Saturday, July 29, 2006

John Dean: Neocon Fearmongering and its Consequences

The following was posted on one of my favorite internet forums. It's a great excerpt from John Dean's latest critique (that's probably far too gentle, 'skewering' is probably more appropriate), of the Bush administration, Conservatives Without Conscience. It describes how the Bushies constantly provoke mass fear to further their political agenda, a hallmark of all authoritarian regimes. Can't wait to read more of this book.

"Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."
--President Dwight Eisenhower

The following is an excerpt from John Dean's latest book Conservatives Without Conscience and is one of the best summations of this particular political phenomenon as it applies to the current administration that I have seen.

Among the most troubling of the authoritarian and radical tactics being employed by Bush and Cheney are their politics of fear. A favorite gambit of Latin American dictators who run sham democracies, fearmongering has generally been frowned upon in American politics.* Think of the modern presidents who have governed our nation--Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton--and the various crises they confronted--the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean war, the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis, the war in Vietnam, Iran's taking of American hostages, the danger to American students in Grenada, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, the terrorist bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, and Timothy McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. None of these presidents resorted to fear in dealing with these situations. None of these presidents made the use of fear a standard procedure or a means of governing (or pursuing office or political goals). To the contrary, all of these presidents sought to avoid preying on the fears of Americans. (It will be noted that Nixon is not included in this list because he did use fear in both his 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns, and he continued to use this tactic once in office.)

Frightening Americans, nonetheless, has become a standard ploy for Bush, Cheney, and their surrogates. They add a fear factor to every course of action they pursue, whether it is their radical foreign policy of preemptive war, their call for tax cuts, their desire to privatize social security, or their implementation of a radical new health care scheme. This fearmongering began with the administration's political exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy, when it made the fight against terrorists the centerpiece of its presidency. Bush and Cheney launched America's first preemptive war by claiming it necessary to the fight against terrorism. Yet it is almost universally agreed that the war has actually created an incubator in Iraq for a new generation of terrorists who will seek to harm the United States far into the future. Even well-informed friends of the Bush administration have adopted this view. Senator John McCain, in a 2004 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed his concern that we had "energized the extremists and created a breeding ground for terrorists, dooming the Arab world" in Iraq,84 and former National Security Adviser (to Bush I) Brent Scowcroft bluntly said of the war in Iraq, "This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism."85


*For example, President Alberto Fujimori manipulated the people of Peru for electoral gains and to justify authoritarian practices in 2000 by using the threat of terror. "Elitists and dictators have used fear tactics to control their constituencies since the beginning of time," noted scholar R. D. Davis in "Debunking the Big Lie," in National Minority Politics (November 30, 1995), 37. Chris Ney and Kelly Creedon, authors with expertise on Latin American politics, wrote that "fear won the election" in El Salvador in 2004, noting, "The rhetoric and tactics mirror those employed by other Latin American right-wing parties, including that of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet." They conclude with an observation remarkably applicable to American democracy: "The targeted use of fear is a powerful motivator, especially for people who have been traumatized by war, state terrorism, or economic insecurity. The implications for democratic government whether newly formed or well-established--are deeply disturbing." Chris Ney and Kelly Creedon, "Preemptive Intervention in El Salvador,'' Peacework (May 2004), 15.


Among the few who have spoken out against the politics of fear, no one has done so more forcefully, and with less notice in the mainstream news media, than former vice president Al Gore, who was the keynote speaker at a conference in February 2004 titled "Fear: Its Political Uses and Abuses." Gore analyzed the administration's continuous use of fear since 9/11 and expressed grave concern that no one was correcting the misinformation being fed to Americans by Bush and Cheney. "Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction," Gore observed. "President Dwight Eisenhower said this: 'Any who act as if freedoms defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.' But only fifteen years later," Gore continued, "when Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon, became president, we saw the beginning of a major change in America's politics. Nixon, in a sense, embodied that spirit of suppression and suspicion and fear that Eisenhower had denounced." Getting right to the point, Gore continued, "In many ways, George W. Bush reminds me of Nixon more than any other president....Like Bush, Nixon understood the political uses and misuses of fear." While much of the press has ignored Bush's and Cheney's fearmongering, letters to the editor occasionally surface to address it, like the letter from Steve Mavros to the New York Times saying he was "sick and tired of living in fear," yet "President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney want us to fear everything. Fear the terrorists, fear Muslims, fear gays."86

