Stuck in the Iraqi Spin Cycle
The Democrats’ Debacle
Bush’s Un-Holy War
Iraq’s Suffering Cities
Rewarding the Nay-Sayers
Debating Zambia’s GM Stand
Gephardt’s Economic Platform
Justifying the Bush Administration’s divergent tactics on Iraq and North Korea, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfovitz tells Glenn Kessler and Peter Slevin of the Washington Post:
“‘To the best of my knowledge, Saddam Hussein is the only world leader who openly glorified the attacks of September 11th,’ adding that such ‘clearly expressed animosity to the United States’ is not visible in North Korea. ‘The North Koreans are desperately in need of help from the outside,’ Wolfowitz said. ‘We have leverage on North Korea that we do not have on Iraq.'”
The Post article also highlights the admnistration’s response to the North Korean situation as a rare case of multilateralism, noting that the White House has acted in concert with two key allies — South Korea and Japan — that have a great deal at stake.
Robyn Lim, writing in the International Herald Tribune, claims that North Korea is ultimately a greater threat than Iraq, but argues that deference to (and fear of) China is the real reason the Bush administration is keeping its saber rattling in East Asia to a minimum.
“It is North Korea, not Iraq, that is developing missiles which soon will be able to reach the continental United States. North Korea is also the world’s worst missile proliferator, contributing to the missile programs of Iran, Syria and others… And North Korea is believed to possess one or two nuclear weapons, as well as a chemical and biological arsenal.”
“North Korea is last on the axis because it is the hardest target. The United States can deal with Iraq on its own by military intervention, but that is much harder to do in relation to North Korea…. The United States cannot ignore the interests of China, North Korea’s neighbor and quasi ally. China is a great power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and it has nuclear weapons…. America’s vital interest in East Asia is to secure a balance of power that suits its interests, not to provoke an unnecessary war with China.”
Elsewhere, the Times of India handicaps the (un)likelihood of U.S. reprisals against Pakistan for reportedly providing Pyongyang with nuclear technology in return for missile know-how: “The Bush Administration… can be expected to once again gloss over Islamabad’s role to retain the ‘support’ of its ally in the war on terrorism.”
A separate article in the Washington Post carries news that many congressional Democrats are steamed about the White House’s decision to sit on the North Korea nuclear news for nearly two weeks. “Democrats on Capitol Hill were critical,” reports the Post, “of the 12-day gap between the admission by North Korea and the administration’s disclosure. During that time, Congress passed the Iraq resolution, and President Bush signed it hours before the 7 p.m. disclosure about North Korea.” But the report goes on to suggest that the Bush administration would have kept the kibosh on the nuclear news much longer, if meddling Clintonites hadn’t interfered. “Administration officials said they revealed the information because former Clinton administration officials had leaked the news after learning about it from State Department contacts,” the Post reports. A Democratic congressional aide is quoted as saying: “This cloud of secrecy raises questions about whether there are other pieces to this puzzle they don’t know about.”
Franklin Foer delivers a little inside baseball in The New Republic, reporting on the art of reporting inside Iraq, where soliciting a too-candid criticism of the Iraqi regime can get a source murdered, and where too many journalists follow the path of least resistance — and end up parroting Iraqi propaganda:
“One journalist described to me an anti-American demonstration held last April in Baghdad to celebrate Saddam’s sixty-fifth birthday. She saw the same high school students pass by several times, simulating an endless stream of angry protesters. When her colleagues turned their cameras on, officials with bullhorns instructed the crowd to increase the volume of their chants. ‘Everyone knows they’re a sham,’ says the journalist. ‘But CNN in Atlanta is telling Nic Robertson that he has to file a story. He doesn’t have anything else to work with. So he shows the demonstration.’ “
Foer suggests that “there are alternatives to mindlessly reciting Baghdad’s spin.” Instead of focusing on Baghdad, Foer says the media could “scour Kurdistan and Jordan, where there are many recently arrived Iraqis who can talk freely.”
Taking up the same theme in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Frida Ghitis draws on her own experience as a reporter in Baghdad in 1998, to give context to the recent reports out of Iraq:
“The journalists reporting this week on the landslide reelection of Hussein face the task of telling the truth when they have no access to it. That leaves the rest of us with a not very useful picture of what goes on in Iraq and with the dangerous temptation to interpret what we see to suit our own ideas. The reality is that no matter how much we read or how much is beamed to us every day, live from Baghdad, we know very little about what is happening, and even less about how the Iraqi people feel about a possible war on their soil.”
David Corn, writing on TomPaine.com, skewers the Democratic leadership, one by one, for their “sadly laughable” approach to the November elections, which has seen them rubber stamp the war-vote in a misbegotten bid to push domestic issues back to the fore:
“Leading Democrats had a plan: vote in favor of the resolution authorizing George W. Bush to attack Iraq whenever and however he sees fit, and take the knotty issue of Iraq off the table in time to promote more Democratic-friendly topics before the congressional elections. And with less than three weeks to go to what will likely be another low turn-out Election DayÉthe national political debate is dominated by talk of pension fund reform, corporate responsibility, and extending unemployment benefits. That is, when the discourse has not focused on the Washington-area sniper [or] North Korea’s nukes. Then there’s the looming war against Iraq.
