Touring the ‘Fronts’

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A L S O   T O D A Y :

This is Going to Hurt
In his speech on Sunday, the president tried to put the best gloss on the situation in Iraq. But it was bad news all around.

No Fun in the Sun
Can rich and poor countries sort out their trade differences at the WTO meeting in Cancun? Unlikely.

A R C H I V E :

Wounded Inaction
Arnold’s Language Barrier

Crunch Time For Abbas
Any More Bright Ideas?
Timing Is Everything

Kerry Kicks Off
Jakarta Justice

Just Hot Air
Israel’s Arabs
A Lost War

A Failing Grade
Will the WTO Step Up?

Clean Air Axed
Talking Nuclear

Work and play opportunities in a post-9/11 world

For that romantic trip to the Middle East you thought you’d never have … consider an ad in the Israeli paper Ha’aretz, noticed by Paul Woodward of and summarized by him there:

“The Ultimate Mission to Israel: While most people might prefer a vacation away from the war on terrorism, Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center, is offering a luxury package this November for ‘English-speaking professionals’ who want to get closer to the action. Participants will not only be able to enjoy ‘small airplanes flight over the Galilee, moonlight cruise on the Kinneret Lake, a cook-out barbecue and a traditional Shabbat enjoying the rich religious and historic wonders of Jerusalem’s Old City,’ but also see an ‘exhibition by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) undercover soldiers who carry out targeted assassinations of Palestinian terrorists and deep penetration raids in Arab territory.’ On day three of this seven-day package, participants will be able to witness the ‘security trial of Hamas terrorists’ in an Israeli military court. The complete package (excluding airfares) is $1,480 with an additional $500 to $5,000 donation to the Center to ‘aid in the fight against Arab terror.'”

Or, for that work chance of a lifetime in heady Baghdad or inviting Tikrit (where you can be targeted for assassination) … look into an ad on the ATT-Net news site:

“Janusian Security Risk Management has been active in Iraq since 17 April 2003. We are the only Western security company in Baghdad with an independent operational office and a country manager permanently based there. We have run three secure trade delegations into Baghdad for Western companies. We have established access to the CPA, Ministries and the business community. Our security and business risk management capability in Iraq is proven. For further information please contact: David Claridge or Stuart Seymour,”

Or, finally, for that opportunity to perform a “mid-course” correction on your own explanations about why you were invading another country … there’s always this little item in USA Today:

“The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was justified in part because Saddam Hussein retained scientists capable of building nuclear weapons, Washington’s top arms control official said…In an interview with The Associated Press, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, said that whether Saddam’s regime actually possessed weapons of mass destruction ‘isn’t really the issue. The issue I think has been the capability that Iraq sought to have … WMD programs.’ Bolton said that Saddam kept ‘a coterie’ of scientists he was preserving for the day when he could build nuclear weapons unhindered by international constraints….’ Whether he possessed them today or four years ago isn’t really the issue,’ he said. ‘As long as that regime was in power, it was determined to get nuclear, chemical and biological weapons one way or another. Until that regime was removed from power, that threat remained — that was the purpose of the military action.'”

Bolton’s explanation makes sense to me. The scientific brain is undeniably the final repository for the knowledge about how to create all weapons of mass destruction — and so undoubtedly was Saddam’s secret weapon. Now that we have his scientists’ bodies under lock and key, the question is: Did he cleverly hide their brains in Syria, or possibly in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley? On this basis, of course, the world would be a far safer place if we just sent a few of those “preventive” bunker busters, and the odd warthog jet over MIT (invasion to follow).

The president, I noticed during last night’s speech, is leaving all the tough work about weapons of mass destruction to Bolton and others. But CNN’s commentators were reassuring on the subject. Unlike his State of the Union, with those pesky sixteen words about uranium in Africa, it seems this speech was vetted and then vetted again. So it’s hardly surprising that nothing was heard about weapons of mass destruction — those doing the vetting were, after all, trying hard to get all the most obvious lies out.

Somebody however forgot to vet the speech for all our president’s customary imperative and imperial “musts” and “shoulds” (“From the outset, I have expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves. Now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people and secure the blessings of their own liberty.”) I also noted that he was parceling out an awful lot of responsibility to others. (“Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.”) All around the world people were probably saying, ‘now he tells us…’

Like all fallible human beings, however, the vetters, superbly professional as they may be, managed to miss a point or two. For instance — and bear with me here because I came close to failing high school math before I went on to better things — he mentioned a budget figure of $87 billion. The exact quote was: “I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion. The request will cover ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere [possibly a reference to the planned invasion of MIT], which we expect will cost $66 billion over the next year.”