By and large Bush, Cheney, and their White House media operation have churned out fear with very few challenges from the media. Cheney regularly tells Americans that we are "up against an adversary who, with a relatively small number of people, could come together and mount a devastating attack against the United States," adding, "The ultimate threat now would be a group of al Qaeda in the middle of one of our cities with a nuclear weapon."87 Did the interviewer ask how likely that might be? Or what the government was doing to prevent it or to minimize its impact? No such questions were raised. The Bush White House understands that the media will treat their fearmongering as news, because fear sells news; it keeps people reading, watching, and waiting for updates. There is more fear to come, for the Bush White House is relying on it in their campaign for the 2006 midterm congressional elections. This, in turn, will set the stage for the 2008 presidential election, where authoritarians will make certain fear is a prominent part of the platform.

Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, gave the word to the political troops at a meeting of the Republican National Committee in early 2006. "America is at war--and so our national security is at the forefront of the minds of Americans," Rove said, as he rattled the White House saber. "The United States faces a ruthless enemy--and we need a commander-in-chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of this moment. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats."88 I have said little about Rove, principally because this is not a book about the Bush White House. But Karl Rove has all the credentials of a right-wing authoritarian, and if he has a conscience, it has hardly been in evidence during the five years in which he has been in the public eye. He is conspicuously submissive to authority, exceedingly aggressive in pursuing and defending the policies and practices he embraces (namely, whatever George W. Bush believes, or that which is politically expedient), and he is highly conventional. As a political strategist, Rove appreciates the value of fear, so it is not surprising that he proclaimed that the 2006 midterm elections would be won or lost based on how frightened Americans are about terrorism.

A writer for Harper’s magazine recently collected facts that illustrate the 9/11 terror attack from a "detached perspective," leaving out hot hyperbole by making a cold comparison of hard numbers regarding causes of death in the United States:

In 2001, terrorists killed 2,978 people in the United States, including the five killed by anthrax. In that same year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease killed 700,142 Americans and cancer 553,768; various accidents claimed 101,537 lives, suicide 30,622, and homicide, not including the [terror] attacks, another 17,330. As President Bush pointed out in January [2004], no one has been killed by terrorists on American soil since then. Neither, according to the FBI, was anyone killed here by terrorists in 2000. In 1999, the number was one. In 1998, it was three. In 1997, zero.* Even using 2001 as a baseline, the actuarial tables would suggest that our concern about terror mortality ought to be on the order of our concern about fatal workplace injuries (5,431 deaths) or drowning (3,247). To recognize this is not to dishonor the loss to the families of those people killed by terrorists, but neither should their anguish eclipse that of the families of children who died in their infancy that year (27,801). Every death has its horrors.89

On a broad base, Jim Harper, the director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, has observed, "We can compare the risk of terrorist attack to other dangers our country has historically faced: During the height of the Cold War, we drew within a few figurative minutes of midnight--the moment that the Soviet Union and United States would hurl their world-ending arsenals at one another." Harper further noted that "we didn't throw out the rulebook during the Cold War. The executive branch did not make extravagant claims to power," as are Bush and Cheney.90


*The total number of fatalities resulting from the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was 168.


Despite such realities, the Bush administration continually presents the public with a worst-case scenario. Clearly, the most serious threat from terrorists is that they obtain a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). But we face another very serious threat: namely, that our own government terrorizes us so much that we are willing to give up the ideals of democracy in exchange for reducing our fear. This threat to democracy seems well understood by Osama bin Laden and his troops. I have noted in the past, and I believe even more strongly today, that "the real danger posed by terrorism for our democracy is not that they can defeat us with physical or military force," rather "terrorism presents its real threat in provoking democratic regimes to embrace and employ authoritarian measures that (1) weaken the fabric of democracy; (2) discredit the government domestically as well as internationally; (3) alienate segments of the population from their government, thereby pushing more people to support (passively, if not outright actively) the terrorist organizations and their causes; and (4) undermine the government's claim to the moral high ground in the battle against the terrorists, while gaining legitimacy for the latter."91 This is precisely what is happening in America today, as Bush and Cheney are being sucker punched by Osama bin Laden. Authoritarianism is everywhere in the federal government, not because Bush and Cheney do not realize what they are doing, but because they are authoritarians, and they are doing what authoritarians do. In the process they have weakened the fabric of democracy, discredited the American government as never before in the eyes of the world, caused people to wonder if terrorists have a legitimate complaint, and taken the United States far from the moral high ground in refusing to abide by basic international law.