“In other words, the voting-for-cover Democrats created little, if any, political space for their party’s favorite subjects by essentially amending the Constitution to permit the President, rather than Congress, to declare war. ”
Ed Vulliamy, reporting in the London Observer writes that “President George Bush’s own Methodist church has launched a scathing attack on his preparations for war against Iraq, saying they are ‘without any justification according to the teachings of Christ.’”
“Jim Winkler, head of social policy for United Methodists, added that all attempts at a ‘dialogue’ between the President and his own church over the war had fallen on deaf ears at the White House.”
Writing in the Boston Globe, Anthony Shadid describes the decrepit infrastructure of Iraqi cities andanticipates the humanitarian crises a U.S. attack is almost guaranteed to cause:
“A US-led attack on Iraq would probably devastate the country’s tattered and already overwhelmed infrastructure, shutting down power to hospitals and water treatment plants, cutting off drinking water almost immediately to millions of residents in Baghdad and possibly elsewhere, and pouring raw sewage into the streets within hours, aid workers and specialists say.
‘It’s going to be horrendous for lots and lots of people,’ said a senior aid official in Baghdad and veteran of several other conflicts. ‘People will be far more vulnerable to a future attack than before. They are much weaker, and they have little resilience.'”
Evelyn Nieves reports in The Washington Post that, for some congressional Democrats, pacifism is yielding dividends. A political action committee founded by the folks at MoveOn.org (you may remember them from their Lewinsky-era plea to censure Clinton and ‘Move On’) has raised more than $1 million for congressmen whose opposition to the war resolution may have jeopardized their re-election bids.
“Sen. Paul D. Wellstone of Minnesota, Reps. Rick Larsen and Jay Inslee of Washington, and Rep. Rush D. Holt of New Jersey are being rewarded as ‘heroes of the anti-war effort’ with money to fight their opponents in these last two weeks before the election, said Peter Schurman, executive director of MoveOn.org, and a spokesman for the MoveOnPAC.”
Debating Zambia’s GM Stand
Is Zambia’s rejection of genetically modified seeds provided by the US a principled stand against American bullying or an act of criminal negligence? The answer seems to depend on which side of the Atlantic you call home.
With southern Africa suffering through its worst food crisis in years, Zambia’s neighbors have agreed to accept American offers of GM corn. Zambia, citing health and environmental concerns, refused the corn outright — even though three million Zambians are on the brink of starvation. Rory Carroll, writing in The Guardian, claims that the real issue here is the US policy of donating surplus GM food in lieu of cash — a policy which has prompted charges that the US is using famine to force controversial GM technology on countries too needy to refuse.
Not surprisingly, anti-GM groups are taking the Zambian government’s side. Noting that non-GM crops are readily available if Zambia only had the money to buy them, a press release from Greenpeace thundered, “the US donation was an ultimatum: ‘eat our unwanted genetically engineered food or die.’”
In the US, however, the Zambian response is drawing little official sympathy. The editors of The Detroit Free Press sum up the American view, declaring that starving Zambia doesn’t have the luxury of rejecting aid of any kind:
“It is tempting to dismiss as mere silliness the claim of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa that genetically modified corn is poison. But the consequences are too tragic.”
Gephardt’s Economic Platform
In another pre-election effort to draw the public’s gaze from White House war plans back to the economy, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt has proposed a $200 billion economic stimulus package — and is suggesting the legislation is required because the Bush administration and the Republican House have dropped the national economic ball.
Unfortunately, the plan itself — which entails $75 billion in working class tax cuts, and $125 billion in aid to suffering state governments — is getting mixed reviews. The editorial board of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch argues that the proposal is too little, too late:
“The problem with this spending is that it will take many months of planning before hammers start swinging. By that time, the economy could be on the way to recovery and the extra spending would be overkill. The Federal Reserve said last month there is enough stimulus already in the pipeline to get the economy moving. It’s just possible that the “What-me-worry?” attitude of the White House may turn out to be better policy than Mr. Gephardt is offering over the short term.”
While the plan’s efficacy may matter less to election-minded Democrats than its political value, the Los Angeles Times argues that the Gephardt proposal won’t make up for the lack of a coherent, coordinated Democratic approach.
“Democrats might wish that such fragmented measures amounted to a coherent alternative to the White House’s chief economic aim of making its 10-year, $1.35-trillion tax cut permanent and fully abolishing the estate tax. But they are not enough….
Until Congress revisits the trillion-dollar issue, it can rearrange the furniture all it wants but a real housecleaning will never take place.”
Although their usage was made illegal years ago, many pesticides are still finding their way into everyday food products, André Picard of The Globe and Mail reports. A new report by San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network reveals that roughly 20 percent of the food we ingest contains trace amounts of pesticides banned years — even decades — ago.
The report says that banned chemicals such as DDT, dieldrin and dioxin were routinely found in popular foods such as salmon, cheese and cucumbers. And the report states that even well-rounded diets can deliver “up to 90 times the acceptable limit for exposure to a group of chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants,” a designation for compounds that are “among the most insidiously dangerous” ever produced. A representative from the World Health Organization’s chemical safety program, however, denies that those chemicals are harmful for most humans in the amounts cited by the Pesticide Action Network study.
The French Linchpin
Unfinished Business in Afghanistan
Al Qaeda: Overblown?
Regime Change Losing Steam?
“The Bushies are sooo inconsistent”
Tony Blair, Arms Dealer?
The Iraqi Klondike
Furtive Faith-Based Funding
Another Angry Ally
France’s (so-far successful) insistence that the Security Council give disarmament a chance in Iraq has given the country newfound credibility on the international stage and has also succeeded in “exasperating state department and Pentagon hawks set on a change of regime in Baghdad,” says John Henley, writing from Paris in the London Guardian.