The rest is supposedly earmarked for reconstruction purposes in Iraq and Afghanistan. (“And we will help them to restore basic services such as electricity and water” … which means, since this has to pass Congress first, a long wait for lights and air-conditioning in Baghdad.) Now, when I subtract $66 billion from $87 billion, I get $21 billion from which, with a roll of the dice, I’m subtracting another $1.5 billion for Afghanistan. Even without considering Halliburton’s cut, I’m only left with $19.5 billion when, if my memory holds, just the other day our man in Baghdad L. Paul Bremer was claiming “tens” of billions of dollars needed for the next year. Notice to White house speech vetters: I think I detect a possible little fib here.

But enough of the seriousness, let’s give the President credit, he didn’t smirk once in the whole speech and he did have a little fun of his own. By picking up Paul Wolfowitz’s claim that Iraq is now the central battlefield in the war against terrorism, the President was able to refer to that country as the “central front.” (“Iraq is now the central front.”) What fun, just as in the World War II movies of our mutual childhoods, we’ve finally got “fronts” (even if most of the time “they” seem to be in our rear). All we’re missing now is “theaters.” We got occupied postwar Germany and Japan last night, but how about in the next speech just moving back a year or two and giving us “theaters.” (“Our troops in the Iraq theater…” doesn’t it sound grand?)

So here we are still in proximity to the Oval Office and fast approaching September 11, with the President urging us to “stay the course” and Don Rumsfeld over in the Iraqi and Afghani ‘theaters’ creating a reasonable substitute for “cut and run” — “tuck in and hide.” As the New York Times reports, he told a soldier who wanted to know when the “campaign against terrorism” would end, “You can’t tuck in and hide and pretend that it’s going to go away. It isn’t. The only solution is to do what we’re doing”.

I thought this might be an opportune moment to hop into an e-version of Air Force One and take a little “spin” around the theaters of war to check out the opportunity situation almost two years into our “war on terrorism”:

As a start, just for an overview, I recommend that you take a look at Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis’ latest column on “the lessons of 9/11.” Then, I’d like to touch down for just a sec in the European ‘theater of operations’, where, according to the Associated Press, poll numbers show the Bush touch is still doing its magic, alienating potential supporters all over the world:

“President Bush’s standing has just about evaporated in Germany where his approval rating is 16 percent — down from 36 percent in 2002 — and where public opinion increasingly questions American leadership, said the Trans-Atlantic Trends 2003 survey…. , Bush’s dismal 16 percent approval in Germany almost matches the tally in France (15 percent, against 21 percent in 2002). The American president polled a 40-percent support level in Italy (down from 57 percent), 58 percent in Poland (down from 62 percent) and 41 percent in Portugal which was not polled in 2002, according to the survey.”

These are, we learned last night, peoples from countries whose “responsibility” is to step up to the plate and hit a homer for America. It’s important, by the way, to grasp how this UN resolution thing is supposed to work. No one expects large numbers of “old” European troops to flood Iraq. The point is to squeak through some kind of resolution that will provide cover for the importation of large numbers of Indian, Pakistani, and/or Turkish troops. But there’s always a fly in the ointment, isn’t there? In this case, the new foreign minister of Iraq, just appointed by the governing council is Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, who has promptly spoken out against Turkish troops — for obvious reasons:

“Iraq’s new foreign minister said on Thursday Turkish troops should not be let into Iraq as peacekeepers as their presence could undermine the security of the country rather than improve it… ‘It is far better for everybody to keep all of Iraq’s neighbours from conducting any peacekeeping mission because each and every one of them when they come into the country are bringing their own political agenda,’ Zebari told Reuters in an interview. ‘And this will not help to stabilise the situation… The mission will not be stabilisation, it could lead to destabilisation.'”

And in the other two countries, India and Pakistan, sending troops is generally seen as an unpalatable “opportunity” indeed. Here, for instance, is a piece from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn in which Dr. Iffat Idris suggests that the UN should be in no hurry to back the U.S. — and reminds us that bailing out the U.S. in Iraq has its own regional dangers.

“The condition for any UN force to be headed by an American general shows that the change of mind that should have prompted America’s return to the UN has not taken place…. It is seeking UN support solely out of expediency. Until the requisite change of heart is apparent — until, in effect, Washington learns its lesson and acknowledges the error of its ways — the international community should not bail it out in Iraq.

There is also the future to consider. If George Bush is allowed to get away from Iraq relatively scot-free, what is to stop him and his band of neocons tomorrow attacking Iran, Syria or North Korea? International law and international opprobrium have so far failed to halt their war machine. The only way they will learn that sole superpower status does not confer an international carte blanche is if they are forced to confront a situation in which superpower status makes no difference. Iraq today is just such a situation.”