In citing the worst-case potential of the next terror attack in the United States--a nuclear weapon, a "dirty bomb," or a chemical or biological weapon that could kill or injure millions of Americans--the Bush administration is not making a baseless argument. Such things could happen. But there is much that can be done to reduce the potential, as well as the impact, of a WMD terror attack. It would, therefore, seem logical--if the Bush administration is truly concerned about such a catastrophic terror strike in the United States--for it to focus its efforts on such measures, rather than simply frightening people.

How serious is the Bush administration about addressing the possibility of another major terror attack in the United States? Remarkably, not very. Notwithstanding the level of importance the administration purportedly places on fighting terrorism, according to the 9/11 Commission's 2005 year-end "report card" Bush and Company were given five Fs, twelve Ds, and two incompletes in categories that included airline passenger screening and improvement of first responders' communication systems. The bipartisan members of the 9/11 Commission found that "there has been little progress in forcing federal agencies to share intelligence and terrorism information and sharply criticized government efforts to secure weapons of mass destruction," according to the Washington Post.* "We believe that the terrorists will strike again," 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas H. Kean told reporters. "If they do, and these reforms that might have prevented such an attack have not been implemented, what will our excuses be?"92 When the president and his cohort continue to raise the threat of terrorism but refuse to implement even the minimum measures recommended by the commission, it is clear they are playing the politics of fear. No one knows when, if ever, terrorists will use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States, but using the issue to frighten people while not addressing the 9/11 Commission's concerns is worse than irresponsible; it is cruel.

It appears that most Republicans are content to allow the Bush White House to engage in fearmongering if that is what is needed to win elections. Many contend that terrorism, after all, is a real threat, and they feel safer with Republicans in charge, because they believe Republicans will deal with the issue more effectively than Democrats. Of course, demagoguery is not new; there have always been and always will be politicians who appeal to emotions rather than reason, because it works.

There are, in fact, relatively few people who are truly intimidated by the possibility of terrorist attacks.** Those few who are genuinely frightened, however, help Bush and Cheney. Dr. Jost and his collaborators, in the study reported in Chapter 1, found that fear of terrorism is a useful recruiting tool for Republicans. When the Bush administration reminds people of terrorism, it clearly works to their political benefit. Jamie Arndt, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, reported,
"Reminders of death create anxiety that causes people to cling to cultural and societal touchstones." Because the president is such a touchstone, "he may benefit from keeping [terrorism] in people's mind," Arndt said.93 This finding is corroborated by public opinion polls. While political exploitation of terror does not make a tremendous difference in voting behavior, it has been sufficient to keep Bush in the White House. At the outset of the 2004 presidential campaign, President Bush was more trusted than Senator Kerry to do a good job protecting the country from terrorists by a substantial margin of 53 percent to 37 percent.94 A CNN exit poll taken at the end of the race, after Bush had repeatedly raised the issue of terrorism, showed that people voted for Bush over Kerry on this issue by a similar--but better for Bush--58 percent to 40 percent margin.95

Fearmongering has serious political consequences. Timothy Naftali, a diplomatic historian at the University of Virginia who worked as a consultant to the 9/11 Commission, is troubled by the ramifications of Bush, Cheney, et al.'s use of fear and their politicizing of policies needed to deal with terrorism. A reviewer for Foreign Affairs noted that in Naftali's view, "the Bush administration's reliance on a 'politics of fear' has stymied a mature national conversation about counterterrorism. He urges the government to keep terrorism at the forefront of its concerns and pursue a pragmatic foreign policy while helping the public put the threat in perspective and evaluate the difficult tradeoffs between national security and civil liberties."96 Al Gore, in his keynote address at the 2004 conference on fear, also noted the consequences of Bush's preying on American fears. "Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree," Gore observed. "And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation--in the same speech in which he used the forged document--he asked the nation to 'imagine' how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because our nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where's your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.' At one point, President Bush actually said, 'You can't distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.' He actually said that," Gore added, and with disappointment explained how even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but that Bush had abused the trust people had in him.97

In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans' using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble. I am sure I am not alone in worrying about the road that we are now on, and where the current authoritarianism is taking the country. I only wish more people would talk about it.