“‘They’ve played it very cleverly,’ one diplomat said…. ‘They’ve cosied up to the US in almost every other area, but on Iraq they’ve stuck to their position and presented it as the only right and proper course. They’ve obliged America to take them seriously.'”
While there are signs that the French may be willing to accept the Bush administration’s new, softer resolution, President Jacques Chirac’s stand against the “temptations of adventure” has won praise from several Arab states.
“‘Allow me to thank you for France’s remarkable position on the threat of using force to resolve the Iraqi problem,’ the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berry, told the French president. ‘It is a position that has earned the gratitude of the entire Arab world.'”
Far from praising the French, a cranky Charles Krauthammer writes in The Philadelphia Inquirer, that the U.S. should stop negotiating with Chirac and force France to use its Security Council veto or step aside:
“No more dithering. Put the question to France… Will you veto it?
The question for France is whether it wants to throw away the entire reputation of the Security Council on this one, and lose whatever influence it retains on lesser issues. France must know that on an issue of supreme national security, the United States will not be deterred (any more than would France on an issue of comparable importance to France). On lesser issues, such as, say, the Arab-Israeli dispute, France can still carry weight by acting through the Security Council. Do the French want to gamble away their vestigial global influence?
As Dirty Harry once inquired: Do you feel lucky?”
Making the case that the international focus on Iraq is distracting attention from a job yet-undone in Afghanistan, The Boston Globe’s H.D.S. Greenway compares Afghanistan to a “patient on the operating table with a tumor removed, but still awaiting stitches and open to infection.”
“It was government by warlord that caused most Afghans to welcome the Taliban when it first arrived, and it is government by warlord that threatens Afghanistan today.
A year after America’s Afghan war began, only a fraction of the funds the international community promised to reconstruct Afghanistan have actually arrived. Hamid Karzai, America’s chosen leader, recently expressed the fear that Iraq could draw attention, energy, and assistance away from his country in which so much remains to be done. Well might he fear.”
The Toronto Star echoes those concerns, editorializing:
“The Karzai regime has nowhere near the financial support it needs to establish itself as a functioning administration, to pay officials’ salaries, to rebuild the army and to extend authority across the country. It has not launched a single major labour-intensive reconstruction project. Government offices, schools, hospitals and services remain shattered….
If the Karzai government cannot win [the people’s] confidence, the country seems fated to fall once again under the shadow of warlords and religious extremism, undoing everything that Americans…fought to achieve.”
Writing in The Washington Post, former Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin argues that we need to take “nation building” in Afghanistan and (potentially) Iraq as deadly serious business, writing that it’s “crucial that we fully incorporate this mission into our foreign policy machinery.”
“Until we find a mechanism to make nation-building a credit to one’s career and a politician’s legacy, we will never have the necessary staying power to make these missions work.”
Eric Margolis of The Toronto Sun claims that the Bush Administration is strategically over-playing the might and threat of Al-Qaeda — and overlooking other Islamic extremist groups — because doing so is “convenient and affords Americans a simple black-and-white image.” To Margolis, this intentional myopia is as alarming as it is dangerous:
“Al-Qaida, to repeat what this column has been saying since 9/11, is a small, tightly knit organization of about 300 hardened jihadis, or holy warriors, created as a role model, rallying point and ideological beacon for militant Islamic resistance movements around the globe…. In reality, the U.S. now faces scores of violent anti-American groups from Morocco to Indonesia inspired by Osama bin Laden’s defiance, and enraged by the suffering of the Palestinians and Iraqis.”
“Suddenly, the momentum for an unprovoked invasion is gone,” writes a perhaps overly optimistic Geov Parrish in his column on Workingforchange.com. He speculates that the apparent softening of the Bush administration’s hardline regime-change stance may have less to do with the threat of a French veto, or opposition at home, and more to do with a fear of sustaining heavy losses in asymmetrical warfare. He points to mock “American” casualties sustained at the hands of explosive-laden suicide boats in recent war-games exercises in the Gulf:
“The Red commander [leader of the war games’ ‘enemy’ troops]…has been giving interviews in the European press in recent weeks describing his strategy. It’s simplicity itself. The U.S. has no land bases to work with, so any invasion, at this point, will be completely reliant upon aircraft carriers…. Red simply used small fishing vessels–indistinguishable from the civilian boats that dot the region–and had them repeatedly launch kamikaze attacks on the aircraft carriers. And sank most of them…. If the whole point of invading Iraq is to demonstrate to the world the American capacity for bullying, failure would be catastrophic. Even an empire has its limits.”
On his slick weblog, conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan provides the pithiest argument War Watch has seen for why a nuclear North Korea shouldn’t derail the Bush drive to disarm Iraq:
“[T]he difference between North Korea and Iraq is so simple it’s astonishing some people don’t see it. So let’s put this as clearly as we can: North Korea has a nuke; Iraq, so far, doesn’t. Got that? When a rogue state succeeds in getting weapons of mass destruction, our options are severely limited. The question with Iraq is simple: in trying to stop Saddam getting a nuke, do we follow the same policies as Clinton and Carter in 1994 with North Korea, or do we try something else? Amazingly, large swathes of apparently intelligent people seem to think we should try the Carter/Clinton approach to Iraq.”