“It’s as if September 11 never happened”

But onward to the Afghan front, where Ahmed Rashid, an extremely reliable reporter and author of the authoritative book Taliban, begins a new piece at the Yale Global on-line website, ‘Who’s Winning the War on Terror?‘, this way:

“PESHAWAR AND GULANAI, PAKISTAN: From the dusty bazaar of these border towns bristling with guns and jihadi fighters, the lightning victory achieved by the Americans in the wake of the September 11 attack two years ago seems like a distant past. It’s as if September 11 never happened and the Taliban were never routed. In the last ten days of August, the Taliban, who were driven out of Kabul under withering US bombardment and ground assault, assembled some 1,000 troops in the two tribal provinces of Afghanistan to launch attacks on US and Afghan forces. A mix of Pashtun tribal passion and Islamic extremism, combined with political failure in Pakistan, lies behind the Taliban resurgence and explains why the American war on terror is faltering…. [There is rising concern as well that] Islamic extremism is rising in the [Pakistani] army’s officer corps. ..”

And it’s not just the Taliban that has returned to unreconstructed Afghanistan — so have the drug lords. A recent piece by Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor begins:

“As drug dealers go, Mohammad Dost was a pretty low-level character. He was arrested here in Asadabad on June 23 with 167 kilograms of raw opium — a relatively small load worth about $92,000 on the world market. But Mr. Dost’s case is worrisome nonetheless, in part because of his rank as a lieutenant in the Afghan military forces here. Dost is someone who should have been arresting drug traffickers, not, from all appearances, working for them. Now, Dost is likely to escape prosecution altogether

For senior Afghan officials, the case of Mohammad Dost is much more than a mere case of a warlord — used interchangeably with commander here — run amok. It is the first substantial evidence that many of the same Afghan commanders who helped remove the Taliban from power two years ago may be involved in a business that could destabilize Afghanistan and lead to the Taliban’s return….”

On Sunday, the Washington Post Outlook section ran a long piece by one of the paper’s reporters, Marc Kaufman, who’s spent a fair amount of time in Afghanistan, and who offers a historical analogy that will send us flying to the “central front.” The piece, pungently headlined ‘Will We Look Like the Soviets When We Leave Iraq?‘, suggests, with all the necessary caveats, some of the developing parallels between the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan in the 1980s and our present Iraqi situation, including the following eerie passage:

“The parallels stretch into the area of terrorism against civilians. Americans tend to see terrorism now as an unmitigated evil, but the United States also supported (and generously financed) mujaheddin attacks against Afghan and Soviet civilians in Afghanistan during that war. In a postmortem of the Afghan war by the Russian army general staff, which was later published, analysts counted more than 1,800 terrorist acts against non-military targets in Afghanistan between 1985 and 1987 alone. The commander of a mujaheddin squad that strapped bombs to pushcarts in Kabul and blew up Soviet and Afghan citizens told Jalali years later, ‘The only difference [between his bombs and those dropped from military aircraft] is the size of the bomb and the means of delivery.’ In both Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and American-occupied Iraq, efforts at rebuilding and development became favorite targets of militants.”

“Don’t blame me, I was only 9!”

For this part of the journey, I suggest you take a look Independent reporter Robert Fisk’s recent piece on our “arrogant” path to war in which he says, in passing, “But notice, too, how everything is predicated to America’s costs, to American blood.” Please then read the account by Peter Beaumont of the British Observer on two youthful Iraqi civilian casualties from a U.S. raid in a suburb of Baghdad. (“What is perhaps most shocking about their deaths is that the coalition troops who killed them did not even bother to record details of the raid with the coalition military press office. The killings were that unremarkable.”) Or check out in the Guardian the conservative Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa’s report from Baghdad, reprinted from El Pais. He writes chillingly of the absolute “freedom” of a Baghdad without the slightest authority except for American troops whom he describes as follows:

“The only authority is represented by the tanks, the armoured cars, trucks and jeeps, and by foot patrols of US soldiers who cross and re-cross streets all over, armed with rifles and submachine guns, making the buildings shake with the power of their war vehicles. Soldiers who, on a closer look, seem as helpless and frightened as the citizens of Baghdad themselves. Since I arrived the attacks against them have been increasing systematically… It is not surprising that they seem suspicious and in bad spirits, with fingers on triggers, patrolling streets full of people with whom they cannot communicate, amidst a hellish heat, which for them, dressed in helmets, bullet-proof jackets and other war paraphernalia, must be even worse than for the average local. I tried to talk to them — many being adolescents not yet capable of growing a beard — on four occasions, but I got only very concise replies. They were all pouring sweat, eyeballs perpetually moving, like distrustful grasshoppers.”