And some more info from the same person who posted the first article:

Dean's book draws on an impressive array of historical facts and empirical evidence to show how the conservative movement in America has been hijacked and is now dominated by authoritarianism, both at the leadership as well as the popular level.

While familiar with some of the early pioneers who have helped us better understand the authoritarian social/psychological/political phenomenon such as Hannah Arendt and Stanley Milgram, I was unfamiliar with Dean’s references to the more recent work in this area by those such as Bob Altemeyer.

The focus of Dean’s book is on right-wing authoritarianism as it has expressed itself in the United States. While authoritarianism isn'’t exclusively a right-wing political phenomenon, empirical evidence demonstrates that it is primarily so. Someone who is an authoritarian personality type is much more likely to also be identified with the political right (as well as the religious right in particular) than the political left.

Recent research by those such as Altemeyer and others end up with the division of authoritarianism into three distinct sub-categories: 1) Social Dominators—Leaders; 2) Right-Wing Authoritarian —Followers; 3) The “very scary” Double Highs, i.e., those who score highly on both the Social Dominator as well as the Right-Wing Authoritarian scale.

The characteristics of the above authoritarian sub-categories are as follows (an asterisk represents a required characteristic):

Social Dominators- —Leaders:

typically men
• opposes equality*
• desirous of personal power*
• amoral*
• intimidating and bullying
faintly hedonistic
• vengeful
• pitiless
• exploitive
• manipulative
• dishonest
cheats to win
• highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
• mean-spirited
• militant
• nationalistic
• tells others what they want to hear
• takes advantage of "suckers"
• specializes in creating false images to sell self
• may or may not be religious
• usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

Right-Wing Authoritarian- Followers:

• men and women
• submissive to authority*
• aggressive on behalf of authority*
• conventional*
• highly religious
• moderate to little education
• trust untrustworthy authorities
• prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers
of religions other than their own)
• narrow-minded
• intolerant
• bullying
• zealous
• dogmatic
• uncritical toward chosen authority
• hypocritical
• inconsistent and contradictory
• prone to panic easily
• highly self-righteous
• moralistic
• strict disciplinarian
• severely punitive
• demands loyalty and returns it
• little self-awareness
usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

The real danger to society is when authoritarian leaders (current GOP leadership) team up with authoritarian followers (majority of current GOP base). That's when you end up with creeping political authoritarianism, known also as fascism.

I know more than a little over the top, but the pic is hilarious...and disturbing at the same time. Perfect! ;-)

OK Johnny boy. You've more than made up for that sordid episode covering up for tricky dicky...but keep it coming anyway!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Another Ex-Con Cleans Up His Act

This time its the notorious John Dean. Yes the 'master manipulator' behind Watergate turned Nixon staff turn-coat. Well, like many other former 'Cons', he's become a very vocal critic of the Bush White House. Here's an interesting review of his latest book Conservatives Without Conscience.

He seems to be arguing that the Neocons and Christian fundamentalists, who presently dominate the Republican party, share a dangerous authoritarian streak. Certain types of 'conservatives' tend to show authoritarian personality traits and Dean argues that they are the ones presently controlling American Conservatism. This new school of Cons unquestioningly shows allegiance to their party, with vitriolic contempt for 'liberalism' being the other major unifying factor behind the movement. Interesting stuff...sounds pretty close to the truth to me.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Everyday Brutality and Criminal Incompetence: The US Occupation of Iraq

A couple of excellent articles courtesy of US-born reporter Nir Rosen in Iraq. Rosen is one of the very few English language reporters in the Iraq that isn't a completely useless shill for the occupation forces. Being part Iranian and fluent in Arabic, Nir Rosen has the 'good fortune' of being able to pass for an Iraqi, enabling him to do more than just regurgitate US army propaganda. The first article vividly conveys the everyday brutality and absurdity of the occupation in Iraq. You rarely get this kind of honesty from mainstream media sources.