The London Guardian takes Tony Blair to task for hawking British Hawk aircraft to India, just as tensions over Kashmir seem to be easing:
“The prime minister, during informal talks last Saturday, urged [Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari] Vajpayee to work to reduce tension with Pakistan. But the Guardian has learned that Mr Blair combined this plea for peace with a sales pitch on behalf of Britain’s biggest defence manufacturer, BAE Systems.”
Looking (perhaps a little too far) ahead, Susan Taylor Martin reports in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times about the black-gold rush sure to be spawned by a successful regime change in Iraq. The American Petroleum Institute is licking its chops, Martin reports:
“After Iraq pulled out of Kuwait, hundreds of US companies and individuals — including a former secretary of state and two sons of the first President Bush — scrambled to snag an estimated $65-billion in contracts to rebuild the devastated country.
Now, with another war looming in the Persian Gulf, a far bigger financial bonanza awaits: Iraq itself….”
Furtive Faith-Based Funding
President Bush’s controversial plans to deliver federal funds to faith-based charities remains bogged down in Congress, the source of impassioned debate over the separation of Church and State. But that isn’t stopping the administration from awarding millions to religious groups — including a charity run by Pat Robertson, one of the earliest critics of Bush’s faith-based initiative. Bill Berkowitz reports on TomPaine.com that the administration is using a charity subsidy program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services to circumvent the congressional logjam:
“By sidestepping Congress through discretionary grants such as the recent HHS awards, the administration doesn’t have to deal with such thorny issues as separation of church and state, and discriminatory hiring practices by faith-based organizations — particularly directed at gays and lesbians.”
Among the organizations funded is Pat Robertson’s Virginia-based Operation Blessing International (OBI), a non-profit created to “demonstrate God’s love by alleviating human need and suffering in the United States and around the world.” Founded in 1978, OBI has been roundly criticized over the years by reporters and other organizations for mismanagement, incompetence, and questionable budgeting, including “more than $2.5 million on Ensure, a dietary supplement and Splenda, a no calorie sweetener and more than $10.4 million on candy and panty hose.” Berkowitz also notes that OBI rendered a grant of over half of its direct grant budget to Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network.
Additionally, The Washington Post‘s editorial board is struck by the irony that Robertson is benefiting from the program, given his past views on federal support for faith-based charities:
“To hear him tell it, federal money flowing out of Washington to religious organizations that provide social services was akin to that apple in the Garden of Eden. Let religious charities get a taste of it, he told his ‘700 Club’ television audience, ‘and then they can’t get off of it.’ ‘It’ll be like a narcotic.'”
Another Angry Ally
It’s no secret that the Bush White House has made a habit of exasperating its allies, drawing criticism for its disdain for diplomatic niceties. Now, even Canada is up in arms, outraged over the secret arrest and deportation of one of its citizens.
As Anne McIlroy reports in The Guardian, US immigration officials arrested Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, on suspicion of terrorist ties as he changed planes at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport last month. Then, even though Arar was travelling on a Canadian passport and hadn’t visited Syria in 16 years, the US deported him to Syria — all without consulting Canadian officials. Arar hasn’t been heard from since.
Demanding to know the legal basis for Arar’s deportation, Ottawa has lodged a formal complaint with Washington. But nobody south of the border seems to care. Understandably, the Toronto Star‘s editors are seeing red:
“It seems the Bush administration feels it can simply ignore Canadian concerns over how the U.S. deals with our citizens…. Arar was travelling on a Canadian passport. He had a right to be treated like any other Canadian citizen. He had a right to see a Canadian consular official. He had a right to be sent to Canada, rather than Syria. Ottawa must keep up the pressure on Washington. Eventually, we might be taken seriously by our U.S. ‘allies.'”
It may not be noted in any calendar, but for organic farmers, environmental groups and millions of concerned consumers, Monday was a day to celebrate, as the federal government’s new ‘Organic’ food label made its debut.
The Department of Agriculture’s new labeling standards are the result of more than a decade of lobbying by advocates of organic farming. Now, those same advocates are hoping the federal stamp will push organic foods into the mainstream. Two such supporters of organic farming — Brian Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute and Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation — suggest in the Los Angeles Times that the new labels “could mark the beginning of an era in which organic foods migrate from the fringe to the mainstream.”
“Americans already purchase about $10 billion in organic foods annually. While that is a small share of the total food market — and certified organic land still makes up less than 1% of our agricultural space — consumers who previously hesitated to buy organic foods may be swayed by the new government seal of approval. And with a growing market, even more farmers might consider abandoning their pesticide sprayers and sacks of nitrate in favor of going organic.”
Maria Rodale, writing in USA Today, acknowledges that the new labeling will cause some headaches — for producers and consumers alike. But she argues that the federal standards will place meaningful power in the hands of those who matter, allowing consumers to treat each purchase “like casting a vote for a little organic candidate.”
“That’s why I like the whole cause: You can think of yourself as powerless, but when you go into the supermarket, you control the world. Your purchases can literally change the economy, farmers’ lives, the environment. With these new federal rules, you can judge companies’ products more clearly and know just whom to reward.”
As if writing from the same set of bullet points, several arch-conservatives have simultaneously proclaimed that the North Korea nuclear problem is all Bill Clinton’s fault (and worse, that Clinton’s now-failed peace agreements reveal him to be a latter-day Neville Chamberlain):
John Derbyshire, writing in the National Review Online, argues that North Korea will teach us to never again leave “soft-headed love-the-world liberals in charge of U.S. foreign policy.”