Or yet more chillingly check out a recent passage from the “girl blogger of Baghdad,” Riverbend, on Iraqi reactions to 9/11 and to the 1991 U.S. bombing of the Amiriyah bomb shelter in Baghdad, where hundreds of Iraqi civilians died (including young friends of hers). I can only quote a bit of it, but go to her site and just scroll down to her September 3 entry:

“A friend of E.’s, who lives in Amiriyah, was telling us about an American soldier he had been talking to in the area. E’s friend pointed to the shelter and told him of the atrocity committed in 1991. The soldier turned with the words, ‘Don’t blame me- I was only 9!’ And I was only 11.

American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas. The rest of the world should simply ‘put the past behind’, ‘move forward’, ‘be pragmatic’ and ‘get over it’.

Someone asked me whether it was true that the ‘Iraqi people were dancing in the streets of Baghdad’ when the World Trade Center fell. Of course it’s not true. I was watching the tv screen in disbelief- looking at the reactions of the horrified people. I wasn’t dancing because the terrified faces on the screen, could have been the same faces in front of the Amiriyah shelter on February 13… it’s strange how horror obliterates ethnic differences- all faces look the same when they are witnessing the death of loved ones.”

Those targeted assassinations

Our final stop — though it would hardly need to be given the woeful state of our world two years after September 11, 2001 — is Israel, where Ariel Sharon saw only opportunity in the Bush administration’s response to the attacks of that day and led the way by launching his own, regional version of preemptive and preventive strikes against terrorism from which there has, it turns out, been no return.

Paul Woodward of the always interesting War in Context website posted this today on the subject under the headline, ‘George Bush, Ariel Sharon, and terrorism, who is the teacher, who the student, and what is the lesson?‘:

“We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.” President George W. Bush, address to the nation, September 7, 2003

When George Bush declared a war on terrorism, Ariel Sharon didn’t simply applaud. Within days, Israeli tanks and troops were pouring into the West Bank, placing Palestinian cities under siege and engaging in a relentless and ruthless campaign to destroy the Palestinian ‘terrorist infrastructure.’ During the first 12 months of the second intifada, prior to September 11, 2001, 177 Israelis had died as a result of Palestinian violence and terrorism. In the following 12 months, a period during which it would be hard to argue that Palestinians must have seen the operations of the Israeli military as a sign of Israel’s weakness, another 443 Israelis were killed.

Over the course of the intifada, from September 29, 2000 up to September 1, 2003, in acts of violence committed by Palestinians against Israelis, 743 Israelis have been killed, 504 severely injured, 710 moderately and 3837 lightly injured (source — Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs). During the same period in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli ‘counterterrorist operations’ have resulted in 2,446 Palestinian deaths and 23,419 injuries (source — Palestine Red Crescent Society). Who in either Israel or America can draw the conclusion that through the use of force, Israel is winning its ‘war on terrorism’?”

There may be a road map somewhere, but at this point it’s not in the hands of any of the parties involved, including the Bush administration. The brave Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass, the only Jewish reporter resident in Palestinian Ramallah, made a similar point to Woodward’s in her most recent column about Sharon’s policy of targeted assassinations:

“Here are the disastrous proportions, in the hope that someone in Israel will take notice: 80 percent of the Palestinians killed were not connected to armed actions.

Like the Israelis, who experience the horror of bus bombings, the Palestinians too are all exposed to the terror of missiles and bombs exploding in the heart of the civilian population centers. This terror, and the tribal need for vengeance (which is not foreign to Israelis) have become a true ‘terror infrastructure.’ The bottomless pit of its ammunition is the pointlessness and hopelessness of the lives of tens of thousands of young people. The targeted killings may sabotage technical capabilities for a time. But they do not deter more and more young people from seeking the means to act.

An educational counselor met regularly last year with the children of the Qalandiyah refugee camp. When she asked them how they see themselves in 20 years, most answered ‘buried.'”

And recently a surprising figure made a similar point yet more devastatingly. In the August 29 Jewish Forward, Avraham Burg, former speaker of Israel’s Knesset, wrote an essay so staggering that these quoted passages hardly catch its full power:

“It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun…

A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing…

Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism….They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.”

There, then, is a quick series of snapshots of a few of the “fronts” in our world at war with itself. If our President cares to pretend that this is actually World War IV, so be it, but it’s the self-fulfilling prophesy from hell and, sooner or later — probably sooner rather than later — the Avraham Burgs of our world will have to write similar essays about us.


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