'The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds'

For the sake of highlighting some of the meatier parts (and in case the gentle reader is too lazy to read through the article him/herself ;-)), I've liberally cut and pasted sections of the article below.

Home after home met the same fate. Some homes had only women; these houses too were ransacked, closets broken, mattresses overturned, clothes thrown out of drawers. Men were dragged on the ground by their legs to be handcuffed outside. One bony ancient sheik walked out with docility and was pushed forcefully to the ground, where he was wrestled by soldiers who had trouble cuffing his arms. A commando grabbed him from them, and tightly squeezed the old man’s arms together, lifting him in the air and throwing him down on the ground, nearly breaking his fragile arms.

The soldier guarding them spoke of the importance of intimidating Iraqis and instilling fear in them. “If they got something to tell us I’d rather they be scared,” he explained.

One sergeant was surprised by the high number of prisoners taken by the troop I was with. “Did they just arrest every man they found?” he asked, wondering if “we just made another 300 people hate us.” The following day 57 prisoners were transported to a larger base for further interrogation. Some were not the suspects, just relatives of the suspects or men suspected of being the suspects.

A lieutenant colonel familiar with the process told me that there is no judicial process for the thousands of detainees. If the military were to try them, there would be a court-martial, which would imply that the U.S. was occupying Iraq, and lawyers working for the administration are still debating whether it is an occupation or liberation. Two years later, 50,000 Iraqis had been imprisoned by the Americans and only 2% had ever been found guilty of anything.

The Procrustean application of spurious information gathered by intelligence officers who cannot speak Arabic and are not familiar with Iraqi, Arab or Muslim culture is creating enemies instead of eliminating them. The S2 captain could barely hide his disdain for Iraqis. “Oh he just hates anything Iraqi,” another captain said of him, adding that the intelligence officers do not venture off the base or interact with Iraqis or develop any relations with the people they are expected to understand. A lieutenant colonel from the Army’s civil affairs command explained that these officers do not read about the soldiers engaging with Iraqis, sharing cigarettes, tea, meals and conversations. They read only the reports of “incidents” and they view Iraqis solely as security threat. The intelligence officers in Iraq do not know Iraq.

One morning in Albu Hishma, a village north of Baghdad cordoned off with barbed wire, the local U.S. commander decided to bulldoze any house that had pro-Saddam graffiti on it, and gave half a dozen families a few minutes to remove whatever they cared about the most before their homes were flattened. In Baquba, two 13-year-old girls were killed by a Bradley armored personnel carrier. They were digging through trash and the American rule was that anybody digging on road sides would be shot.

It is common practice for soldiers to arrest the wives and children of suspects as “material witnesses” when the suspects are not captured in raids. In some cases the soldiers leave notes for the suspects, letting them know their families will be released should they turn themselves in. Soldiers claim this is a very effective tactic. Soldiers on military vehicles routinely shoot at Iraqi cars that approach too fast or come too close, and at Iraqis wandering in fields. “They were up to no good,” they explain. Every commander is a law unto himself. He is advised by a judge advocate general who interprets the rules as he wants. A war crime to one is legitimate practice to another. After the Center for Army Lessons Learned sent a team of personnel to Israel to study that country’s counterinsurgency tactics, the Army implemented the lessons it learned, and initiated house demolitions in Samara and Tikrit, blowing up homes of suspected insurgents.

The second article is an honest soldier's first hand account of his time in Iraq.