“The Clinton administration…responded to the threat of a North Korean nuclear program with a policy of straightforward appeasement…. We will give you anything you want, if you promise not to develop nukes. But you must promise — cross your heart and hope to die, stick a needle in your eye! Okay? The North Koreans could not see anything wrong with this proposal at all. They gleefully took delivery of the Danegeld, while going full steam ahead with their nuclear-weapons program in secret.”
“Peace and safety cannot be secured by signing worthless agreements, treaties or protocols with thugs. It didn’t work with Hitler. It didn’t work with Stalin. It hasn’t worked with Saddam Hussein. In fact, it has never worked!
Leaders like Carter and Clinton, like Chamberlain before them, don’t bring peace. They promote war by tempting evil men to conclude that we are weak and afraid.”
Max Boot offers a slightly more thoughtful take in his Weekly Standard piece, “The Consequences of Clintonism”:
“Poor Bill Clinton. He tried so hard to be a peacemaker, and until recently it appeared that he had at least partially succeeded… Then — oops — it all unraveled last week…. You might think that these events would tend to discredit the Clinton presidency. But it’s too late for that… One year after September 11, the Clinton administration cannot be discredited any further….
Professional peace processors are not likely to be put off by a minor inconvenience like North Korea’s brandishing of nuclear weapons. They will just see it as one more reason to redouble efforts at ‘engagement’ (a nicer word than ‘appeasement’)… [But] there’s a good argument to be made that peace based on threats and fear has proven to be much more durable than peace based on niceness and wishful thinking.”
Wall Street Journal columnist George Melloan is the least subtle of the bunch, spying “shades of Neville Chamberlain’s famous Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler” in Clinton’s 1994 agreement with Pyongyang.
The North Korea accord “is but the latest ‘peace’ deal of the Clinton era that has come unglued….Bill Clinton was mainly looking for photo ops and a Nobel Peace Prize, so he was not very fastidious about the deals he struck or who he struck them with. Kicking the can down the road and leaving unsolved problems for the next poor sucker in the Oval Office was the Clinton default mode.”
But let’s turn away from the partisan press for a moment. Who was it that kicked the North Korean can to Clinton in the first place?
Brookings Institution fellow Michael O’Hanlon writes a level-headed piece on Slate, describing how North Korea obtained the fissile material needed for its current nukes from a reactor it ran “primarily during the first Bush administration.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times carries a sharp report by Richard Wolffe, detailing how the current Bush administration had been — until quite recently — divided over what to do with North Korea. Clinton’s engagement policy, Wolffe writes, was at least in part, official Bush policy, too.
“In March of last year, as President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea visited Washington, the administration was sending out mixed signals. Colin Powell, secretary of state, told reporters that he hoped to ‘pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off.’ Within days, President Bush told President Kim he would not resume talks, citing suspicions that North Korea was violating the 1994 agreement.”
The Washington Post’s Daniel Williams, in a comprehensive report from Ankara, describes the diplomatic dance between the US and Turkey over Iraq. The US military wants use of Turkish air bases and is asking Turkey, a NATO ally, to mass its armed forces on the Iraqi border to keep would-be refugees inside Iraq. Turkey, meanwhile, sees war in Iraq as bad for the Turks — the last Gulf War and cost the country billions in trade and tourism — and insists it will only cooperate in exchange for an aid package worth upwards of $6 billion. Above all, writes Williams, Ankara’s wants reassurance that Iraqi Kurds will not obtain nationhood:
“Turkey wants guarantees that the Iraqi Kurds will not establish an independent state, or even achieve a degree of autonomy that could awaken the crushed separatist dreams of Turkey’s Kurdish minority.”
“Turkish officials have warned that Kurdish efforts to expand the autonomous zone in the north — now maintained under an umbrella of U.S. and British air patrols — could prompt Turkey to grab territory for itself. Over the weekend, Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel warned the Iraqi Kurds ‘to heed our warnings’ against setting up a state….
‘In the Turkish mind,’ said a U.S. diplomat, ‘we are creating a mess for Turkey.'”
Alternet carries a great piece from the Cairo Times that captures the grand absurdity of the Kurdish non-state in northern Iraq.
“Kurds today (along with minority groups of Assyrian Christians and Turkomans) enjoy freedoms unheard of in Iraq and most of the Middle East. There is near total freedom of the press and association. Scores of political parties from communist to Islamist are registered, operate freely, run radio and television stations, and publish hundreds of newspapers and journals.
Their safe haven has been a fragile non-entity, neither internationally recognized nor legally described. They are neither part of the Iraqi nation nor independent from it. They have been both dependent on the outside world for their safe existence and yet are in constant threat from it as well. They have struggled to carve out a place in a diplomatic, economic and social limbo surrounded by powerful enemies — Turkey, Iran and the Iraqi government — who all wish them ill.”
Speaking of Kurdish political ambitions, an Associated Press story picked up by the Guardian describes the more than 30 Kurdish factions who will want a voice in a post-Saddam Iraq.
“‘This place is a giant puzzle,’ said Hatab Bakogli, political officer for the Iraqi National Turkmen Party, which seeks strong links with Turkey as its ethnic motherland. ‘It’s not just so simple as saying, ‘The Kurdish area is against Saddam.’ We can be against each other.'”
