state-sponsored war. The oldest cliche' is that truth is the first casualty of war. I disagree. Journalism is the first casualty. Not only that: it has become a weapon of war, a virulent censorship that goes unrecognised in the United States, Britain and other democracies; censorship by omission, whose power is such that, in war, it can mean the difference between life and death for people in faraway countries, such as Iraq.

As a journalist for more than forty years, I have tried to understand how this works. In the aftermath of the US war in Vietnam, which I reported, the policy in Washington was revenge, a word frequently used in private but never publicly. A medieval embargo was imposed on Vietnam and Cambodia; the Thatcher government cut off supplies of milk to the children of Vietnam. This assault on the very fabric of life in two of the world's most stricken societies was rarely reported; the consequence was mass suffering.

It was during this time that I made a series of documentaries about Cambodia. The first, in 1979, Year Zero: the silent death of Cambodia, described the American bombing that had provided a catalyst for the rise of Pol Pot, and showed the shocking human effects of the embargo. Year Zero was broadcast in some sixty countries, but never in the United States. When I flew to Washington and offered it to the national public broadcaster, PBS, I received a curious reaction. PBS executives were shocked by the film, and spoke admiringly of it, even as they collectively shook their heads. One of them said: "John, we are disturbed that your film says the United States played such a destructive role, so we have decided to call in a journalistic adjudicator".

The term "journalistic adjudicator" was out of Orwell. PBS appointed one Richard Dudman, a reporter on the St Louis Post-Dispatch, and one of the few westerners to have been invited by Pol Pot to visit Cambodia. His despatches reflected none of the savagery then enveloping that country; he even praised his hosts. Not surprisingly, he gave my film the thumbs-down. One of the PBS executives confided to me: "These are difficult days under Ronald Reagan. Your film would have given us problems."

The lack of truth about what had really happened in south-east Asia - the media-promoted myth of a "blunder" and the suppression of the true scale of civilian casualties and of routine mass murder, even the word "invasion" - allowed Reagan to launch a second "noble cause" in central America. The target was another impoverished nation without resources: Nicaragua, whose "threat", like Vietnam's, was in trying to establish a model of development different from that of the colonial dictatorships backed by Washington. Nicaragua was crushed, thanks in no small part to leading American journalists, conservative and liberal, who suppressed the triumphs of the Sandinistas and encouraged a specious debate about a "threat".

The tragedy in Iraq is different, but, for journalists, there are haunting similarities. On 24 August last year, a New York Times editorial declared: "If we had all known then what we know now, the invasion [of Iraq] would have been stopped by a popular outcry". This amazing admission was saying, in effect, that the invasion would never have happened if journalists had not betrayed the public by accepting and amplifying and echoing the lies of Bush and Blair, instead of challenging and exposing them.

We now know that the BBC and other British media were used by MI6, the secret intelligence service. In what was called "Operation Mass Appeal", MI6 agents planted stories about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction - such as weapons hidden in his palaces and in secret underground bunkers. All these stories were fake. But this is not the point. The point is that the dark deeds of MI6 were quite unnecessary. Recently, the BBC's director of news, Helen Boaden, was asked to explain how one of her "embedded" reporters in Iraq, having accepted US denials of the use of chemical weapons against civilians, could possibly describe the aim of the Anglo-American invasion as to "bring democracy and human rights" to Iraq. She replied with quotations from Blair that this was indeed the aim, as if Blair's utterances and the truth were in any way related. On the third anniversary of the invasion, a BBC newsreader described this illegal, unprovoked act, based on lies, as a "miscalculation". Thus, to use Edward Herman's memorable phrase, the unthinkable was normalised.

Such servility to state power is hotly denied, yet routine. Almost the entire British media has omitted the true figure of Iraqi civilian casualties, wilfully ignoring or attempting to discredit respectable studies. "Making conservative assumptions", wrote the researchers from the eminent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, working with Iraqi scholars, "we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more, have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq ... which were primarily the result of military actions by coalition forces. Most of those killed by coalition forces were women and children ... " That was 29 October 2004. Today, the figure has doubled.

Language is perhaps the most crucial battleground. Noble words such as "democracy", "liberation", "freedom" and "reform" have been emptied of their true meaning and refilled by the enemies of those concepts. The counterfeits dominate the news, along with dishonest political labels, such as "left of centre", a favourite given to warlords such as Blair and Bill Clinton; it means the opposite. "War on terror" is a fake metaphor that insults our intelligence. We are not at war. Instead, our troops are fighting insurrections in countries where our invasions have caused mayhem and grief, the evidence and images of which are suppressed. How many people know that, in revenge for 3,000 innocent lives taken on 11 September 2001, up to 20,000 innocent people died in Afghanistan?

In reclaiming the honour of our craft, not to mention the truth, we journalists at least need to understand the historic task to which we are assigned - that is, to report the rest of humanity in terms of its usefulness, or otherwise, to "us", and to soften up the public for rapacious attacks on countries that are no threat to us. We soften them up by dehumanising them, by writing about "regime change" in Iran as if that country were an abstraction, not a human society. Hugo Cha'vez's Venezuela is currently being softened up on both sides of the Atlantic. A few weeks ago, Channel 4 News carried a major item that might have been broadcast by the US State Department. The reporter, Jonathan Rugman, the programme's Washington correspondent, presented Cha'vez as a cartoon character, a sinister buffoon whose folksy Latin ways disguised a man "in danger of joining a rogues' gallery of dictators and despots - Washington's latest Latin nightmare". In contrast, Condoleezza Rice was given gravitas and Donald Rumsfeld was allowed to compare Cha'vez to Hitler.

Indeed, almost everything in this travesty of journalism was viewed from Washington, and only fragments of it from the barrios of Venezuela, where Cha'vez enjoys eighty per cent popularity. That he had won nine democratic elections and referendums - a world record - was omitted. In crude Soviet flick style, he was shown with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, though these brief encounters had to do with Opec and oil only. According to Rugman, Venezuela under Cha'vez is helping Iran develop nuclear weapons. No evidence was given for this absurdity. People watching would have no idea that Venezuela was the only oil-producing country in the world to use its oil revenue for the benefit of poor people. They would have no idea of spectacular developments in health, education, literacy; no idea that Venezuela has no political jails - unlike the United States.

So if the Bush administration moves to implement "Operation Bilbao", a contingency plan to overthrow the democratic government of Venezuela, who will care, because who will know? For we shall have only the media version; another demon will get what is coming to him. The poor of Venezuela, like the poor of Nicaragua, and the poor of Vietnam and countless other faraway places, whose dreams and lives are of no interest, will be invisible in their grief: a triumph of censorship by journalism.

It is said that the internet offers an alternative, and what is wonderful about the rebellious spirits on the worldwide web is that they often report as many journalists should. They are mavericks in the tradition of muckrakers such as Claud Cockburn, who said: "Never believe anything until it has been officially denied". But the internet is still a kind of samizdat, an underground, and most of humanity does not log on, just as most of humanity does not own a mobile phone. And the right to know ought to be universal. That other great muckraker, Tom Paine, warned that if the majority of the people were being denied the truth and ideas of truth, it was time to storm what he called the "Bastille of words". That time is now.

This is an abridged version of an address, "Reporting War and Empire", by John Pilger at Columbia University, New York, in company with Seymour Hersh, Robert Fisk and Charles Glass.

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Bill Totten