'Ugly Americans in Iraq'

One of the more amusing bits:

My friend was rare in that he had somehow overcome the necessary brainwashing soldiers undergo and was able to critically assess his role in Iraq. “In hindsight,” he said, “I have often asked myself what my reaction would be like if I were on the opposite end of this equation. After years of living under a harsh dictatorship, 150,000 soldiers of Sharia show up and offload into Georgetown from boats on the Potomac River after shelling the Capitol. They have a simple mission, they say: transplanting Islamic enlightenment in the decadent land of Kafir. They take over the D.C. Mall and throw a wall around the Smithsonian buildings; they call it the ‘Halal Zone.’ The White House becomes the embassy of Iraq. Some asshole like John Walker Lindh (Ahmed Chalabi), who has lived in the Middle East while the U.S. suffered under dictatorship, is Iraq’s favorite child for taking over the peacock throne of the U.S. My house gets raided and my mother patted down by hygiene-deficient Wahhabis, so I go to Georgetown to force the humiliation off my mind. A group of wirey majahedin show up at Haagen Daaz while I’m enjoying a cone of cookies and cream—a rare moment of bliss in a country going to shit—and grab the owners while taking their ice cream. I return to my home, after walking through one foot of raw sewage water, to turn on the radio and hear the Arab ‘viceroy’ declare in a fatwa that all Christian values should be erased from our governing culture. Meanwhile my dad is laid off from his paycheck for the crime of serving in the U.S. Army to provide for his struggling family.” My friend concluded that “without much doubt in my mind, if I were an Iraqi under the U.S. occupation, I’d be an insurgent.”

You can find more of Nir Rosen's articles on his website.

And finally, in case you haven't had enough of him already, you can listen to an NPR interview with Rosen here.

The Fog of War

Just wanted to share a very very good documentary that you can watch in its entirety on google video. The documentary is Errol Morris' The Fog of War. It's basically a 2 hour interview with Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy administration, one of the architects of the Vietnam war. A really fascinating and likeable guy, and suprisingly sharp for an 85 year old. Sit back and soak up McNamara's rules of war gained from a lifetime of experience as a strategist. Too bad he's not in charge of the Department of Defense today, I'm pretty sure he'd be a vast improvement.

From Wikipedia, here's a list of McNamara's lessons:

The film's eleven lessons

1. Empathize with your enemy.
2. Rationality will not save us.
3. There's something beyond one's self.
4. Maximize efficiency.
5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
6. Get the data.
7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
10.Never say never.
11.You can't change human nature.

McNamara's additional ten lessons
These were written as a companion to the film and were included in the Special Features of the DVD.

1. The human race will not eliminate war in this century but we can reduce war, the level of killing, by adhering to the principles of a just war, in particular of proportionality.

2. The indefinite combinations of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.

3. We are the most powerful nation in the world - economically, politically, and militarily - and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient.

4. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of the proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii.

4.Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign policy and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of U.S. foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policy across the globe : the avoidance in this century of the carnage--160 million dead--caused by conflict in the 20th century.

5. We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our own poor and to the disadvantaged across the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health, and employment.

6. Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.

7. President Kennedy believed a primary responsibility of a president--indeed "the" primary responsibility of a president--is to keep the nation out of war, if at all possible.

8. War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court--that the U.S. has refused to support--which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.

9. If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy--I don't mean "sympathy" but rather "understanding" to counter their attacks on us and the Western World.

10. One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk of mass destruction as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime. We--the U.S. are contributing to that breakdown.

11 Lessons from Vietnam

The origin of the film's lesson concept, these eleven came from McNamara's book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam:

1. We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.

2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience … We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.

3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.

4. Our judgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.

5. We failed then — and have since — to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces and doctrine…

6. We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.

7. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement … before we initiated the action.

8. After the action got under way and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course … we did not fully explain what was happening and why we were doing what we did.

9. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.

10. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action … should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.

11. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions … At times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.

Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues.

wow...doesn't that last list sound familiar? ;-)

Fun With Guns

What would life be like without firearms? Well for one, a whole lot less entertaining.

Here's a video of a handgun versus a samurai sword...surprising result.

Another google video of a variety of different objects getting blasted in slowmo.

And finally, how not to fire a gun. Or as whoever put the video on google unkindly titled it, Gun versus Idiot.

Hooray for guns!!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The US Hawks are Smelling Blood: Are the warpigs getting ready to bomb the Shiite out of Iran?

I think most 'informed' people out there would say that a US led attack on Iran is not very likely any time in the near future. The majority seems to believe that America's neoconservative policy makers wouldn't be reckless or dumb enough to open up a new front when military resources are already stretched thin. Arguably even more important, no prudent decision maker would decide to jump into another open conflict in the region when the world's oil supplies are so limited, with world demand due to 'Chindia's' growth increasing everyday, and the essential Middle Eastern supply of oil potentially so easily cut off by war. It sounds perfectly reasonable, but let's not forget the mindset of the leaders who are making the decisions. Never underestimate the irrationality of a committed ideologue.