One faction to keep an eye on is the militant fundamentalist group, Ansar al-Islam — literally, the Supporters of Islam — which “rules a small patch along the Iranian border that U.S. authorities claim is a haven for some fugitive al-Qaeda loyalists.”
Ansar al-Islam has alternately been liked with Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda, and Iran, but whomever they count as allies, they appear to have modeled their rule after Afghanistan’s Taliban. As Catherine Taylor reported in an excellent Christian Science Monitor profile last March the group has “ransacked and razed beauty salons, burned schools for girls, and murdered women in the streets for refusing to wear the burqa.”
Reporting on last week’s Congressional intelligence hearings, Newsweek comes to the troubling conclusion that the US “doesn’t have the resources to take on the threats it’s hearing about, much less the ones it doesn’t yet know about.” This month’s terrorist bombing of a French oil tanker in Yemen, the magazine reports, is a prime example.
“In early October, NEWSWEEK has learned, U.S. intelligence distributed an alarming report about a possible attack against ships passing through the Persian Gulf, with a port in Yemen mentioned as a likely target. Just days after the report was sent to the White House and via e-mail to FBI counterterrorism agents, on Oct. 6 an explosion ripped through the French oil tanker Limburg while it was en route to the same port in Yemen. This was about as specific a warning as officials have had — and yet there still was not enough detail to thwart the attack.”
Bush a Modern-Day Lincoln?
This past weekend, George Bush the elder suggested that George Bush the younger is facing the toughest set of challenges of any president since Abraham Lincoln, surpassing even those faced by Franklin Roosevelt. Now, The National Review‘s Mackubin Thomas Owens is taking the comparison to the extreme, making a case for Bush junior as a latter-day Lincoln.
Owens’ reasoning? Like Lincoln, Bush is consistently underestimated by his rivals. And, like Lincoln, Bush is making his adversaries pay for that mistake.
“Congressional Democrats and other assorted smarty-pants are discovering that they made a mistake by underestimating George W. Bush. They all thought they were smarter than the president. He let them act on their supposed intellectual superiority as he fed the rope they would need to hang themselves.”
Owens also suggests that the two presidents were sufficiently self-confident to welcome “adversaries” onto their respective cabinets. In Lincoln’s case, Owens identifies the adversaries as Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase. And in Bush’s case? Owens doesn’t say.
Republicans in New Jersey are seething, and they don’t show any signs of calming down. Already enraged by the Democrats’ late replacement of scandal-plagued Senator Robert Toricelli, Republicans are getting even hotter as new polls show the Democrats’ substitute candidate, former Senator Frank Lautenberg, leading GOP hopeful Douglas Forrester.
As Scott Shepard notes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Forrester’s current predicament represents a dramatic reversal for the untested Republican:
“Largely unknown to New Jersey voters before winning the GOP Senate nomination this year, Forrester drove Torricelli out of the race with little more than a simple introduction: ‘I’m the guy who’s running against Bob Torricelli.'”
Now, as Allison Stevens writes in The Hill, Forrest and his Republican minders face a “much more formidable opponent” in the form of Lautenberg, who Stevens describes as “a well-known, well-liked three-term senator who carries none of Torricelli’s ethical baggage.” Forrester has tried desperately to link Lautenberg to Torricelli, a bid which Stevens says is failing because the two Democrats were known to be frequent and outspoken adversaries.
The newest thorn in Forrest’s side is Lautenberg’s refusal to debate — a refusal that does not appear to be costing the Democrat any support, Jim Geraghty concedes in the National Review.
“The good news for Forrester is that Lautenberg’s strategy of sitting on his lead and running out the clock has earned some tough criticism from the state’s newspapers. The bad news is, the lack of debates hasn’t hurt the Democrat in the polls much.”
Have Gun, Will Defend Nature
A Wyoming doctor is bankrolling a 400-man paramilitary force to take on poachers in a huge swath of the Central African Republic — a tactic that is making some conservationists very uncomfortable.
Bruce Hayse, a Jackson family practitioner, has already provided more than $150,000 to the effort, the Associated Press reports. In return, President Ange-Felix Patasse has ceded authority over the entire Chinko River basin to the force paid for by Hayse.
Armed with AK-47s and led by an anonymous South African commando, the force has been given the authority to shoot poachers — most of whom come from across the border in Sudan — on sight. Such aggressive measures are being questioned by some mainstream conservationists, including Richard Carroll of the World Wildlife Fund, who predicts that “using lethal force against Africans will backfire on the government and hurt conservation in the region.” But even Carroll admits that Hayse and his anti-poacher army may provide a solution:
“It’s really a last-ditch effort. I just hope he understands what he’s getting into. These people are heavily armed and very dangerous. It’s basically a war situation.”
Martin Kettle of the London Guardian smartly places the D.C. sniper in a gobal context asking: “If they can’t catch their own killer, how can the US beat terror abroad?”
Meanwhile, arm-chair speculation about the identity of our domestic terrorist is running wild. “It was inevitable,” writes James Pinkerton in the Los Angeles Times, that this kind of conjecture “would cleave along ideological lines” — especially in Washington D.C.
As Pinkerton notes, the same sort of “what-you-believe-determines-what-you-see dynamic,” was seen during last year’s Anthrax scare.