Ahmadinejad isn't going to back down and compromise on his country's nuclear program; and he probably wouldn't mind a limited conflict to bolster domestic support anyway. He and the theocracy supporting him will end up gaining a great deal of legitimacy if the US, or its regional proxy Israel, decides to attack Iran. I honestly don't think the Bush administration really understands this- once again they're listening too much to an unrepresentative and self-interested 'Iranian' minority telling them the country is ripe for change. More importantly, Bush and his neocon buddies might not even care all that much for changing Iranian regime. Of course, the primary objective of any attack would be to weaken the regional influence of Iran rather than 'liberate' its people. There are actually advantages of having a weakened and isolated radical theocracy still in power in Iran from a cynical 'divide and conquer' perspective. It helps to keep the Sunni Arab majority frightened and distracts them from US domination of the region. In fact, it actually gives America another reason for being there: to prevent the region from descending into sectarian violence. Just look at what a good job the US is doing of it in Iraq ;-)

And how exactly do the people dismissing the possibility of an attack on Iran expect the present 'stand-off' to be resolved? I personally don't see much way out of some sort of military confrontation between the world's hegemon and the intransigent Shia state. It's probably more than a little foolhardy to speculate in the detail on the political future of region as complex as the Middle East. Regardless, I'll stick my neck out and make some predictions. My guess is that Shrub holds off on any strike until after the november midterm elections, perhaps sometime in the winter-spring 2007? I don't think he would want to wait too long for the strike since he only has until the end of 2008 to shape policy in the wake of an attack. The US and/or Israel will conduct a limited airstrike to take out some of Iran's nuke capacity and attempt to 'humble' the leadership. A full scale ground invasion is definitely not a possibility, but airstrikes and covert ops are certainly within the US's and/or Israel's capacity at present. Iranian reprisals would probably be largely symbolic and actual counter-attacks would almost entirely be small scale and primarily conducted by proxy through sympathetic Shia militias in Iraq or Lebanon. They could send more Shia irregulars and weapons into Iraq, but their ability to attack US troops would be limited to pretty much what's going on at present (IED attack, small ambushes, snipers). On top of that the Shia would still be preoccupied with fighting the Sunni and protecting their own people. In the finaly analysis, the primary reason I suspect there will be a limited attack on Iran is the thinking prevalent among political elites in the US, Israel and Iran. In my opinion, they've clearly demonstrated that they are fully prepared for war, and even more troubling is that they all appear to believe they can benefit from it.

The recent clash between Hezbollah and Israel can be viewed as one of the prepatory phases in a war between the US-Israel and Iran. Hezbollah has stated they jumped into the fray between Israel and Hamas to take pressure off the Palestinian resistance movements. But it seems likely that their actions were also engineered to bolster Shia influence in Lebanonese politics, and to demonstrate the ability of their organization to attack Israel in the event of a strike against Iran. As well, the recent massively disproportional response by Israel has larger strategic objectives. There are trying to destroy the military capacity of Hezbollah, and possibly embroil them in domestic strife, in order to weaken the a potential Iranian proxy group.

The one counterargument that has me questioning the possibility of an attack is the ability of the Iranians to conduct reprisal attacks on oil transported by tankers through the Strait of Hormuz. This is a very narrow body of water in which something on the order of 1/4 of the world's oil production passes through. Iranian territory makes up the northern shore of the strait and they likely have the potential to disrupt the transport of this vital supply of oil. The Iranian's appear to have some capacity to carry out naval attacks on tankers and US warships, but I think it's safe to assume that the US has the naval and air capabilty to eventually force the Iranian's to stop any such attacks. My guess would be that the Iranian's wouldn't be able to block the flow of oil for long, and/or wouldn't be willing to deal with the consequences of cutting off the transport of oil which is vital for most of the world. If the rest of the world's oil supply is threatened because of Iranian attacks, it will likely push many more countries closer to the US side, since they would want to get their oil fix back ASAP. If what I've outlined is correct and the oil supply can only briefly be interrrupted then you would expect crude prices to spike for a few weeks, or even shorter, and then quickly settle at a much lower level. The new 'floor' on the oil price might be $10-20 higher for some time but that wouldn't be a disaster. I might be underestimating how easy it would be for the Iranians to disrupt this supply of oil for a significant period of time, but I very much doubt they will have the political will to do it.

One thing I don't doubt however is that an attack on Iran will greatly increase tensions all over the region and decrease the stability of a number of Arab governments closely allied with the US. However, while recognizing the reality of this in the short term, this is probably viewed as manageable by the majority of Bush's Neocon crew. After all, I'm sure they're pointing at the Iraq war naysayers who were talking about the 'Arab street' exploding in outrage because of the invasion, which essentially never happened. At the end of the day, all the major US allies are still safely ensconced on their thrones. The neocon policy makers probably think this provides enough evidence to dismiss the 'regime instability' argument.

Personally, I'm quite convinced that a US led attack on Iran will most likely end up harming US interests in the long run. It will almost certainly further damage their standing and influence in the Middle East, further bankrupt the nation, and will probably decrease their own security. Such a provocative escalation will probably end up pulling the US deeper into a 'unwinnable' fight with guerilla forces it won't be able to restrain. You can't wage a 'conventional' war against a people's mistrust and contempt, and it will always be too easy for irregulars to attack US troops and civilian 'allies' in the region.

Having said that, the chances of the conflict spreading uncontrollably throughout the entire region are slim. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, etc. likely won't collapse. Iraq will become more violent, but it already appears to be in a low-level civil war anyway. Bush and his cronies aren't good with 'nuance' and will only see the improbability of total failure, the rest of it to use Rumsfeld's terminology is 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns'. The Bush Neocons haven't altered their basic policy and are still committed to completely reshaping the politics of the region. In the final analysis, what's going to stop them from attacking Iran?

Some excellent corroborating analysis from Jim Lobe below. These articles illustrate the growing calls for war from many of the most influential Neocons.

US Hawks Smell Blood.

The Drums of War Sound for Iran.

A possible roadmap to war with Iran?

Step 1: Start actively propagandizing in mainstream media outlets about the Iranian threat. Plant false accusations and notch up the fearmongering against Iran...has been well underway for some time.

Step 2: Isolate Iran. Destroy Hezbollah, and frighten Syria into submission.
From the NYTimes:

US Plan Seeks to Wedge Syria Away From Iran.

So where are we heading?? Looks like a one-way ticket...

Paul Craig Roberts: "America Is Being Set-Up For Wider War In The Middle East"

Another great article from a former Reaganite turned fierce critic of the Neoconservatives Paul Craig Roberts. America is being set-up for wider war in the Middle East. In a handful of paragraphs he manages to pick apart of the pro-Israel PR smokescreen that surrounds recent events in the Middle East.

Friday, July 21, 2006

American Petrocracy

Yet another insightful piece from former Reaganite turned vehement critic of the Neoconservative agenda, Kevin Phillips, entitled American Petrocracy. It lays the case for the least discussed possible motivating factor behind the Iraq invasion- continued control over the world's supply of oil.

Phillips is the author of American Theocracy. In this book he gives an inside account of the alliance between the Neocon faction of the Republican party and Christian Fundamentalists, the possibility of a coming oil crunch, and America's looming fiscal nightmare. Trying to get my grubby hands on a copy of this, seen him in interviews and found his comments to be right on the mark. He's one of the astute few- few but definitely growing larger everyday- who are fighting to pull American conservatism out of the madhouse.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Banana Proof

Centuries of theological debate have come to an end. Here's the definitive proof of God's existence. The Banana Proof.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Marc Faber Explains All

More excellent analysis on the state of the global economy from Dr. Gloom and Doom. Two longish articles here. One gives his macro long-term perspective, and the other outlines his short-medium term prognostication on the financial markets.

Very few market commentators seems to have his clarity and prescience, and even fewer have his depth when it comes to understanding economics. And if anyone out there knows of a better macro market analyst I'd love to hear about it.

Worldclass Header

A nice article in praise of the best shot and most memorable moment in the 2006 worldcup...the Zidane headbutt.