An editorial in the Guardian argues that the Bush administration’s “softened” Iraq resolution, now before the UN Security Council, is still hard enough to provoke the war George Bush is looking for:
The New York Times reports that U.S. troops are training for urban warfare in “mock cities” in Guam, Southern California, and Louisiana. “The whole American doctrine of urban warfare,” the paper reports, “has changed.”:
The Times piece also notes that our intelligence agencies are “rushing to update military maps” of Iraqi cities. (War Watch can only hope that the CIA — which infamously blamed “old maps” for its mistaken targeting of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia — is careful how it rushes.)
Remarking on the perils of mis-targeted bombs, Christian Science Monitor reporter Scott Peterson recalls a horrific incident during the 1991 Gulf War, in which two “smart” bombs worked to deadly perfection: “The 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs burrowed through 10 feet of hardened concrete and detonated, punching a gaping hole in the Amiriyah bomb shelter – and incinerating 408 Iraqi civilians.”
The shelter fiasco, Peterson writes, was the result of bad intelligence–misleading spy satellite photos led our military brass to believe the shelter was an Iraqi command post. Using this disaster as a lens, Peterson highlights a counter-intuitive phenomenon: Even as U.S. bombs have gotten “smarter,” they’ve been claiming higher numbers of innocent lives:
The Associated Press reports, that for the 51st time this year, US and British aircraft bombed one of Iraq’s no-fly zones.
The Internet is proving to be both a blessing and (a small curse) to today’s antiwar movement. The Sacramento Bee’s Andy Furillo reports that email lists and protests sites have made organizing even huge rallies a relative breeze>. We live, Furillo suggests, in an age of “mass-mobilization made easier, with organization as simple as pushing the ‘send’ button on the home computer.” But, Furillo adds, thanks to the Internet, “There is an element of facelessness to today’s opposition… Leaders are everywhere and nowhere.”
Adressing the same shortcomming, the Boston Globe’s Farah Stockman asks: “Can a movement with no physical center and no pen-and-ink signatures really have a political impact?”
The success of this Saturday’s anti-war marches should provide a good litmus test of the power of “distributed organizing,” as well as challenge the merit of that old chestnut: If the people lead, will the leaders, indeed, follow?
Progressives aren’t exactly renowned for subtly blending of politics and good humor. But even in the face of a possible war, a few jokesters in the wilderness are trying.
Daniel Kurtzman of About.com has compiled a broad collection of anti-Bush and anti-war humor, including parodic movie posters a gogo (see especially: The Turbanator and The World Has Had Enough) as well as a logo-laden declaration of Bush’s Iraq policy that begins: “We SHELL not EXXONerate Saddam Hussein. We will MOBILize to meet this threat to vital interests in the Persian GULF.”
The more-pointed-than-funny “Op-Ads” at TomPaine.com can be uneven, but their Uncle oSAMa poster is a War Watch favorite.
Last but not least, Ben Cohen (of Ben and Jerry’s fame) has set up an activist group called TrueMajority.com. The group’s site is junked up with just-cuz-we-can Flash animation, but someone affiliated with True Majority has created a jokey sister site, SpankBush.com, where discontents can take their Bush bashing from the figurative to the literal with a click of the mouse.
– Tim Dickinson
Ecuador’s political establishment is on the outside looking in as next month’s national elections approach, and the country’s traditional power-brokers are watching nervously as a pair of staunch populists square off in the presidential race.
On the right is banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador’s wealthiest citizen and a well-known benefactor to the poor. On the left is former army colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, an admirer of Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. As different as the two candidates may be, Frances Robles of the Miami Herald reports that both campaigns “deliberately sought to shut out traditional party players.”
Robles writes that the political establishment’s widespread fear of the two outsiders has become increasingly pronounced, with former President León Febres Cordero claiming that the voters “chose two men who are not ready to be candidates, much less presidents. The only thing they have in common is being unprepared.”
Gutiérrez, known for leading a short-lived coup to oust President Jamil Mahuad two years ago, is particularly popular among the country’s large indigenous contingent, Nicholas Moss of the Financial Times reports. Still, contrary to other analysts, Moss suggests that Gutiérrez has also won support from middle-class voters with his economic agenda, which is surprisingly pragmatic for an avowed Marxist. Noboa, meanwhile, has promised to create more jobs and provide food for the country’s poor — without indicating how he would pay for the initiatives.
Now, nervous business leaders are calling on the two candidates to provide detailed economic plans before the Nov. 24 runoff vote, the Associated Press reports.
LAW & JUSTICE
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens didn’t mince words after the high court voted 5-4 this week to sidestep the debate over juvenile executions, volleying the issue back to state legislatures. “Shameful,” is how Stevens described the continuing practice of executing prisoners who committed capital crimes while minors. The editorial board of The Mercury News, meanwhile, suggests that the same description can be applied to the position taken by the court’s conservative majority.
Not surprisingly, the arch-conservatives on the editorial board of The Washington Times cheer the decision, voicing their suspicion that the four dissenters are merely “the leading edge of a more general attack upon capital punishment itself“:
That argument doesn’t fly with the editorial board of The Washington Post, which claims that the arbitrary nature of the present law demands review.
After being rebuffed by company officials, and roughed up by company workers, about 1,000 villagers stormed an alcohol factory in Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province, tearing down walls, and looting equipment. The rioters focused their destruction on the factory’s drainage system, which they have long blamed for polluting the village water supply, the Associated Press reports.
Environmental protests have become more common in Vietnam as the country’s pollution problems worsen, the AP reports. Long a problem in the undeveloped countryside, water pollution is increasingly becoming an issue in the country’s cities, including Hanoi, the Vietnam News Agency reports.
Even in this poll-driven age, there are few good measures of (anti-) American sentiment in the Arab world — what the Tom Friedmans of the world like to term the “Arab Street.” To get an admittedly rough handle on regional opinion, War Watch today turns to English-language newspapers in the Middle East, and frankly, the news ain’t good:
The Saudi newspaper Riyadh Daily carries word of the Arab League’s grim assessment
A piece at Egypt Online quotes that country’s Foreign Minister, Ahmed Maher, as saying: “A war on Iraq would incense the wrath of Arabs and Muslims. A military strike would reinforce the impression that action is deliberately being taken against Arabs and Muslims, especially in view of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.”
A column in the Times of Oman rails against American fundamentalism, and makes it clear that, as far as many Arabs are concerned, Jerry Falwell speaks for us all.
An op-ed in the Beirut Daily Star argues that a small, war-hungry cabal has hijacked American foreign policy, and that irrespective of what the UN decides, an American war with Iraq is “inevitable.”
Also writing in the Daily Star Fahed Fanek remarks on America’s unchecked militarism:
A clear-eyed editorial in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, meanwhile, attributes America’s distinctly different approaches to Iraq and to North Korea to the calming influence of South Korea, and criticizes Arab leaders for collectively avoiding the Iraq problem.
A less-open-minded editorial in the Gulf Times of Qatar weighs in on a nuclear North Korea, and its troubling implications for Iran.
Speaking of the country that is currently the United State’s best (Arab) friend in the region, The Wall Street Journal features a vivid profile of Qatar and its nearly seamless transition from Saudi-style, hardline Wahhabi rule to “modernism.” According to the Journal, women’s rights are flourishing, signs of religious tolerance abound–indeed, in one of the capital’s swank hotels “Oktoberfest is in full swing, complete with rivers of beer and a crowd of Bavarians in lederhosen.”
All this comes thanks to a 1995 coup by the British-educated Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, who rejected his father’s conservatism and has made it his mission to modernize the tiny Gulf state. But, as the Journal> makes abundantly clear, this transformation has been less than democratic, with the Shiek imprisoning prominent political dissenters.
The New York Times broke word yesterday of the Pentagon’s decision to undertake its own intelligence analysis, widening the gap between administration hawks and the CIA, which has yet to cough up the casus belli President Bush wants to justify an invasion of Iraq.
James Bamford, author of a highly regarded exposé of the the National Security Agency, delivers a scathing assessment of the Pentagon’s freelance intelligence gathering in a USA Today column:
Joining the chorus, the London Guardian’s Julian Borger writes that the rivalry between the CIA and the Pentagon “threatens to politicize the role of intelligence to an extent that it becomes…a political weapon.”
The Wall Street Journal also reports on a Yale economist’s eye-popping best- and worst-case estimates for the cost of a war with Iraq. Unlike the Pentagon, whose estimates run as low as $40 billion for the war itself, professor William Nordhaus factors in such costs as post-war occupation and reconstruction, and comes up with a minimum price tag of $141 billion for the endeavor. His estimate soars to $1.24 trillion (!) should the shit hit the fan along the way. Here, the Journal’s breakdown of Nordhaus’ math:
– Tim Dickinson
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, is living up to her reputation as a prodigious fundraiser — maybe too prodigious. Pelosi, considered the most powerful woman in Congress, is under fire for allegedly attempting to circumvent federal campaign finance rules, Ethan Wallison reports in Roll Call.
Federal election officials are scrutinizing two political action committees established by Pelosi — committees that are drawing from the same donor base, providing support to the same candidates, and operating under the direction of the same treasurer — former California Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy. While McCarthy insists he checked with the Federal Election Commission before establishing the twin PAC’s, former FEC official Trevor Potter tells Wallison that the two-PAC approach “sounds like a circumvention scheme to double the contribution limits.”
Pelosi’s primary leadership PAC — PAC to the Future — has already funneled more than $750,000 to Democratic candidates in the current election cycle.
Less than a decade after white rule was ended in South Africa, tensions are rising between the ruling African National Congress and its allies from the anti-apartheid struggle.
Union leaders and leftist politicians are accusing the ANC of abandoning the country’s poor in its haste to lure foreign investment. The ANC government, in turn, claims that such investment is the key to funding needed anti-poverty programs. The ideological split has spawned increasingly violent protests and, as the editors of The Baltimore Sun note, the growing conflict now threatens to rend the country’s fragile social fabric:
The ANC, unfortunately, seems to be dead-set on proving its critics right. As Rory Carroll reports in The Guardian, the government’s recent purchase of a new, $51 million luxury jet for President Thabo Mbeki has outraged friends and enemies alike, prompting this blistering attack from the opposition Democratic Alliance:
Federal health officials are gearing up to study why one of the wealthiest counties in the country also has what appears to be one of the highest rates of breast cancer.
As Michelle Munn reports in the Los Angeles Times, scientists are trying to determine why the rate of breast cancer in Marin County, located just north of San Francisco, is so much higher than the national average. And, without any easy “smoking-gun” explanations pointing to environmental variables, scientists are looking at the affluent lifestyle of the county’s residents.
The focus on a demographic link “raises the hackles of many women concerned about cancer,” reports Katherine Ellison of The Washington Post. In particular, Ellison writes, women in Marin are concerned that studying the lifestyle may dismiss “circumstantial evidence linking widely used chemicals, including some found in plastics and pesticides, to rising rates of breast cancer.”